Case Study UoS
Why SCARLET+ at University of Sussex?
University of Sussex Special Collections has long been interested in how new ideas and technologies can allow our collections to be used in different ways, as our recent projects with linked data and Open Educational Resources demonstrate. In the SCARLET Augmented Reality project we saw the chance to be involved in a developing field which promises to expand teaching and outreach opportunities for archival collections, which by their very nature cannot be used outside a very specific environment. Although there is no experience that can recreate looking at the original documents, not everyone can, will, or knows they can visit an archive. AR and other tablet based digital technologies seem to offer a way to take archives out of the reading room and present them to new audiences in as authentic a way as is possible.
Mass Observation Project & Observing 1980s – Open Educational Resources and outreach.
SCARLET+ focuses on our Mass Observation collections, with particular focus on material digitised as part of the JISC-funded project Observing the 1980s. Mass Observation was established in 1937 as a social observation project in which people around the country were recruited to become what Mass Observation’s founders described as “the cameras with which we are trying to photograph contemporary life”. The move in the 1970s of the Mass Observation Archive (MOA) material to the University of Sussex inspired the establishment of a second phase of collecting which began in 1981, named the Mass Observation Project (MOP), a living archive which continues to this day. Mass Observation provides researchers with a vast collection of qualitative data on many subject themes, and over the past ten years the archive has been involved in various projects to increase their accessibility, both to researchers and to anyone wishing to use it to teach at all levels. The importance of the Observing the 1980s Open Educational Resource (OER) is that it gives easy access to MOP material and allows its free use for educational purposes. The OER will also be embedded in a 2nd year History course, run at Sussex by Dr. Lucy Robinson, academic lead for the University of Sussex SCARLET+ project.
First Sussex Workshop - the importance of a pedagogical approach.
For our first SCARLET+ workshop, we were lucky to be joined by Sussex staff members with experience in E-Learning Developer and Educational Development, our academic lead from the Department of History, the Project Manager on Observing the 1980s, and a variety of Special Collections staff. Having input in this initial brainstorming stage from people who have such different skills and experience was invaluable as it widened our ideas of what was possible both in teaching and with the technology itself.
When using Observing the 1980s as the basis for our AR app was first suggested, it was with the intention of using the app to give access to the whole OER in a different format. As we listened to Team SCARLET’s experiences during their first visit to us it quickly became apparent that this was not only not appropriate for AR, but vastly under-used its potential. AR is not just a new way to present archival material, it gives us the opportunity provide a unique experience for our users and researchers.
Once we all had a better understanding of what SCARLET was and how AR had been used so far, we had a discussion where all attendees voiced concerns and ideas and the group discussed them. Points of discussion included:
• Using AR to teach students what MOP is and how to use it.
• Concerns as to how we use the actual objects from MOP. Do we use MO person codes, pages, folders, or boxes as triggers?
• MOP is huge; can we use originals when only a small number of directives and panel members are in Observing the 1980’s? How do we guide the students towards using this.
• Can we use the Observing the 1980’s material as a resource within the AR app. If so, how?
• Using AR to give information on the panel members themselves when a directive response is being scanned.
• Can students create their own piece of AR as part of the course? How might this be assessed.
• University of Sussex tours using AR to delve into the past. Could this include the images used in Jeremy Deller’s postcard exhibition? Can students leave comments or upload their own content as they move around campus?
• How much better it would be not to have to choose a channel, just to have a ‘University of Sussex AR’ app. that recognised which data set to draw from when scanning the triggers. Is this possible? • Scanning the location barcodes on the boxes. Scanning a directive question.
• Giving background information on the directives; videos on where ideas came from, information from staff, links to responses, relevant music, youtube clips, etc.
• Using the time and space aspect of AR and the problems of GPS indoors.
• Giving the current retrospective view of the directive subjects to compare with the actual material collected at the time by MOP.
