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Teaching and Learning HistoryPage 22
1. What Has Mystery Got to Do with It?
Should history be playful? Fun to do? If it should be, at least as presented in secondary schools, it is not. Most students would be sympathetic to James Joyce, who said, “History is a nightmare from which I must awake!” In our enthusiasm to cover the syllabus, to show the big picture, the vast canvas of history, we have squeezed both the fun and the fascination out. To go from “Plato to NATO” we take the flesh from the stories and deliver only the skeleton. Typically, we ask students to commit this to memory and regurgitate it at exam time instead of teaching the detective work—the critical skills of the historian applied to evidence from the past. The most able teachers have shown us for centuries that we can make history engaging while we teach its most important lessons. Now, as we are able to explore the affinities between game-based learning and the goals and tools of history teaching, we have some new tools at our disposal to make history “playful.”
In a 2006 article, Richard Van Eck argued that it is time that discussions about digital game-based learning (DGBL) move beyond research that has, by this point, already convincingly demonstrated its efficacy as a place for, or site of, learning. We need to move on now, he argues, to create “research explaining why DGBL is engaging and effective” and to provide “practical guidance for how (when, with whom, and under what conditions) games can be integrated into the learning process to maximize their learning potential.” We take up Van Eck’s challenge to explain and prescribe appropriate uses for history-related games as we explore links between our DGBL history project, the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History, and recentPage 24
research and writing about historical thinking and knowing. (See figures 1.1 and 1.2.) More specifically, we draw on two separate academic discussions, one exploring research into the teaching and learning of history in the schools and the other relating to theoretical and methodological developments within the discipline of history itself. We suggest that the intersection, or overlap, of these two areas provides a research- and theory-based explanation for how the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project works to include playful elements in the teaching of serious history. In the process, we also help to explain why this online history education project has become so widely used and so critically acclaimed as a way of teaching history.
The History Educators
Recent years have witnessed an increasing amount of research in the field of history education. Educators, long interested in how to teach students to think scientifically, have turned their attention to what constitutes historical thinking, or, in the current parlance, “historical literacy.” There are a number of factors involved in this renewed interest in history education, but perhaps most often cited is the decline of the more general social studies movement in the wake of research documenting students’ staggering historical ignorance about the origin and accomplishments of their own particular nation-state—this in an era of globalization with its increasing unease about the loss of national and religious identity following the end of the Cold War. Notwithstanding clear evidence that nationalism and indeed patriotism have been the engines driving often-intense public discussions about the purpose of history education, responses to the recent perceived crisis of historical understanding have been varied.
Conservatives have lobbied unapologetically, and sometimes successfully, for a highly partisan, nationalistic “return to basics” move within schools and museums, but there has been a significant movement in quite another direction as well: history researchers and educators alike are encouraging students to do their own “document analysis”—the interpretation of original historical or archaeological evidence from the past—as an important pillar of history education.
Their motives have varied. Many teachers and public historians (in museums, heritage villages, and other historical sites and monuments) have discovered that students are simply more interested in history, and seem to remember more of it for the final exam, when they can actively engage with original historical sources; because it keeps students busy, occupied, and apparently learning, this approach is widely perceived to work as an Page 26educational strategy. As a result, compilations of primary documents along with supporting educational materials have become a major industry, particularly in the United States.
Researchers in the field of history education do not deny that students can be more engaged by working with primary documents, but their strong advocacy of teaching students to use primary documents in the history classroom is not related just to the immediate appeal that working with these documents provides to students. Rather, researchers and theorists in the field of history education tend to share a conviction that, because history essentially is a dialogue among people about the interpretation of evidence left over from the past, then history education must, to be effective, at the very least introduce students to what history is by inviting them to participate actively in the process or practice of what doing history involves. Like the revolutionary science educators of an earlier era, history educators are suggesting that historical knowledge, like scientific knowledge, is not about knowing facts so much as it is about understanding processes. For teachers who see science as a kind of knowledge or process of knowing rather than simply the final product or conclusion, Bunsen burners and the techniques of scientific observation overshadow the memorization of complicated nomenclatures. For teachers who see history as a kind of knowledge or process of knowing, primary documents and the techniques of inquiry-based interpretation overshadow the memorization of events, names, and dates. As Peter Seixas has argued, it is only in this way that students can become truly engaged in the “community of inquiry” that comprises the disciplinary, evidence-based critical inquiry that history is. (See figure 1.3.)
Ken Osborne has pointed out that the idea that students need to “do history” in order to understand history—that is, analyze and interpret primary historical documents—is not new; the history teacher Fred Morrow Fling was actively advocating this practice more than one hundred years ago, and the idea has been an important component of progressive reform in educational circles ever since. The idea may not be new, but research in the field of history education is now documenting just how difficult it is to convey this to students. One of the unanticipated consequences of the increased use of primary documents in the classroom has been research documenting that, engaging as they are, these primary sources cannot on their own be relied on to provide an increased understanding of history. In his well-known 1991 study, Samuel Wineburg asked students and historians to think aloud as they read historical texts, both primary and secondary. He noted that whereas historians entered into a complex dialogue with the multiple meanings of the text, students were generally able to marshal only one question about what they were reading: is it true? With little familiarityPage 27
with primary documents, without the appropriate background knowledge, and without an understanding of the processes of critical inquiry, students were simply not able to engage in constructing historical knowledge from the documents. As Wineburg has argued since, historical thinking really is an “unnatural act” that involves thought processes that are counterintuitive to most students.
Wineburg’s work demonstrates that students need considerable scaffolding if they are to learn to use primary documents to construct knowledge about the past. The research of history educators such as Peter Lee, Ros Ashby, S. G. Grant, Bruce Van Sledright, Keith Barton, Linda Levstik, and Stella Winert has provided considerable evidence about how students as young as age 6 or 7 can successfully be taught the kinds of critical, evidence-based thinking they need to think historically. But it turns out that, left to themselves, students are reluctant to critically engage primary sources. Andrew Milson argues that students using web-based materials regularly sought out the “path of least resistance” when looking for ways of constructing historical knowledge, rather than searching for a more complex understanding. Other research has documented that rather than evaluating information from multiple sources, students using primary documents on the world wide web moved directly to search engines to find sites they thought would give them Page 28all necessary information to accomplish their task as quickly as possible, and in a way that was most likely to meet the approval of the teacher.
Barton’s study of fourth- and fifth-grade American students highlights the problems. His research documented students’ remarkable ability to engage critically with such issues as the contingency of historical narratives and the constructed nature of historical documents. But after students had critically examined the historical documents, Barton discovered “one remarkable and unexpected problem”:
After three days of this [critical inquiry] activity, the teacher pulled students together to discuss their conclusions. . . . Each student had an opinion, and they were eager to share. But none of the opinions had any relationship to the evidence that they had just spent three days evaluating. Students did not use the evidence to reach conclusions; they were just making up what they thought must have happened.
Barton aptly entitled his article “ ‘I just kinda know.’ ” European educators have noted a similar reluctance in their students to bring critical inquiry to bear on history education in the classroom, and new research into levels of historical consciousness and differences between historical knowledge and historical belief is now underway to account for the phenomenon whereby students know about history as critical inquiry, but refuse to take it seriously. Keith Barton and Linda Levstik have argued that the solution to the problem is to be found in the articulation of a coherent purpose for history education, and have found it in history’s unique suitability to provide students with the kind of humanistic education they need to participate in a democratic and pluralistic society. The study of primary documents, they argue, provides an important foundation for the kind of evidence-based reasoning that members of a participatory democracy need to deliberate on, and make decisions about, their society.
On a slightly different tack, Ruth Sandwell has argued that the problem is essentially epistemological: students do not engage with a critical evaluation of historical evidence because, in spite of what they learn about critical inquiry, they still believe that history really is a set of received truths that they must memorize and tell back to their teachers. Conducting reasoned, educated interpretations of evidence becomes just one more example of busywork in the classroom. And why wouldn’t they? After all, knowing “the facts” rather than understanding the process is what they are most often, and most rigorously, evaluated on. As Peter Lee puts it, if students do not “get” the idea that history is dialogue among people about the interpretation of meaningful evidence about the past, and believe instead that it exists only by Page 29authoritarian fiat or only through the always-flawed accounts of individual eyewitnesses, then it becomes impossible, meaningless, or both, for students to understand history.
Historians have changed a lot over the past fifty years. Since the defeat of fascism and the triumph of American modernity, historians have been increasingly rejecting the notion of a single unified narrative of history in favor of histories that are more complex and varied. They have expanded their studies beyond one class, gender, or ethnically defined group, and beyond their earlier, predominant interest in public life and formal political systems. As a result, historians’ research and writing has become much more interdisciplinary, and much less the narrative of “the winners.” This concern with a wider range of peoples and issues in the past has, furthermore, encouraged some historians to take (and admit to) a more active role in contemporary concerns, particularly those involving historical injustices based on gender, class, or ethnicity. They have become much more open about their concerns about contemporary, relevant issues, and the ways in which these contemporary issues have helped to shape their professional interests. As Christopher Dummitt phrased it in his article “Beyond Inclusiveness: The Future of Canadian History,” “by far the largest fields that historians now claim to be affiliated with are those generally associated with inclusive history: social; women and gender; and cultural.”
Dummitt goes on to articulate some of the problems that the new consensus on inclusivity has created, but this is not to diminish the fact that historians have become much more cognizant of the relationship between knowledge and power than they used to be. Not only do they believe that history involves more than the single narrative about the winners in the past, but many historians argue that portraying history as a particular one-dimensional narrative only helps to maintain structures of power within today’s society. These changes are aspects of historians’ growing awareness that their research is more a process of critical inquiry, a kind of knowledge, than it is a series of authoritarian, factual statements, let alone final judgments, about the past. The past is gone, and all historians can do is try to understand some of its meaning and complexity through ongoing discussions about how best to interpret evidence from the past that is meaningful in the present, albeit for a wide variety of reasons. (See figure 1.4.)
In moving beyond the positivism that largely defined nineteenth-century historical writing, historians are openly acknowledging that history is a processPage 30
of critical inquiry, a painfully meticulous process of piecing together—constructing—into a narrative, pieces of evidence about a meaningful past in the context of what other historians have written about. Acknowledging that history is an interpretive act where historians enter into an ongoing dialogue with others about fragmented, contingent evidence from the past has had an important influence not only on what historians study, but on how they present their work. Increasingly, historians are arguing that it is not enough to be more inclusive in who we consider legitimate historical subjects, or how we represent them: our history needs to articulate more clearly the dialogical nature of our work. As historian Lyle Dick has recently argued, historians have identified the need to move beyond a focus on diversity of content toward embracing a greater diversity of form. In this regard, we might consider replacing univocal narratives or harmonized syntheses relying on partial perspectives or evidence with forms incorporating a larger selection of voices and perspectives. Instead of weaving the different strands together into tight narratives, we might be trying to combine different forms, genres, and voices into looser structures. Rather than seeking resolution and coherence, we might be juxtaposing conflicting and even contradictory materials to more accurately represent the contested character of the Canadian past and the actual diversity of perspectives bearing on its interpretation.Page 31
Like history educators, historians are increasingly declaring the importance of the processes of historical practice to good historical thinking. Three decades ago, the craft of conveying the complex interplay of forces was recaptured by European scholars in a method called “micro-storia” or “micro-history.” Micro-history is a return to the story of real people with all the messy, fascinating, sometimes microscopic details of their lives. But the goal in exploring the details is to see the larger forces at work, forces that are invisible when the scope is much larger:
By reducing the scale of observation, it becomes possible to document the ways that particular people work out their lives within a shifting set of patterns—beliefs, practices, relationships—in which they make sense of their own lives, adapting themselves to each other and to their environment, or by changing their environment to suit their society. It is in people’s day-to-day practices that they make the “innumerable and infinitesimal transformations of and within the dominant cultural economy in order to adapt it to their own interests and their own rules.” It is in these practices that microhistorians hope to see and sometimes explain variation and change in history.
Micro-history is the asking of the big questions of history and looking for the answers in small places.
The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History Project
As we have argued above, history educators and professional historians now agree that understanding history means understanding the dialogical processes involved in interpreting evidence from the past in the context of what others have thought relevant. History is a conversation about interpreting evidence. The project that John Sutton Lutz, Ruth Sandwell, and Peter Gossage established, Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History (www.canadianmysteries.ca), is a web-based history education project that explicitly sets out to introduce students to the unnatural act of doing history. As we described the history of the project in 2009:
When we first imagined the site, we were intrigued by the dissonance between using late 20th century technology to investigate a mid-19th century murder. What John and I had originally liked about the technology was the strange co-incidence between web based technology and late 20th century ideas about history. We felt that the lecture format and the textbook, both first developed in the 19th century Page 32as important ways of teaching history, were used by earlier generations of history teachers because they were particularly well suited to particular 19th century understandings of history. That is, history is “just the facts,” plain and simple; a chronicle of events told in an epic format, with good guys and bad guys (and we mean guys) and a strong, simple and one dimensional plot line. The world wide web, by contrast, was, we thought, particularly well suited to late 20th century ideas of what history is: not a linear, authoritarian declaration by an eminent historian about what “really” happened, but a broader, more inclusive discussion of varied peoples in varied places, discussions that were sensitive to race, class, gender, sexual preference, regional differences. History involves multiple perspectives, ambiguity and dissonance. It also involves some very particular disciplined approaches to evaluating evidence, to building reasoned arguments, and to making persuasive claims about the past.
What we had created was, in effect, a digital game-based learning site where visitors to the site would “do history”: in interacting with the materials on the site, they would engage in, or would at least be forced to confront, complex forms of historical thinking as they used the primary documents on the site to come to a reasoned interpretation of the real-life historical mystery they were presented with in each of the twelve mysteries.
The premise of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project is simple. Take an intriguing mystery—a story that has no single, clear resolution—put all the kinds and range of evidence you can find on the Internet, and challenge students and others to solve the mystery. In fact, we provide the first part of the story and the tools for students to write the ending. The method is micro-historical so the mysteries are not random. They involve some of the big issues that concern historians: race, gender, ethnicity, immigration, religious intolerance, terrorism, war, climate change, aboriginal–non-aboriginal relations, wrongful convictions, and child abuse, to name a few.
Between 1997 and 2008 the project created twelve mystery websites, each available in their entirety in French and English. Each website is a multimedia archive based on the particular mystery, with dozens and even hundreds of documents, each totaling about 100,000 words of text, along with dozens of images; several have oral interviews, 3D re-creations, and video. They range from some of the big questions (where was the Viking Vinland and why did it not survive?) through the burning of Montreal in 1734, an Indian war of the 1860s, to mysterious deaths and murders, including that of the well-known artist Tom Thompson and the Canadian diplomat hounded by the CIA, Herbert Norman. These are great mysteries, not because theyPage 33
are famous, but because of the amazing access they give us to the lives and issues of real people facing dramatic and often violent crises.
To provide the necessary pedagogical support for the mysteries, an educational director (Ruth Sandwell) was appointed to create materials for teachers and students interested in developing and refining the techniques of primary source document analysis. These include introductory lessons for interpreting historical evidence complete with teachers’ notes and fully developed unit plans comprising several lessons and support materials for teachers and students. We also created an entire MysteryQuests website (www.mysteryquests.ca) that contains thirty-nine student-focused and age-specific lesson plans that pertain to the individual mysteries. Other forms of teacher and student support (see the Teachers’ Corner for each of the mystery sites) make it easier to use the mysteries to teach history within elementary, secondary, and even university classrooms. (See, for example, figure 1.5.)Page 34
Further testing is needed to confirm exactly how and to what extent the sites work at conveying new ways of thinking about and doing history, but our preliminary studies indicate some success in providing willing viewers both the raw materials of an engaging micro-historical mystery, and the intellectual and pedagogical support to interpret them.
The mysteries take two forms. Some of them present a historical puzzle for the student to solve. Others take a crime, or a mysterious death that might have been a crime, and invite the student in as a detective-historian. In some cases, the students find themselves absolving convicted murderers they believe were wrongly convicted and hanged in a travesty of justice. In others, they identify potential murderers who have walked free. All the mysteries were chosen because there is no single “correct” solution. In all cases, students are assembling a narrative out of a diverse, unordered, and sometimes contradictory set of evidence, and having to make the case that their solution is more plausible than the alternatives.
Let us give an example of the first type, “Where was Vinland?” chronologically the first in our series. (See figure 1.6.) All of our websites were createdPage 35
by leading scholars in the field who, in most cases, pitched the mysteries to the directors in a national competition. In this case, the research director, archaeologist Birgitta Wallace, had spent her entire career studying the Norse in North America and is acknowledged to be one of the world’s experts. Only one Viking-era settlement site has been documented in North America at L’Anse Aux Meadows, in northern Newfoundland, and it does not seem to coincide with the description from the Viking stories, or sagas, which identifies Vinland as the “Land of Grapes.” The site where Europe first met America is of global significance. Proponents locate Vinland in many places between Rhode Island and Labrador. So the website presents all the saga evidence and virtually all the archaeological evidence of Vikings in North America; extensive cultural and linguistic evidence from the Norsemen of the era so we can learn what “grapes” or wine might have been to them; and the flora and climate in eastern North America in 1000 c.e. It also examines the prominent Viking hoaxes. We know so much about the extensively excavated and documented L’Anse Aux Meadows site that we were able to create a 3D immersive environment for students to explore as well as scan many of the key artifacts in 3D and present them virtually on the website. A hint: the butternut root fragment is a significant piece of the puzzle. (See figure 1.7.)Page 36
The other type of mystery, based on a crime, offers students the chance to play the ever-popular role of detective, or crime scene investigator, which, as it turns out, is very analogous to that of the historian. But where detectives are often satisfied when they have identified the immediate cause of death and the specific perpetrator, the historian is even more interested in the context that created the crime and the contributing causes. The mystery “Who Killed William Robinson? Race, Justice, and Settling the Land,” which was the first one launched, is an example. When three black men were killed in 1867–68 in the small farming settlements on Salt Spring Island between Vancouver Island and Vancouver, native people were widely blamed. Only one of these murders, that of William Robinson, resulted in a conviction, and in that case an aboriginal man named Tshuanahusset was hanged. A closer look at all the cases suggests the possibility that it was easy to blame and convict a native person at that time when they could not speak the language of the courts and were widely seen as savages. The jury deliberated a full five minutes before Tshuanahusset was convicted on flimsy and conflicting circumstantial evidence, and his alibi was overlooked. When one explores motive, the case starts to point to members of the settler community who later are associated with a series of questionable activities relating to Robinson’s valuable waterfront property. The case is not just a “who-dunnit?” but an opening into the whole process of settlement of British Columbia, the dispossession of aboriginal people, the role of black settlers, and the question of whether justice was possible in such a race-based society. In this case, like Vinland and the other ten cases, small mysteries open up big questions.
