Blog Post

Spotlight series #2: Mobile histories

Mobile histories: How mobile technologies transform history teaching

Spotlight organizer: Breanne Litts, Doctoral Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Email: litts@wisc.edu

The following Digital History projects tell stories of how mobile technologies transform history teaching. All of the projects use ARIS (Augmented Reality Interactive Storytelling) as their mobile technology platform. They offer a mix of educator-designed and student-designed projects, which highlights the plasticity of integrating mobile technologies in history teaching. Collectively, these three projects shed light on how mobile technologies transform how we tell national, state, and local histories.



First up, we have Janet Austiff and Susan Lynch, two teachers of the Teaching with Primary Sources program through the Library of Congress, sharing their student-centered design-based history pedagogy in which students use primary sources and ARIS to (re)construct history.



Next, we have Jennifer Sly with the Minnesota Historical Society describing the design and implementation processes of the museum’s Then, Now, Wow exhibit.



Finally, we have Jim Mathews, a teacher at Clark Street Community School in Middleton, WI, sharing his rich experiences using mobile to connect students with local histories.

 

Perspective 1: National history and mobile

Featured Practitioners: Janet Austiff & Susan Lynch, Teaching with Primary Sources, Library of Congress



Origins

How did you come up with the original idea for the project? [Please also talk a bit about why and/or how you decided to use a mobile platform in the first place.]
ARIS promotes high engagement for students through the use of mobile learning.  ARIS allows students to interact with primary sources in an inquiry based type lesson.  Middle school students are technologically comfortable with iDevices and ARIS brings their world into the classroom.



Design/Structure

Describe the support structure for this project. How was the support developed? Support from your organization/institution (financial, staffing, network space). Did this have challenges? If so, what kind; if not, why not? How was support for this project different than others that did not include mobile media in the same way?
Dr. Brown, Director of Teaching with Primary Sources at Governors State University, sponsored our training with David Gagnon and his staff at the University of Wisconsin- Madison and continues to fund additional training opportunities.  Dr. Brown provided iPods and iPads for the use of ARIS to prepare for training and for use in our classroom.  Our challenge with using ARIS was bringing program level instruction to teachers who may have little technology background.  Therefore, we created a very basic “how to” manual to get teachers started.

Practically, what was it like to design a history lesson using mobile?  Like any lesson, the process and objectives have to be well thought out.  Using mobile allows for students to be interactive with learning about the topic at hand and with primary sources, specifically from the Library of Congress.



Implementation

How long has the project been in existence/implemented?
The Teaching with Primary Sources Program at GSU has been involved with ARIS for almost two year now.  We have been providing professional development on ARIS for a year.

What has the feedback been from the students on usability, specifically, in terms of integrating mobile media and augmented reality into your history classrooms?
Students enjoy playing the games and interacting with the primary sources.  We use ARIS at least twice during the school year inside of our classrooms.

Has any of the feedback been incorporated into adjustments or additions to the project?
Positive feedback from students has made us continue using ARIS in the classroom. On the professional development side, continual updates of the manual and training sessions continue to improve our success rate.

How has using mobile in this way impacted the your teaching/school more broadly?
If you would like to share, what are plans for the future?  Not only are we creating games, but we are working with students to create games for teachers to implement into their curriculum.



Integrating Mobile

What have you learned about the affordances and constraints of using mobile to engage with history and primary sources?
Some affordances include students being engaged in inquiry based learning that is self-paced and using primary sources makes learning come to life.  One constraint is time.  The amount of time it takes to create a game is usually longer than the time it takes the students to play it.  Teachers must decide if the investment of time to build the game is worth the outcome.

Did integrating mobile change the way in which history is told in your classroom compared to past years? How? Yes, the excitement level of being able to use the technology has sparked interest in learning history.

How has mobile changed the way students interact with and use primary source documents? History?  Mobile learning brings the way they like to communicate into learning.  Seeing the primary source on an iDevice helps them make a connection that they would not get from a text book photo.



Inspiration

What has been the most interesting or inspiring moment, material discovery, or experience in the work so far? [Please also share any additional comments/information that you think might be useful for others who might be interested in pursuing a similar project.]
ARIS has brought additional professional development opportunities to the Teaching with Primary Sources Program at Governors State University.  It is exciting to see teachers use technology that they were unfamiliar with and implements primary sources from the Library of Congress into their curriculum.  It is also exciting to see students want to investigate more on a topic and create their own ARIS games for their classmates to play.



Perspective 2: State history and mobile

Featured practitioner: Jennifer Sly, Minnesota Historical Society



Origins

How did you come up with the original idea for the project? [Please also talk a bit about why and/or how you decided to use mobile in the first place.]