• Can we use the Observing the 1980’s necklaces as the items that are scanned? If so, can we put Margaret Thatcher’s head on Dr. Lucy Robinson when she is teaching?
• Is the Observing the 1980s material actually suitable to be used as the AR data for this project?
This extensive list, most of which has no connection to the final AR app we created, shows how widely the conversation ranged. I consider this to be an essential part of developing AR applications as it allows the partners involved to explore the idea of AR within the context of their own needs.
Creating the structure of an Augmented Reality app
After the first workshop no actual decisions were made on what Sussex would build as its SCARLET+ AR app, so the university staff involved met for an hour the next day to do this. Having limited time after being able to digest what we had learnt worked well, and we quickly created a structure that has not changed throughout the project.
The team was eager to make sure that AR added something unique to Dr. Lucy Robinson’s teaching and the idea of using the application to present additional voices and their attitudes towards MOP seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
The app was named 'Voices In Your Pocket' and the three voices represented will be:
• A member of Special Collections.
• The Mass Observers themselves, through their writings mixed with biographical details.
• A student historian who has used the Mass Observation Project in their research.
A structure like this that concentrates on the interpretation of archival material could be applied to any discipline and any collection; for example an application could be created that uses part of our Bloomsbury collections to give voices to an archivist, Virginia Woolf herself, and a fan of her books.
Building an AR app for the first time.
The first thing to highlight in this section of our case study is that I have never before created Augmented Reality, never written code, never edited videos - most of the tasks I undertook to create Voices In Your Pocket were entirely new to me.
The first step in overcoming this lack of experience was a technical workshop at Mimas. Matt Ramirez took my counterpart from University of the Creative Arts and me through the process of AR app creation step by step over the course of a day. The importance of face-to-face contact for anyone venturing for the first time into the world of code, and webspace, and php files cannot be overstated. Having a real person, an expert with practical experience, to ask questions of is a powerful learning tool. This is particularly true of such new technology, where how-to guides and the like are few and far between. By providing us with carefully explained lines of code to and showing us what happens when different sections are changed, Matt gave us the framework and confidence to create my own AR applications. My understanding of the way AR works increased exponentially and this was the tipping point were I felt able not only to build the application but also to explain to others how it works and show them how to create their own; embedding the skills into our department as we have wanted to from the beginning. Ongoing support has also been vital; there have been countless emails flying back and forth between the different institutions involved in SCARLET+ and the experts at Mimas. Once again, no set of instructions can replace being able to ask a question of a real person.
How to create your AR app - instructions for Sussex Staff
The link below goes to the 'How to Guide' I have created for my own training of other Sussex staff. These documents are not designed to be used in isolation to create AR from scratch without prior knowledge, they are to guide training and to give users something to refer back to when building AR apps in the future.
Voices In Your Pocket - University of Sussex Special Collection's first AR app.
The two handouts below are enough to access and use the app. Stickers of the QR code and GLUE image have also been created to allow flexible access and a postcard is in development to use Voices In Your Pocket as a demo. app to show what we can offer others wanting to use AR at Sussex.
The information screen gives a brief summary of what the app does and also acts as a gateway to the Observing the 1980s OER.
When the GLUE image is now viewed through a tablet or smartphone device images float on the screen and can be tapped upon to trigger content.
With VIYP the Mass Observer numbers trigger a brief biography of the observer which then leads you to some of their writings.
The photographs trigger information on the person featured and lead you to a video of them speaking about working with Mass Observation.
Testing our Augmented Reality app - different groups, different needs, different approaches.
Voices In Your Pocket, our first AR app, has been trialed with three different groups.