Playful has proven popular. Every day, on average, more than 2,000 students use the website. Last year there were more than 800,000 user sessions, primarily in Canada and the United States but also in 50 countries around the world. The project has been extensively peer-reviewed (see http://www.canadianmysteries.ca/en/reviews.php) and it has won major prizes in the field. In 2008 the series won the award for the best online teaching resource in history from the MERLOT network and the Pierre Berton award from the National History Society of Canada for exemplary work in the dissemination of history. We continue to work on the project and a new mystery on the lost Franklin expedition is due to be launched in 2015.
The success of the project stems from the convergence described above: new ideas in historical pedagogy that support the active engagement of the learner at the center; new models of how historical thinking develops, particularly through primary source evidence relating to a micro-historical problem; a new technological format that provides both the fertile ground where a rich body of evidence can be accumulated, displayed, and widely accessed and the pedagogical scaffolding that allows visitors to research and analyze the evidence within online multimedia archives. Bringing these threads together,Page 37
the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project shows that the fascinating stories from the past can be used as a window to engage students in the big questions of then and now. Much more research is needed to examine the ways in which site visitors actually use the mysteries to build their historical understanding, and to test and refine the pedagogical support available on the site. But so far, the project seems to be providing just one more example of how learning history can be serious and playful at the same time.
A Full List of the Mysteries Available on The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History Website
Where is Vinland?
Use archaeological, historical, climatic, and environmental clues with a new 3D reconstruction to solve one of the most intriguing mysteries in world history: where did Europe first meet America?
Torture and the Truth: Angélique and the Burning of Montreal
When Montreal caught fire in April 1734, suspicion fell on a Black slave called Marie Angélique. But did she really start the fire?Page 38
Life and Death in the Arctic: The Mystery of the Franklin Expedition
In 1845 2 ships with 110 men, the elite of the British Navy, set off from England to find the Northwest Passage and were never seen again. [To be launched in spring 2015.]
Jerome: The Mystery Man of Baie Sainte-Marie
On September 8, 1863, a stranger was found on the beach of Sandy Cove in Nova Scotia, alive but with no legs and unable to speak. Who was this “mystery man”?
Who Killed William Robinson? Race, Justice, and Settling the Land
When three Black men were murdered in the space of eighteen months around 1868 on bucolic Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, alarm bells went off. An Aboriginal man was hanged, but was he guilty?
We Do Not Know His Name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War
As dawn broke on April 30, 1864, some twenty-five Tsilhqot’in men surprised the sleeping camp of a crew building a road to the Cariboo gold mines, killing fourteen. Was this war?
Heaven and Hell on Earth: The Massacre of the “Black” Donnellys
In 1880 the Donnelly farm in Ontario was burned to the ground and five family members were murdered. No one was ever found guilty of the crimes despite considerable evidence. Why?
Who Discovered Klondike Gold?
For a century, controversy has swirled around the question of who deserves credit for the discovery that set off the greatest gold rush in the history of the world. You be the judge!
The Redpath Mansion Mystery
Who killed Ada Redpath and her son in their Montreal mansion in 1901? Find out what really happened as you look into the lives of the rich and famous in their elite neighborhood.Page 39
Death on a Painted Lake: The Tom Thomson Tragedy
Investigate the mysterious 1917 death of artist Tom Thomson. Was his drowning accidental?
Aurore! The Mystery of the Martyred Child
The corpse of a young girl was found in a quiet Quebec village in 1920. What is the story behind this tragic case, and why does it still haunt the collective memory of the Québécois?
Explosion on the Kettle Valley Line: The Death of Peter Verigin
An explosion on a train killed the leader of the pacifist Doukhobor religious community in Castlegar, British Columbia, in 1924. Investigate the many theories about who did it. Accident or murder?
Death of a Diplomat: Herbert Norman and the Cold War
What would persuade the Canadian ambassador to Egypt to jump from a Cairo building in 1957?
This website consists of thirty-nine interactive, user-friendly lessons designed for use by individuals working alone or with a partner; suggestions for adapting these resources for use by an entire class are found in the teacher notes attached to each MysteryQuest.
1. James Joyce, Ulysses, episode 2: Nestor, accessed July 31, 2012, http://www.online-literature.com/james_joyce/ulysses/2/.
3. Richard Van Eck, “Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who are Restless,” Educause Review 41, no. 2 (March–April 2006): 16–30, accessed February 10, 2011, http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume41/DigitalGameBasedLearningItsNot/158041.
4. See Margaret McMillan’s Uses and Abuses of History (Toronto: Penguin, 2009) for a recent articulation of the relationship between the revival of interest in history Page 40and the end of the Cold War. See also Ken Osborne, “Teaching History in Schools: A Canadian Debate,” Journal of Curriculum Studies 35, no. 5 (2003): 585–626; and Peter Seixas, “Parallel Crises: History and the Social Studies Curriculum in the USA,” Journal of Curriculum Studies 25 (1993): 235–50.
5. See, for example, Tony Taylor, “Disputed Territory: The Politics of Historical Consciousness in Australia,” in Theorizing Historical Consciousness, ed. Peter Seixas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 217–39. For a discussion of Canadian reflections on history and history education over the past generation, see Ruth Sandwell, “ ‘We were allowed to disagree, because we couldn’t agree on anything’: Seventeen Voices in the Canadian Debates over History Education,” in History Wars and the Classroom: Global Perspectives, ed. Tony Taylor and Robert Guyver (Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Publishing, 2012), 51–76; Anna Clark and Stuart Macintyre, The History Wars (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2003); for comparative perspectives, see Tony Taylor and Robert Guyver, eds., History Wars and the Classroom: Global Perspectives (Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Publishing, 2012); Anna Clark, “Teaching the Nation’s Story: Comparing Public Debates and Classroom Perspectives of History Education in Australia and Canada,” Journal of Curriculum Studies 41, no. 6 (2009): 745–62; and Anna Clark, History’s Children: History Wars in the Classroom (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2008).
7. For an overview of the practical problems and consequences of using primary documents in the classroom, see Keith Barton, “Primary Sources in History: Breaking Through the Myths,” Phi Delta Kappan 86, no. 10 (June 2005): 745–53; Ruth Sandwell, “History is a Verb: Teaching Historical Practice to Teacher Education Students,” in New Possibilities for the Past: Shaping History Education in Canada, ed. Penny Clark (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011), 224–42.
8. See, for example, Peter Seixas, “A Modest Proposal for Change in Canadian History Education,” Teaching History 137 (December 2009): 26–32; idem, “What is Historical Consciousness?” in To the Past: History Education, Public Memory and Citizenship Education in Canada,ed. Ruth Sandwell(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 11–22; Ken Osborne, “Teaching History in Schools: A Canadian Debate,” Journal of Curriculum Studies 35, no. 5 (2003): 585–626. There is a large and growing literature on this, which is perhaps best summarized in Keith Barton and Linda Levstik’s Teaching History for the Common Good (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004). These issues are expanded in the Canadian context most recently in Penney Clark, ed., New Possibilities for the Past: Shaping History Education in Canada (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011).Page 41
13. S. G. Grant and Bruce Van Sledright, Constructing a Powerful Approach to Teaching and Learning in Elementary Social Studies (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001); Jere E. Brophy and Bruce Van Sledright, Teaching History in Elementary Schools (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997); Stella Rose Weinert, “Young Children’s Historical Understanding” (MA thesis, University of British Columbia, 2001); Peter Lee, “Putting Principles into Practice: Understanding History,” in How Students Learn: History in the Classroom, ed. M. Suzanne Donovan and John D. Bransford (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005), 29–78; Ruth Sandwell, “Reading Beyond Bias: Teaching Historical Practice to Secondary School Students,” McGill Journal of Education 38, no. 1 (Winter 2003): 168–86; Keith C. Barton and Linda S. Levstik, “Why Don’t More History Teachers Engage Students in Interpretation?” Social Education 67, no. 6 (2003): 358–62; Keith C. Barton and Linda S. Levstik, Researching History Education: Theory, Method and Context (New York: Routledge, 2008); Bruce A. Van Sledright, The Challenge of Rethinking History Education (New York: Routledge, 2011).
15. Keith C. Barton, “Inquiry and the Book of James,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the College and University Faculty Assembly, National Council for the Social Studies, Phoenix, Arizona, November 2002.
16. Keith C. Barton, “ ‘I just kinda know’: Elementary Students’ Ideas about Historical Evidence,” in Researching History Education: Theory, Method, and Context,ed. Linda Levstik and Keith Barton (New York: Routledge, 2008), 209–27.
17. James V. Wertsch, “Is It Possible to Teach Beliefs, as Well as Knowledge about History?” and Peter Lee and Rosalyn Ashby, “Progression in Historical Understanding among Students Ages 7–14,” in Knowing, Teaching and Learning History: National and International Perspectives, ed. Peter Stearns, Peter Seixas, and Sam Wineburg (New York: New York University Press, 2000).
20. Peter Lee, “Putting Principles into Practice: Understanding History,” in How Students Learn: History in the Classroom, ed. Suzanne Donovan and John D. Bransford (Washington, D.C.: The National Academic Press, 2005), accessed February 10, 2011, http://www.nap.edu/openbook/0309089484/html/31.html.
21. Christopher Dummitt, “Beyond Inclusiveness: The Future of Canadian History,” in Contesting Clio’s Craft: New Directions and Debates in Canadian History,ed. Christopher Dummitt and Michael Dawson (London: Institute for the Americas, 2009), 102.
22. See, for example, Robert F. Berkhofer Jr., “The Challenge of Poetics to (Normal) Historical Practice,” in The Rhetoric of Interpretation and the Interpretation of Rhetoric, ed. Paul Hernadi (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1989), 197.
24. Lyle Dick, “Fragmentation and Synthesis from the Standpoint of Critical History,” ActiveHistory, ca. April 26, 2011, http://activehistory.ca/papers/ldick/, accessed October 25, 2012.Page 42
25. Ruth W. Sandwell, “History as Experiment: Microhistory and Environmental History,” in Method and Meaning in Canadian Environmental History, ed. Alan McEachern and William Turkel (Toronto: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008), 123. Quotation from Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), xiv.
26. George G. Iggers, “From Macro- to Microhistory: The History of Everyday Life,” in Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1997). Two classics of the genre include Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, original in Italian 1976, English translation 1980); and Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983). In the Canadian context, see Ruth W. Sandwell “Introduction: Reading the Rural with a Microhistorical Eye,” in Contesting Rural Space: Land Policy and the Practices of Resettlement on Saltspring Island, 1859–1891 (Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005), 3–14.
2. “Why can’t you just tell us?”: Learning Canadian History with the Virtual Historian
What do students learn from educational technology? What expertise do digital history applications develop in computer users? Surely, for most educators web entertainment and serious game skills are inadequate answers to these questions—and for sound reasons. For today’s secondary school and university students, technology plays an integral part in their learning experiences. Students are “digital natives” and savvy. No longer does it suffice for a history teacher to present an overhead and have students take notes. No longer is it viable for a museum to count on traditional exhibits to attract new visitors. For Marc Prensky,
Today’s students have not just changed incrementally from those of the past, nor simply changed their slang, clothes, body adornments, or styles, as has happened between generations previously. A really big discontinuity has taken place. One might even call it a “singularity”—an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back. This so-called “singularity” is the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century.
Twenty-first-century students are used to interacting with hypermedia, to downloading music on their cell phones, to consulting a library database on Page 44their laptops, and to beaming instant messages while watching television or playing video games. They are actively involved in social networks and have little patience for classroom lectures, content-driven textbooks, and standard literacy tests. In this period of apparent “discontinuity” with past generations, it may seem futile to have young learners read passages from authorized textbooks or to introduce them to primary sources written in a seemingly “foreign” language from historical actors so distant from their busy, technological lives. From this perspective, the question should no longer be about whetherto use digital technology but rather howto use it to further the acquisition and development of expertise in domains of knowledge.
This chapter addresses some of the fundamental questions of digital technology in education from a disciplinary perspective. Using history as a domain of knowledge, it first reviews the research base related to inquiry-based learning and digital technology in history education. Then, the chapter explores the implications of using technology in the history classroom, focusing on the findings from a study with a digital history program. For the purpose of this study, “digital technology” refers to computer or network-based applications—including online learning programs supporting the teaching and learning of subject matters—whereas “virtual history” means the study and use of the past with digital technology.
Doing History . . . with Technology
History educators have long argued for more authentic forms of history teaching and learning. From the nineteenth-century inquiry ideas of Leopold von Ranke through to Fred Morrow Fling’s source methods, progressive historians have believed in a theory of school history anchored in teaching the discipline with inquiry. Meaningful and enduring understanding, from this perspective, is an active and continuous process of knowledge acquisition and (re)construction in light of students’ prior knowledge, understanding, and engagement with the discipline. In history education, several studies have documented the futility of storytelling and textbook-centered instruction on students’ historical learning. Instead, they have pointed to the necessity of engaging students actively in the heuristics of reading, sourcing, researching, and doing historical investigations.
Yet, as Samuel Wineburg puts it so eloquently, historical thinking is not a “natural” act. It is a sophisticated form of knowledge. Novices intuitively view history as a story of the past whereas historians develop expertise in thinking critically about the past. For the former, learning history is equated to “getting the story right,” usually in the form of a simplified narrative. Page 45For the latter, however, knowing history implies a complex—and always tentative—dialogue with the past using the available evidence and tools of the discipline. Growing evidence suggests that the development of a community of inquiry can help develop expertise among novices. Linda Levstik and Keith Barton indicate that the process of asking meaningful questions, finding evidence, and drawing conclusions is known as inquiry. Teachers, they argue, “can capitalize on children’s natural enthusiasm for learning by making their classrooms places where students explore important and meaningful questions.”
Equally challenging for twenty-first-century classrooms is the use of educational technologies. I have argued elsewhere that rich technological open learning environments, such as digital history programs, can support inquiry-based learning because of the types of resources and opportunities they offer to learners. With the development of the Internet and related applications, there has been a push in the last decade to infuse technology into the history curriculum. As John Saye and Thomas Brush argue, digital open learning environments (1) create more realistic, vivid engagements with history (lifelike inquiries) than what is currently available, and (2) draw on and stimulate student development of expertise in history and new technologies.
While school subjects such as science, language arts, and geography have directly benefited from instructional technologies, history lags behind. Particularly in Canadian education, few digital programs focus on history education beyond archival websites, virtual tours, and online texts. The recent development of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project presents refreshing initiatives to Canadian educators (see the chapter by Ruth Sandwell and John Sutton Lutz in this volume). In their own unique way, such programs put users in the virtual shoes of detectives engaged in investigating past and contemporary issues of significance.
Students’ Learning and the Virtual Historian
Instructional experience and the effectiveness of digital technology directly affect student learning. Empirical studies have revealed the limited pedagogical impact of storytelling and textbook reading on students’ historical development and reasoning. There is thus a need for a shift in students’ existing habits of classroom work. The integration of digital technology in the history classroom can provide a catalyst for such a change.
Yet educators must not hold unrealistic expectations. Recent findings suggest that technology alone is not a viable solution. Adam Friedman Page 46argues in his study of high school history teachers and technology that the use of online sources “depended to a greater extent on their access to computer projectors and school computing facilities.” In the same way, the experimental studies of Saye and Brush, the qualitative works of John Lee and Brendan Calandra and Andrew Milson on WebQuest, and finally the Google search study of Bing Pan et al. offer important recommendations to consider. Affordable access to online resources, such as primary source documents, artifacts, and hypertexts, provides users with a rich base of historical information rarely available in traditional textbooks. From such sources, students can navigate more randomly and be exposed to a greater variety of source types and perspectives on a given subject, widening their horizons and responding to their inquisitive minds. Yet many students in these studies have expressed concerns with regard to the nature of the sources and the amount of information available. Online historical texts are rarely produced in a language and narrative genre familiar to students. In the same way, the large—seemingly infinite—amount of texts available at the click of a mouse can easily overwhelm students who lack the searching and skimming skills necessary to navigate multiple, and often contradictory, sources. The result, as Milson observes, is that many students adopt a “path of least resistance,” scanning the material for quick and easy cut-and-paste factual answers.
Available to users in both French and English, the Virtual Historian (VH) (www.virtualhistorian.ca) is an instructional technology developed to meet some of the challenges of digital history learning (see figure 2.1). Unlike textbooks, learning guides, and WebQuests, the VH provides users with nonlinear, authentic, and realistic inquiries (“missions”) about key issues in Canadian history. Web-based inquiries are framed around “topical questions,” which call for critical analysis, dialectical reasoning, and sophisticated understanding of key phenomena in the history curriculum.
To complete their inquiries, students have access to an online tutorial and a brief synopsis of the mission with a topical question to answer. Curriculum rubrics present all the learning objectives addressed in the mission. Students are provided with conflicting primary and secondary sources on the subject, with embedded reading and sourcing questions, and with a web-based notepad to record and write answers. Students also have access to an online glossary for key words, to additional web resources, as well as to an integrated email program to communicate with their teacher or the program administrator.
