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Community Engagement

In the following video, Blaise Aguera y Arcas, an architect at Microsoft Live Labs, demonstrates Microsoft Bing's latest augmented reality maps at TED talk.

Although this emerging technology
integrates various informational representations in a 3D interface and enables new relationships between information, the tools we use to access it, and the space we move through, high-end technology is not the only way to "augment reality" with information to shape and engage with the community who uses it.

 Adding Layers: "a global public art project of local experiences"

The Yellow Arrow Project uses stickers and text messages to layer information over the physical world, almost like footnotes, to create a "deep map" that exposes the inner life of the community and the individuals who make it up.

Here's how it works, according to the project's website:

Participants place uniquely-coded Yellow Arrow stickers to draw attention to different locations and objects - a favorite view of the city, an odd fire hydrant, the local bar. By sending an SMS from a mobile phone to the Yellow Arrow number beginning with the arrow's unique code, Yellow Arrow authors connect a story to the location where they place their sticker. Messages range from short poetic fragments to personal stories to game-like prompts to action. When another person encounters the Yellow Arrow, he or she sends its code to the Yellow Arrow number and immediately receives the message on their mobile phone. The website extends this location-based exchange, by allowing participants to annotate their arrows with photos and maps in the online gallery of Yellow Arrows placed throughout the world.

Each arrow basically signals that there's more than meet the eye here, there's something that really matters to someone. It's been used to make projects like "Secret New York" and "Capitol of Punk." Some arrows are informative, giving insider information about businesses, services, and happenings in the community. Some arrows are more personal, providing memories and other forms of unofficial, secret histories.  If you were going to add information to your community, what would you add? What kind of project could students at your school take on? The stickers and SMS system provide a more durable layer of information, but a similar effect could be achieved by annotating the world with laminated enveloped with informational notes inside. Students could either write the notes themselves or offer them to other members of the community to write and distribute. What other ways might the idea of layering information in the real world be used in the classroom and beyond? How might it give young people a greater sense of community and participation in it?

On the blog Pontydysgu, Jenny Hughes brainstormed some learning applications the project might have. She wrote:
  • The arrows could be coded by subject area or topic.
  • Using a Google maps mash up you could design learning trails.
  • The telephone number to ring could be linked to our own server. So, for example, we could add urls to You Tube or Flickr
  • You could get whole communities involved – why not a local town (like Pontypridd) becoming a Yellow Arrow Learning Community?
  • Get all the schools involved as well as local industry. So a yellow arrow stuck on the brickworks could lead to a video of bricks being made.
  • Why not extend the public domain yellow arrows to the inside / private domain as well – yellow arrow work based learning?
Hughes also wrote a post about the use of cell phones in the classroom, including arguments for and against and an inspiring list of possible applications, including these geography-related ideas:
  • Use sites like gabcast or evoca to make ‘instant’ podcasts straight from a mobile that can be accessed from a mobile (and you only have to be over 13 to use them) without having to use podcasting software. We did a geography quiz on local landmarks and geographical features “From where I’m standing I can see….where am I?”
  • Setting up audio tours e.g one group is working on a guide to places of interest in their town where at each point of interest there is a notice “to hear the story, ring this number”
Interested to learn more about the Yellow Arrow project? Here's an interview from Henry Jenkins with one of the organizers. And Yellow Arrow isn't the only spatial annotation project. Here Timo Arnall from ElasticSpace profiles more, including:

Grafedia - Grafedia is hyperlinked text, written by hand onto physical surfaces and linking to rich media content – images, video, sound files, and so forth. It can be written anywhere – on walls, in the streets, or in bathroom stalls. Grafedia can also be written in letters or postcards, on the body as tattoos, or anywhere you feel like putting it. Viewers “click” on these grafedia hyperlinks with their cell phones by sending a message addressed to the word + ”” to get the content behind the link.

Implementation - Implementation begins as sheets of stickers, with a different text on each sticker. We will distribute these sheets to individuals, both personally and via post. Instructions, asking people to peel the stickers off and place them in an area viewable by the public, will accompany the sheets.

One Block Radius - psychogeographic survey of one block in New York, building a multi-layered portrait of a particular part of the city.

New Media Literacies: visualization, distributed cognition, transmedia navigation, judgment, networking

Distopian Layers

Not all visions of the future of technologically augmented reality are as optimistic as the one
Aguera y Arcas presented. In the following short film by Keiichi Matsuda, presents one such distopia.