I first presented the app in its early stages to Special Collections staff. The intention was to keep them up to date on progress with building the app , give them a window into the processes involved in creating it, and to give me feedback on the app itself. The ultimate intention of SCARLET+ is to embed the skills into Special Collections so these sessions are an essential part of the project as they help the rest of the department to see how an app is made. It took very little direction to get everyone up and running with the app. Downloading junaio to their phones took about a minute and was done whilst I was telling them what we were going to be up to during the session; the QR codes worked well, with most people understanding intuitively that ‘when it beeps, it’s done’; when extra buttons appeared on screens, few needed any encouragement to press them and find out what happened next. There were interesting questions on what to use as the trigger, how many triggers would give the best result (one might result in too much information on the screen at one time, but where would three be placed?), copyright concerns, and which devices junaio can be used on.
The first trial with students was quite a different story. I packed an archive box with three iPads and folders containing print-outs of the trigger image and basic how-to-instructions and took it into an MA History seminar on the 1980s.
From our experience of talking about and demonstrating AR with colleagues we had expected a fairly high level of enthusiasm in the technology itself. This did not turn out to be the case. Most of the group were hesitant about even picking up the iPads, commenting that they were not used to ‘being given toys’ and ‘would rather just have the originals’. The instructions I had provided proved to be inadequate; I had kept them simple as I had assumed there would be a certain level of knowledge and confidence amongst the majority of the students. The fact that this was not the target group, and that the app was not complete cannot have helped, either. I have now entirely re-written the instruction sheet, basing it on Matt Ramirez’s example.
This has given much better results. It was difficult to judge the level of interest in the material itself as the group was not forthcoming with their comments. The advice I had been given was not to structure the session too much and to listen to comments as they came, but with such a quiet group having some sort of written feedback form ready to hand out might have given them an alternative outlet and produced better results. Setting them a simple task or asking them a question at the start might also help with engagement, so I will be looking into this.
After a comprehensive re-write I gave the new instruction sheet to members of library staff with various levels of technological experience but who already owned smartphones or tablet devices. I asked them, with no further guidance, to try using the app. All but one were able to access the app and view the material without further help; the individual who asked for help was nervous of the technology but once we had read the instruction sheet together and she felt reassured she understood correctly what she needed to do, she accessed and enjoyed the app.
Perhaps the biggest surprise came when we presented SCARLET+ to the Mass Observation Trustees at their bi-annual meeting. The Trustees’ response was wholly positive; once a little guidance had been given on how to open the correct channel and how far away from the trigger image they should hold the iPad or Smartphone, they moved around the app with great ease. Feedback indicated that they thought AR was an exciting development and were pleased we were ‘keeping up’,enjoyed using the Voices in Your Pocket app itself and could see the benefit to users, and with the technology now embedded in Special Collections they could see that it would provide many further opportunities to enhance learning and teaching with the archives.
So what have we learnt? - outcomes and the future of Augmented Reality at Sussex.
Our final workshop brought together the University of Sussex staff present for the development workshop, along with Suzanne Tatham, our Learning and Teaching Support Librarian. Whilst the final AR app was presented and discussed, the main intention of the workshop was to gather ideas about where to go next with AR at University of Sussex. Once again, the blend of skills and experience in the room meant that I was left with a huge range of thoughts and ideas that can now guide our next steps with this exciting new technology. The session ended with a brainstorming session of which other individuals and departments within Sussex might be interested in using AR in their own work.
So; why use AR?
Why should we use AR in archives as oppose to other teaching and outreach tool? What does it have that gives a unique and meaningful experience to our users? Which groups is it particularly suited to? Which types of material is it particularly suited to?
• AR can provide resources that users need but cannot access using the actual archival material; extra resources, linking documents.
• Dr. Lucy Robinson stated that for postgraduates AR can be seen as a unique historical resource in its own right.
• How is AR different from providing a tablet device with a list of links or downloaded material? What is the unique quality that it gives the user that makes it different? There are certainly times when a tablet loaded up with digital images of archive material would be a better experience, especially when Wi-Fi may not be available. We need to ensure that we use AR only when AR is the most suitable option, not just for its own sake.
• Some archive users will always want the original material due their feeling of excitement at having a ‘real’ document in their hands, but not everyone values this experience; how can we use AR to draw them in?
