I’m a geek. There I said it. It doesn’t hurt. Millennials probably don’t get that sentiment. Ha ha, young ones! I come from a time when it was super NOT SAFE to be a geek. It was a land called the 1980s, a veritable wonderland of early geekery. Back then you couldn’t program by dragging and dropping, and when you knew that if the word computer came out of your mouth, the teacher would make you plug in all of the cords in every machine in the classroom for the rest of the year… oh and the other kids would steal all your shit and flush it… or at least try to… idiots never could understand plumbing…
But I digress! Seeing as how I am a geek, I often involve myself in any and all geeky projects that go on around me. This is how I constantly end up in the circles of one Eric Hawkinson, who is himself a geek prince of sorts.
In April of 2017 (wayy to far from the 1980s for my taste, but way cooler due to new-fangled handheld computers) he decided to introduce his new students (he works at Fukuchiyama University, which is about a 2 hour train ride away for me) to their new digs by doing a sort of AR “rally” or scavenger hunt.
So you’ve got a bunch of 18 year olds wandering around downtown in their newly adopted home city, waving smartphones around, attempting to find different geo locations and then immerse themselves in a physical and virtual scavenger hunt. Sounds like fun? Took a lot of work.
Eric started a research group with all of us a bit ago now, it’s called MAVR, which sounds like MAVO from Teddy Ruxpin (sorry kids, you’re too young to get my references), but we’re a lot less evil. MAVR is short for Mixed, Augmented and Virtual Realities in Learning. Because we are all inclusive in our geekery and we welcome all fellow nerds and geeks, regardless of their platform of preference.
So we (read: mostly Eric) designed this scavenger hunt so that all 220 participants could learn about this new city where their college was located. Kind of a fun gamified day, for a school day.
Now, that was the rationale on the surface, however there were secret reasons for the project as well. First, by hanging out with all of their new classmates and having fun, they were making new friends and networking with the people who they would need to rely on in the next four years. But one other important reason was to connect the students to the community and to connect members and organizations of the community back to the students.
With that goal in mind, I was assigned to the Fukuchiyama Fire Station. Upon arrival, I was greeted by the Fire Station staff. Turns out they have an entire education center there. They get the typical tours done for local school field trips, but they were super excited to have this day to get all the new college students there for a visit.
When the kids arrived at the station (we had several teams come by all day long), the first thing they had to do was to scan an augmented card and hear a message that it was their job to learn about the different things at the center. Then, their mission started, the first mission: someone needed help… let’s go learn CPR… yay!!
The kids came in and were taught basic CPR techniques by the staff and had to do a certain number of reps before they could advance to the next station. Next… FIRE! My favorite part.
So they have this really sweet machine where it measures the decibel level of your shout. On the screen they show a fire starting. Basically you have to make sure your voice can be heard over all other local noise, and scream at about 90 decibels in order to safely insure you will get help.
Now I am sure these kids (in particular the smarmy 18 year old boys) thought that when they shouted, it would be 1,100 decibels and open a black hole which would destroy our galaxy… so that’s why they all timidly peeped at the machine. But it took them several times (and in teams of 3) to get over 90. Of course, after they were all done, I had to walk up and shout alone and show them how it was done (black holes? easy peasy). They walked to the next mission with me having reinforced their “loud American” stereotype.
The final mission was to successfully navigate a smoke room. The room is filled with smoke created by a smoke machine, and they learn how to successfully navigate the room to get out quickly, watching for fire and trying to not inhale too much smoke. I really enjoyed this part because I hadn’t ever seen a simulator like this when I was a kid (okay 1980s, you did lack sweet smoke simulation chambers), and I thought it was a great way to educate how to escape a fire situation safely.
Finally the kids were done and they took a “MISSION COMPLETE” pic and then went to their next location.
I had a lot of fun watching the groups come and go over the day, but I didn’t get a lot of interaction over the AR. There were 4 augmented locations within the fire station, but, due to the fact that the fire station crew was so active in getting the kids engaged in what they were doing and in the activities, they really didn’t need the additional instruction over the AR. Sooooooo, that left me still geeking out over all the sweet fire activities, but a bit as a loss with how to engage them in using something with so many eager teachers waiting to teach.
During the rally we had 4 main stations that were augmented, and a variety of other stations that were not. The augmented areas were chosen because of the activities there, however, while some stations worked well (read Eric’s original article and Parisa’s blog), others had issues. The docents and fire station staff reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallly were excited to show the kids around. So they only made the kids do the AR spots as an afterthought.
I know that it’s my job to want to AUGMENT, AUGMENT, AUGMENT, but I feel like in a way, we have to go back to what our original intent was, and that was to get the community involved. I think AR tends to work well for self exploration, set up in a place where you can’t learn from someone, at least not someone face to face. It is setup to engage the users in the area around them and explore themselves. Therefore it would work best in a place where there wasn’t half a dozen excited people, just bursting to educate.
Next year, I think we can let the docents have at it, and augment another spot in the city. We will see, though, we will see. Either way, it was a really fun day… and I think the kids had as much fun as I did. I don’t know, though, I really do love fire… and AR!
Special thanks to the firefighters and docents at the Fukuchiyama Fire Station. What a great bunch of people!
See you next time, when I attempt to report on our next nerdy mission!