Wendy Jones imagined a project “Creating Success for the 21st Century Learner.”  

I spoke with Wendy Jones, Head of Museum Education and Public Programs at the Minnesota Historical Society who conceived and started our project, History in Our Hands.  She said the original idea was  inspired by a presentation at the conference Museums and the Web in 2007.  The presentation was about  kids using cell phones to create “personal learning trails” at Kew Gardens which later developed into OOKL.  It was the seed that got her thinking about the potential for mobile technology to connect the formal and informal learning spaces.  She was particularly drawn to the idea of using mobile to create a personalized learning experience, especially when connected to the rich digital assets we have at the Minnesota Historical Society.  The idea was that students could take these assets back to the classroom after their field trip based on their own personal experience in the museum.



Design/Structure

Practically, what was it like to design an exhibit using mobile? Describe the support structure for this project. How was the support developed? Support from your organization (financial, staffing, network space), did this have challenges, if so, what kind, if not, why not? How was support for this project different than others that did not include mobile media in the same way?

One of the exciting aspects of our project, History in Our Hands, is that we have a cross-department team at the Minnesota Historical Society that includes members from Exhibit Design, Education, Media, Marketing, Floor Staff, and IT.  It requires our staff to work together in new ways!  We also have a partnership with the University of WI-Madison ARIS team, which has benefited both teams.  The Minnesota Historical Society can test new ARIS software and request new features from user input, while the ARIS team can help us with much of the design and  technical aspect of our project along with creating the new features that make our product best align with user needs.

In Minnesota, we have access to special state funding called the Arts and Cultural Heritage Funds which enabled us to start our project with formative research with students, parents, and teachers and start the design of our project.  We then received a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services which has allowed us to develop our project with plans to launch our project this Fall.  Most recently, we have received funding from the Target Foundation which will allow us to extend the reach of our project from students on field trips to our family audience.



Implementation

How long has the project been in existence/implemented? What has the feedback been from the community on usability, specifically, in terms of integrated mobile media and augmented reality into the exhibit? Has any of the feedback been incorporated into adjustments or additions to the exhibit? How has using mobile in this way impacted the museum more broadly? If you would like to share, what are plans for the future?

We have had the opportunity to have four partner schools who have come to visit our museum and test History in Our Hands along with allowing us to visit their classroom after their visit to observe their use of the digital backpack.  Because of this testing we have learned so much and have been able to make continuous change to make our project better.

One of our biggest challenges has been to continually develop the mobile application that sends students to dig deeper within the physical exhibit.  Most of today’s mobile games are stand alone on the device and we wanted to be sure that students didn’t just walk into things because they were so engaged with the device.  We want the device to help students engage in the exhibit.  To help with that, we have connected sensors within the exhibit to our mobile game, so that physical activity done within the exhibit on our interactives will register within the device.  We haven’t even had a chance to explore how the device could control the exhibit.

Another challenge we have had in implementation is that we hope to orient students and distribute devices within 5 minutes up to 120 students at a time.  We are currently working with 30 students at a time where they log in by scanning a QR code unique to their visit.

In the future, we hope to extend this project to other exhibits within the History Center.  We would also like to offer it at other historic sites within our network around the state of Minnesota.  We have already received requests from students who have tested our project who would like to come back and play with their family, so we are working on ways to extend our offering from students on field trips to families.  



Integrating Mobile

What have you learned about the affordances and constraints of using mobile to engage with history in this setting? Did integrating mobile change the way in which history is told in this exhibit compared to past exhibits? How? How has mobile changed the way patrons differently with the exhibit? Other patrons? The museum as a whole?

Wendy Jones said, “Exhibits are already free choice environments, but integrating mobile in the physical experience takes that to an even deeper level because it adds deep paths to follow .” We are viewing mobile as an additional interpretive tool within the exhibit, just like we use artifacts, text, and media within a traditional exhibit.

We are working on adding problem solving and collaborative activities using the mobile within the exhibit.  We are planning a formal evaluation, but we have already found that the mobile does change the behavior of students within the exhibit.  For example, within the fur trade section of the exhibit there is a trading post.  The mobile allows students to scan objects and then trade them using a “bumping” feature on the mobile.  Students immediately begin to organize to be able to trade between different roles of a “clerk” versus a “hunter” and need to speak out loud to trade.



Inspiration

What has been the most interesting or inspiring moment, material discovery, or experience in the work so far? [Please also share any additional comments/information that you think might be useful for others who might be interested in pursuing a similar project.]

I asked Wendy Jones what she thought about significant moment.  For her, it is exciting to see the we are actually able to make it happen and that the concept is actually working.  She says,  “It adds a whole other dimension to the museum learning.”

