Venturing down the digital trail

The interpreter in the form of a mountain biker.

I am a mountain biker.

Ok, lets keep it relevant… I am a mountain biker and an interpreter.

I started mountain biking in 2001, and it was love at first ride. I used to spend every spare daylight hour I had out on the trails around Wellington with my mates. I used to read all the magazines, watch all the movies and spend hours wandering through bike shops marvelling at the shiny new bikes. I found a huge amount of joy in discovering new trails and mastering the trails I knew well.

Now, I would never claim to have mastered mountain biking but by 2006 I was pretty competent, knew my way around a bike pretty well and could find my way down most trails as good as any. When this contentment happens, ‘the search’ starts. It’s the search for something new and exciting, a chance to add a new layer to my mountain biking experience.

A friend of mine floated the idea of night riding, which basically consists of strapping the brightest light you can find to your head and tearing through the forest in the middle of the night. I had my reservations about this new idea – lights were expensive, it was colder at night, it was risky as it would be harder to get help if someone was to get hurt.

All reservations considered and addressed, we ventured out into the night for a ride. It was amazing. We rode the same tracks we had ridden for years, but when put in a new light became a brand new experience. I got that extra boost of energy and excitement for riding again.

While the search as a mountain biker led me to night riding, the search as an interpreter has got me looking at digital experiences. I, like a lot of interpreters, have my reservations about digital experiences. They tend to be expensive. They can be too difficult for visitors to use. Maintenance of content can be frustrating and time-consuming. Then there were download size issues to consider, and how to encourage visitors to download the app onto their phones in the first place.

Recently, after considering and addressing all these reservations, we at Wellington Zoo rolled out the STQRY app.

A STQRY code placed at exhibits that visitors scan using the app on their smart phone. If you scan this code now with your phone using any QR code scanner it will prompt you to download the app.

The app, developed by a Wellington-based company, allows visitors access to text, images, maps, videos, links (and much more) through their smartphone. Visitors can either search an alphabetical list of animals and exhibits or they can scan QR codes at exhibits to access relevant information.

The approach we took to the development of content was that it should complement what visitors see at exhibits. In other words, it encourages them to interact with the physical space around them. It is designed to be another layer to the experience. It is not a replacement for other forms of interpretive media, just another opportunity where visitors can customise their own experience.

A preview of the STQRY interface.

Just like night riding boosted by buzz for mountain biking, developing this experience for our visitors has given me that extra boost of energy as an interpreter. It is an opportunity to shed a new light on our experience and engage visitors in a way we have not done before. That, for me as an interpreter, is exciting. What a ride!

Stones to iPhones – INNZ Spring Workshop

I attended the INNZ Spring Workshop in Timaru to be inspired. To see things from other points of view, to network with like minded individuals, working in fields unlike mine. While working within the zoo industry is great, stepping out of that context and looking to bring in ideas from other types of organisations is an exciting challenge; a challenge of great benefit to me as an interpreter.

Oli and guides at the Eagle Cave.

I'm on the left as our guides Karl and Sue invite us to explore the Cave of the Eagle.

This year we were hosted by Te Ana: Ngai Tahu Rock Art Centre. A highlight of day one was going out to the rock art sites to look at drawings done hundreds of years ago. There is so much mystery around them. Who drew them and why? Were they the work of an accomplished artist? Were they a means of communication between travelling iwi? Or were they an ancient form of graffiti, maybe done to entertain the mokopuna? Our guides were friendly and informative, but still allowed provocative thought – they were fantastic.

Inside Te Ana Ngai Tahu Rock Art Centre

INNZ workshoppers have a go at creating their own 'rock art'

We heard from the Te Ana development team about the process of designing the centre. The work that was done by the development team was a reminder to engage the right people in the process. The centre is about giving Ngai Tahu the means to tell their stories. As interpreters we focus a lot on the final product, the message that is being portrayed to our audience, but sometimes how we get there is just as important.

On day two of the workshop, a World Café session was hosted. It was a great opportunity to get together and discuss current issues in our industry. Three table discussions were set up. Kate Woodall from Te Papa hosted the topic ‘Why digital?’ – very relevant to our industry, as some of the biggest buzz going on at the moment is around digital experiences. (Stay posted to this blog for other World cafe dicussion topics).