As Bobby from the blog Kitsune Noir describes it:

The video takes place strictly in the kitchen of man from the future. When it starts you see that the man is inundated by advertisements everywhere. Suddenly, he reaches out and a menu appears, allowing him to turn off all of the ads. If you look closely, he’s actually making money by viewing these ads all of the time. The reason he turns off the ads is so he can make a cup of tea.

He starts the automatic kettle, which also has a pop up display telling you how long the water will take to boil. He then gestures and a search form pops up, allowing him to search how to make tea. A computerized helper begins to help him to make tea, telling him to put the tea bag into the cup.

While he’s waiting he decides to check his networks, and with a flick of his fingers all of the ads disappear. You can see a cheery looking field with hundreds of connections being constantly updated with photos and status updates. He finishes up with that, grabs the skim milk out of the fridge and pours his tea. Suddenly though he’s alerted that his “Liquid Waste” levels are full and that he needs to relieve himself.

The film Minority Report, based on the Philip K Dick short story, also depicts a future where we are confronted by bio-personalized advertising everywhere we go. This Wall Street Journal article suggests that this kind of real-world targeted ads may not be too far off, and the potential revenue to be generated from location-aware mobile advertising, according to this post and video from Liz Gannes at Gigaom, is a big part of what is driving the development of augmented reality technology by companies like Google and Microsoft.

This lesson plan from PBS suggests tying-in Minority Report with the young adult book Star Split, by Kathryn Lasky and other distopian novels like Brave New World and 1984 that have become a standard part of many secondary English cirricula. Pairing this with geographic and spatial thinking skills would enhance the study of these books.

However, the point of studying distopias visions has never been to inculcate simply pessimism or skepticism in learners. Instead, teachers equip students to see themselves as active participants in constructing the future, in this case, more than just passive consumers of these ads. Educators can help create a culture where young people become accustomed to creating their own layers, augmenting their own reality with the tools they have available, so that they think of themselves as stakeholders in their community and in
the new media landscape, which is rapidly becoming literally part of the landscape.

New Media Literacies: visualization, simulation, distributed cognition, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking

Analyzing Layers: Ambient Street Media

images from

Before we can understand the emerging hybrid lanscape, we can start to understand the one we already live in. Our public spaces are already layered with information-- advertisement, signs,
graffiti, murals, flyers, newspapers, store names-- what Rekha Murthy calls "ambient street media."  For her masters thesis in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, Murthy turned the casual urban habit of analyzing this media into a more formal academic study. In her proposal for the project, she wrote, "I want to know who produces the media I see every day on the street and what their motivations are. I want to learn more about the nature of the contests, collaborations, and coincidences occurring over the turfs, public and private, that are open to the public gaze." Murthy aslo produced The New Sense of the Web in 2006, an hour-long segment for radio show On Point with Tom Ashbrook, which explored the implications of the geo-spatial web.
Murthy's thesis, which analyzed of the ambient street media of Central Square, Cambridge, MA and an accompanying photo essay
(download here in text [PDF], and in images [PDF]), found that the street provided a direct, accessible, and afforable channel of communication and encouraged urban planners to consider way to incorporate the individual, governmental, and commercial interests that compete for the this to "add surfaces that are more accommodating to a wider array of inscriptions."

This work
provides not just a case study but also a methodology for developing lesson plans. What kind of ambient street media might your students find in their communities? What kind of arguments might they be able to make using these observations? Just as Chris Highfield's students profiled in the Boundaries module polled a variety of community members to understand issue regarding a ballot measure, students might try to understand how different groups feel about different kinds of ambient street media, from advertising to graffiti.

In this video, produced by Project New Media Literacies, graffiti art collective Tats Cru discusses the impact of their work, one such form of ambient street media, in neighborhoods and Murthy talks about the variety of reactions to graffiti.
What kind of projects might students develop in order to understand how the stakeholders in their community encourages or discourages different kinds of ambient street media?

The Pico-Union Graf Lab in Los Angeles is one way in which groups have decided on how to deal with differing opinions on street media. What kinds of projects could students design for their community or school to consider the values of a variety of participants?

Another kind of street media is public art. Is graffiti art? PBS's series Art:21 profiles two "high art" artists, Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen who believe that it is, but as this archived conversation, mostly among educators, shows, the reactions are mixed. Art:21. The series also features a free, downloadable set of lesson plans with themes relevant to mapping like Home and Displacement and Public and Private Space.

New Media Literacies: Negotiation, Simulation, Collective Intelligence, Appropriation