Heritage Perth and the Mixed Reality Makeover


|  By Robin McKean |

Students today are routinely becoming virtual tourists – entering simulated worlds to experience curriculum content or to have their real world augmented with layers of information designed to hook into curriculum and improve learning opportunities. Is science fiction really becoming science fact or are teachers virtually just travelling ‘back to the future’ as they embrace immersive digital technologies in order to deliver Digital and Design Technologies as part of the Australian curriculum – Western Australia style?

Panoramic murals and paintings, my Grandma’s stereoscope viewer and stereoscopic postcards, and flight simulators (1920s) were the earlier indicators of attempts to fully immerse oneself vicariously in a world both real and imagined. In the early 1980s, I was often escorting students into the magical Kingdom of the Mountains, where six children (sons and daughters of the King and Queen) had gone missing. Students were all captivated by Granny’s Garden as they travelled the realm, solving a variety of simple logic puzzles, spelling tests and maths quizzes. Many other simulations were to follow and, by the 90s, they were even engaging mum and dad and older siblings as well. Gaming came into the equation as students were transported onto a dock in a mysterious world where they were unsure of what they were supposed to do or why they were there and challenged to solve more puzzles and unlock pieces that ultimately told the story of Myst.

At the turn of the century, students got to enter a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) and, as avatars, travel back in time to River City using their 21st century skills, knowledge and technology to address 19th century problems. Virtual learning had acquired the rigour of a scientific investigation thanks to the research team at Harvard University. River City was a town plagued with health issues, and students had to work together in small research teams to help the town understand why the residents were becoming ill. This virtual environment allowed students to manipulate variables to help determine the cause of the epidemic as they collected data, formed hypotheses, developed controlled experiments to test their hypotheses, and made recommendations based on their findings to other members of their research community. The pedagogical bar was raised and virtual learning became a game changer. In time, more transdisciplinary Quests in Atlantis were developed by Indiana University and a sense of global citizenship was developed as students travelled through time and in different worlds and environments to perform a range of educational activities, talk with other users and mentors, and build virtual personae. Completing Quests required that members participate in real-world, socially and academically meaningful activities, such as conducting environmental studies, researching other cultures, calculating frequency distributions, analysing newspaper articles, interviewing community members and developing action plans.

Virtual adventures with learning and thinking became an expectation as teachers began to use virtuality and computers to assist learning, connect with the curriculum and consequently justify the enjoyment and place for learning activities such as these in a timetable that was beginning to bulge.

The 21st century story is now even better. Myst is back in virtual reality (VR) crowdfunding and Kickstarter campaigns have ensured the development of a newer technologically enhanced experience in Obduction. Abducted far across the universe, you find yourself on a broken alien landscape with odd pieces of Earth… with a pair of VR goggles not too dissimilar to Grandma’s stereoscope.

Those collaborative online virtual worlds have made a resurgence, allowing students to immerse themselves in learning environments augmented with layers of curriculum-connected information. VR now blends with augmented reality (AR) and these mixed reality (MR) learning opportunities offer a sliding virtuality scale of choice. Under the umbrella of mixed reality, they allow interactive and empathetic learning and, most importantly, a synthetic link to authenticity that would be otherwise unachievable in a classroom. Entering these realms of mixed reality enables participants to synthesise information, begin to understand, and then use this knowledge to ideate and construct solutions to real-world problems.

Project-based learning can now integrate these MR possibilities and, in the words of Dr Seuss, “You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!” The best part, of course, is that students can steer themselves in any direction they choose because these MR opportunities are proving as invaluable in the history, geography, art, language and literacy classroom as in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and Makerspace lab, inside the classroom or outside in the real world and in 2D and 3D environments enriched by virtual tour guides, videography and multimedia, archival information, digital assets and data sets, and audio recordings.

MR is dramatically amplifying the educational focus with Heritage Perth ‘Genius Loci’ or Power of Place digital learning activities. It engages the audience, engenders alternative meanings and builds deeper relationships with the historical past, the present day and possible futures. As time travellers, students can explore in 360 virtuality, augment walks with apps and web-based discovery trails, step inside VR locations of historical and cultural significance, virtually link to historical Panotours, 3D stereograms, Drone’s eye view panoramas and Google Story Spheres. They can visualise the settlement of the Swan River Colony then and now and from anywhere at any time. Embedded digital technologies and digital data sets are creating a plethora of holistic MR learning opportunities around the heritage precinct.

Activities can be mapped to both traditional and technology integrated learning models AKA Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, SAMR and TPAC and the Design Thinking process. They are easily integrated at any of the hierarchical levels of complexity and specificity while augmenting and enhancing that very sweet spot where technology, curriculum content and pedagogy converge.

Gamification in mixed modes has also become a valuable pedagogical tool. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Scheller Teacher Education Program provide a veritable moving feast of wide-ranging technologically enriched learning opportunities. Heritage Perth uses Radix Endeavour for STEM learning in maths and biology, with over 100 quests in five different biomes and students are easily lured to a labyrinth (Lure of the Labyrinth) to participate in a narrative-rich, mythological world laced with pre-algebra, computational thinking and maths puzzles. Taleblazer is used to code Heritage Perth’s own interactive historical narratives and scavenger hunts. Another very interesting recent addition to the gaming repertoire is the Digital Break Out. This immersive digital game-based strategy is centred around specially designed and classroom-specific problem/project/challenge-based learning activities that demand demonstration of a growth mindset while demanding resilience and perseverance. These ultra-engaging learning games teach teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking and troubleshooting by presenting participants with challenges that ignite their natural drive to problem solve.