As an interpreter looking for inspiration QR codes, iApps, augmented reality, and RFIDs to name a few, offer new possibilities. But the question around the table was, who really wants digital experiences? Do our audiences expect them? Or is it an expectation from within the industry?

As the discussion went on it became clear that we should be asking ourselves “how can digital enhance the experience for visitors? Is it always the right tool for the job?”

One of Kate’s messages was – if you are going to do it, do it right and for the right reasons. Digital experiences are a tool that can add another layer to an experience. One of the people around our table suggested that maybe an indicator for success in this area is that visitors don’t know they are having a digital experience. I like the idea of that seamlessness.

Valley of the Eagle.

A landscape of inspiration - the Valley of the Eagle

There is so much good work being done in New Zealand. Every time I go to an INNZ workshop or conference I see something or experience something that reinvigorates and inspires me. The Interpretation Network of New Zealand is only as strong as it members, and if the recent workshop is anything to go by, it’s going from strength to strength.

iPads and pre-schoolers – confessions of a perplexed parent

Child using iPad.

Ryan has fun at preschool using the iPad; photo courtesy Above and Beyond Education.

OK I admit it – my nearly-three-year-old daughter is more familiar with iPads than I am. It’s not hard – I think I have only just fully realised I am raising a “screen-ager”. Once they started appearing at her preschool, I should have realised that if I didn’t catch up soon, I was going to be left behind; and possibly speaking an entirely different language according to the latest scrabble dictionary!

The infamous Douglas Adams came up with a set of rules that describes our reactions to technology;

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. 

So perhaps I should not be surprised that my daughter asked for a ‘pink ‘puter’ for her third birthday. Although I was still a little taken aback when I spotted one in a local café being used by a similarly-sized girl. She was colouring while mum drank coffee. Not a lidless felt-tip in sight.

Children using laptop; S Mankelow

Josie and William Webb of Christchurch both learned their ABCs thanks to programmes like 'Letterland'.

I must admit, iPads are particularly well-suited to the preschool market. They are small and compact – much like many pre-schoolers. They have no power cords to trip on, chew on or get caught on. You can carry them and plonk them down anywhere you (or the child) likes. They are instantly on – which cuts down on whinge-time. They are intuitive to use – kids touch everything and these things are made to be touched! No keys to bash and get stuck up with nutella.

And according to i-TUNES, over 20,000 educational Apps (May 2011). But of course, like with all media, not all Apps are created equal. It’s easy to get excited about the possibilities, without first checking if the experiences you are buying into are quality ones.

Luckily there are plenty of websites and blogs to help; this is just a few:

www.teacherswithapps.com- Founded by two teachers this site reviews educational apps, under the premise that they are the tools of the future, if used responsibly.

www.adesontheweb.com – This site posts reviews of apps being used by Apple Distinguished Educators; searchable by name or grade level.

www.momswithapps.com – Moms with Apps is a collaborative group of family-friendly developers seeking to promote quality apps for kids and families.

ictece.blogspot.com – This NZ blog focuses on issues relating to children and teachers using Information and Communication Technology in education.

blog.core-ed.org/  – CORE Education is a NZ non-profit organisation devoted to education.

And of course, if iPads are useful in formal education, what is their potential role in informal learning situations such as museums and visitor centres? Our July newsletter highlights Tauranga Art Gallery’s first go at incorporating iPads into the Lynley Dodd exhibition.  On pedestals child-high; yeah they had a clear idea of their target audience.

New Plymouth Museum Puke Ariki launched an iPad-based visitor experience in August last year, claiming to be the first in New Zealand to deploy iPads for public use in a museum. Their story can be found at www.nzmuseums.co.nz/

And a partnership between DOC and University of Otago’s Centre of Design will see a trial of iPads use in the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre launched during Conservation Week this September. See the story in our newsletter or find out more on the DOC website http://www.doc.govt.nz.

Imagine visitors wandering around your art gallery, centre, museum or park with an interactive App that encourages them to look at details and discover connections to their own lives. It’s getting closer every day.

Foodprinter; Latitude Research.

Latitude Research had children draw the future of technology as they saw it.

According to a study by Latitudeº Research, “Children’s Future Requests for Computers & the Internet,” kids ages 12 and under are predicting that the future of media and technology lies in better integrating digital experiences with real-world places and activities.

Sounds like a mandate for interpretation to me! It’s a brave new world out there – and according to my daughter, it should come in hot pink.