‘The Past Present: Augmented Historical Reality’ – a lesson plan sketch

In a previous post, I briefly considerd how something like Semapedia or Smartpox might be used archaeologically. I’ve recently been thinking about how they might be used in teaching in history. Below is a brief lesson plan I’ve written for a roughly 15 hour project… what I’m curious about is, has anybody else tried to incorporate this kind of thing into their actual teaching practice?

‘The Past Present: Augmented Historical Reality’

Hook: Every place contains an echo of its past. Whether it’s a particular architectural detail on a heavily renovated building or a depression in a field marking the foundation of an abandoned farm house, there are clues everywhere. The problem is how can we see them? How can we train ourselves to read the past in the present?

Concept: To mash up the internet with the real world, tying them physically in such a way that a passer-by can be alerted to the presence of the past in a particular place.

Technology: There are at least three different ways this could be accomplished, with varying degrees of richness and immersiveness and requiring various degrees of technological know-how:

1. Semapedia (www.semapedia.org )
2. Smartpox (www.smartpox.com )
3. Mediascape (http://www.mscapers.com/)

All three methods rely on ‘tagging’ or creating ‘hot-spots’ in the real-world that then can be used to trigger the more-or-less automatic retrieval of information or multimedia from the internet. Semapedia and Smartpox both rely on creating 2-dimensional bar-codes that are then attached to a mail box, wall, tree, etc, while Mediascape depends on global positioning system coordinates.

Semapedia connects the bar-code to an article in the wikipedia. You go to the Semapedia website, type in the relevant wikipedia article URL, and Semapedia provides multiple copies of the barcode. Then, the user attaches the bar code to the building. Semapedia provides the software to enable a camera-phone to read the bar code. A person might be wandering along, spot the bar code, and take a photo of it. The camera decodes the bar code, which causes it to retrieve the relevant information from the wikipedia. You are not required to sign in or register with Semapedia in order to create the bar codes.

Smartpox is a bit more sophisticated, in that it allows you to encode links to any website, other phone numbers, email and text. The process of creating the barcodes is very similar to Semapedia, but it requires the user to be a registered member of the website.

Finally, Mediascape works in much the same fashion, but requires a gps-enabled personal digital assistant. The user sets up ‘hot spots’ in the realworld beforehand; whenever a person using a gps-enabled pda that has the Mediascape software installed on it wanders by the hot spot, it trips the delivery of audio, video, text etc to the PDA.

All three services are free, but the Mediascape requires expensive hand held computers to work, whereas camera phones with web access are more or less standard these days – so Semapedia or Smartpox would be the best option, at least initially.

What would the students ultimately create? There might be a number of options. For instance:

1. Historical tours – the students could research the history of the people for whom the campus buildings (or town) are named. They would then write Wikipedia articles on these people – or update existing pages – and created bar codes for them. Then, they’d place these all over campus. (using Semapedia?)

2. Treasure hunt/scavenger hunt/game – develop an augmented reality game, where the barcodes are used to provide clues, unlock information, played on campus (or around town). Can involve decision-making, branching narratives (ie, choice a, go to this building, choice b, go to that building) (Smartpox?)

3. Recreate the past landscape of the campus through a Mediascape. What was here before? What did it look like, what did it sound like? Tie these things to the appropriate place…

So what would the teacher do with the students?

1. walk about on campus, pointing out ‘hidden’ dimensions (ie: plaque on wall, famous event, who was this person who donated the money to have this building built, why is this building named after this person, what an odd depression in the ground over there)
TIME: 1 hour

2. point out one response to that sort of thing: explore annotated maps etc on Google Earth
TIME: 28 minutes

3. ask students to notice the links between google earth and wikipedia (also wikimapia.org)
TIME: 2 minutes

4. ask students how are wikipedia articles written? What gives them authority? Why are they useful? Write an article
TIME: 2 hours – research, etc

5. observe, Too bad you can’t take google earth with you, as you wander the planet – or can you? Barcodes, semapedia, smartpox, mediascape
TIME: 30 minutes to show how they work, get set up

6. get students to design an application (tour, game, etc) using these
Time: 6 hours

7. get students to swap with other students, play the game etc
Time: 4 hours

8. get students to reflect and give feedback – what works, what doesn’t, do the barcodes help you see the past present? landscape as palimpsest, etc…
Time: 1 hour

Total time: 15 hours