For me, I have challenged my own assumptions about what learning looks like.  In some of our observations of students using mobile, it seems as if students are rushing through without much understanding, but when questioned have absorbed much of what they did.  Even though I knew to expect it, the students still surprised me with how fast and how media savvy they are and how valuable their feedback is as we design our game.



Perspective 3: City (local) history and mobile

Featured practitioner: Jim Mathews, Clark Street Community School/Local Games Lab
Teacher, Mobile Designer & Educational Researcher



Origins:

How did you come up with the original idea for the project? [Please also talk a bit about why and/or how you decided to use a mobile platform in the first place.]

My first deep dive into using Augmented Reality was in the spring of 2005 when I developed Dow Day as a proof of concept. I have a background in documentary studies and production, and I was interested in thinking about how emerging mobile tools might be used to build documentaries tied to place. As a result I built Dow Day, which is a situated documentary and associated curriculum about an anti-Vietnam War protest that took place in Madison, Wisconsin in 1967. I refer to it as a situated documentary for a couple of reasons. One, it is designed to be “played” in the actual location where the events took place. Two, you engage with the story by taking on a role and completing a series of mini-challenges. For example, you play as a reporter tasked with writing a story for a local paper. Dow Day was designed to be part of a two-week curriculum unit, where students did some inquiry work before and after playing through the documentary on their mobile devices. There were also primary documents and observations that students had to make in the field. From a teaching and learning standpoint the curriculum focused on analyzing primary documents and viewing historical events from multiple perspectives. In this context the mobile storytelling component served as a hook to increase interest and help situate the events. I wanted students to walk away saying, ‘wow, I didn’t know something like that happened here.’ Fortunately, many did say things like this.



Design/Structure:

Practically, what was it like to design a history lesson using mobile? Describe the support structure for this project. How was the support developed? Support from your organization/institution (financial, staffing, network space). Did this have challenges? If so, what kind; if not, why not? How was support for this project different than others that did not include mobile media in the same way?

In some ways my background with documentary helped ease my entry into mobile storytelling because I had knowledge of media design and narrative. On the other hand, I think it pushed me in a particular direction as a designer. As a result, I am interested in exploring different approaches toward using mobile technologies and doing more to push the boundaries of how I use AR in my own work as a teacher, designer and researcher. In particular, I have been looking at how artists, geographers, community activists, and scientists are combining GPS, data collection, storytelling, and mobile technologies. Basically looking for inspiration and ideas in new places.

In addition to my own design work, I also help youth, teachers, and community members design their own place-based mobile stories. A major goal of this work is using local studies as a hook for helping students build connections between the past and present. For example, looking for instances of continuity and change in their local community. An example of this includes a project where students studied urban design. They started by investigating a neighborhood that was built using the core tenants of new urbanism. Then, they studied other areas of their city, including a traditional downtown area, to see how the city and been designed and redesigned based on changing needs and values. As a result of this line of inquiry they engaged in a number of history-based activities, such as locating and interpreting primary documents and asking and researching inquiry questions. Students used mobile devices to support their fieldwork and later to represent their findings via a mobile-based story. I have been involved in many similar projects where students used mobile tools to do community-based research and then represented their findings via mobile storytelling. In these cases, there is a major shift from me as the designer, to students as designers. It’s usually a much richer experience for students to do this, than to simply consume someone else’s design.  




Implementation:

How long has the project been in existence/implemented? What has the feedback been from the students on usability, specifically, in terms of integrating mobile media and augmented reality into your history classrooms? Has any of the feedback been incorporated into adjustments or additions to the experience? How has using mobile in this way impacted the your teaching/school more broadly? If you would like to share, what are plans for the future?

For me personally one of the main things that mobile technologies provide is another set of tools for supporting place-based education. With that said, schools tend to de-emphasize local studies in their curriculum – particularly in middle and high school – and despite their portability mobile devices are still predominantly being used inside classrooms. It will be interesting to see the extent to which mobile technologies push schools to more deeply consider community-based learning experiences.

Also, despite the growing ubiquity of mobile devices we still need to raise questions about equity.

A big change in the field has been the introduction of drop-and-drag authoring tools like ARIS and MITAR. When I first started designing AR experiences there were no authoring tools around to help non-programmers do this type of design work. That’s not the case today. Instead, I think one of the next big challenges is figuring out how to move beyond a tech-centric approach. In many cases the use of some mobile technologies mirrors how Powerpoint was, and in some cases still is, taught as part of a technology class instead of in the context. I see the same thing happening a little bit with AR technologies. That is there is an emphasis on the tool versus using the tool in the service of some larger context or to meet some larger learning goals.




Integrating Mobile:

What have you learned about the affordances and constraints of using mobile to engage with history and primary sources? Did integrating mobile change the way in which history is told in your classroom compared to past years? How? How has mobile changed the way students interact with and use primary source documents? History?