Even though the VH was designed to promote digital inquiry learning, does it really work? Does it have a positive impact on students’ understanding of history? To answer these questions, a quasi-experimental study was conducted with 107 Ontario high school students in 2007–8. Following thePage 47
Canadian history curriculum for grade 10 (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005), one task was developed in the VH program: a case on “World War II and the Dieppe Raid, 1942” with four grade 10 history classes (two classroom-based and two VH) from two different English-speaking urban schools. By using the VH in Canadian classrooms, the study aimed to uncover the still unclear role and influence of such educational technology on students’ historical thinking and literacy—in terms of substantive knowledge acquisition (e.g., events, actors, dates), procedural knowledge development (e.g., use of evidence, perspective, significance), and epistemological knowledge understanding (how historical knowledge is constructed). Because of the potential of modern technology, the assumption was that digital history, as built in the VH program, can “mediate and support student historical thinking.”
As noted above, the subject focus for this study was on Canada’s participation in World War II: the Dieppe Raid of 1942. The participation of Canadians at Dieppe in 1942 is an important episode in the study of World War II. It marked the first official engagement of Canadian troops on the European Page 48front. Of the six thousand soldiers involved in the Allied raid of August 1942, five thousand were from French and English Canadian units. The Dieppe Raid was not a military success: 907 Canadians died in the battle and nearly 2,000 were captured by the German army. The outcome and impact of the raid are still debated today by historians: useless massacre to test German defense, or necessary lesson for D-Day?
The tasks included for this study first comprised a pre-instruction test that identified students’ prior knowledge and understanding of World War II and the Dieppe Raid. This test was administered before students received formal teaching on the subject by the selected teachers (see following item for participating teachers). The second task focused on the experimental use of the Virtual Historian as an online teaching tool. Selected students from the VH groups received a brief introduction to the program by their respective teachers and spent three additional classes on the web-based historical investigations. During these classes, the teacher’s role was to assist students in their learning of the topic from the VH. The “case” from Canada’s participation in World War II developed in the Virtual Historian comprises a series of authentic, primary, and secondary source documents on the issue. The case also provided a historical map and photographs, declassified Allied and German newsreels and memoranda, a Canadian newspaper article of the time, sounds and animations, and extra resources in the form of hyperlinks to relevant official websites.
Students in the classroom groups did not use the VH but learned from one classroom lesson and an inquiry-based activity in the form of a carousel set with resources distributed to them at each station. Teachers in these classes were responsible for designing three inquiry-based lessons on the subject matter and were instructed to use the same sources on Dieppe. These included primary sources (historical photographs of the raid, paintings, and maps) and secondary sources (excerpts from three textbooks, video clips from CBC Canada: A People’s History and Canada at War series, and the Canadian Encyclopedia online) that students analyzed during the activity. The lessons were submitted and reviewed before teachers engaged in the study of Dieppe with their students. Both the VH and classroom groups had to answer the same questions on the Dieppe Raid and were provided with the same report template. More specifically, the history case asked students to study the strategic importance (or “historical significance”) of the Dieppe Raid for Canada, for the Allies, and ultimately for World War II. Students in all groups wrote an essay on the raid of 1942 based on the worksheets and sources at their disposal. Finally, the same questions from the pre-instruction test were used in a post-instruction test to assess students’ progression in historical learning of the subject.Page 49
The participants for this study were made up of four classes of grade 10 students from two urban Ontario school districts (n = 107). The selection of participants followed a multiple-case design. Two large urban schools in Ontario provided windows into two comparable grade 10 classes per district. The demographic information for the participating schools indicates that 787 students were enrolled in school #1 (174 students in grade 10), and 887 students in school #2 (170 students in grade 10). Results of the Ontario grade 10 literacy test for the schools indicate that 92 percent of participating first-time eligible students successfully completed the literacy test for school #1 and 64 percent of participating first-time eligible students for school #2 (compared to 84 percent as an average for the province). Each school had one classroom and one VH group with similar achievement means. Two different teachers (one for the VH group and one for the classroom group) were selected for each school. Selection was based on willingness to participate in the study.
Table 2.1 presents data on the VH and comparison groups concerning their understanding of the subject matter, discipline, and epistemology. For both instructional and VH groups, pre-test, post-test, and essay scores show that students increased their comprehension of the subject matter, understanding of history, and literacy skills.
|Variables||Instructional Groups||Virtual Historian Groups|
|Pre-Test Mean (SD)||Post-Test Mean (SD)||Essay Mean (SD)||Pre-Test Mean (SD)||Post-Test Mean (SD)||Essay Mean (SD)|
|Tests and essay
|3.51 (1.17)||10.29 (2.65)||12.26 (3.69)||3.94 (1.78)||11.51 (2.60)||15.93 (2.89)|
|3.53 (1.38)||4.23 (1.59)|
|Tests and essay
|4.11 (2.67)||9.08 (2.60)||12.55 (2.58)||3.72 (2.76)||10.57 (2.45)||12.73 (4.03)|
|2.99 (1.71)||4.38 (1.58)|
Findings reveal, however, that using the VH led to the organization and writing of more sophisticated essays as evidenced by students’ mean scores Page 50(m = 15.93 vs. m = 12.26 for school #1). A t-test reveals a statistically reliable difference between the mean scores of the two groups for school #1, t(44) = 3.570, p = 0.001, α = 0.05. Students in the VH group were able to construct more structured and coherent arguments than their counterparts. Their knowledge of the subject (e.g., series of events, actors, facts) was greater and their ability to think historically (present clear arguments supported by appropriate evidence, consider historical significance, and make judgments on the issue) was significantly more sophisticated than those in the classroom group. The same pattern could not be found with school #2 (m = 12.73 vs. m = 12.55), t(45) = 0.172, p = 0.865, α = 0.05. Yet, when looking at students’ understanding of epistemology, findings indicate that participants in the VH group for school #2 developed more advanced understanding of the nature of historical knowledge than their counterparts in the classroom (m = 4.38 vs. m = 2.99), t(50) = 3.049, p = 0.004, α = 0.05.
To investigate the relationship between variables (schools, groups, instructional strategies), an analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted using the essay scores as the dependent variable and the strategies (instructional, VH) and groups (school #1, school #2) as factors. The results (table 2.2) confirm the main effect of the strategy and school on essay scores. The results also indicate an effect between the instructional strategy and the school.
|Dependent variable: Essay scores|
|Source||Sum of Squares||df||Mean Square||F||Sig.|
|Strategy * Schools||67.89||1||67.89||5.66||.019|
The non-statistically reliable differences on essay scores with students in school #2 are intriguing. Although further analysis is needed at this point, it can be hypothesized from the ANOVA test that external factors related to the school influenced the performance of these students. The lower scores of students from this population on the literacy test and the greater number of students with individualized educational programs (IEPs) and also having English as an additional language (26 percent of the grade 10 population for school #2 compared to 10 percent for school #1) are factors that appear to Page 51have impacted significantly on their overall performance. A section of this chapter below addresses this point.
Discussion and Conclusion
Learning to think critically about the past is a long and arduous process likely to put students and teachers at odds with popular history and standardized tests. There has been a misleading tendency in education to view knowledge as a binary “all-or-nothing” mode of acquisition. Learning outcomes in curriculum guidelines are often designed for teachers to assess whether or not students master the prescribed expectations for history. But like in any sport or apprenticeship program, history learners do not instinctively turn into experts after some limited exposure to the field. They gradually become skilled when engaged in various drills, practices, and exercises suited for their own development. Even then, intuitive and common-sense ideas often remain durable after repeated learning activities and experiences. To achieve expertise, people require “ample doses of discipline in the alternative sense of the term: regular practice, with feedback, in applying those habits of mind that yield understanding.”
The Virtual History program was designed to provide students with some digital exposure to what it is like to gradually inquire and think like a historian. Students in the VH groups, particularly from school #1, developed a deeper understanding of the subject matter and the discipline than those who studied the same subject from classroom learning activities. They were able to describe more specifically the events and actors involved in the Dieppe Raid, provide more supporting evidence for their claims, and explain more thoroughly what history is and how historical interpretations are generated. In other words, they showed a more advanced progression in thinking historically about the events. For Catty, a female student from school #1, different interpretations of Dieppe are valid “so long as there is evidence to support the other interpretation” (TOE-004). Virgil goes further and discusses the contingency of historians’ claims by arguing that “some interpretations can be different. Like some sources today may still be available to historians that they have not investigated yet” (TOE-016). The following essay explanation from Pearce on the lessons learned from the raid illustrates very well how students from this group used the historical documents in their essay. Lessons are specific to the context of the battle, look at both sides, and are supported by references or direct quotations to the sources in question.Page 52
There were many lessons learned from the mistakes at Dieppe. The need for fire support provided itself to be one of the biggest lessons, as there was no fire support at Dieppe (Report 128). A more confirming lesson learned was one of weapons. The Allies learned that most weapons performed wonderfully with the exception of the incendiary bullet, which was virtually useless (Notes from the Theatres of War). A battleship was thought to have potentially “turned the tide in our favour” according to Capt. J. Huges-Hallet. . . . The Germans learned that any attempt to invade the town could be promptly destroyed on the beach (Hamilton Newspaper Article).
In contrast, more students from the classroom (non-VH) groups understood history intuitively and produced essays in story form without use of the evidence provided to them in class. This finding was more evident with students from school #2. Sources were largely absent or considered exclusively for the information they convey (facts, dates, events). In many ways, their essays mirrored their school textbook—in terms of both content and structure. The following excerpt from Vero is typical:
The raid at Dieppe was useful because troops learned lessons from it. It was used as a learning experience that provided the Allies important information about Germany and battle strategies. Lessons learned were used two years later in 1944 for the D. Day battle. Britain developed armoured vehicles. This allowed their engineers to perform their tasks protected by amour. These vehicles were successfully used on D. Day. (TOC-023)
Unlike the previous student’s explanation, this one offers only vague statements on the lessons. It is not clear from this essay what has been learned or why “Britain developed armoured vehicles” for D-Day. In fact, no source is referenced in text, making it extremely difficult to understand the reasoning of this student and her ability to infer knowledge from sources. Information is presented in a descriptive manner, only without a coherent, evidence-based argument.
Equally interesting from the findings is the positive relationship between students’ historical thinking and their ability to write essays—a correlation that has also been observed in previous studies. An analysis of the relationship between essay structure (thesis, composition, citations/references) and thinking skills (argumentation, use of sources, significance of the raid) reveals a high coefficient of correlation between the two sets of scores for school #1 (Pearson r = 0.779, p < 0.001) and school #2 (Pearson r = 0.795, Page 53p < 0.001). These results suggest that students who have acquired some sophisticated understandings of history as a discipline are more likely to develop well-structured and coherent historical essays. Similar results were also found in a previous study with Canadian students, which established that the VH favors engagement with the subject matter and focuses students’ attention on the resolution of an investigation based on historical evidence and inquiry steps. Students in the VH group did not see a disconnection between the web-based inquiry and the writing of their argumentative essays, as did students in the comparison group. More than this, they had the feeling they could personally investigate and go into greater depth in the study of a significant episode in Canadian history.
But since the direction of the correlation is not clear from this study, it can also be hypothesized that historical literacy skills have a direct impact on how students make sense of the past. Research shows that those who have successful reading comprehension strategies and writing skills tend to create more coherent historical arguments supported by appropriate evidence. “Deeper processing,” as Jennifer Voss and James Wiley contend in light of their own experimental study, “is facilitated by the individual’s prior knowledge, of the specific topic, related topics, and history in general and a more advanced level of general information and thinking skills, such as knowledge of essay structures.” Valerie, a student from school #1 who used the VH, comments on her positive research experience: “My interest in history has increased because I’ve learned how many sources you can get info from and to never give up when researching” (TVE-018).
This is to say, then, that students who have already acquired some ability to search and collect sources, skim through them, compare and contrast their arguments, and make a structured argument on the strategic importance of the raid are also more likely to create essays with deeper understanding of the events and actors using multiple historical sources in a critical way. Steve, the history teacher from school #1 who used the VH, recorded the following in his teacher log: “The experimental group used far better vocabulary. . . . The bottom line is the good students got a lot out of the VH, handling it with ease.”
There has been a tendency in computational technology literature to blend critical research with self-advocacy. Supporters of new technologies in education tend to see the positive impact in the marketplace as an indicator of their uncontested potential for classroom improvement. These people, as Kathleen Swan and Mark Hofer argue, “appear to assume that technology is preferable to traditional modes of instruction, that it can make a good teacher better, and that it leads to more student-centered (and therefore preferable) instruction.” Findings from this study suggest some positive impact Page 54of the program on student achievement. As Katy, who successfully used the VH for her research, puts it: “I prefer in the computer lab because you can learn it your own way” (TVE-001). Yet the educational community will be better served in the end if researchers look at how specific technologies affect students and how digital programs support or detract from particular kinds of learning and achievement. Instead of presenting narrowly defined case studies of best practices, it may be worth analyzing both the potential for, and challenges of, integrating digital technology in history education. As a matter of fact, this study presents challenges that are critical for further use of digital history.
Sources as Fact Sheets
While students who used the program exclusively increased their overall understanding of history significantly, a majority continued to look at historical sources from a “readerly” perspective. Texts—whether they are print, visual, audiovisual, or artifactual—are examined primarily for their conventional, straightforward messages, not for the subtexts and contextualized meaning they convey. Primary sources are comparable to textbooks in that they contain answers (“facts”) that must be discovered. Students fail to understand the constructed nature of texts and the purpose and perspective of their authors. Charles Perfetti, Anne Britt, and Mara Georgi refer to this readerly approach as “content-based justification,” indicating that students are “considering more what is in a document than the status of the document as evidence.” More problematic, the study reveals that many participants attribute greater importance and reliability to simplified secondary sources, such as textbooks, because they convey intelligible truths that are often concealed in primary sources. As Victoria, a student in school #2, confesses, “in class reading a textbook is better because it’s very hard to find accurate info on the computer” (TOE-019). Kris, from school #1, concurs: “Being given pages and pages of facts and accounts of what happened is boring. It is easier to understand when the information is to the point” (TVE-015).
Consider, for example, this longer excerpt from Pearce (referenced above), a high-achieving student who used the VH for his assignment:
Of the 4,963 Canadians who sailed, 56 officers and 851 other ranks were killed.” There were 1,944 prisoners taken, and only 2,211 returned to Britain (Hamilton Spectator Newspaper Article). By 1:00 PM, the troops had withdrawn, and trapped soldiers had surrendered. The Page 55results were devastating, as less than half returned home (Timeline for Dieppe Raid). There were many lessons learned from the mistakes at Dieppe. The need for fire support provided itself to be one of the biggest lessons, as there was no fire support at Dieppe (Report 128). A more confirming lesson learned was one of weapons. The Allies learned that most weapons performed wonderfully with the exception of the incendiary bullet, which was virtually useless (Notes from the Theatres of War). A battleship was thought to have potentially “turned the tide in our favour” according to Capt. J. Huges-Hallet. . . . The Germans learned that any attempt to invade the town could be promptly destroyed on the beach (Hamilton Spectator Newspaper Article).
Unlike several of his peers, this student displays a deep understanding of the events and engagement with the content. He provides many factual details about the raid (casualties, timing, weapons, etc.) as well as valuable lessons learned from the amphibious operations. Several historical sources from the VH library, such as declassified reports and a newspaper article, are referenced in support of his argument. In many ways, and for many teachers, Pearce has done exactly what we expect. Facts are correctly presented in sequence and key information from the sources strategically included in the argumentation. What poses a problem from a historical thinking point of view, however, is how the sources are used in shaping the argument. Pearce completely overlooked the nature of the sources and the meaning of the subtexts, naively assuming that documents are bearers of information from a distant past. There is no distinction between primary and secondary sources, between a simplified time line presenting key dates and a declassified report (no. 128) from the Canadian Military Headquarters. The student failed to question the provenance, context, perspective, and credibility of the documents—to employ “sourcing heuristic”—by asking such questions as: Who created the source? When? From what perspective? How is the information supported or contradicted by other sources? All these questions and others were provided to Pearce in scaffolds and worksheets available directly from the VH program.
With such an engagement with the sources, it would have become possible to realize that Report 128 was produced in England by a Canadian historical officer, Colonel Stacey, two years after the raid, in light of D-Day landing. A critical reading of the sources would also allow for an interesting contrast between Stacey’s retrospective observations and Report 083 from Captain Brown, an officer who participated directly in the raid, or with Report 116, a secret German intelligence report of the battle produced Page 56immediately after Dieppe and offering a very bleak picture of the Canadian operation. Yet, as long as history is understood as a quest to “get the story right,” it is impossible for students to realize that knowing history is more complex and tentative than knowing how to find facts from historical sources and create a content-based justification. For Dennis Shemilt, “many pupils take knowledge about the past for granted because they have done little or no work with sources and have rarely, if ever, been asked ‘How do we know?’ ”
The use of sources as fact sheets is not particular to digital history. Students typically adopt such a naive approach to classroom resources as well. What is at stake for virtual history, however, is the assumption that the rich volume of multiple-perspective sources available electronically favors historical reasoning. This cannot be accomplished with primary sources alone. Unless students know how to read texts historically, their engagement will remain simplistic.
Visuals as Illustrations
The challenge of knowing the past online is not only with historical texts. The VH case on Dieppe contains a variety of visuals, audiovisual and animations, which students also failed to analyze in their essays. There is, for example, an informative German photograph (see figure 2.2) taken minutes after the raid, revealing crucial details on the terrible slaughter that Canadians faced upon landing on the well-guarded beach of Normandy. The dead bodies lying on the shore, the brand-new Churchill tanks immobilized in the pebbles, and the smoking landing crafts hit by the German artillery are all important pieces of information in understanding the level of preparedness and firepower of the German forces. The photograph also provides a powerful empathetic window into the chaotic experiences of Canadian soldiers who landed on the beach at Dieppe.
