Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fort Vancouver Mobile mission statement

As part of organizing the Fort Vancouver Mobile project and turning it into a highly successful grant magnet, I need to develop a strong mission statement that presents a clear purpose but also illustrates how this project manages the change in the world generated by mobile technology.
In brainstorming this thought, I started by simply playing around with mission as an acronym (lame, yes, but a starting point nonetheless):

M – Mobility and movement, users are moving around the space; what makes this project so fascinating and new is that elaborate digital content now can be delivered to users on demand, or by the author's command, based on an awareness of location, spatial factors and context as those evolve in real time as people move around in a mixed environment that simultaneously blends virtual and real spaces.
I – Interactive, users respond to the machine, the author, the content and each other and participate in creating the experience, including collaboration that could develop into classifiable collective intelligence ... generated on the fly.
S – Storytelling, all of this really happens as part of a larger story. Purely informational content, the signposts of the digital world, are not nearly as interesting as the ways in which mobile content can be packaged as interactive stories and games. Focus needs to remain on the story, the characters, the plot and the setting; maybe the setting in this new genre takes on more importance than in any other form before.
S – Simplicity, this should be simple to use and simple to get started and simple to engage with; usability has to remain at the forefront of a user-centered design to get people to even try this out. I don't want to challenge people with the technology. I want to challenge them with the content, and how and when they receive the content, and how that affects their experience. I don't want users to be stuck and frustrated just trying to get this thing to work.
I – Immediacy, the goal is media transparency, with the user's space not limited to the screen or reality but a perfect blend of both. Ideally, the mobile device eventually would begin to feel like another tool for navigating and understanding and appreciating the space on a more evolved level of humanity.
O – Occurring simultaneously, a hybrid of real and virtual space interwoven; this content shouldn't encourage the user's eyes to be endlessly locked down on a screen or be so useless that users never think about it. Maybe it should be like a friend along for the journey, one you want to keep chatting with about what you are doing and seeing.
N – Numin-ousity! Inspired by this journal article: Cameron, C. and J. Gatewood (2003), "Seeking Numinous Experiences in the Unremembered Past." The authors state that numinous (new term to me) experiences at historical sites are those that create deep connections with objects and places. That's part of our goal, too!

Now, can I boil those sorts of ideas down to a single statement in support of this project?

How about this for a first draft: "The Fort Vancouver Mobile project serves as a cutting-edge research laboratory for developments in mobile content creation that emphasize location, spatial and contextual awareness in relation to interactive and mixed-reality storytelling experiences, particularly those that take advantage of the new abilities of mobile technology to illuminate important regional and national historical narratives."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dissertation funding

I would like to be writing this post about pre-dissertation funding, but those sources seem to be covered primarily by general scholarships, not based on what kind of research is being done. It's yet another carrot dangling to get through the doctoral coursework and the qualifying exam and preproposal and get on to the bigger fish. Trust me, I want to get to that phase as soon as I can. But while I'm in the coursework section, learning so much and enjoying my classes, it would be helpful to get some seed money to develop dissertation ideas. I would like to be working on various pilot studies at this point, making sure I am on the right track, yet without the dedicated funding and with bills to pay, I think this creates a hole in the support system of higher education.
That said, it is so much simpler now to search for funding sources and scholarships. During my undergraduate and even graduate years, I recall spending many, many hours in front of microfiche and microfilm trying to find the same kinds of information that I now can locate in less than 5 seconds on Google.
"Grant Seeking in an Electronic Age" by Mikelonis, Betsinger and Kampf has a section of the book (pp. 104-107) dedicated to searching for dissertation funding, and it appears that funding sources are much more interested in your work once you get to the dissertation phase. One of the best tips in this section, I think, is the idea that you should ask colleagues and mentors about funding sources, before spending hours upon hours searching the Internet. This kind of information seeking could very well be the most efficient. There also are a variety of sites listed that could be of some help, including, which now redirects to It also mentions, which as far as I can tell is out of business. But its strategies for developing keywords and searching the web strategically appear to be sound, although also not particularly enlightening.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fort Vancouver Mobile: Need statement

For potential funders out there:

Within the decade, more people around the world will be accessing the Internet through mobile devices than from their desktops. Capable of so much more than just telephony, this new generation of interconnected mobile devices will be able to track location of users and be aware of contextual information, such as where they have been before, what they have looked at and where they are headed next.
In the world of historical interpretation, this opens up a mind-blowing number of possibilities, including interactive narratives that immerse users in a particular time and place and even within a specific character. Information no longer has to be written in brochures or displayed on interpretive panels or wall screens, and costumed interpreters don’t have to be performing on site every hour to have round-the-clock edutainment.
Some within the field are becoming aware of these possibilities, but the race still is on to create the first mobile app for a national park service site. The chance still is there to break that ground and lead the federal government's historical interpretation efforts into this immense new digital world, to suitably enough be pioneers in generating this augmented reality, which is destined to become a standard operating procedure of historical sites in the future.
The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site -- the only historic site in the Portland, Ore., metropolitan area -- has been doing extensive research, under the direction of Texas Tech University doctoral student Brett Oppegaard, on mobile storytelling and tourism, from delivery methods and platforms to interactive narrative structure. Clark County's government recently awarded Oppegaard, also an adjunct lecturer at Washington State University Vancouver, a $9,000 grant to purchase the industry-standard audio equipment needed to generate this high level of mobile content. Various partners on the 12-member production team also are bringing professional level equipment into the mix as well, but there still are a few integral main parts needed to make the production process run smoothly and generate commercial-level quality: An industry-standard video camera and video monitoring system, including a tripod, which costs about $9,600, and a Macintosh-based video editing and media storage system, with the industry-standard Final Cut Pro software on it, which costs about another $8,000.
The team is in place, including several nationally renowned journalists with experience in multimedia content production and prominent regional historians, including a curator and an archaeologist. The opportunity is ripe, like looking to the west and seeing nothing but an uncharted frontier. This project just needs a few more pieces of equipment to leap into action, get the wagons moving and change history.
We are gaining new partners and supporters regularly, but we need you to take one of these larger leaps of faith while the iron is hot. Please consider covering the costs of the Macintosh editing and media storage system, about $8,000, which then would be donated to Washington State University Vancouver's Digital Technology and Culture program at the end of its use at Fort Vancouver. Thank you for your consideration.

