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Gordon, T., Walters, L., Michlowitz, R. (2016). An Augmented Reality Mobile Application for Intergenerational Learning and Critical Connection: Experiencing The Histories of Flushing Meadows Park. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 210-213.
An Augmented Reality Mobile Application for Intergenerational Learning and Critical Connection Experiencing The Histories of Flushing Meadows Park

An Augmented Reality Mobile Application for Intergenerational Learning and Critical Connection Experiencing The Histories of Flushing Meadows Park

Augmented Reality (AR) superimposes geolocated digital text and images on a real-time view of the world.  Museums, urban spaces and cultural heritage sites are using AR to virtually restore and enhance historical displays and environments on smartphones or tablets. We have created an AR application that combines dynamic, interactive content, including realistic 3D models, video, animation, game, and website portal, to immerse a diverse public in the history and culture of an important and well-trafficked setting: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (FMCP), a 1255-acre urban park in Queens, NY.  Littered with dramatic remnants of two World’s Fairs, FMCP is steeped in a largely-forgotten history as the site of the 1939/40 and 1964/65 World’s Fairs (NYWF), the first UN General Assembly, activities of European colonists, and early habitation by Algonquian speaking Native Americans. Additionally, the park served as the backdrop for the novel The Great Gatsby and as a site for an interesting natural history.

Our public venture partner, the Queens Museum, is situated within FMCP, in the most diverse immigrant neighborhood in New York State. In 2014  the population of Queens was composed of 49.1% Caucasian, 28% Latino, 25.8% Asian, and 20.8% African American. 47.8% of households are headed by individuals born outside the United States (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/36081.html). By harnessing the multimodal possibilities of AR, we have engaged an ethnically, generationally and educationally diverse audience in the cooperative - and critical - exploration of history and culture.

The application will provide users two complementary experiences: an intergenerational learning game which enables children and adults to be partners while learning about the history of FMCP, and a guided tour that explores the two World’s Fairs through comparison of their common, recurrent themes such as futurism, technological optimism, citizenship, progress, race and nationalism. Through these modalities, the application supplies a greatly enhanced destination experience to users of all ages and backgrounds, whether they are families from the surrounding neighborhoods, Queens Museum goers or tourists to New York City.

The project is informed by interdisciplinary humanities scholarship, including World's Fair history, anthropology, theme park studies, cognitive psychology, AR mobile design,and game design for STEM and cultural learning (http://srealserver.eecs.ucf.edu/chronoleap/).

1. I.  Intergenerational Game

Based upon the activity Geocaching, an intergenerational learning game is under development to provide children a scaffolded way to learn about the history and heritage of FMCP. Geocaching is a scavenger hunt-style game, which sends individuals or teams searching an environment for hidden physical items. By making the caches virtual, there are no limitations on items and avoid impacting park operations.  An adult led by the child must surmount the challenge of locating virtual geocaches, while exploring the past of FMCP.  Teams will also drill virtual core samples in the park and examine them to find geocached items within.

Game play proceeds as users are provided clues and instructions guiding them to a physical locations. For example,  a clue might read “Find the ancient column” (referring to the extant Roman Column of Jerash, presented to NYC by Jordan’s King Hussein at the close of the 1964-65 NYWF) (Wingfield, 2011). Player’s devices notify them when reaching the location and are then provided new GPS coordinates. The device enables them to find the location, as well as see the landscape of the park as it appeared in the past and find the virtual artifact. Artifacts are stored by the application for future examination. This process continues for a set of artifacts – each artifact being one piece of a puzzle. In geocaching tradition we provide a final reward at the end.

Another feature entails the collection of virtual pieces of artifacts from the core-sample’s strata, which are eventually reassembled at the relevant location. Examples of artifacts which might be found and assembled by users include the Videophone displayed at the Bell Telephone Pavilion during the 1965/65 Fair, the first television displayed at the RCA Pavilion during 1939/40 Fair, and a Mastodon from the Pleistocene Era. The application can provide supplemental content (e.g. video, audio and images), questions that open up further pathways for thought, and fun quizzes that challenge a user’s knowledge and memory.  