Yet students from this study continued to see visuals as “illustrations,” not as “evidence.” They did not view themselves as historical agents, as potential interpreters of nonverbal texts that convey particular meanings about the past. “Visual texts,” as Walter Werner observes, “are more than ‘things’ or instructional means set before students; their meanings emerge during interactions with readers (viewers).” “To think of images independent of readers,” he goes on, “is naive, for they do not speak apart from interpreters.” As with historical texts, analyzing visuals for historical interpretation requires a set of heuristics that will ultimately turn imagery sources into evidence for particular inferences. With this approach, the authority ofPage 57
visuals is shifted from the photographer to the questions and inferences that interpreters formulate about them.
Surprisingly, today’s textbooks are filled with authentic photographs and colorful graphics that have replaced the seemingly dense, unintelligible content of earlier versions. Still, students are not educated in a classroom environment that encourages them to become historical interpreters of visual texts and animated objects. For Hofer and Swan, “Just as the reader must consider context, point of view, audience, and other keys to understanding textual historical documents, one must view images in much the same way. . . . Like analyzing textual documents, the strategies for reading historical and contemporary images do not necessarily develop naturally and must be explicitly taught.”
With the arrival of high-speed Internet and augmented reality technology, users now have instant access to visual information about the real world that becomes interactive and digitally usable. In history, such developments have led to the design of simulations and augmented reality games (ARGs) such as Reliving the Revolution. These “serious games” engage learners in historical challenges and encounters with authentic visuals and animated objects about the past. Findings from this study suggest that despite a high penetration of such technology in young people’s lives, many students continue to employ a video game approach to visual sources in the history classroom. Instead of reading them as evidence, they view them as “cool” illustrations that enhance the reality of past times.
Digital “Natives” and “Foreign” History
Clearly, engaging students in digitally enhanced inquiries forces them to think differently about history and the subject matter. Storytelling, textbook reading, lecture notes, and heritage consumption must inevitably give way to active participation in investigating the distant, foreign past, and in generating evidence-based interpretations. For some, the progression in thinking historically is colossal and far from linear between the variables used in this study. In some instances, students can provide a sophisticated understanding of history (e.g., what history is) and in others (e.g., use of evidence) offer very naive ideas. As Peter Lee and Rosalyn Ashby observe, “it is possible that development in different conceptual areas may occur at different times.” For others, this digital approach to history learning represents a significant departure from their comfortable schooling “path of least resistance” and their intuitive learning outside the school. For Cassey, a student from school #2, the overall experience could be summed up in these terms: “I found your program pretty boring. I would have preferred to have teacher lecture me on it or read it in the text-book. . . . The way it was written was hard to understand. The language used in the text-book is simpler. The sound effects and animations in the program, however, were pretty successful” (TOE-024).
Cassey is far from alone. More than 60 percent of students in this study reported preferring either classroom teaching or a combination of teacher-computer to virtual history. This percentage was even higher among students from school #2. Reasons given by students range from the familiarity with the teacher’s style; the unchallenging nature of classroom lectures; the difficulty of navigating and analyzing multiple texts (even with online scaffolds); deep confidence in simplified textbook stories; and finally classroom interactions with the teacher, students, and learning objects. Samuel, a student who used the VH in school #1, said, “I personally prefer learning Canadian history in class because we go through it and you don’t need to look for your own information” (TVE-017). For Alex, another student who used the VH, “it’s better in the lab, because it’s more fun; however, it is distracting” (TOE-019).
For us in digital history, these are surprising comments. What could account for such critical remarks from students who performed relatively well with the computer program? How can digital natives, born and raised with technology, prefer classroom instruction to a computer lab activity and claim to be distracted by online learning? There is no simple answer to these startling yet fundamental questions. Despite remarkable progress in digital history over the years, we know very little from empirical studies. Results are still scarce and scattered and generalizations too problematical at this point. Page 59Although it is difficult and tentative to provide any firm conclusion, it is possible to present certain hypotheses that may help explain the results in terms of educational practice and students’ experiences.
First we must look more carefully at current education practices. Many history teachers in Ontario and elsewhere continue to rely extensively on storytelling and direct classroom instruction in the form of lectures and textbook reading. Despite successive waves of curricular reforms in the province, which emphasize active instructional strategies, authentic evaluation, and experiential learning, classroom teaching remains relatively traditional and teacher-centered in many public schools. For Barton and Levstik, the pressure to conform to conservative educational cultures, to control student behaviors and classroom routines, and to cover content knowledge for examination places teachers in unworkable situations. “In one study of preservice teachers who had engaged in a document-based methods course,” they argue, “participants made it clear that they were unlikely to use such approaches in the classroom.” Writing in the French Canadian context, Robert Martineau found that most classrooms observed were characterized by teacher lecture, reliance on the textbook, and the memorization of facts. According to Ken Osborne, this finding is “consistent with other data, and with a long record of commentary on the unsatisfactory state of history teaching in Canada stretching back almost a hundred years, but we simply do not know whether the situation is different in other parts of Canada today.”
With this state of affairs, it is no surprise that many grade 10 students from this study have great difficulty learning about the past using an experiential, student-centered approach fundamentally different from their earlier schooling experience. As long as teachers see history as “a mere accumulation of facts or stories,” Robert Bain concludes, we should not be surprised that they “transform curricular or pedagogical moves designed to promote student meaning-making back into lessons that merely transmit facts.” Learning to think historically necessitates a particular epistemology of the text that cannot be equated with note taking and general reading skills emphasized in school programs. The Ontario curriculum places great emphasis on literacy across subject areas. As the Think Literacy document of the Ministry indicates: “When a math teacher demonstrates how to skim and scan for signal words to help students solve complex math problems, these skills also prepare them to read any subject text more effectively.” This process of literacy homogenization, which suggests that learning to read math problems is helpful for historical learning, obscures the disciplinary challenges of learning to think like historians. Wineburg is thus correct to claim that “learning about disciplines is not simply a matter of acquiring new knowledge; it entails examining previously held beliefs.” Students Page 60cannot see contextualized meaning in historical (sub)texts if they do not believe they exist in the first place. Understanding what happened at Dieppe from the perspective of a Canadian or German soldier is thus more complex than retrieving and putting together a set of facts about the raid. Reading history is not simply a process of reading about the past. It is a particular way of thinking and engaging with the past. The British research experience suggests that through changes in students’ conceptions of history it becomes possible to envision progression in understanding the past critically. But what is puzzling from this study is that the selected teachers were not traditional. They were history majors who believed deeply in inquiry-based learning and rarely lectured in class.
This experimental study was designed to assess the value of a digital history program on students’ performance. The role of the teacher was therefore restricted significantly in the computer lab in order to limit—and ultimately control—this variable. In reality, however, classroom teachers have a greater role to play in the design, implementation, and delivery of lessons—whether or not they rely on educational technology. “It is important to remember,” Bain cautiously observes, “that the computer scaffolding does not substitute for instruction, but rather supports students in developing disciplinary habits after they have had at least initial instruction in each procedure.”
The history teacher from school #2 who used the VH for the study clearly supports this approach to technology in light of his experience:
Over and over, I heard the same refrain from the students, which was “why can’t you just tell us?” Many students found the number of sources to read, and the amount needed to read confusing and intimidating. I think that the final task they were assigned—which was a research project resulting in an argumentative essay—required either much more teacher direction than the study allowed or much more concrete direction on what to do with each source.
Expertise in teaching history as a form of knowledge in the twenty-first century depends on access to and use of complex systems of various knowledge—including technology. Too often, however, knowledge of technology in education is considered in a vacuum, disconnected from disciplinary knowledge and pedagogy, as if an understanding of how technological affordances work translates into sound practice. Students’ and teachers’ familiarity with technology does not automatically turn them into disciplinary experts, as evidenced in this study. Results confirm that building a community of inquiry in the twenty-first-century classroom cannot be accomplished with educational technology alone. Even if teachers and students possess, Page 61to varying degrees, technological knowledge about software and hardware, they must be attentive to how learning in the discipline might be improved by “complex relationships between technology, content, and pedagogy, and [by] using this understanding to develop appropriate, context-specific strategies and representations.” In other words, using technology in educational design cannot be understood simply as an add-on component to established coursework. It must lead to a fundamental reconsideration of disciplinary content knowledge and pedagogy so as to develop a coherent educational framework that recognizes how teaching and learning can be changed as a result of technological affordances.
The pedagogical shift in approaching technology in history appears to be even more necessary with students who have learning and/or language difficulties. Although most grade 10 students in this study reported having high computer literacy skills, many struggled to engage actively with the various functionalities of the VH program (e.g., scaffolds, learning objects, and sources). This was particularly evident with students from school #2, which has a very large number of immigrant students for whom English is a second language. In the face of Prensky’s grand claim, not all students are digital natives. They may be born with technology, but their relationship to it is often practical and intuitive. Their immersion in and use of interactive technological tools do not necessarily enhance their inquisitive mode of learning. In fact, recent evidence suggests that “a significant proportion of young people . . . do not have the levels of access or technology skills predicted by proponents of the digital native idea.” It is not clear from research that the high level of interactivity and need of multiprocessing skills so prevalent in computer games and simulations have direct correlation with history learning. Generalizations about digital natives do not take into consideration the various cognitive differences in students of different ages and cultural-linguistic backgrounds. What students do with technology outside the school may have little or no significance to the competencies needed to engage in disciplinary inquiries. As Sue Bennett, Karl Maton, and Lisa Kervin conclude: “students’ everyday technology practices may not be directly applicable to academic tasks, and so education has a vitally important role in fostering information literacies that will support learning.”
Mark, a history teacher in this study, reflects on how best to use technology with his grade 10 students in these circumstances:
Our students have never been exposed to such a large collection of primary source materials; it is the richness of the materials that created both the most positive responses (“Cool!,” “Hey have you seen Page 62this picture?!’ ” “I can’t believe they did that”) and the most negative (“There’s too much to read and it all sounds the same to me,” “What is the point of all these pictures?,” “What are we supposed to be doing?!”). . . . I would have liked to be able to use the VH for a less challenging question or a more concrete and directed activity.
Technology in education is inevitable. Yet no single technology can be universally applied by teachers. Just as progressivism never entirely replaced formalism in twentieth-century education, digitally enhanced inquiry-based learning methods may never completely displace textbook-centered instruction in the classroom. Teaching is a complex human activity that cannot be reduced to a set of pre-established pedagogical steps that invariably produce positive outcomes. Saye and Brush concur: “technology is no panacea for the challenges students and teachers face when engaging in disciplined inquiry into social problems.” Indeed, teachers must be flexible in their use of knowledge to design successful lessons adapted to their audience with the most effective learning tools at their disposal. Digital history programs, such as the Virtual Historian, provide an additional tool to achieve inquiry-based learning in history.
Important questions remain unanswered, however. We need to know more about how teachers can design lessons and meaningful activities with technology and, perhaps more importantly, how digital programs can be used to build on students’ prior knowledge and learning preferences and to develop new epistemologies and ways of thinking about the past. How can it be that digital natives, born and raised with technology, still prefer classroom instruction to a computer lab activity and claim to be distracted by online learning objects? How is it that, despite the passionate and compelling scholarly discourse in recent years relating to meaningful learning and teaching in history, students continue to ask: why can’t you just tell us? We urgently need some empirical studies and practice-informed answers to these pressing questions.
1. Gail Salaway, Judith B. Caruso, and Mark R. Nelson, The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2008, Research Study, vol. 8 (Boulder, Colo.: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2008), accessed July 31, 2012, http://www.educause.edu/ECAR/TheECARStudyofUndergraduateStu/163283.
2. Mark Prensky, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” On the Horizon 9, no. 5 (2001), accessed July 31, 2012, [formerly http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants - Part1.pdf].Page 63
6. Peter Seixas, “The Purposes of Teaching Canadian History,” Canadian Social Studies 36, no. 2(2002), accessed April 1, 2008, http://www.quasar.ualberta.ca/css/Css_36_2/ARpurposes_teaching_canadian_history.htm; Dennis Shemilt, “Adolescent Ideas about Evidence and Methodology,” in The History Curriculum for Teachers, ed.Christopher Portal (London: Falmer, 1987), 39–61; Samuel Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001).
8. Linda S. Levstik and Keith C. Barton, Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools, 2nd ed. (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001); Peter Seixas, “The Community of Inquiry as a Basis for Knowledge and Learning: The Case of History,” American Educational Research Journal 30, no. 2 (1993): 305–24; Bruce Van Sledright, “What Does It Mean to Think Historically . . . and How Do You Teach It?” Social Education 68, no. 3 (2004): 230–33.
11. John W. Saye and Thomas Brush, “Comparing Teachers’ Strategies for Supporting Student Inquiry in a Problem-Based Multimedia-Enhanced History Unit,” Theory and Research in Social Education 34, no. 2 (2006): 183–212.
12. Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005); John W. Saye and Thomas Brush, “Using Technology Enhanced Learning Environments to Support Problem-Based Historical Inquiry in Secondary School Classrooms,” Theory and Research in Social Education 35, no. 2 (2007): 196–230.
13. Canadian Mysteries, accessed July 31, 2012, http://www.canadianmysteries.ca.
14. Jennifer Voss and James Wiley, “A Case Study of Developing Historical Understanding via Instruction,” in Knowing, Teaching and Learning History: National and International Perspectives,ed. Peter N. Stearns, Peter Seixas, and Samuel S. Wineburg (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 375–89; Elizabeth Anne Yeager and Frans H. Doppen, “Teaching and Learning Multiple Perspectives on the Use of the Atomic Bomb: Historical Empathy in the Secondary Classroom,” in Historical Empathy and Perspective Taking in the Social Studies, ed. O. L. Davis Jr., Elizabeth Anne Yeager, and Stuart J. Foster (Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield, 2001).
15. Elizabeth Alexander Ashburn, Mark Baildon, James Damico, and Shannan McNair, “Mapping the Terrain for Meaningful Learning using Technology in Social Studies,” in Meaningful Learning Using Technology: What Educators Need to Know and Do, ed. Elizabeth Alexander Ashburn and Robert E. Floden (New York: Teachers College Press, 2006), 117–40; Robert Bain, “Seeing the Meaning ‘Hidden’ in History and Social Studies Teaching,” in Meaningful Learning Using Technology: What Educators Need to Know and Do, ed. Elizabeth Alexander Ashburn and Robert E. Floden (New York: Teachers College Press, 2006), 87–116; Anne Britt, Charles Perfetti, Julie Van Dyke, and Gareth Gabrys, “The Sourcer’s Apprentice: A Tool for Document-Supported Instruction,” in Knowing, Teaching and Learning History: National and Page 64International Perspectives, ed. Peter Stearns, Peter Seixas, and Sam Wineburg (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 437–70.
17. Thomas Brush and John Saye, “The Effects of Multimedia-Supported Problem-Based Inquiry on Student Engagement, Empathy, and Assumptions about History,” Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning 2, no. 1 (2008): 21–56; John Saye and Thomas Brush, “Using Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments to Support Problem-Based Historical Inquiry in Secondary School Classrooms,” Theory and Research in Social Education 35, no. 2 (2007): 196–230; John Lee and Brendan Calandra, “Can Embedded Annotations Help High School Students Perform Problem Solving Tasks Using a Web-Based Historical Document?” Journal of Research on Technology in Education 36, no. 4 (2004): 65–84; Andrew Milson, “The Internet and Inquiry Learning: Integrating Medium and Method in a Sixth Grade Social Studies Classroom,” Theory and Research in Social Education 30, no. 3 (2002): 330–53; and Bing Pan, Helene Hembrooke, Thornsten Joachims, Lori Lorigo, Geri Gay, and Laura Granka, “In Google We Trust: Users’ Decisions on Rank, Position, and Relevance,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12 (2007): 801–23.
25. Pietro Boscolo and Lucia Mason, “Writing to Learn, Writing to Transfer,” in Writing as a Learning Tool: Integrating Theory and Practice, ed. Päivi Tynjälä, Lucia Mason, and Kirsti Lonka (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 2001), 83–104; Charles Perfetti, Anne Britt, and Mara C. Georgi, Text-Based Learning and Reasoning: Studies in History (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995); Bruce Van Sledright, In Search of America’s Past: Learning to Read History in Elementary School (New York: Teachers College Press, 2002).
26. Stéphane Lévesque, “ ‘Terrorism plus Canada in the 1960’s equals hell frozen over’: Learning the October Crisis with Computer Technology in the Canadian Classroom,” Canadian Journal of Learning Technology 34, no. 2 (2008), accessed July 31, 2012, http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/ article/view/493/224.Page 65
36. Mark Hofer and Kathleen O. Swan, “Digital Image Manipulation: A Compelling Means to Engage Students in Discussion of Point of View and Perspective,” Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (online serial), 5, nos. 3–4 (2005): 294, accessed July 31, 2012, http://www.citejournal.org/vol5/iss3/socialstudies/article1.cfm.
37. Peter Lee and Rosalyn Ashby, “Progression in Historical Understanding Among Students Ages 7–14,” in Knowing, Teaching and Learning History: National and International Perspectives, ed. P. Stearns, P. Seixas, and S. Wineburg (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 213.
41. Ken Osborne, Teaching Canadian History in Schools, report for the Historica Foundation of Canada (2004), 24, accessed July 31, 2012, http://www.histori.ca/prodev/file.do?id=22988.
