Can mobile media enrich an act of remembrance? Can visitors to memorials, cemeteries and historically significant sites use it to connect with people from past generations and gain perspectives on their lives? There is no question that mobile phones can be a distraction and an unwelcome annoyance. They inform, entertain and connect us, but in the process also interrupt and even intrude into our time for quiet thought. In the next few days, I hope to get a clearer answer to these questions.
Today, I join 36 educators travelling to France and Belgium for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. It will be a five day First World War time shift to Flanders and the Arras region. The highlight will be the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial on April 9th. Vimy’s significance is controversial. It has meant different things to different people over the past century. Pivotal battle, legend or myth?: the impressive monument in northern France is said to leave an impression on visiting Canadians that is hard to put into words. I am looking forward to experiencing it for myself.
My Social Studies 10 classes and I have been researching members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force who died at Vimy Ridge between April 9-12, 1917. There are many excellent lessons and resources online that can be used to investigate the records and correspondence of Canadian soldiers. We have been using The Canadian Letters and Images Project from Vancouver Island University and Veteran Affairs’ Canadian Virtual War Memorial to collect digital artifacts from soldiers across the country to create a Walk of Remembrance app. These digital artifacts have been loaded into an interactive app using the ARIS Games platform (Augmented Reality Interactive Storytelling) to be used by visitors on educational tours to Vimy.
The app is intended to enrich the experience of visitors to the area in and around Vimy Ridge as they walk through commemorative spaces like cemeteries, countryside and villages. When the user opens it, they are presented with a short bio, photo and selection of personal correspondence, such as a letter, poem or postcard from a family member. The goal is to introduce a “welcomed interruption” while visitors walk through a memorial space that evokes a connection with the soldiers across time. The men featured in the app will not necessarily the those memorialized at any given site, but their artifacts reflect the the shared dislocation of family members between the Western Front and home.
I am interested in how this app could be used as a place-based learning activity in future educational tours. In particular, I am curious to see how students experience the past in an environment where the location - rather than a textbook, website or teacher - mediates the experience.
Each soldier’s information is brief and is delivered at timed intervals of 45-90 seconds so that the visitor can continue their walk without having to become engrossed in their phone. The artifacts are collected into the app inventory and linked to an ESRI ArcGIS Story Map Journal that plots each soldier's information and media to their home town using geographic information system (GIS) technology. Users can revisit and explore the artifacts at a later time.
I applied many of the lessons that I learned authoring the First World War learning game, Though Poppies Grow. My technical challenges were to create an app that was easy on power and data, functional in areas with unpredictable connectivity, and unobtrusive for the user. ARIS includes the flexibility to use a timing function rather than rely on locational triggers like GPS. It also allows players to download the media beforehand to reduce data usage. The limited number of soldier profiles delivered at intervals will hopefully allow users to stay present in the walk while still perceiving the media as enriching rather than distracting.
My students enjoyed the research process which we connected to The Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts. They also like the prospect of creating a learning resource that can used by students abroad. I anticipate a range of feedback from my educator friends who are willing to do The Walk of Remembrance activity at Vimy Ridge. My hope is that mobile location-based apps can increase empathy, enrich meaning and provide historical perspectives for people while they reflect on collective memories in the future but that remains to be seen. I am looking forward to finding out.
Download ARIS Games from the Apple App Store, then search "Vimy Walk of Remembrance" to begin.