• Outreach – AR gives a more exploratory and less formal way to provide archival material away from the archive than a pile of photocopies. Clever use of triggers should make the AR an organic part of the experience, not just another pile of paper.
• Conferences – AR could be an exciting way to share digital resources at conferences, either formally as part of a presentation or informally on a one to one basis. Attendees could take home a presentation on their devices. Small scale digital exhibitions could be created for conferences.
• As AR technology becomes more commonly used the introduction to using AR apps will become easier. We currently have to tell most people how to use it; soon this may not be necessary in the same way that most people are now comfortable with how twitter hashtags are used.
• AR alongside archival material could be used for multi-tasking and comparisons between.
• Jane Harvell– “archives are incredibly powerful” – we have to remember WHY our users visit us. What do they want from the experience?
• Content might be king, but is context our overlord? Content can be provided in many ways (originals, paper copies, digital copies); is the power of AR the ability to contextualise archives in personal ways?
• Ultimately use of AR in teaching relies on the enthusiasm of the tutor/teacher. They need to be handed the reins so what is created is meaningful to their sessions. In cases were a group are given a task, could AR be used to attach the task to the material?
• AR could be used to show examples of collections in the form of a digital exhibition
• Content perception – new meanings and social relationships of historical material. The specific skills of content perception are difficult to convey and test. The current ‘gobbet exercise’ uses quotes and images to test students on the constructions, interpretations and relationships of material. Getting students to create an AR app to answer these questions would be more appropriate as it forces students to think about context and develop these skills.
So; where now?
Now University of Sussex has this technology available to it, what do we do next?
• AR could be used before viewing archival material as an introduction, especially digital material such as MOOnline and Observing the 1980s; Augmenting the use of the digital. • Use markers on boxes to give access to specific tutorials; how to handle material or how to understand the way all/our archives work. Extend this pre-visit; either users visiting us or for outreach. • Site specific material looks to be the most readily accessible through AR – Spence Exhibition, Arches community project, Dr. Lucy Robinson’s Post Punk Britain course. She spoke of liminal spaces and of using AR not as an invitation to a ‘real’ this, but as an object and reality all of its own.
• Exhibitions – use AR to provide extra information, either to cater for different audiences (students, casual visitors, school groups etc.) or using layered images to show something that is not there. • Primary schools – those who are growing up with this technology find it much more accessible and part of a whole, not a separate experience. Use multiple triggers to create a treasure hunt type experience. • Conferences – this could be an exciting way to show digital resources at conferences, either formally as part of a presentation or informally on a one to one basis. Attendees can take home your presentation on their devices. Small scale digital exhibitions would be great for conferences. • Use AR to attach newspaper articles to specific archival material instead of ‘piles of photocopies’ or pages of text. • If a large group is trying to use a small amount of material, AR can be used to provide ‘copies’ while still allowing access to the original in the room. • Transcription and translation. Virginia Woolf diaries are hard to read and lots of CJGS is not in English. AR can offer access to text that is not immediately readable. • Suzanne Rose – AR has been included in MO’s HLF bid for use in Secondary schools to open up the archive. Wi-Fi; this could be the single greatest hurdle in using AR for outreach. Could downloads to the tablets be used as a backup in case of issues. • Suzanne Tatham – Can see particular application with sixth form groups in the library. Use AR to engage them during library introductions and tours. Sociology groups – AR could be used to supplement hand-outs as a way to provide the introductory information.
• AR development is in the Library's operational plan. This will ensure the technology is used in the future and not left on the shelf once the SCARLET+ project is finished.
The workshops involving staff from across the university were the most creative and prolific meetings we had and I would recommend anyone undertaking a similar project to go with this sandwich approach of bringing together interested parties at the start and finish. In just a few hours a plan for the future of AR at University of Sussex has been hatched and although the project is nearly over, the ball is most definitely still rolling.