3. Interactive Worlds as Educational Tools for Understanding Arctic Life
Interactive 3D worlds and computer modeling can be used to excite interest in the many unique traditional dwellings constructed by indigenous groups in the Canadian High Arctic. General cultural trends toward the use of digital media show greater acceptance by students, teachers, and the public. Beyond mere representation of past architectural forms, digital reconstructions can be used to delve into the behavior and performance of unique structures. In research and teaching, it is now possible to model and investigate the response of these structures to the extreme environmental conditions of the North. In this context, a virtual laboratory can offer teachers case studies that motivate students in their studies of history and culture, as well as math and science. Virtual worlds can also evoke emotive and effectual knowledge in indigenous users. Experiences derived from primary school and college students, and Padleirmiut Inuit Elders who experienced digital reconstructions of pre-contact Inuit dwellings in a 3D virtual theater (CAVE [computer automated visualization environment]) at the University of Calgary, suggest that virtual environments may also be useful in initiating and establishing archaeological interpretation and discourse, as well as assisting personal identity recovery.
Public Archaeology: Giving Back to the Community
In the United States and Canada, archaeological project funding often stipulates that public opportunity for engagement be provided. The level Page 67of participation can be a simple website, a museum display, or a presentation to the community of the archaeological discoveries. Digital imaging can become an essential part of this outreach effort. In an effort to make the authors’ research findings in Arctic archaeology more accessible to a larger audience, interactive 3D worlds and computer modeling have been included to excite interest concerning traditional dwellings constructed by indigenous groups.
With the expansion of broadband into remote communities in the North, it is now possible to extend the reach of these archaeological discoveries to the desktop of a student’s computer, far away from more conventional locations of museums in major and regional centers. In addition, there is the sensitive issue of repatriation of native artifacts. Virtual 3D artifact copies allow archaeologists to return sacred objects to their original communities, while keeping valuable information from the artifacts available for research and study.
Display and Interaction
Finding the appropriate venue for artifact display and interaction requires sensitivity to the object’s type and physical scale. Today, accessing historic materials through the Internet demands that any representation of an object be web-compatible. By placing artifacts in surroundings with other objects, a context is constructed for understanding what life was like in the past. With artifacts that have deep cultural significance, there is also an opportunity to associate virtual objects with myths and ethnographic commentary. In addition, the growth of social media allows users in remote communities to add their comments, stories, videos, or photos to websites with accessible virtual copies of artifacts, as part of a running dialogue that can be shared with the world.
For museums, this connection between the real and virtual offers exciting possibilities of linking physical displays with virtual interactive content. With Arctic content, the authors have experimented with the web, kiosks, and 3D stereoscopic projection systems, including passive and active projection systems, autographic screens, CAVEs, and 3D theaters. These environments have been used for both teaching and museum exhibits. Now with affordable 3D TVs the opportunity to augment museum exhibits and explore whole worlds is possible. Ultimately, the success of these new displays will be measured by their ability to engage students and the public in virtual worlds that promote both play and exploration.
Why Create Virtual Objects: Why Laser Scanning?
Creating virtual worlds begins with the conversion of field data and archaeological and historical records into 3D computer models. Creating 3D objects usually requires some knowledge of CAD (computer-aided design). When CAD is used as a tool to create a digital object from drawings and field data, both aesthetic and practical concerns impact the final results. This is particularly true when drawings are incomplete or missing critical dimensions. In this sense CAD models are representations, limited by the data, skill, and time available to a digital artist to translate historic documents into a 3D form. As developers of educational content, a high priority must be given to virtual worlds that present an accurate likeness of archaeological artifacts and their context. With greater acceptance of laser scanning over the last decade, archaeologists now have a tool for accurately creating 3D images of objects from the size of an arrowhead to the extent of a building or city. A major advantage of laser scanning is that measurements can be made off the 3D model without damaging the actual object, avoiding the impact that repeated measurements can have on fragile objects. With laser scanners it is possible to acquire point measurements on a vast scale and at high fidelity. Laser scanners can be designed to capture minute detail, with resolutions as fine as 30 micros, providing researchers with a source of data not possible to acquire with more traditional hand measurement techniques.
Virtual 3D replicas also have distinct advantages over real objects because replicas facilitate a systematic analysis of shape and form. This is particularly self-evident in the case of fragile pottery, where laser-scanning technology has been used to arrive at the shape of a vessel. In cases where only a partial vase has survived, it has been possible to reconstruct the entire pot from the remaining potsherds. In an attempt to automate this process, researchers at the University of Tiburg have developed algorithms that can take a collection of potshards and reassemble the pot into its most likely shape.
Long-range laser scanning technology can be used to create 3D images of a building or an entire archaeological site. By taking successive scans of a site over time it is possible to create a virtual record of the excavation. The authors’ work on a Mackenzie Inuit house in the western Canadian Arctic on the shore of Richards Island, 3 kilometers south of Kuukpak (69° 20.6′N and 134° 03.3′W), demonstrates that even in remote locations it is possible to use laser scanning technology in the documentation of archaeological sites. Ultimately, this record serves both the researcher’s need for measurements and the conservationist’s interests in monitoring the condition and state of a site over time. By combining the advantages of different laser scanners that capture data at different resolutions, it is now possible to Page 69have an accurate record at the scale of a city, the buildings, and the artifacts contained within it.
Case Study: The Reconstruction of a Thule Whalebone House
The reconstruction of a Thule whalebone house provides a case study of laser scanning use for documentation and research that leads to public access to the results of archaeological research. The project’s initial goal was to create a computer reconstruction of a traditional Thule whalebone house of the type found in the North American Arctic and Greenland. These domiciles were constructed by the Thule peoples, who are the cultural and biological ancestors of contemporary Inuit and Eskimo groups of the North American Arctic and Greenland. Thule groups had expanded eastward from the Bering Strait region into the Canadian Arctic by the late twelfth or early thirteenth century. Unlike northwestern Alaska, the coastlines of the Eastern Arctic did not have a ready supply of driftwood to build houses. Consequently, the Thule peoples’ winter houses, composed of a main room, kitchen area, and entrance tunnel, were built with whalebone. A roof structure of whalebone was erected over a house pit lined with flagstone. The raised sleeping platform, kitchen, and storage areas were also built from flagstone. The roof frame would have been covered with hide and a thick heavy layer of sod, and with snowfall, an additional burden would have been placed on these structures. Because these structures are encountered only in a collapsed state, archaeologists know little about how these enigmatic houses were actually constructed. Consequently, we hypothesized that a virtual reconstruction of a 3D model of a Thule house from archaeological data could provide new insights into how these dwellings were built.
The reconstruction process would have been difficult, if not impossible, to resolve using 2D drawings. Manual drafting or 2D CAD cannot easily solve a 3D structural system based on organic elements, such as the mandibles, cranium, and maxillas of a whale. Beginning in 2003, the authors began exploring a strategy for creating 3D computer reconstructions of Thule whalebone houses based on earlier field studies. Ultimately, it was hoped that by working in a 3D environment, the potential arrangements of elements found at archaeological sites could be tested for their structural stability.
The first approach considered in solving the geometric problem of reconstructing the frame of the structure from whalebone was begun with the translation of 2D drawings of whale skeletons into 3D models. Given the complexity of these organic forms, however, translation of drawings in plan and elevation proved difficult and time consuming. Laser scanning providedPage 70
the only means for capturing a 3D image of this complex organic form. Fortunately, a mounted specimen of a North Atlantic right whale exists at the New England Aquarium in Boston (figure 3.1). The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is smaller than the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) hunted by Thule groups, but both share a similar skeletal morphology. Using a Cyrax2500, a commercially available laser scanner, an accurate mesh with good accuracy (5 mm) could be achieved. Once the million of points were converted into an optimized mesh, it was possible to extract the needed elements required for the reconstruction process.
Modeling in virtual space, the reconstruction process was similar to building the actual physical structure. The first step involved importing the 2D CAD file of information collected in 1994 at the Deblicquy site on Bathurst Island, Nunavut. The plan for the largest and best-preserved house (figure 3.2) served as the basis for 3D reconstruction. This CAD data provided essential information for the reconstruction, including the subterranean pit’s topography, extent, and shape, which represent the dimensions of the enclosed space. The list of bone types and sizes was also essential to this reconstruction. This information helped to scale the individual elements built from the laser scanning data. Bones used in the original structure included the mandible, maxilla, cranium, ribs, scapulas, and selected vertebrae. The second step involved extracting the pit from the topography using average depths and pit outlines in the original CAD file. A flagstone floor and elevated sleeping platform using virtual rocks whose shapes, sizes, and color were determined using actual rocks measured at the site. To begin the reconstruction process, 3D Studio MAX was used to virtually build these unique forms by first placing the major construction structural elements (cranium, mandibles, and maxillas) in their locations found on the site. Once in place, a covering of hide could be draped over the superstructure. Sod and snow were then layered on top of the hide, creating the form in summer and winter (figure 3.3).Page 71
The Value of a Virtual Laboratory
One criticism of computer modeling in archaeology is that models are merely pretty pictures. With the availability of high performance PCs, however, a researcher can answer questions about structures from the past. Using CAD and engineering design applications, it is possible to simulate the lighting conditions inside a space or test the behaviors of structures under snow and wind loads. Structural analyses of Thule whalebone houses verified the structural stability of proposed reconstructions. Having conducted these analyses, we can state: “We are not sure what they looked like, but at least we know that the proposed construct could have withstood the environmental harshness of the North, where snow and wind would have collapsed all but the strongest of structures.” In the case of the Thule whalebone architecture, the authors have also used the results of the structural analysis to answer the following questions:
- Given the challenges of working with whalebone, to what extent were Thule houses structurally sound architectural forms?
- Did the use of whalebone in a symbolic capacity affect the structural integrity of whalebone houses?
- Would weaker structures have increased the level of maintenance required to keep the dwelling habitable, or even placed the structure in danger of collapsing?
Multiframe, an application used by structural engineers, was employed to conduct the actual analysis of the structural frame of the Thule whalebone house. Like many FEM (finite element methods) applications, Multiframe has been used to understand potential modes of structural failure. With laser scanning technology, accurate 3D data can serve as the basis of these analyses. Rather than generalized geometric models based on historical drawings, laser scanning can provide an important snapshot of a building’s current condition. This approach can consider the rate of deterioration over time and how this degradation impacts structural stability. More important with structures subjected to potential catastrophic failures from earthquake, considerable redesign efforts are needed to guarantee the integrity of a structure in the future. As an instructional tool, the approach used in this research, which incorporates cultural-based content, has potential to stimulate students to learn more about math and science. In this case study, these worlds illustrate how an intuitive understanding of structural analysis is essential in building complex architectural forms.
Light, Space, and Activity: Modeling the Light from a Whalebone Lamp
Understanding how ancient cultures lived inside their homes requires knowledge of the lighting technology of the period. Ultimately, simulating the experience of being inside a space reconstructed from archaeological data demands the use of computer software capable of rendering 3D forms under various lighting conditions. Using a virtual world to simulate the experience of being inside a Thule whalebone house provides a case study of how 3D computer models can re-create a sense of space of architectural forms from the past. The first step in simulating light levels inside a Thule winter house was to calibrate the light produced by a whale-oil lamp. A whale-oil lamp provided light levels much lower than Western architectural standards. Inhabitants doing domestic chores in a Thule whalebone house would likely have had to make greater use of their sense of touch. In order to test this idea, replicas of qulliq lamps were crafted out of soapstone. A 60-watt light bulb was used as a standard. By calibrating this standard light source, it was possible to determine the illumination of a whale-oil lamp. In testing replicas of a typical qulliq it was discovered that they would have been capable of producing light equivalent to a 15-watt light bulb. Using these data, the computer modeled the illumination in the interior of the space. These light sources are most commonly found to one side of the sleeping platform. The reflection of surfaces, such as walls and floors, also influences how light is distributed inside buildings. For the purposes of this experiment, surfaces inside the whalebone house were considered to be reflective at 15 percent (though this value is probably much lower due to the amount of soot that would have been deposited on the walls and floor of the dwelling). Using the Lightscape plug-in for 3D Studio Max, a pseudocolor rendering of the interior of the house was created, mapping both luminance and illuminance. (Luminance is a measure of how bright or dark a surface is perceived, while illuminance measures how much energy has fallen on the surface. Illuminance is also a function of the distance from the light source and is, therefore, a useful measure for gauging the light available to perform domestic tasks [figure 3.4]).
Inside these small dwellings, which lacked interior partitions, the distribution of light and shadow may have been used to “zone” areas of public and private space. For example, the sleeping platforms would have appeared dark even with multiple lamps lit inside the space. Many of the activities found inside a Thule whalebone house would have required higher levels of illuminance by Western standards because individuals must be able to resolve very fine detail or small objects. Light levels close to the source (qulliq lamp) wouldPage 74
have provided sufficient light for activities such as cooking (46.45 cd), but not for sewing (92.9 cd). The inhabitants would certainly have been able to perform household tasks under much lower levels of light. Archaeological and ethnographic data prove that Inuit and their ancestors were extremely good at carving and sewing. There are many excellent precontact examples. Many everyday Inuit objects like harpoons, knives, needle cases, and children’s toys have incised lines arranged in geometric patterns. It seems reasonable that under these conditions of prolonged periods of darkness, household members would have compensated for the lower light levels in a manner similar to individuals who are blind or deaf, who often talk about a compensating effect, in which one or more of their remaining senses becomes more acute.
The results of this study demonstrate that technologies like computer modeling and virtual reality can be used to obtain a more holistic understanding of how humans perceive and interact with the environments they inhabit. Using virtual worlds to reconstruct the sensory ecologies of past landscapes and built environments may afford researchers, teachers, and students an opportunity to explore ideas and theories more fully. Ultimately, it is the means of displaying these results that makes the results of these research findings accessible to students and teachers.
The Virtual Museum Program
With funding from the Virtual Museum Program in 2008, the researchers had the opportunity to create a virtual presence on the web to bring research on Arctic life to the public. The mission was to create a site in which visitors would have the opportunity to learn about the environment surrounding Thule life. The site would focus on building materials, domestic architecture, hunting, as well as sources of food and production of clothing. The website would also be devoted to the importance of bowhead whales in Thule culture, including a section on how bowhead whales were hunted, and how various skeletal elements were used in house construction. There would also be sections on “myths” that link the whale to aspects of the “house,” which may have existed as a metaphor for actual living whales.
Once inside the houses, the attention centers on the organization and atmosphere of the interior space. Issues of light, heat, and privacy are explored in relation to the shape of the structure and the whale-oil lamp, which was used to heat and light these houses. While inside the space, the online visitor learns about the tools and implements needed to exist in the Arctic landscape. Organized by men’s, women’s, and children’s objects, animated GIFs of laser-scanned artifacts are presented, including ulus, needles, lamps, bow drills, knives, and toys. Explanations are provided on how they were used for daily tasks. Other aspects of the website included a time line and a section about how 3D imaging and computer modeling was used in the research.
The constructed website, though utilitarian and straightforward in its structure, was constrained by design specifications that barred the use of virtual worlds and online games. In the original proposal a series of virtual environments were suggested to explore life in the Arctic. For example, to introduce virtual visitors to the connection between light and space, a virtual walk-through of the interior was proposed. With only a whale-oil lamp to light the way, the contribution of light to a sense of community or privacy could be revealed. Navigating through the different areas of the interior, one would be introduced to virtual inhabitants who would demonstrate how to use various tools for cooking, hunting, and sewing waterproof clothing. Similarly, it would have been possible to give the web visitor a set of virtual whalebones from which to construct a house. Once completed, a virtual test could be conducted to see if a design could have stood up against the elements of snow and wind. Unfortunately, design specifications that restrict the use of plug-ins and limit performance to computers built more than a decade ago made it difficult to offer these kinds of exploratory environments as part of the web experience.Page 76
For those creating learning environments, both technical and institutional constraints are often difficult to predict at the onset of a project. Unlike video designed for consoles with known computing and rendering capability, web-based environments assume a universal audience. Issues of accessibility that come with publicly sponsored programs can place limits on the types of media that can be hosted on a site. Designed for the lowest common denominator, these websites can never be cutting edge. Though there will always be some constraints on a public website, improvements in the general level of personal computing technology should present less restrictive specifications for web designers in the future. Finally, there is always the issue of what is politically acceptable in a publicly sponsored website. For example, it would be inadvisable to show a whale hunt on a website, even though it represents an important aspect of the lives of many Northern communities.
The Kiosk: Museum of Civilization
A few years earlier, a kiosk installation was constructed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Ottawa. As part of a special exhibition, “Journey to Kitgaaryuk,” sponsored jointly by the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, an interactive world was developed for a stand-alone kiosk. The experience first provided a tour of the outside of an Inuit sod house. The house, a traditional Mackenzie Delta Inuit winter house, was modeled using archaeological, ethnographic, and ethnohistoric data. These types of dwellings would have been constructed out of wood, sod, and caribou or muskox hide even as late as the early nineteenth century. In constructing this virtual model, the user began by exploring the outside of the structure. Once inside, the interior could be examined. Clicking on artifacts located on the sleeping platform of the dwelling activated a video that showed how the objects were used in daily life. For example, clicking on a stone ulu initiated a movie that showed a member of the Inuvialuit community creating a sealskin parka. Located at the center of the gallery, visitors could interact with a virtual model of a sod house while being surrounded by actual artifacts from the region. Like many virtual worlds, one tracker ball provided control over the environment. Several audio headphones were attached to the single kiosk. Curiously, having the control of the environment in the hands of a single person did not present any serious barriers for small groups. One person would naturally gravitate toward navigating the world, while other participants would offer suggestions about where to go next, or would ask Page 77questions about the virtual world. Interestingly, young children were most adept at this kind of joint decision making.
Virtual Reality: At a Larger Scale
At the University of Calgary, students from classes in archaeology have the opportunity to view the whalebone house and other environments, including the skeleton of a baleen whale and an Inuit sod house, in a virtual world in the I-Centre, CAVE. The I-Centre CAVE, designed by Barco Ltd., creates an immersive environment with walls that can be rearranged to form a virtual reality theater or CAVE. A CAVE is a room-sized cube composed of four walls. In the I-Centre, the walls are right, left, center, and floor. Each screen is 8 feet high by 10 feet wide. With the VRPACK module of Virtools (www.Virtools.com), virtual worlds can be viewed in stereo using active shutter glasses. Interactive sound and atmospheric lighting all contribute to the totality of the experience.
