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Making History Personal

History x AR

Augmented reality is defined as adding digital elements to the real and physical world (not full immersion from it- i.e. virtual reality), changing the experience, and making it more personal- accessible. Many forms of public engagement by museums, historical institutions, and other instances beyond the historical field all seem to converge on the matter of accessibility. The implications of accessibility include reframing information in a way that appeals to multiple learning styles, perspectives, and forms of education. Combining these efforts with technology and social media leads to augmented reality.

The game Tecumseh Lies Here developed and played at Public History program at the University of Western Ontario fits within this definition. But the immersion of the game for its developers and players went beyond that of common examples of AR- such as the app Snapchat or the mobile game Pokemon Go. With such deep story line complexities and efforts- those involved can only seem to report that in order to understand, “you had to be there.”

 What makes this interesting, in my opinion, is that the ways the developers (professors and graduates) augmented history for the players were not technically advanced or sophisticated by any means. The websites and passwords undoubtedly took some tech savvy, but the way that social media, email, video, and texting were involved- anyone could develop content on those platforms with enough time. Many people use social media now, and those who have attended an academic institution have likely had to complete a video or two for an assignment, lesson, or other reason.

Therefore, the level of immersion, success, and satisfaction of Here Lies Tecumseh- provides an exemplary example of to what degree history can be augmented for accessibility without sophisticated technology and software. The primary problems show up with time, success, and feedback, and (ironically) demographic.

In Here Lies Tecumseh, classes, free time, and essentially lives were put on hold for over a month to develop, provide, and solve puzzles and problems. Surely, one reason this happened was because of the “doing history” purpose of the game, and the intricacies of mimicking historical work. And the only reason it worked was due to those involved- dedicated professors, paid graduates, and young adult players who mostly already identified as gamers. For the example of AR history, was is only so immersive because of the conditions outlined above? And can museums and other public history institutions hope to develop that level of immersion for the general public when that implies massive diversity?

If they use marketing segmentation techniques, I believe they could at least challenge the experience of Here Lies Tecumseh over time. Museums seeking to provide AR elements could gather demographic information on users and skew the AR elements toward the most prominent segment. If there was more than one major segment, they could develop and label different routes or experiences for users to choose from. This idea would certainly be a long-time project and likely constantly evolving, but it seems like one possibility in search of immersion through augmented reality.

2 replies on “History x AR”

Hi Madeline! Your post gave me pause and made me think about something I had failed to consider in my comments on Shannon’s post, which is the fact that the diversity of both student and public audiences for these games and AR apps make it hard to make them universally appealing.

While most people seem to still want to connect deeply and be immersed in stories (both fictional and historical), many will shy away from digital tools, especially games, because they feel that they would embarrass themselves trying to use it, or they find them confusing and boring. I myself am not a gamer because I get way too frustrated (my childhood was full of fighting with my little brother over how games worked, and throwing controls at the wall). This could make students self conscious about using games and digital tools in the classroom, especially those who have issues operating those tools because they have grown up with financial hardship, and were unable to learn how to use computers and the internet well, and may not even be able to watch much TV.

Another audience, especially at historic sites for the public, that may have difficulty with these tools (and have proven that they avoid them, at least to me when I visit aquariums and Smithsonian museums) are the elderly. For all the jokes we make about “boomers” and older people being unable to adjust to new tools, we need to pause and consider that these people were born in a world that would give most of us, especially our younger siblings and our peers, culture shock if we were dropped in the middle of it. They undergo something similar everyday, maybe on a lesser scale. They have a huge learning curve to deal with, and are sometimes struggling to adjust.

Since older individuals seem to be the majority of museum and historic sites visitors, we need to be sure to keep a healthy balance between these new digital tools, and older, more traditional methods of imparting information, to keep them coming in and learning, and feeling comfortable doing so. This also requires sites to be vigilant about making immersive and engaging exhibits and programs that use traditional tools as well as digital, so that they are not overly reliant on one or the other.

Of course, this discussion does not even scratch the surface of the diversity that should be considered when making lessons and exhibits with these tools. Others, to name a few, are socioeconomic status, those for whom English is not their first or best language, cultural and religious values, differing interests, race and ethnicity and what that means for accessibility to tools and museums, etc.

I also failed to consider diversity of audience or accessibility until I read your post. These are definitely topics that should be taken into account. Overall, I think that programs presented in a way that does not make the user feel technologically illiterate would be the most successful. I think there are ways to do these AR experiences that don’t scare away those who don’t usually use that kind of tech; after all, Pokemon Go was highly popular.

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