Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interactive History Displays

I've been working on some projects for Bill Turkel recently that he likes to call "Interactive, Ambient and Tangible Devices for Knowledge Mobilization." In layman's terms, that's "Interactive History Displays."

The project I'm currently working on is an interactive ice core. It's not really ice, but it's a cylinder of plastic, cooled by a device called a "Peltier Junction." When a student touches the ice core, sensors determine where the finger touched and a monitor displays relevant information.

Our current prototype is a cardboard tube, but it's going to get way better, we swear. We have recently started working with a milling machine. This machine is essentially a 3D printer. You give it directions of what you want, put in a block of material - plastic for instance - and it creates your shape in relief.

For those of you interested in the technical details or who wish to follow along with our progress, you can do so here.

But, that's not why I'm posting. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate new ways to engage students with history.

Textbooks have their place, but so many children learn by touching or experiencing. And, because it's not very feasible to truck an ice core into a classroom, we're creating the next best thing. Perhaps better, since most children lack the university degree in paleoclimatology required to decipher ice core secrets.

The interactive display also gives students and educators more control over their learning experience. Students can choose to learn about only those aspects of the core that interest them, by deciding which parts of if to touch. If they are particularly interested in the bubbles which are trapped under the surface, they can focus their attention on that aspect. If they want to know about the dirty section near one end, they can do that too.

These displays can be made relatively inexpensively. The ice core will likely cost about the same as your average science textbook and could be used to teach an entire classroom.

Bill has already started work on a tree-ring which follows the same principles as the ice core.

I think this idea has a bit more potential. So, if anyone has a suggestion for something they would like to see, or that they think would be useful for teaching history, please leave a comment here or send me an email at adam_crymble@hotmail.com. I'd love to hear your ideas, and perhaps we can bring them to life.

Be creative: dinosaur bones, a castle, a dress. Anything is fair game.

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