One of the central problems archaeologists face is making their research both interesting and relevant to the broader communities they work with. Archaeologists tend to focus on technical explanations of the past, such as defining the function of a tool, the optimality of diet choices, or the chronometric age of a site. In contrast, indigenous peoples and the general public often relate to the past in more personal and emotive ways. In response, archaeologists have begun to explore the use of narrative structures and conjectural histories to provide an impression of what life might have been like in the past. One of the most famous examples of this type of approach is Janet Spector’s What This Awl Means. In Spector’s story, a young aboriginal woman brings recognition to her family through her prowess at sewing and beading. Although based entirely on conjecture, the awl in the story acquires special meaning because of its association with the aspirations of Spector’s young aboriginal protagonist. When the awl is lost, the reader subsequently empathizes with the young woman’s anguish. Its recovery by an archaeologist many centuries later further adds to the object’s emotional impact. Encountering archaeological objects in this way makes them of greater interest to the broader community because the affecting, emotive qualities of the artifact are drawn out through the arc of the story.
In many instances, objects that carry great meaning are inaccessible to indigenous peoples. They may be held in museum collections or, as is the case with Thule whalebone houses, they may no longer exist. In these instances, encountering digital replicas of these objects in immersive environments may provide opportunities for indigenous peoples to explore their heritage Page 78in ways that are far more meaningful. Recent research into the use of digital images of ethnographic objects by the Maori of New Zealand suggests that some of the cultural values associated with traditional objects, such as life force, oratory, narratives, and life essence, are transferred to digital replicas of artifacts, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on circumstance. This suggests that laser scans of artifacts, and computer models of archaeological features such as dwellings may provide affecting, emotive experiences that might assist in the recovery of personal and cultural identities.
In order to explore this further, three respected Inuit Elders from the community of Arviat, Nunavut, were invited to the iCORE CAVE at the University of Calgary’s Schlumberger iCenter, where they toured the 3D model of a Thule whalebone house. Surrounded by the structure of whalebones and hide, they sat together and whispered among themselves in Inuktitut. “All of the stories I used to hear when I was young are coming back to me,” remarked Mark Kalluak, as he navigated through the virtual dwelling. “It really makes me think about what it would have been like to live in my ancestors’ home.” Donald Uluadluak explained in Inuktitut that he felt like a magician: “No one has ever seen these buildings before. Now we are able to and it will help us understand who we are.” The experience of being able to view the whalebone architecture of the dwelling in 3D also reminded Mark Kalluak of a traditional Inuit tale about a man who lived inside a whale. “Maybe this legend comes from when we lived in these kinds of houses,” he explained.
“It’s hard to imagine something if you’ve never seen it before and something like this makes it so much easier to imagine what life was like in the old days than just reading about it in a book,” said Nunia Qanatsiaq, a member of the government of Nunavut’s curriculum and school services division who accompanied the Elders to Calgary. For Mark Kalluak, exploring traditional lifeways using computer animation is exciting because it may excite interest in younger Inuit who are becoming increasingly computer literate. “A lot of young people don’t seem too interested in learning about the old ways, but I think they would with something like this,” he said. “It’s a new way for them to learn and that is always valuable.”
Comments shared with us by Inuit Elders about their experiences within the CAVE suggest that their encounters with the digital whalebone house and the objects contained within were both emotive and affecting. The Elders seemed genuinely moved by their experiences, as communicated through their awe at what their ancestors had been able to accomplish centuries ago. The Elders’ immersion in this virtual world of their own past also served as a powerful mnemonic device, as seen in Mark Kalluak’s recollection of a childhood story involving a man swallowed by a whale. All indications are that the Elders recognized their encounter as a simulation and therefore not anPage 79
authentic view of their past. Nevertheless, they appreciated the experience because it moved them closer to a point of contact with their own history and identity. In this way, it would seem as though meanings and values can be transferred to digital replicas of traditional objects, especially when placed in immersive environments like the CAVE.
University, high school, and primary students have also had the opportunity to view the whalebone house and other archaeological reconstructions within the iCORE CAVE. Like the Elders, their experiences provided them with an appreciation for the geometric complexity of these dwellings, and the challenges of working with construction materials as unique as whalebone (figure 3.5). The ability to discover the connections between space, light, and culture is an advantage of virtual exploration of the space at actual human scale.
One issue in using the CAVE for these types of immersive experiences is that interaction is generally limited to a single user. Without trackers and other input devices, the experience is more like a 3D movie for most of the students. Though CAVEs are not common on most college campuses, the ability to construct multiscreen immersive environments from standard workstations and inexpensive flat panel displays will greatly expand theirPage 80
use in research and education. In a museum environment, the real challenge is creating experiences that will open opportunities for the user to interact with the virtual world (see figure 3.6).
3D Virtual Reality Theaters
In 2008, Dessault Systemes announced a competition for designing virtual world experiences for the Geode in Paris. A goal of this competition was the promotion of 3DVIA, an integrated development platform. 3DVIA (Virtools) provides tools for creating interactive worlds for display on PCs, CAVES, and 3D theaters. Ultimately, the virtual worlds resulting from this competition would be showcased in the Geode, the largest virtual reality theater in the world. Reopened in 2008 after renovation, this spherical-shaped theater is located in the Parc de la Villette at the Cité des Sciences etPage 81
de l’Inustrie in Paris (figure 3.7). First constructed to show movies in IMAX format, it also has the capability of presenting 3D interactive worlds.
In this competition it was possible for the authors to draw on assets from worlds created over several years, including 3D computer reconstructions of a Thule Inuit whalebone house, as well as a virtual kayak simulation. In addition to these completed structures, learning objects created with long- and short-range scanners were also utilized. These objects ranged in size from a small stone ulu to the much larger skeleton of a North Atlantic right whale.
Using a traditional story or myth as the underlying plot for a game is a common strategy among game developers. In this project, myths and stories collected by researchers visiting the far North, including Knud Rasmussen of the Danish Fifth Thule Expedition (1921–24), provided the background for the virtual experience focused on life in the Arctic. One tale in particular, “The Raven’s Story,” became the underlying plotline for the virtual world. Ultimately, a quest (a genre that is well understood by game makers) was used as the armature for “Exploring Arctic Cultures.”
In the prologue, you are given your mission, to find your way home with the help of mythical creatures. To help guide you, whale-oil lamps, which appear suspended about the water, light your journey. At the beginning of your quest you are introduced to the Raven, whose story will be retold during your journey (figure 3.8). For the Inuit, the connection between one’s life, nature, and myth would have been reaffirmed by everyday experiences. To emphasize this connection, many of the mythical characters, represented by their likenesses in stone, are found in natural state swimming, dancing, or flying. The setting is also used to reinforce the sensation that you are in aPage 82
mythical world. Here in the world of endless dusk, both night and day exist together. Huge icebergs, mirrored by their reflection on the water, appear to be floating magically on the sea, underscoring the connection between the mythical and physical worlds.
At the end of your journey, you find yourself inside a traditional Inuit house. Here, objects that have been created by laser scanning actual artifacts can be found. Each object serves as a mnemonic placeholder for accounts of everyday life. In this space you find an ulu, harpoon, snowknife, adz, sewing needle, and thimble. Accompanied by video and animations, objects are shown in context. For example, in one video, a pick, adz, and snowknife are shown being used to create basic shelter.
Though designed for a virtual theater, the experience has been shown to fourth- and fifth-graders in the I-Centre facility. It was also made available over the Internet as a download that plays inside Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. Though designed for a virtual theater, “The Raven’s Story” has been shown to more than two hundred fourth- and fifth-grade classes in the I-Centre facility as part of the summer program sponsored by the University of Calgary. What has been learned from this experience in the CAVE is that even when students do not have direct control over movement within the virtual world, it is possible to create an engaging experience by using a series of questions and responses. A challenge using an interactive world in a theater setting is building into the experience a feeling of participation during the actual experience.
Discussion and Summary
Interactive 3D worlds and computer models can be used to excite interest in indigenous culture. With the growing acceptance of digital media Page 83by students, teachers, and the public, it is now possible to employ virtual worlds that can both entertain and educate. Virtual worlds and advanced multimedia that go beyond mere representation can be used to delve into the behavior and performance of unique architectural forms. In addition to motivating students to learn about cultural history, archaeology, math, and science, these virtual worlds have been used to evoke emotive and effectual knowledge in indigenous users. The experiences with primary school and college students as well as Padleirmiut Inuit Elders who experienced digital reconstructions of Inuit dwellings in a 3D virtual theater (CAVE) at the University of Calgary suggest that virtual environments may be useful in initiating and establishing archaeological interpretation and discourse as well as assisting personal identity recovery.
In creating a virtual world for teaching and public education, venue is always an important consideration. Learning can take place on a computer in a lab, in a classroom in front of a Smartboard, in a museum gallery, or in a university CAVE like the one at the University of Calgary. Each presupposes a different level of engagement. Worlds designed for the individual user must be self-contained, with careful attention paid to the design of an intuitive interface, virtual guides, and online help. Virtual worlds designed for small gatherings of individuals around a single display can create experiences that promote social interaction. In a theater where individuals sit on benches or banked rows of theater chairs, the opportunity for engagement with a virtual world only occurs with the assistance of a guide. In this setting, the use of questions and responses from the audience can provide some sense of spontaneity and exploration in the virtual world. With the growing use of audience response systems—“clickers”—it may be possible to improve engagement with larger groups. Having been used successfully at many universities, this technology could also be implemented in museum settings.
Currently, plans are being developed for a website that will build on the researchers’ past experience with virtual worlds. In addition to databases of artifacts, virtual worlds, and videos, plans are being made to preload content devoted to life in the North. It is hoped that this initial content will serve as the basis of a community-based repository. By allowing members of the community to add comments, personal stories, videos, and photos to the site, it will be possible to encourage the sharing of local history. One goal of this project is to provide opportunities, through a virtual space, to share content using a repository structure that gives open access to contributors and users. Perhaps most important of all, the project is designed to support and embody the idea of constructivist learning, in which learners construct knowledge for themselves. The idea is that as they learn they are building meaning, both individually and in groups.Page 84
It is also hoped that this project will benefit the community. For example, by giving artisans and craft persons access to a virtual space to display their work, they will reach a much larger community. Though at the early stages of development, one possibility being explored is to use existing social media sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Google Earth as mechanisms for disseminating content and encouraging members of Northern communities to participate in this discussion. Facebook is commonly used by many members of the Northern communities. Having this link into Facebook, the researchers hope to build on the current capacity established over the last few years to link into existing collections of family stories, images, and videos that will ultimately contribute to the preservation of local history and traditional knowledge.
1. Alonzo C. Addison, “Emerging Trends in Virtual Heritage,” IEEE Multimedia (April–June 2000): 22–25; idem, “Virtual Heritage—Technology in the Service of Culture,” Proceedings of the 2001 Conference on Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (November 2001): 28–30; Johannes Bauerlein, Rafael Pokorski, Stefan Maass, and Jürgen Dolner, “Visualization Project of Roman Cologne—How to Make VR Models Available for Scientific Work,” Computer Application and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology, Proceedings (2007): 126; Marcello Carrozzino, Chiara Evangelista, A. Scucces, Franco Tecchia, G. Tennirelli, and Massimo Bergamasco, “The Virtual Museum of Sculpture,” 3rd International Conference on Digital Interactive Media in Entertainment and Arts, DIMEA (2008): 100–106.
2. Erik Champion, “Applying Game Design Theory to Virtual Heritage Environments,” Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Australasia and South East Asia (2003): 273–74.
3. Kiyoshi Takenaka and Franklin Paul, “WRAPUP 2-Sony, Samsung Detail 3D TV Plans,” Reuters, March 9, 2010, accessed July 31, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN0922582320100309.
5. Peter C. Dawson, Richard M. Levy, Gerald Oetelaar, Charles Arnold, and Dominic Lacroix, “Documenting Mackenzie Inuit Architecture Using 3D Laser Scanning,” Alaska Journal of Anthropology 7 (2009): 31–44.
7. Wolfgang Boehler and Andreas Marbs, “3D Scanning Instruments,” Proceedings of the CIPA WG6 International Workshop on Scanning for Cultural Heritage Recording (2002), accessed July 31, 2012, [formerly http://www.i3mainz.fh-mainz.de/publicat/korfu/p05_Boehler.pdf]; M. Johansson, “Explorations into the Behavior of Three Different High-Resolution Ground-Based Laser Scanners in the Built Environment,” Proceedings of the CIPA WG International Workshop on Scanning for Cultural Heritage Recording (2003): 33–38.Page 85
10. Alberto Guarnieri, Francesco Pirotti, Marco Pontin, and Antonio Vettore, “Combined 3D Surveying Techniques for Structural Analysis Applications,” Proceedings of the ISPRS Working Group V/4 Workshop 3D-ARCH 2005 (August 2005): 22–24.
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12. Peter C. Dawson, Richard M. Levy, D. Gardner, and M. Walls, “Simulating the Behavior of Light Inside Arctic Dwelling: Implications for Assessing the Role of Visual Perception in Task Performance,” World Archaeology 39, no. 1 (2007): 17–35.
13. Elmer Ekblaw, “The Material Response of the Polar Eskimos to Their Far Arctic Environment,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 17, no. 4 (1927): 147–98; D. Jenness, Material Culture of the Copper Eskimos, Report of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1913–1918,vol. 16 (Ottawa: Edmond Cloutier, King’s Printer and Controller of Stationery, 1946); T. Mathiassen, Archaeology of the Central Eskimos (Copenhagen: Glydendalske Boghandel, 1946).
16. Maxwell; Mathiassen; McGhee; Peter James Whitridge, “The Construction of Difference in a Prehistoric Whaling Community” (Ph.D. dissertation, Arizona State University, 1999); idem, “Landscapes, Houses, Bodies, Things: ‘Place’ and the Archaeology of Inuit Imaginaries,” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 11, no. 2 (2004): 213–50.
18. Glenbow Museum, “Thule Whalebone House,” Virtual Museum Program, accessed July 31, 2012, http://www.glenbow.org/thule/?lang=en&p=home (2008).
21. Addison, “Emerging Trends”; Erhard Berndt and Jose Carlos, “Cultural Heritage in the Mature Era of Computer Graphics,” IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications 20, no. 1 (January–February 2000): 36–37.
23. Deidre Brown, “Te Ahua Hiko: Digital Cultural Heritage and Indigenous Objects, People, and Environments,” in Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse, ed. Fiona Cameron and Sarah Kenderdine (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007), 77–91.Page 86
4. Tecumseh Lies Here: Goals and Challenges for a Pervasive History Game in Progress
Imagine a game that takes as its raw material the actual record of the past, and requires its participants to explore museums, archives, and historical sites. Imagine a series of challenges where students and others perform the genuine tasks of practicing historians—collecting their own evidence, formulating their own hypotheses, and constructing their own historical narratives. Imagine a large-scale, ongoing activity that ultimately connects hundreds or thousands of players across the country and around the world in a sustained encounter with the past.
Alternate or augmented reality games (ARGs), also known as pervasive games, are an emerging genre that breaks down boundaries between the online world and the real. Unlike traditional computer games or simulations, which contain gameplay inside sealed virtual environments, pervasive games can spread across the entire ecology of electronic and traditional media and into public spaces like streets, museums, and schools. Although it is difficult to generalize about such a rapidly evolving form, most ARGs to Page 88date have combined an underlying story or narrative, a series of puzzles and challenges, and a collaborative community of players. Game designers distribute story pieces, clues, and missions via websites, email, mobile messaging, and even physical objects sent through the postal system or installed in public spaces. Game players then use wikis, chat rooms, and blogs to analyze evidence, solve puzzles, and ultimately cocreate the narrative of the game.
While the first ARGs were designed as entertainment, and often as promotions for commercial media such as computer games and films, designers and players were immediately intrigued by the genre’s potential for education and addressing real-world problems. MIT’s educational ARG Reliving the Revolution (2005) turned the site of the American Revolutionary Battle of Lexington into an augmented learning environment where students learned techniques for historical inquiry, effective collaboration, and critical thinking skills. In the PBS-funded ARG World Without Oil (2007) more than two thousand players from twelve countries came together to manage a simulated global oil crisis, forecasting the results of the crisis and producing plausible strategies for managing a realistic future dilemma. And the World Bank’s Urgent Evoke (2010) enlisted more than 19,000 players in an effort to empower young people, especially in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to environmental and social problems.
Historians have only begun to take note of these developments and devices. Yet pervasive games may have the potential to enhance and inform history education and public history outreach. We became curious about the possibilities of ARGs and pervasive games for history education through our interests in history pedagogy, game design, and the new digital humanities. Could we design a pervasive game that taught genuine historical thinking? Could we bring a large group of players into a sustained, evidence-based encounter with the history around them and so awaken them to the pervasive presence of the past? Could we engage an ad hoc, multilingual, international group of players in a parallel and distributed process of historical research? We set out to try. In this chapter we discuss our goals, our progress, and the challenges we have met along the way—challenges we believe will be relevant to anyone contemplating a project in this space.
Playful Historical Thinking
“Every few years,” observes social studies educator Bruce Van Sledright, history teachers go through “an embarrassing national ritual.” In the United States, Canada, Britain, and other countries, the ritual is much the same. Students take a standardized history test. Almost invariably, a sizeable percentage cannot identify basic events in their country’s history. These results are published in the media and taken up as ammunition in a long-running battle over curriculum content. The sides in this struggle are drearily political. Conservatives blame academic historians and educational bureaucrats for moving away from a traditionally heroic, nation-building narrative. Liberals blame the very narrative that conservatives seek to preserve. Both sides bemoan the ignorance of today’s students, worry that we are losing touch with our history and heritage, and indict teachers and educators for failing to make the grade. Real as these problems may be, the so-called history wars have become a predictable pantomime that sheds neither heat nor light.
