Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Giving Voices To Our Archives – Augmenting The 1980s with Scarlet+.

by Rose Lock

Since August 2013 I have been working with Dr. Lucy Robinson and the SCARLET team at Mimas to develop an Augmented Reality application (AR app) using material from the Mass Observation Project (MOP), to be used as part of Dr. Robinson’s course on Thatcher’s Britain.

It is now very nearly finished, and has been entitled ‘Voices In Your Pocket’.

The first step toward creating our app was an extensive workshop where Laura Skilton and Matt Ramirez of Mimas and Dr. Guyda Armstrong of University of Manchester introduced potential applications of Augmented Reality (AR) in teaching and learning. This pivotal workshop inspired and supported us in our discussions of what to actually build.We were lucky to be joined by Sussex staff members including Stuart Lamour, an E-Learning Developer with experience in AR; Dr. John Davies, an Educational Developer; Dr. Lucy Robinson, Sussex history lecturer and Scarlet+’s academic lead; Jill Kirby, Project Manager for Observing the 1980s, plus a variety of Special Collections and Library staff. Their varied skills and wealth of experienced was invaluable as it really widened our ideas of what might be possible with this technology.

As Observing the 1980s itself is an Open Educational Resource (OER), we realised quite quickly that there would be little point in reproducing vast swathes of MOP material as part of the AR app that were actually available through a link in the app itself. The team was also eager to make sure that AR added something unique to Lucy’s teaching.

The idea emerged of using the application to introduce additional people who would not usually be represented in the room, and to allow them to voice their attitudes towards MOP through text and video. This seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

The three voices that are presented in the AR app are:

  • A member of Mass Observation staff.
  • Three of the Mass Observers themselves.
  • A student historian who has used the Mass Observation Project in their research.

The Observers are represented by their digitised writings, the others have been kind enough to be filmed talking about their experiences of and feelings about MO. These short videos are currently being edited and we are all very excited about seeing them soon.

We would like in the future to allow students to add comments to the app, but this is not currently feasible.

I had great concerns about the technical side of this project, caused in part by having been so impressed by what the original SCARLET apps could do. My worries were alleviated by a trip up to Manchester along with my opposite number in the Scarlet+ project (Marie-Therese Gramstadt from the University for the Creative Arts) for a technical workshop with Matt Ramirez, the augmented reality technical expert from Mimas who developed the original Scarlet apps.

By providing step-by-step instructions Matt gave me the both the framework and confidence to create my own AR applications. The importance of this face-to-face contact in the development of Voices In Your Pocket cannot be overstated. My understanding of the way AR works increased exponentially and I am also now far more able to explain to others how AR works and to show them how to create their own apps. As embedding the skills into our department has always been the main purpose of this project, not just building this one application.

The AR app is now just waiting for the finished videos to be edited and slotted in to place; the next step is testing and dissemination and I have already booked my first session to teach AR creation to other members Special Collections.

For further information on Augmented Reality and the Scarlet and Scarlet+ projects, please visit our blog or contact Rose Lock at University of Sussex Special Collections.