Fort Vancouver Mobile: The problems it will solve

Fort Vancouver Mobile is the umbrella label I use now to talk about the various efforts underway by our team at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to embed digital mobile content that augments the physical representations of the fascinating array of history that has happened in that particular location, on the north bank of the Columbia River, just north of Portland, Ore. This was the spot where the Pacific Northwest’s "first hospital, school, orchard, library, grist mill, saw mill, shipyard and dairy were all established," according to the fort's records.

Our primary goal is to generate mobile interactive narratives, or stories that visitors to the site can immerse themselves in, through a connection with a mobile communication device. We also have been examining and researching various other modes of information sharing and platforms, from QR (quick response) codes to mobile social networking systems.

Before I write more about those specific efforts, I think it's important to define what problems we are trying to solve with this project.

To begin with, the fort's collection and archives contain more than 2 million artifacts, yet only 10 percent of those (or about 200,000 items) are available for viewing, according to the fort. The other 90 percent, or about 1.8 million items, can't be exhibited for a variety of reasons, including lack of display space. A digital solution not only could bring more items directly into the palms of visitors, by allowing downloads to mobile devices, for example, but this approach also gives on-demand access and mobility to that information and imagery, which could greatly improve its usefulness throughout the park, creating more connectivity among the items and stories that include them.

The fascinating stories of this place also are an underdeveloped resource at this point, due to lack of resources to share them. The ideal situation might be living history performances in all buildings every hour the fort is open, but without the resources of Colonial Williamsburg, the fort has to rely on occasional living history outreach mixed with other means of telling its stories, such as park ranger chats, brochures, wayside signs, etc. Digital content could complement the efforts already underway at the site, with additional content that is engaging and educational in other ways, including a facsimile of living history, with anecdotes and stories captured in video and audio for on-demand and on-location playback.

Another significant issue at the fort is the difficulty of attracting and maintaining the interest of young, technologically inclined folks, say between 16 and 35 years of age. This is anecdotal at this point, but teenagers touring the site often are seen wearing iPod earphones or text messaging on their cell phones rather than looking around at the wonders of the site. If that focus could be redirected toward some sort of edutainment-type program, in which visitors immersed themselves into a fort story through their devices, maybe while also being socially connected to friends doing the same thing, it could change the dynamic considerably in the fort's (and history's) favor.

Those three issues seems to be key driving factors for us in developing mobile content at the fort. There are secondary reasons for it, of course, which I will address later. But those give us our base driving factors from which to build our content. Are there other, more important problems we could solve with digital content at the fort at this time? If you have ideas, please post them here. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What does the Fort Vancouver Mobile project need in terms of resources in 2010 and beyond?

After many months of planning and groundwork, the Fort Vancouver Mobile project I'm coordinating at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is starting to emerge into public view. That's because the first of what I hope to be many financial backers, the Clark County Historical Promotions committee and Clark County Commissioners, recently awarded the project a $9,000 grant. This in turn triggered the project's official sponsor, Washington State University Vancouver, to link a fall 2010 class in the Digital Technology and Culture program to this project. I also have been surprised at the volume of interest generated just from the grant announcement in the local newspaper and various WSU publications. It's clear that people are highly intrigued by the idea of offering engaging mobile content at the site to share historical information and stories through devices, such as the iPhone or Android phones.
While I have gathered a talented and trusted group of people to work on this, initial informal brainstorming sessions with some of them have shown that there are way more great ideas than we have the capacity to perform this year. Which makes me wonder how much I should expand this project, and how quickly?
The initial goal for me was simply to develop a laboratory for my research into mobile interactive narratives as I pursue my doctorate degree in technical communication and rhetoric at Texas Tech University. Yet the support I have received for this idea from Chief Ranger Greg Shine as well as DTC co-directors Dene Grigar and John Barber -- and the many others who have been instrumental in the project's development so far -- has been energizing.
That leads back to the main question I have at this time. Should I keep focused only on the dissertation needs and pursue resources strictly to that end? Or, while I have this wind in my sails, should I start reaching out toward potential funders with a bigger message in mind, one that could make the fort and this project a model for historical tourism sites in this country?