As children have yet to develop a mastery of most subjects, they can often learn better when they are provided support from a familiar adult (Vygotsky, 1978). Such support, commonly known as scaffolding, is essential for them to integrate new information into their base of knowledge.  This dovetails well with Lave and Wenger (1991), where learning is a communal, interactive activity where less experienced individuals learn from master practitioners.  Our app provides an intergenerational pathway, where the adult can both support learning information presented and share associated information from their own life. A child will likely to engage with media prompts when with an adult (Takeuchi et al., 2011). Participatory mediation of learning, where adults and children collaborate, sharing a dialogue stimulated by the geocaching activity offers the potential for learning in such application (Clark, 2011).  This could be extended to encompass the sharing of deep-rooted memories and experiences for the adult, while also enabling children to share their experiences.

2. II.  The Deep Experience

This modality targets individuals who are interested in advanced content and interpretation for deeper, critical understanding of the 1939/40 and 1964/65 Fairs at Flushing Meadows, remnants of which form a dramatic backdrop. World's Fairs were typically experienced as spectacles of culture, industry, and technology. (Benedict,1981; Geppert et al., 2005; Greenhalgh, 2011; Corn and Horrigan, 1984; Garn et al., 2007; Rydell, 1984, 1993; Rydell and Gwinn, 1994; Rydell et al., 2000)  However, they are also environments that shaped popular understanding of society’s past, present and future, linked through enduring narratives of citizenship, progress, technological optimism, consumerism, race and nationalism (Hollengren et al., 2014; Gordon, 2005; Marchand ,1991,1995; Samuel, 2007; Tirella, 2014; Winner, 1991). This mode enables users to critically engage with the changing social themes and narratives that tie the Fairs together by sending users to cognate, virtual pavilions.

Designed as a curated tour starting at the Queens Museum, visitors are guided through the park viewing models of Fair pavilions, and learning about common themes through archival images, audio and documentary footage, both within the application itself and on the associated website. Examples include:

2.1. Landscapes of the Future

The connected themes of progress, technology, commerce and utopia – as expressions of “the future in the present” – have always dominated in World’s Fairs (cf Land, 2011).  Visitors are directed to the interstate highway utopia of Futurama at the General Motors pavilion, designed by Norman Bel Geddes (Marchand, 1991; 1995), and also to Futurama II, its updated version in the later Fair, in which “General Motors set out to reveal how technology would conquer the harshest environments for the betterment of humanity” (Walters, 2014:467).  Visitors will be able to view archival footage of both exhibits, read contemporary accounts and see original designs.

2.2. Protests at the Fair

National and global conditions did not reflect the optimistic themes of the Fairs, nor did Fairs go uncontested by groups who were excluded from self-representation and employment.  The 1964/65 NYWF was designed as a virtual bubble away from the emergent civil rights, free speech and anti-war movements. Visitors are invited to explore the CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) protests of 1964 (Peneda, 2014; Jacoby, 1998; Tirella, 2014; http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/25/protesting_the_1964_world_s_fair)

and to see them come alive at the site of the Unisphere (still extant), through  digital overlay of archival footage (see for example http://timetraveler.berlin).  Visitors will also access additional material such as pamphlets, flyers and photographs, and hear audio of speeches and meetings.

2.3. Racial Representation: two Africas

Both Fairs contained pavilions that represented “Africa” as a project of defining, organizing and displaying people and culture. (Lorini, 1999; Rydell, 1999).  Our comparison of these exhibitions highlights the increased agency of the emergent African Republics of 1964/65 to represent themselves as modern members of the family of nations with professional dance performances, art exhibit, displays of industry (cf Benedict, 1993; Lukas, 2007).  In contrast, the Great Britain pavilion of 1939/40 contained “natural history” dioramas of traditional scenes in the life of its colonized subjects  (http://www.1939nyworldsfair.com/worlds_fair/wf_tour/hall_of_nations/great_britain, https://archive.org/stream/ldpd_11290477_000#page/n1/mode/2up). The static diorama was a key visual strategy that distinguished colonized Africans from its white Commonwealth citizens, also on display.  Visitors will be able to compare the 1964/65 professional dance performances with those that took place at the 1939/49 Midway where they were framed as exotic, marginal entertainments.

The interpretive experience provides an associated website that contains contemporary accounts, academic essays, archival media, and exhibition content.  The website will also provide an opportunity to upload personal oral histories of the Fairs (cf Anderson, 2003) that will prompt them to critically reflect on the relationship of the historic Fairs and contemporary life.

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