Last week we returned to the Library Open Learning Space for our second and final workshop to discuss Scarlet+ specifically and the future of AR at University of Sussex specifically. We were once again joined by our lead academic, Dr. Lucy Robinson and a host of Sussex staff including Suzanne Rose our Mass Observation Education and Outreach Officer), Fiona Courage, Special Collections Manager & Mass Observation Curator, Stuart Lamour and John Davies, from ITS, and a new face in the shape of 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 should we use AR in archives as oppose to other teaching and outreach tools? 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?
Our overarching concept with VIYP has been to use AR to provide resources that users need or want but cannot access using the actual archival material. Extra resources such as the videos used in YIYP, documents that link material within or between our archives, and chosen supporting resources such as digital newspaper articles were all suggested.
Dr. Robinson stated that for postgraduates AR can be seen as a unique historical resource in its own right. She was particularly interested in using AR for ‘gobbet exercises’.
These teach and test student’s content perception, and understanding of the 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.
Dr. Lucy Robinson on AR and gobbets.
For providing content there is still much doubt in 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. As Jane Harvell, Head of Academic services at the library and Sussex’s Scarlet+ Project Manager wisely said, “archives are incredibly powerful” – we have to remember WHY our users visit us. What do they want from the experience?
Jane Harvell and Fiona Courage speaking about the future of AR at Sussex.
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, especially in schools, is a better trodden path for AR. Suzanne Rose has included AR in Mass Observation’s HLF bid for use in Secondary schools to open up the archive. It gives a more explorative, less formal way to provide access to archival material away from the archive than a pile of photocopies; for example, a treasure hunt feel could be achieved with clever use of triggers that would make the AR an organic part of the experience, not just another pile of paper. Possibly the greatest challenge AR faces when being taken out is Wi-Fi; Suzanne has already had to rethink one outreach session on the hop due to this problem. She had designed an exercise using iPads that relied on Wi-Fi but the room she was using was changed at the last minute and had to revert to paper.
Conferences were another place where AR could be an exciting way to share digital resources, either formally as part of a presentation or informally on a one to one basis. Attendees could take home a presentation on their device or take part in a digital exhibition.
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 the use of AR in teaching relies on the enthusiasm of the tutor/teacher and in having the flexibility to allow them to shape the learning experience. They need to be handed the reins so what is created is meaningful to their sessions.
Stuart Lamour speaking about pedagogical approaches to AR.
AR could be used before viewing archival material as an introduction, especially digital material such as MOOnline and Observing the 1980s. Markers on boxes could trigger specific tutorials on how to handle that material or how to understand the way the collection is constructed. Suzanne Tatham can see particular application with sixth form groups in the library, where she could use AR to engage with Special Collections during library introductions and tours. She also suggested that AR could be used to supplement hand-outs as a way to provide the introductory information.
Suzanne Tatham speaking about AR in Learning & Teaching
Special Collections is about to move off-campus to a new archival resource centre. Will the physical distance to The Keep mean that we need to somehow keep a foothold in the library? AR could certainly be a way of doing this. Exhibitions and introductions would be the most obvious place to start, using AR in the library to bring people to archival material in The Keep.
Site specific material looks to be the most appropriate to access through AR. Dr. Robinson is currently setting up a Post Punk Britain course that is heavily rooted in Brighton, and also mentioned a community project based on the Arches.
Dr. Lucy Robinson on AR use in new courses at Sussex
This concept can be extended to the space within an exhibition where AR can be used to provide a different set of information to cater for different audiences (students, casual visitors, school groups etc.) or can layer images to show something that is not there. However, she also spoke of liminal space and of using AR not as an invitation to a ‘real’ this, but as an object and reality all of its own.
Transcription and translation were another problem that AR seems to offer a neat solution to. Our Virginia Woolf diaries are hard to read and lots of our German Jewish collections are not in English. AR can offer access to text that is not immediately readable and in this case the triggers would target the sections needed.
The fact that this is by far and away the longest blog post I have written for the Scarlet+ project is a tribute to just how productive the final workshop really was. 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.