The deepest and most meaningful learning is of course achieved at the level where students are creating, not consuming. To this end, a variety of software-based technologies are used by the students to digitise content and design their own interactive scenarios. They use immersive journalism tools such as Google Tour Builder or Story Spheres to highlight people, the places visited and the experiences had along the way.

Creating auras with Aurasma, coding non-linear adventures using Twine, Quest Adventure, Inklewriter or Taleblazer, adding special effects with multimedia tools including Filmora and Moviavi and developing VR with Thinglink or VIAR360 are the right fit for purpose at this level of creativity and in combination are allowing students to produce interactive adventures of their own that can be viewed anywhere – in a web browser, downloaded to a PC, or turned into an app that can be viewed through Google Cardboard goggles for the ultimate immersive experience.

Science fiction is now science fact as students have travelled back to a future where digital technologies can make what is old new again. They are in a learning space that allows new things and new experiences to become virtually real and where immersion encourages discovery, empathy and problem solving, while developing a better understanding of time and place. As Dr Seuss would say if asked why we should use these technologies meaningfully, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

Project-based Learning Scenario: STE(A)Ming to Mars

The Spacecraft 3D app starts students STE(A)Ming to Mars. In flight VR makes the journey even more authentic before activities from the virtual platform at NASABeAMartian enable them to become citizen scientists while getting the latest Mars news, images and information as part of a community of explorers. Students make their own 3D glasses and examine the Mars scape image database in more detail and create a Google Mars tour of their researched top tourist spots, completing their first formative assessment tasks using an array of immersive journalism tools to report on the journey thus far. There is time to enter Kodu GameWorld and further explore with the rover and the Mars simulator so that students are ready to create their own game before they return to the classroom and use Lego EV3s to build personalised robotic vehicles and become spoilt for choice at NASA Mars Makers. This is the ‘place for invention to be celebrated’.

There is also time to help The Martian do the maths. The Ares III mission was supposed to last 31 sols (a sol is a 24.5-hour Martian day). Just to be safe, NASA sent 68 sols’ worth of food, for six people. For Watney alone, that will last 300 sols, extended to 400 if he rations. How much will he need to survive?

Power of Place Learning Scenario: Light up the City

Science Immersion
Students are familiarised with the City of Perth tribute to John Glen and interact with simple circuits using interactives, 123D lab simulations, the Physics Classroom DC simulator and AR Circuits Augmented Reality Electric Circuit Kit allowing them to interact and toggle with switches, adjust resistance with bulbs and resistors, adjust battery voltage, experiment with five conductor materials and measure voltage with the voltmeter tool.
Synthesis: create circuits in virtual labs and in the real world with squishy conductive and insulator play dough; paper circuits with copper tape and surface-mount LEDs and then take it further in the Exploratorium.
Draw and print circuits in the circuit scribe editor. When functional, print and use with Circuit Scribe pens.

Technology Immersion
Work with computer-aided design (CAD) simulation 3D design tutorials in Tinkercad.
Synthesis: create a simple model and download for 3D STL file for print or export to Minecraft.

Maths Immersion
Work through TLF Cities Taking Shape Module and develop student knowledge of 2D and 3D shapes, and the relationships between them. They learn about how a 3D shape can look different when viewed from different positions.
Synthesis: Design and construct a model city.

All of above.
Design Brief: Design and construct a paper or 3D printed ‘model’ of the heritage precinct streetscape or building city or town block and Light Up the City.
Ideate: go solo to start.
Prototype: as a team.
Product/Working Model.

Gamification Learning Scenario: CSI – Cold Case Digital Breakout

Students are introduced to digital game play and the ‘cryptic’ nature of historical investigation and time travel through the Mystery of the King Tut Breakout. They are virtually transported to the Valley of the Kings to trace Howard Carter’s steps, crack the codes, and break into Tut’s tomb.

To undergo the main historical inquiry, they are transported to an unknown Australian location shrouded in a mystery of enormous magnitude. By using GIS information systems, Google Maps, Google Docs and primary source documents, and through critical document analysis (embedded Year 7 History formative assessment tasks) and detective work, they have to ‘unearth’ the mystery and solve the case. Who is the mystery man? What is the chronological significance of the investigation? How has the crime scene changed over time? What were the causes and consequences? How significant is this discovery?

Students will collaborate to create their own digital breakouts using Google Docs, Google Maps and tagged Thinglinks.

Coding Learning Scenario: ANZAC MR Story

Students will complete the Twinery tutorial.

Students will:

• use Twine software to write and code a simple interactive historical narrative of how WW1 ANZAC events may have looked ‘from the ground’

• extend their story with variables, conditional logic, images, CSS and JavaScript

• publish their Twinery directly to HTML

• locate or create multimedia representations of the people, ships, battles, backstories, medals of valour and courage, monuments and relevant primary source artefacts that would enhance the story

• embed using VIAR360 as an immersive and interactive 3D world experience.

Robin McKean is currently working with Heritage Perth, helping in the development of a digital learning portal, and as a sessional tutor in The World of Mobile Learning at the University of Western Australia. She is a passionate advocate for the invisible and meaningful use of digital technologies across all curriculum areas. Her digital delivery of the Western Australian History (HASS) curriculum has evolved into a thematic and empathetic thread for the STEM learning activities. These and Heritage Perth Digital Learning Design projects and place-based transdisciplinary learning activities have enhanced student learning and piqued teacher enthusiasm and interest at Teachmeets, workshops and conferences at local, state and national levels.

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