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Selecting a topic and title. H818 Activity 3.1.

Fig.1. Listening to a memorable and evocative ‘visitor audio tour’ on Alcatraz. Away from the bustle of people, by a nature reserve for nesting gannets. 

1) Theme and Format. Presentation of a multimedia model, QStream, for use before, during and after a trip that might be to a museum, historic property or battlefield.

2) With the centenary of the First World War upon us I would like to find ways to enhance the visitor experience, perhaps for those with a GCSE or A’Level, or an undergraduate interest rather than for the general public. Ideally there would be options to select a level of interest and previous understanding.

3) For this audience Secondary or Tertiary audiences will be of most interest. Perhaps even promoting an MA course for graduate Historians?

4) I have had an interest in QStream for a couple of years and developed a proposal for its use with patients with chronic illness. This is an alternative, though equally valid use for the platform. My only variation on this would be to include an audio component, and/or to track visitors so that content might be tailor to and for them.

5) How an App that spaces learning over a period of weeks and months can support the experience of visiting a museum, historic property or battlefield.

How an App is able to create a personalised experience for a visitor to a museum, historic property or battlefield that enhances the learning experience without distracting from the artefacts or the place itself, in other words, in compliments and augments the experience created by the visitor on their trip.

6) Already familiar with QStream (aka Spaced-Ed) I checked on latest papers and developments. I searched ‘museum’, ‘augmented’ and ‘elearning’ and from a selection of around 12 papers have thus far read, in depth, two of these as well as a couple of commercial conference presentations of a museum platform.  Based on this the idea is shifting towards headphones tracked in a space feeding a bespoke sound landscape and commentary based on where a person is and their observed and apparent behaviour. One platform avoided the need for any input by the user, though for my purposes GCSE (Key Stage X), A’leve (Key Stage Y) or Undergraduate, even Graduate is considered necessary so that you compliment the person’s necessary learning experience.

7) My literature research approach can always be refined, having completed H809 Research-based practices in online learning I feel competent to conduct a thorough search.

8) One glitch was to in error delete a folder in RefWorks rather than create a bibliography. There was no back button to undo. I make look at purchasing a commercial referencing tool such as EndNote. Having always felt that online learning was a process I felt the need to have a subject specialism too, for this reason I am taking a Masters degree in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. This is a very different experience. A monthly day of lectures/tutorial, a reading list with books to find from a regional university library, and an online platform that makes the OU VLE look like Whisley to Bham’s assorted allotments under the railway bridge! But you do get to meet fellow students and librarians.

9) Audio, without visuals, feelslike harking back to audioguides of the 1980s and 1990s, yet today, with GPS and other sophisticated tracking devices a visitor experience can be situated, to the spot, personalised to the individual, and still be evocative through ‘painting pictures’ in the mind without distracting from artefacts museum curators have so carefully chosen. A recent experience visiting Alcatraz, for all its Disneyfication and complimentary wildlife sanctuary cum Native American protest camp, included what I would describe as a BBC Radio 4 docudrama that was intelligent, moving an engaging – a blend of officer, prisoner and officer family oral memoir and soundscape. However, it did rely on the visitor being in the right spot when the audio was played so that very quickly, taking my own route around the island, I found the content in my head at odds, in an interesting way, with what I was looking at: gannets nesting on an old basketball yard (making it akin to a visit to the Farne Islands or the Bass Rock, also an old prison) while in the distance multimillion dollar multi-hull yachts raced the America’s cup.

On Reflection

The experience of Alcatraz would be extended if I had this audio-tour still to listen to repeatedly, to read as a transcript and then to find links for my own research. Having circumvented the regular tour I nearly found myself embarking with the headphones still plugged in … I’m like the characters in ‘Jurassic Park’, I soon tire of someone else’s plot and create my own journey.  It gave new meaning to the ‘birdman’ of Alcatraz, for example. And I can see why Clint Eastwood would never have made it to land … you’d be washed out into the Pacific.

How can the gallery or museum visit be personalised and augmented to make first impressions last?

Fig.1. Miro – Barcelona

A lifelong love in art galleries yet I still feel unmoved (most of the time) by galleries and museums, possibly because I expect the gentle, guiding voice of my late mother at my shoulder (artist, art historian, Mum).

What could be a more personalised visit than to have someone who knows you so well point things out, guide you to things that will interest or irritate, then offer an insight – invariably linked to ‘what do you do next?’ i.e. look, learn then apply.

I take heart from the exceptions, only two visits I can think of though:

‘In Flanders Fields’ – you need a day to yourself to take this in. The most shocking moment entering a funnel like fixture, looking around then twisting your head up to see sets of photographs of mutilated combatants. It put your physically in a demanding postion to view them. Then the multi-media displays, not just actors giving accounts, but the ultimate before and after shots of places using satelitte images and old aerial photos.

‘Alcatraz’ – on many levels the visit irritated me, partly the Disneyfication and advance booking, then the many layers of the islands as bird sanctuary, prison and Native American conquest. What impressed though was the brilliant audio guide – BBC at its very best might be the way to describe it. Very carefully and sensitively juxtapositioning of interviews with former inmates, guards, and family members of guards/governor which between them created a sense or atmosphere of the place like some kind of hideous monastic retreat.

So how do we ‘recreate’ battlefields” We have the 750th of the Battle of Lewes here in East Sussex next year, as well as us all having five or more years of the run up to, the war and aftermath of 1914-1918.

The opportunity exists to use smart devices to give visitors and pilgrims an enhanced, personalised and lasting memory of these places – but how?

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