While Dow Day still “holds up” to some extent, we have come a long way in terms of what can be done with mobile technologies. With that said, there are still many, many interesting questions. In some ways it seems like the ‘wow factor’ still drives much of the interest in this area versus asking better or different questions about design and the types of learning experiences we want to cultivate. My colleague Chris Holden likens it to the early days of film. We are still in the pioneering days of this technology. More experimentation is needed.



Inspiration:

What has been the most interesting or inspiring moment, material discovery, or experience in the work so far? [Please also share any additional comments/information that you think might be useful for others who might be interested in pursuing a similar project.]

I am highly interested in place-based education, which focuses on engaging students in studying local cultural and ecological systems. Mobile technologies can be powerful tools for supporting this type of work.

The main thing for me has been the shift from designing AR experiences for others to play, towards designing activities and practices that support students as designers.

I think it is important to look for ways to connect with other teachers, designers, researchers who are also interested in mobile learning. It’s a good way to see what other people are doing with these tools. That and get started building stuff, even if it is simple. I think too many people wait for the perfect idea or perfect design.






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In 1981 when Lawrence Stone offered a definition of ‘New History’ that included the organization of material in a new way that emphasizes the narrative, the need to ask new questions about why things happened in the way that they did, and that addressed the concerns of new problems that included the relationship between man and past societies, he couldn’t have imagined the possibility of mediated reality or the  tools and teachings for investigating history using mobile devices as demonstrated in the three projects presented in this roundtable.

Breanne Litts introduces us to three projects, presented in the order of size, giving a scope on how large Mobile History can exist and yet how personal that history can be.  Each project uses ARIS (Augmented Reality Interactive Storytelling) as the mobile technology platform. The first two projects demonstrate a collaborative effort across disciplines; the third has a more organic history in its development and application.

The goal of the three projects is to find ways to engage students in the larger concepts and events of public history. Practitioners Janet Austiff & Susan Lynch developed Teaching with Primary Sources, preparing teachers to create coursework using ARIS, which implements an interaction with primary sources from the Library of Congress.  Practitioners Jennifer Sly and Wendy Jones developed ‘History in our Hands’, after a conference presentation in 2007 on children using of cell phones to create personal learning trails that became the basis for the OOKL model. This project allows for the creation of personalized learning through iDevices while experiencing the Minnesota Historical Society. Practitioner Jim Matthews development of ‘Dow Day’, a situated documentary, designed to be played in the actual location where an anti-war protest occurred in Madison Wisconsin in 1967, is historical in itself in that Jim creates this application in 2005 using hard coded programming, and not the GUI interfaces now readily available for Augmented Reality.

With successful use of interactive games and collaborative activities to educate and inform students on public history, the development of each project continues to expand, incorporating exciting possibilities. The first example is as a result of student’s desire to share this iDevice knowledge outside of the classrooms, museums and actual spaces with their own families. The second example is how educators and students are working together to create new games and curriculum using GUI technology and iDevices native to students.

All three projects raise interesting questions about the use of augmented and mediated realities in learning environments. The first question, what editorial judgments are made by the creators of these environments when determining information about an event or experience that is included or discounted? The fact that these projects are all collaborative (and not exclusively adult collaborations) solves the challenge of creating objective content because each contributor brings their own knowledge and experience to the process. A second question comes from the analysis of the consumption and retention of this learning. Multiple levels of knowledge consumption occurs with students as they are experiencing the virtual and actual environment of a museum, or the steps of the Wisconsin state capital as perceived by the authors of those applications, how is that information processed and then communicated by that young mind? It would be interesting to see data or research on the long and short term retention and comprehension rates of the subjects involved in all three of these projects.

As I watched the video on the Dow Day project, I was reminded of the Francois Truffaut directed film, Fahrenheit 451, specifically the scene where the character Linda is watching an interactive TV show. The scenes of the show move forward based on responses she gives to questions presented to her by a human narrator breaking the fourth wall and asking those questions directly to Linda. Fahrenheit 451, like the Dow Day project, presents the human interaction between the viewer and the event, creating the personalized experience for Linda. Although this film is almost 50 years old, it embraces the exciting idea of the interactive experience.

When asked about the affordances and constraints of using mobile to engage with history and primary sources, practitioner Jim Matthews cites a colleague that likens this period in Mobile History to the early days of film. As a filmmaker, I can appreciate telling a story that suspends the belief of the viewer, yet informs that belief with a broad range of possibility around that story. While we are at the beginning of this technology, these projects demonstrate that the path of Mobile History is founded in sound, collaborative efforts focused on the productive and educational immersions of the student.

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