There is today a robust literature on history pedagogy and historical thinking that seeks to transcend this stale debate. Decades of research argue for an inquiry-oriented approach to teaching history, one built around arguing from evidence, assessing and questioning the reliability of sources, and evaluating and synthesizing competing narratives about the past. This approach arms students with the skills of historical investigation, yet aims to go beyond skills training to inculcate a way of thinking about history that is skeptical but also charitable and mature.
ARGs, or pervasive games, exhibit many features that would complement an inquiry-oriented history pedagogy. They are investigative exercises. They are collaborative and open-ended. They often involve piecing together clues, questioning sources, and assembling a narrative from incomplete or contradictory evidence. Teaching critical historical thinking does not require elaborate technology or activities of this kind, but the genre seems to contain potential it would be foolish for educators to ignore.
One possible criticism of the literature on historical thinking, especially in its first wave, is that it sometimes took as a given that the goal of history education must be to get students to think about history in the same ways that professional historians do. We agree that the thought processes and Page 90skills of professional historians are a useful model for students and teachers to emulate—but are they the only model? How do we want our students to think about history, not just while they are in class, but when they leave the classroom, become adults, and set out into the world? This is a question that cannot be answered without serious thought about what history is for.
Our modest contribution to the literature on historical thinking is to argue for the value of play. We want to make a case for playful historical thinking as a healthy, productive, and even responsible way for citizens of the twenty-first century to relate to the past. Playful historical thinking is, or can be, critical and engaged. It recognizes limits on our ability to fully know other peoples and times, yet makes the effort to know them just the same. It wears its certainties lightly and takes pleasure in the whimsy, mystery, and strangeness of the past.
Professional historians can of course be playful in their thinking. Samuel Wineburg notes the “ludic” nature of a skilled historian’s engagement with her sources—right down to the way she reads certain passages in funny voices to signal distance from the text. But play is also mistrusted by many professional historians, and whatever playful engagement they may have with their sources rarely trickles down into classrooms or survives translation into articles and books. For more models of playful historical thinking, we turned to a wider community of vernacular history makers, including history gamers, reenactors, and amateur history buffs. These groups engage with history in ways that are different from approaches of professional academics, but can still be valuable, rigorous, and even scholarly. We do not need to give up our professional standards to listen and learn from these communities. They have much to teach us about what makes history engaging, fascinating, or fun.
The Tecumseh Mystery
In the spring of 2009, we received a moderately sized grant to investigate the potential of ARGs and pervasive games for history and heritage Page 91education. The approaching bicentennial of the War of 1812 suggested a topic for such a game. Our plan was to design and run a short prototype game in 2010, with an eye to acquiring further funding for a more elaborate game in the bicentennial year of 2012.
The War of 1812 was a messy, confusing frontier war, and today it is poorly remembered and often misunderstood. In the United States, the conflict was once touted as the Second War for American Independence, but it is almost entirely forgotten by Americans today. In Canada, the war was unpopular and only reluctantly fought, yet was later mythologized as a great nation-building victory. And for the First Peoples of the Great Lakes region and the Old Northwest, the war marked the zenith and then the end of hopes for an autonomous pan-Indian confederacy. These contradictory narratives offer rich material for a game that demands collaboration among players on both sides of the border, with different backgrounds, biases, and understandings of the war. We see our project as a kind of subversive commemoration, one that explores the murky history of the war while challenging some of the banal nationalism on display in bicentennial commemorations.
For our prototype game, we chose as our subject the death of the Shawnee war-chief Tecumseh and a century-long controversy regarding his remains. In the first few years of the nineteenth century, Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa organized a large confederacy of native peoples to resist American expansion in the Old Northwest. Tecumseh’s followers allied with the British in the War of 1812, and their support was pivotal in the defense of British North America. Tecumseh died at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813, but his body was never identified, giving rise to rumors that he had not died or that his body had been spirited away.
Tecumseh’s fame only grew after the war, as did white fascination with the question of his remains. During the U.S. election of 1840, zealous supporters of William Henry Harrison dug up native bones that they declared to be Tecumseh’s and exhibited them at rallies. Outraged Canadians, who by then remembered Tecumseh (rather dubiously) as a loyal British martyr, sought to build a monument to their fallen hero, but plans ran aground in disagreement over the true location of his bones. The natives of the region responded to this mystery with silence. But every decade or so, some native informant proved willing, for a price, to lead a gullible white man to a different hillock or thicket and declare it the great chief’s secret grave.
On this historical foundation, we built the framing narrative for our game, Tecumseh Lies Here. The game imagines a kind of underground demimonde of 1812 enthusiasts still searching for Tecumseh’s remains. Players seeking to solve the mystery encounter the squabbling factions of this history underground and are drawn into their struggles over the memory and Page 92meaning of the Shawnee leader and the war. We recognize that this is a sensitive topic, potentially offensive to some (see “Professional and Ethical Questions,” below, for more on this), but the admittedly morbid question of Tecumseh’s final resting place is for us both an interesting hook and a metaphor. The search for Tecumseh’s bones has always really been a struggle over public memory and commemoration. “Tecumseh lies here” is a dark sort of pun: nobody knows where Tecumseh lies, but lies and myths about Tecumseh are all too common. The point of our game is certainly not to locate any physical remains, but to demonstrate that Tecumseh’s memory—though distorted, contested, layered with wishful thinking and myth—is nevertheless unavoidable in this region.
“History Invaders”: The Problem with Educational Games
Those who design games with educational goals in mind face deceptively difficult challenges. One lies in the interface between a game’s procedures and its subject: what you do versus what you are supposed to learn. As Alexander Galloway insists, “games are actions.” The deep lessons of a game come not from its ostensible subject matter but from the decisions its players make and the actions they perform. Our goal in Tecumseh Lies Here has been to make the skills and lessons we want to teach inextricable from the play of the game itself.
We have no interest in simply squeezing educational content into existing game genres. It is easy to imagine a game of Space Invaders where players shoot down historical errors instead of invading aliens. It is also easy to see why this is next to useless in pedagogical terms. Such a game’s historical content is only a superficial screen between the player and the actual mechanics of the game. To master an activity like this often means ignoring that layer of surface content and focusing on the game’s deep tasks. All a player or student learns from “History Invaders” is how to play Space Invaders—moving from side to side and shooting descending blocks.Page 93
That example is intentionally banal, but the “History Invaders” problem infects far more sophisticated game designs. Many commercial computer games, like the Civilization series produced by Sid Meier, purport to simulate history or at least draw heavily on historical themes and content. Scholars and educators have experimented with using such games for history education. We enjoy games of this type, yet we are skeptical of such projects. Historical simulations can indeed be compelling, challenging, and fun, but it is far from clear what historical skills they teach.
Debates about suitability of simulation games for the classroom have typically centered on the ideologies they appear to endorse. Does a game like Civilization reward militarism and imperialist expansion? Perhaps. But, following Alexander Galloway, we argue that this question is ultimately beside the point. Getting good at most simulation games means internalizing the logic of the simulation and its algorithms. In so doing, a player learns to ignore all the things that make it a game about history and not about, say, fighting aliens. “The more one begins to think that Civilization is about a certain ideological interpretation of history,” Galloway writes, “the more one realizes that it is about the absence of history altogether.” Mastering the simulation game necessarily involves a journey away from reality toward abstraction, away from history toward code. If what you learn from a game is what you do while playing it, then what complex simulation games teach is how to interact with a complex computer model. That may indeed be a useful skill, but is it history? Is it the kind of historical thinking most educators wish to instill and inspire?
For a game to work as meaningful pedagogy, its lessons must be embedded in its very mechanics and procedures, in the stuff players manipulate and the actions they perform. If we as public historians and history educators are serious about teaching history with games, we have to inject ourselves deep into the game development process. We need to articulate what we think history and historical thinking are good for in the first place. Then we have to build outward from the kinds of historical thinking we want to inculcate, creating games and activities whose procedures are historical procedures, whose moving parts are historical ideas.
Our goal in designing Tecumseh Lies Here was to unite mechanics and subject, procedure and context, what players do and what we hope they will learn. We wanted our game to demand multiple kinds of historical thinking: first, the sorts of activities performed by professional historians; second, more vernacular kinds of history making performed by amateur history communities and affinity groups; and finally, some kinds of collective collaboration across a distributed community of players.Page 94
Tecumseh Lies Here: The Game
Because ARGs remain unfamiliar to many, it makes sense at this point to offer some description of Tecumseh Lies Here. Yet it is surprisingly difficult to describe a game of this kind in definitive terms. Pervasive games are by their very nature open-ended. This is a key pedagogical feature of the genre. Designers cannot predict what decisions players will make or how a narrative will unfold. As one student of the form has observed, “audience participation”—if one can even speak of an “audience” for ARGs—is “not a byproduct, but rather an essential and formative component of the text.” Each iteration of Tecumseh Lies Here has turned out very differently. So what follows is only a loose description of the game’s first run.
Tecumseh Lies Here begins, as many ARGs do, with a plea for help on the Internet. A man has awoken in a field near the village of Thamesville, Ontario, cold and wet, with no memory of how he got there or why. He wears a Napoleonic-era uniform. Is he a time traveler? A refugee from some alternate history? Or just an 1812 re-enactor recovering from a lost weekend? He does not know. The man finds the name “Captain Smith” on a label sewed into his uniform, but this sounds like an alias. Not only does “Smith” not know his real identity, he has no knowledge of any historical events from the last two hundred years. Naturally, he starts a weblog.
To solve this fictional mystery and cure Smith’s amnesia, players must delve into the real mystery of Tecumseh’s remains, and confront a much broader case of historical amnesia surrounding native history, national memory, and the War of 1812. Players interact with Smith through his website, commenting on his blog posts, sending him email, and receiving responses from him in return. Smith is portrayed in these interactions by a member of the game design team, who follows a loose script but also improvises to respond to player choices and actions.Page 95
Some of the game’s first puzzles concern the clues on Smith’s person. He tells and shows visitors to his blog that when he first awoke without his memory, he was wearing some kind of military uniform. By looking at the images Smith posts on his website, asking the right questions, and researching Napoleonic-era facings and insignia, players can discover that Smith’s uniform is a replica of those worn by the Independent Company of Foreigners, a fairly notorious regiment of French prisoners who fought for the British in the War of 1812. Googling the Independent Company of Foreigners brings players to the website of a (fictional) group of war gamers and 1812 reenactors who have adopted that regiment’s name.
At first glance, the Independent Company’s website displays only the charming earnestness common to its breed, but players who explore the site find odd phrases and anomalies, guarded talk of shadowy adversaries, and references to “anachronists” and historical “de-enactment.” The implication seems to be that the Independent Company reenacts the past for a purpose—to ensure that history itself does not get altered or erased. And the Foreigners are themselves investigating a mystery—the death of Tecumseh and the fate of his remains.
Another puzzle concerns strings of text in an unfamiliar language that active players begin receiving by email, Twitter, and other means. The text is transliterated Shawnee. Translated, it forms only strings of letters and numbers—a code within a code. These are in fact library call numbers, page numbers, and individual library identifiers. Players who figure this out, go to their local library, and locate the right books and pages find they all refer in different ways to Tecumseh and the War of 1812. Players who go to the specific libraries identified by the library codes—libraries scattered around Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and New York—find additional rewards: slipped between the leaves of the books are pages torn from Smith’s own notebooks, each one bearing further clues.
And so the plot thickens. As in any mystery story—just as in historical research—every discovery leads to further questions. Each layer of the onion is peeled back to reveal another layer that casts the existing facts in a new light. As game designers, we direct the players’ attention to a series of historical documents. We lead them, through the Shawnee call numbers and other clues, to gather a sheaf of pages from secondary and primary sources. But we do not tell them what to make of all these fragments; we leave them to reconstruct the past together and debate what it might mean. “Instead of telling a story,” says author and ARG designer Sean Stewart, “we . . . present the evidence of that story, and let the players tell it to themselves.” Elsewhere, Stewart has called this process “storytelling as archaeology—or possibly, the other way around.” What Stewart describes, of course, is very close to the process of real historical research.Page 96
Thus, playing Tecumseh Lies Here is very much like doing real historical research. Players visit libraries and archives. They gather evidence. They interpret, analyze, and debate the evidence they have found. Some of our fictional characters are not above misusing history by forging or fabricating documents, so players must also learn to question their evidence and consider its source. Historical content is not layered on top of a game activity; historical research is the game.
Heritage and historical sites become part of the game too, through puzzles that can only be solved by visiting real locations. Riddles refer to museum exhibits. Objects are hidden in parks and battlegrounds. The patter of costumed interpreters occasionally includes statements with in-game as well as historical significance. New puzzles lead players to scour the Internet but also to visit libraries, archives, and commemorative sites in a widening circle around the Great Lakes region and beyond. One lesson of the game is that the past is everywhere. A pervasive game trains its players to look for game-like clues and patterns in nongame places. Even a forgotten war leaves its mark in place names, political boundaries, and local mythologies. Tecumseh Lies Here aims to open eyes to the pervasive presence of the past.
As players work their way through our game, they encounter allies and adversaries in the squabbling factions of the history demimonde. Each fictional group has its own interpretation of history, a point of view that is valid in some respects and lacking in others. These groups set open-ended tasks for players, asking them to find and tag places and buildings named after Tecumseh, to locate and document errors and mistruths in history textbooks and other secondary sources, or to perform re-enactment activities like starting a fire without matches (as Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa required his followers to do).
At a deeper level, each of these factions represents a different kind of historical thinking that we hope players will learn from but also critique. Thus, Smith’s cadre of 1812 reenactors embodies a black-and-white “just the facts” approach to history. Partial to old-fashioned “drum and bugle” history and deeply suspicious of revisionism, they are admirable in their passion for the past but hidebound in their thinking. Meanwhile, a cabal of pedigreed academics believe themselves the heirs to a two-hundred-year-old secret society called the American Incognitum, who meddle in the historical record to further nefarious ends. This group represents the lure of conspiracy theory and the paranoid style in popular history. A third group affects a cynical disdain for all flavors of history, and a punk or nihilist impulse to smash the “lies” perpetrated by all the other groups. Completing the game involves learning from each point of view, but ultimately requires synthesizing or transcending the perspectives and disputes of all the rival factions.Page 97
If these puzzles and activities sound challenging, that is because they are meant to be. ARG players typically work together, connecting in online forums and tackling puzzles as a group. Does someone read French? How about Shawnee? Is there someone who can visit an archive in Chicago? Sault St. Marie? Ghent? Does anyone know how to decrypt an eighteenth-century cipher? Interpret an aerial photo? Track an animal in the wild? The short history of this genre suggests that large, determined groups of players will quickly crack almost every puzzle put before them. Once player groups reach a certain size, they become “alarmingly efficient,” combining a range of competencies and skills. ARG puzzles must have the character of a “trapdoor function” in cryptography: easy to create but difficult or impossible to solve without large-scale effort and cooperation. The collective nature of most ARG-play contains its own fundamental lesson, one we are happy to endorse: that the strength of a network lies in the diversity of its members.
Problems and Challenges
We began work on Tecumseh Lies Here in the summer of 2009 with high hopes and enthusiasm. A small team of history graduate students spent the summer doing research for the game, gathering archival and secondary sources, mapping and photographing historical sites, and brainstorming possible puzzles. Timothy Compeau and Robert MacDougall began actively designing the game, constructing activities, writing its fictional framing narrative, and plotting the direction of play.
Soon, however, we encountered challenges and problems. Some of these were specific to our circumstances and are probably extrinsic to the project of designing a pervasive game, or ARG, for history education. Others, however, may be intrinsic to the genre as currently understood. It seems worthwhile to describe these difficulties, both to help others working on similar projects and to qualify some of the exuberance in this current cycle of enthusiasm (hardly the first) for educational games.
Time and Cost
The first difficulty we encountered was predictable yet profound. Designing, mounting, and running a successful ARG is, very simply, an immense undertaking. Though we sought this challenge out, and still welcome it, we now admit we were not prepared for the size of the task, and particularly for the way the dynamic, open-ended nature of an ARG constantly multiplies the time and effort involved.
Budget issues concerned us too, but never as much as time. We have no illusions about the ability of educators or public history sites to compete with the cost and production values of commercial video games. ARGs and pervasive games, by contrast, may offer a more level playing field. There certainly have been slick, expensive ARGs, such as Levi Strauss’s Go Forth (2009), which used the poetry of Walt Whitman to advertise jeans, or McDonald’s and the International Olympic Committee’s The Lost Ring (2008), tied to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Yet there have been at least as many highly successful low-budget games. Pervasive games do not require sophisticated graphics or software. Indeed, a “lo-fi” aesthetic and underground sensibility is often part of their appeal.
The real barrier we faced—and it will be a critical one for almost any teacher, professor, or public-sector educator—was the time involved. Designing an open-ended, multithreaded narrative for a large group of players means juggling the tasks of a programmer, a novelist, a screenwriter, and a game designer, plus a researcher and a teacher if the game has educational goals. It involves anticipating and planning for innumerable contingencies, and generating large amounts of content for a wide variety of media channels such as websites, email, video or audio, and physical clues. Much of the content for Tecumseh Lies Here came from the actual historical record and did not need to be written from scratch. Yet our historical sources still had to be identified, gathered, and organized, and our fictional framing story built around them.
And all this describes only the design and production stage of a dynamic game. As many ARG designers have reported, and as we learned directly when beta testing Tecumseh Lies Here in the fall of 2011, running a pervasive game is an extremely demanding experience. Game mastering during runtime was a round-the-clock blend of writing, troubleshooting, improvisational theater, and community and crisis management. Even modest games can generate hundreds of emails, text messages, and the like, and any game, if designed correctly, will go in directions its designers have not planned.
Some game designers have responded to these challenges by relinquishing narrative control of their games and moving toward almost entirely player-generated content. This trajectory, from what Jesper Juul calls “games of progression” toward “games of emergence,” can be seen in the work of Page 99well-known game designer Jane McGonigal. Her first major game, I Love Bees (2004), was a traditional ARG—indeed, it is one of the archetypal ARGs—with a story line and puzzles crafted by writer Sean Stewart and others. McGonigal was the game’s community lead, working to guide, motivate, and organize the emergent community that came together to play the game. McGonigal’s more recent games, such as World Without Oil (2007), Superstruct (2008), and Urgent Evoke (2010), had no predetermined solutions or narrative line. Almost all the content of these games was created by their many players—an ARG 2.0 model, if you will.
In planning Tecumseh Lies Here, we tried to compromise between designer- and player-authored content, mixing prewritten puzzles and story lines with open-ended activities and tasks. Shifting from prewritten to player-generated content relieves, but hardly removes, the challenges of designing and running an ambitious game. Instead, it shifts the work of the game runners from content creation toward community management, and from the design and production stages of a game’s development toward the run-time stage. Urgent Evoke boasted a large paid staff and an even larger team of volunteers, yet its game runners reported being seriously overwhelmed by the success of the game and the volume of player-generated material they had to quickly process and respond to.
We report all these difficulties not to make excuses for ourselves but because we wonder whether they are intrinsic to ARGs and pervasive games as currently conceived. Our intent was always to limit the scope of our own game. Perhaps naively, we originally imagined Tecumseh Lies Here as the limited prototype for a more ambitious game to be designed and run during the two-hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812. But there is something in the narrative architecture of pervasive games that encourages them to grow.
Markus Montola writes that the imperative strategy for “visceral” and “unforgettable” experiences in pervasive game design is to set and then surpass player expectations. The most effective, memorable moments in pervasive game play are often those moments when players discover the game to be bigger or more ambitious than they had originally imagined: a clue on one website leads to another, far more extensive set of sites; a game that heretofore took place online suddenly manifests in the offline world. This is arguably the whole point of pervasive play, but it creates a kind of arms race between game designer and player expectations. Players in The Beast (2001) became used to calling phone numbers and hearing cryptic answering machine messages; midway through the game they were stunned when the phone was answered by a live actor. Eight years later, players in The Jejune Institute (2009) were amused when San Francisco pay phones rang and voices on the other end ordered them to dance. But they were surprised Page 100and delighted when a man in a gorilla suit and a 1980s-style b-boy with a boom box emerged from a nearby alley to dance with them.
At its best moments, historical research has similar qualities, minus perhaps the gorilla suit. A good source leads to more sources, a good question leads to further questions, and the most satisfying discoveries are often those that suddenly connect previously minor details to much larger things. Our own experience of such moments and our desire to share that feeling form much of our motivation for writing a pervasive game about historical research. Designing for that experience, however, means a constant and powerful tendency toward structural inflation and narrative sprawl.
Specific personal and professional circumstances certainly exacerbated the challenges described above and slowed our progress on Tecumseh Lies Here. At the time we designed and beta tested the game, Timothy Compeau was a PhD student completing his dissertation; Robert MacDougall was an untenured faculty member with small children. But what educator’s working life does not involve pressures and interruptions? In January 2010, we decided to postpone the running of Tecumseh Lies Here. We eventually ran a beta test involving two dozen players in the fall of 2011—one year behind schedule. After this test, we redesigned the game for a younger and broader audience, partnering with the organizers of the Battle of the Themes Bicentennial in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, to run a new version of Tecumseh Lies Here for more than one hundred elementary school students in the fall of 2013. We have been happy with our results. But the larger question can hardly be evaded. Is this kind of sprawling, immersive game a practical model for cash- and time-strapped educators? Can public-sector labor practices accommodate the demands of ARG production? Is the work involved in designing and running a game of this sort really feasible for university professors, K–12 history teachers, graduate students, or museum staff?
Audience, Community, and Impact
A second set of challenges involved questions about our game’s audience or community, its impact, and its replayability.Page 101
It is very difficult to predict how many players a pervasive game, or ARG, will attract. As with many online activities, only a small fraction of those who encounter a game of this sort typically become active players. And only a smaller fraction of active players will leave their computers to perform more demanding real-world tasks. More than 19,000 players registered for Urgent Evoke. Fewer than two hundred completed the game’s final mission. While developing Tecumseh Lies Here, we have worried at different times about handling too many players and about reaching too few.
We have also wrestled with defining our intended audience. Should Tecumseh Lies Here be designed to appeal to the small but dedicated community of experienced ARG players or to a larger, more casual public audience? Our working answer has been to shoot for something in the middle—to design a game that celebrates, and hopefully appeals to, the world of amateur history buffs, history gamers, reenactors, and similar vernacular history communities. But this is a difficult needle to thread. The challenges necessary to engage expert ARGers can quickly discourage less experienced players. But new and casual players cannot be counted on to perform the kinds of tasks or cultivate the collective community that sustains an ambitious or challenging game.
Augmented reality games are said to build community, and for a time, most do. But once an effective player community has been established, its need for new members and the opportunity for new arrivals to usefully contribute rapidly decline. Jeff Watson argues that “elite players with available time, an appropriate range of competencies, and relevant social capital will gather, process, and analyze data faster and more thoroughly than a non-integrated outsider ever could.” This tendency must temper hopes for ARGs as inclusive, community-forming experiences.
Game designer Greg Costikyan observes:
In fact, game design is not merely difficult; it is impossible. That is, it is impossible, or virtually impossible, to spec a game at the beginning of a project, and have it work beautifully, wonderfully, superbly, from the moment a playable prototype is available. There’s just too much going on here, too many ways for it to fail. Game design is ultimately a process of iterative refinement, continuous adjustment during testing, until, budget and schedule and management willing, we have a polished product that does indeed work.
Related to these concerns is the question of replayability. Most ARGs are designed to be played only once. They have been described as “rock concerts”: large, one-time events that are powerful and engaging for those Page 102present, but not reproducible for those who are not. This is understandable given the demands of running a dynamic game, but it makes iterative design difficult and seriously limits the impact and accessibility of the form.
Some games do leave static elements behind, with activities that can be performed by late arrivals without the active participation of game runners or designers. Ghosts of a Chance was an ARG hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2008. The ARG invited gamers to create objects and mail them to the museum for an exhibition “curated” by two fictional game characters, while simultaneously uncovering clues to a narrative about these objects. The game culminated with a series of six scavenger hunts at the museum. While the bulk of the game cannot now be replayed, the scavenger hunts remain for museum visitors to enjoy. Ghosts of a Chance was certainly a successful ARG and we have kept its model in mind. But some Smithsonian staff reported disappointment that the game did not reach a larger audience beyond the existing ARG community, and that more of the game’s experience could not be repeated or replayed by the general public.
As with our concerns about the time and cost of mounting a successful game, the larger question here is whether these worries are simply cold feet at the midpoint of a demanding project, or whether they point to something intrinsic about the genre. Two motifs that often appear in pervasive games are hidden conspiracies and secret worlds hidden behind the one we know. This is no coincidence. Part of the fun of such games is the appeal of being “illuminated,” of perceiving an alternate reality (the world of the game) that leaves others (nonparticipants) in the dark. Thus, ARGs are exclusive and irreproducible experiences almost by design. Alexander Galloway has argued that simulation games are always “allegories of control,” whatever surface ideologies they may project. In a similar way, ARGs and pervasive games may inevitably enact allegories of conspiracy, of the unknowing masses and the illuminated few. Such tropes have an appeal that it would be naive to deny, but they are not an appealing model, practically or philosophically, for most educators.
Participating in a successful pervasive game is undoubtedly a powerful and lasting experience. Players of The Beast, I Love Bees, and other seminal ARGs still gather years later to talk about these games. Our beta testers reported the same intense engagement. But this intensity is predicated, at least in part, on the exclusivity and irreproducibility of the games. Is it in fact necessary to bewilder or exclude a large group of people so that a much smaller few can enjoy a powerful, unrepeatable experience? At least one researcher has argued that making ARGs more accessible would “remove important triggers to hard-core player production and enjoyment.” Like many intense group activities, pervasive games described after the fact have Page 103a strong “you had to be there” quality. Maybe these experiences would not be so powerful, and the communities around completed games would not be so tightly knit, if the games were easier to join and play and understand. We have struggled to split the difference, to imagine a play experience that combines intensity with accessibility. It is not obvious whether this can be done.
Professional and Ethical Questions
A final set of challenges involved dealing responsibly with sensitive historical topics, and also with professional and ethical questions surrounding history and play.
Certainly, the history surrounding the death and burial of Tecumseh remains sensitive to some. In particular, many native Canadians and Americans are leery of the subject, in light of the long history of white misrepresentation of the native past and white desecration of native remains. (See chapter 9 for a similar situation involving aboriginal people’s concerns about a game [in this case a board game] that addresses their history.) We are mindful that our game may seem to perpetuate the same morbid fascination with Tecumseh’s remains that it ostensibly critiques.
We can only confess: it is in part the very unpleasantness of this story that intrigued us and appealed to us as a way to explore and critique the official memory of this strange and poorly remembered war. Again, Tecumseh Lies Here aspires to be a subversive commemoration. The complexities of the War of 1812 have not been well served by the nationalist myths that later grew up around it. Honoring Tecumseh’s memory, we argue, requires challenging outdated historiography on both sides of the border. Our aim is certainly not to offend. But popular history has always contained a fascination with war, death, and crime. And we cannot see how to make an engaging game with multiple characters and input from diverse players that could not possibly offend anyone. Instead, we have tried to make our own misgivings part of the game itself. The different factions in our game constantly criticize each other; we hope our players will critique our use of Tecumseh’s memory too.Page 104
Constance Steinkuehler writes:
As a Pew Internet and American Life Report on the digital disconnect between children and their schools details with excruciating clarity, what students do with online technologies outside the classroom is not only markedly different from what they do with them in schools . . . it is also more goal driven, complex, sophisticated, and engaged. If we care to understand the current and potential capacities of technology for cognition, learning, literacy, and education, than we must look to contexts outside our current formal education system rather than those within.
We intended from the start that Tecumseh Lies Here would engage and critique certain “misuses” of history. Our game therefore includes fake and forged historical documents, conspiracy theories, and counterfactuals. We considered even more fantastical elements, such as time travel and alternate history. Professional historians are extremely wary of such pseudohistorical tropes, yet they are familiar and beloved by many amateur history makers and enthusiasts. They are basic elements of much historical play.
We were inspired by educational projects like The Lost Museum and the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History (see chapter 1), which manage to be playful yet remain eminently respectable in their historical practice. Still, we believed there was room for something edgier, less sober, and more playful than these examples. We hoped to produce something that might capture the imagination of gamers and playful history subcultures. We wanted a game that did not look or feel like it was designed for a classroom. We wanted, frankly, to play with toys that historians are not supposed to play with. James Paul Gee has asserted that video games, and perhaps all games, require an element of social transgression. All games have rules, but play is not truly play until some rules are broken. This did not mean that we abdicated our responsibility to think and talk about the ethical and professional questions posed by pseudohistorical play. Instead, it meant that we talked about these questions all the time.
We took some guidance from our subjects and desired audience in both gaming and vernacular history communities. Many hobby subcultures, especially those that are in any way transgressive, develop their own codes of ethical practice and self-regulation. ARG players debate codes and practices about privacy, trespassing, interacting with nonparticipants, and so on. Historical reenactors care devoutly about authenticity and respect for the past. And history gamers place a high priority on historical realism even or especially when their scenarios diverge wildly from actual history. These codes are Page 105not the same as the codes of the classroom or the professional historian—nor should they be. But respecting these communities, we felt, meant at least listening to, and trying on, alternate ways of interfacing with the past.
We developed our own set of internal rules for Tecumseh Lies Here to follow. For instance, all fictional events in the game take place in the present day. The players must decide for themselves, based on the real historical record, what really happened in the past. All our forged documents are considered to have been created by in-game characters and are exposed as fakes in the course of the game. And while our fictional characters spout all manner of pseudohistorical theorizing—most of it competing and conflicting with one another—the game as a whole never endorses their positions.
Issues of scale and replayability come up again here. Can these ethical and professional questions be worked out only once? Or do they have to be renegotiated every time by every educator who contemplates this sort of activity? What is at stake in these questions, and who is ultimately accountable for the answers we choose? We may be willing to flirt with sensitive topics and pseudohistorical tropes for the sake of a one-time experiment. But is this a model one can recommend to other educators? We do not know.
The potential promise of this investigation seems clear. Our 2011 beta test and our larger public launch in 2013 were fun, engaging, and educational. Playful historical thinking—an attitude toward the past that is at once playful, critical, and alert—seems to us a worthy goal for history educators and a great gift to pass on to the citizens of the twenty-first century. Public historians, educators, and others have long dreamed of an immersive historical environment. Yet perhaps the best way to immerse someone in history is not to surround them with replicas and re-creations, but to arm them with historical methods and have them discover the history that is all around them. Pervasive games and activities seem tailor-made for this kind of teaching and learning.
Yet the challenges of pervasive gaming are significant and remain unsolved. Playing in the “real world” means accommodating real-world constraints on budget and time. A pedagogical idea that cannot be employed in actual educational institutions, by individual teachers and professors, by Page 106small museums and heritage sites, by people on the front lines of history education, is unlikely to take root. A prototype game that cannot be reproduced is more of a curiosity than a true innovation.
So we close with questions rather than answers. Must play equal games? Can we imagine inquiry-based historical play without a sprawling, highly designed game experience? Could a historical narrative be fractured into many discrete episodes without losing its immersive power? Could there be quick pervasive games, easy to deploy and repeat? Can we imagine more casual historical games? Or historical toys? Or ambient location-centered historical experiences that borrow certain ARG techniques but are not dependent on collective problem solving or time-sensitive events? We hope that by playing with history in Tecumseh Lies Here, we can approach more definitive conclusions. These questions, fittingly, demand both critical thought and creative play.
2. Dave Szulborski, This Is Not a Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming (Macungie, Pa.: New Fiction, 2005); Jane McGonigal, “This Might Be a Game: Ubiquitous Play and Performance at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 2006); Markus Montola et al., Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2009).
6. Bruce Van Sledright, The Challenge of Rethinking History Education: On Practices, Theories, and Policy (New York: Routledge, 2011); Samuel Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001).
9. The grant was an Image, Text, Sound, & Technology (ITST) Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Robert MacDougall was principal investigator, with Kevin Kee and William Turkel listed as co-investigators, Shawn Graham as a collaborator, and Timothy Compeau as project manager. Since 2010, Tecumseh Lies Here has been supported by the Ontario Augmented Reality Network. This article was originally written in 2011, before Page 107Tecumseh Lies Here was completed. In preparing this chapter for publication, we have revised only lightly, in order to preserve and present a snapshot of our thinking while originally designing this game. We will discuss our experiences actually running Tecumseh Lies Here in forthcoming work.
13. See, for example, Kurt Squire, “Open-ended Video Games: A Model for Developing Learning for the Interactive Age,” in The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning, ed. K. Salen (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008), 167–98.
15. Sean Stewart, “Alternate Reality Games,” June 11, 2006, accessed July 31, 2012, http://www.seanstewart.org/interactive/args/.
16. Jeff Watson, “ARG 2.0,” July 7 and July 9, 2010, accessed July 31, 2012, http://henryjenkins.org/2010/07/arg_20_1.html.
17. Many early ARGs took great pains to disguise the circumstances of their creation, even the fact that they were games. Today, it is less common to go to these lengths. As the conventions of the genre take shape, players are more and more willing to suspend their disbelief, and absolute verisimilitude is no longer required.
20. Edward Castronova, “Two Releases,” November 27, 2007, accessed August 1, 2012, http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2007/11/two-releases-ar.html.
21. Quoted in Greg Costikyan, “I Have No Words and I Must Design: Toward a Critical Vocabulary for Games,” in Proceedings of Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference, ed. Frans Mäyrå (Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press, 2002), 32.
22. The production and launch budget for a recent game industry blockbuster, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, was in the vicinity of $200 million. Ben Fritz, “Video Game Borrows Page from Hollywood Playbook,” Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2009.
23. Jesper Juul, Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005); Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy and How They Can Change the World (New York: Penguin, 2011).
25. Our source here is an off-the-record conversation with game runners, but see also Jane McGonigal, “What Went Right, What Went Wrong: Lessons from Season 1 of EVOKE,” Evoke Blog, July 26, 2010, accessed July 31, 2012, http://blog.urgentevoke.net/2010/07/26/what-went-right-what-went-wrong-lessons-from-season-1-evoke1/.
27. See also Neil Dansey on designing for “apophenia,” the perception of meaning or pattern in events that are actually accidental. Neil Dansey, “Facilitating Apophenia Page 108to Augment the Experience of Pervasive Games,” paper presented at the “Breaking the Magic Circle” seminar, University of Tampere, Finland, April 2008, [formerly www.determinedsoftware.co.uk].
28. Annalee Newitz, “Cory Doctorow Talks About the Future of the Novel, Including His Own,” io9 (September 30, 2009), accessed August 1, 2012, http://io9.com/5371362/cory-doctorow-talks-about-the-future-of-the-novel-including-his-own.
31. “Events, Not ARGs: Interview with the Founders of 4th Wall,” Variety, May 4, 2009, accessed August 1, 2012, http://weblogs.variety.com/technotainment/2009/05/events.html.
32. Our source here is an off-the-record conversation with Smithsonian staff, but see also Georgina Bath, “Ghosts of a Chance Alternate Reality Game Final Report,” Smithsonian American Art Museum, November 6, 2008, 17, accessed July 31, 2012, http://ghostsofachance.com, 17.
36. Constance Steinkuehler, “Cognition and Literacy in Massively Multiplayer Online Games,” in Handbook of Research on New Literacies, ed. Julie Coiro et al. (New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2008), 612. Emphasis in original.