Visible Past proposes a cross platform, scalable environment (Exploratorium) for collaborative social, geographic, and historical education and research. The Exploratorium will be deployed in a variety of settings, from Web to fully immersive virtual reality environments. Educational activities can be formal (classroom teaching) or informal (conducted in a museum or selfdirected online learning setting). The specific goals of the Exploratorium concept are twofold: 1) to create a set of tools for collecting, organizing, or disseminating knowledge in a collaborative manner at various scales and in various formats; and, 2) to extend and refine a theoretical framework and methodological tools for prototyping and testing future research and learning applications and architectures that benefit from 3D and location aware applications. The heart of the Visible Past Exploratorium concept, the Exploratorium, is an information space built on top of a georeferenced wiki database that can be accessed through a variety of avenues: full immersion 3D environments, Web interfaces, or Geographic Exploration Systems (GES), such as Google Earth or NASA’s World Wind.
The vision: A crossplatform Exploratorium for geohistorical learning and discovery
Exploratorium use scenarios
Why the Exploratorium?
Conducting locationaware research in Exploratorium
Conclusions and significance
The vision: A crossplatform Exploratorium for geohistorical learning and discovery
When you land on the shores of the Rome complex the pier is wellcrafted and solid. You have just disembarked an oarpowered Mediterranean galley and are taking your first steps on the smooth, brown pier. Waves crash against the seawall with an unsettling regularity. You are the only visitor. There is a foam crown on each wave. The waves are smooth and solid. Every fifth swell spills over the wall in a rhythmic movement but slightly obliquely. This defies the laws of gravity but it does not concern you. You remove your hat and let your hair drop to your waist. It is smooth and solid, as are your jeans and shirt. This does not concern you either. You are in Second Life, the online 3D simulation environment anyone in the world can visit through a desktop computer. You are an avatar. You are your own creation. Unfortunately, you look like you were made in the mid1990s.
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Its graphics aside, Second Life as an idea, as an environment, has a lot going for it. Second Life is a networkbased interaction space. Individuals interact with each other through desktop computers, which require a relatively simple software client to recreate locally the landscapes and the avatars. Second Life uses wellknown metaphors and user interfaces. Many of them are similar to some of the more popular multiuser gaming environments, such as World of Warcraft or Call of Duty.
A brisk commercial life — fueled by sex and gambling have turned this virtual world into a media darling. The enthusiasm is probably justified, as Second Life offers several interesting and valuable interaction features. For example, in Second Life you can connect the user both to locally cached and to Webbased information repositories. Users can edit and add information or conceptual objects to Second Life environments. They can acquire information and objects, move them, stash them, buy them, and sell them. They can chat with, rate and attach annotations (for future reference) on the backs of their cosecondlifers. They can bookmark places within the Second Life world or embed hyperlinks to those places in Web pages. The flow can be reversed as well: Web pages and multimedia content, including movies, can be linked to or displayed just as easily from within Second Life.
The project that we describe here, Visible Past, assumes that Second Lifelike environments can, however, do more than that. Such environments can become another skin for the Internet. They can become some of its more significant layers. In certain situations it can be a complement, in others a replacement for flat, htmldriven Web pages.
In other words, Second Life is just a small preview of what a future information landscape will look like. It is a step in the right direction, to be sure, but the road is still long. Many capabilities and use patterns, theoretically possible but yet to be developed, should be added to this information distribution and social interaction model to turn it into the next telecomputing killer application.
In what follows we will propose a vision in which a variety of interfaces, from flat Web pages, to complex applications, and 3D environments accessible in dedicated Virtual Theatre, CAVETMlike facilities (a concept we will introduce below), can be made to talk with one another. Born in a decade dominated by wikis and blogs, we believe that the Second Life idea can and should embrace the read/write Web concept much more seriously.
Our vision calls for a significant leap forward in terms of how virtual 3D space will be conceived and utilized in the future. The socialspatial environments rendered in current Second Lifelike universes are imaginary and utopian. The world is malleable and extensible, but also fictional. Locations are represented and interpreted in Second Life and the connection of these spaces to the real world is therefore nominal and shallow at worst, conceptual at best. This limits the ability of Second Life locations and denizens to actively reference and usefully engage real space. This in turn cripples the potential for acquiring information, making discoveries or mediating social interactions that straddle cyber and physical space. We consider the linkage between real and virtual space an essential one, since the social life of all virtual reality environments is a hybrid artifact, mixing fictional and real geographies, resources and individuals.
Our vision starts from the premise that virtual and real space are not mutually exclusive and should not be two totally separate entities. Instead, we believe that virtual space can be just one of the many ways in which we frame our spatial representations of human locations and interactions. A 3D interactive framework for facilitating information and social interactions in a variety of spatial dimensions, real and virtual, would be much more forwardlooking. It would allow for a full array of spatial constructions, including those that are referenced to a real spatial location on the surface of the globe. In addition, such a framework would allow for referencing geographic locations in a temporally sensitive manner. That is, a postSecond Life system should allow users to locate places both in cyber and geographic space and at specific times.
The manner in which we address these challenges will impact our ability to develop a new array of information dissemination, teaching/learning, and discovery experiences. The project we discuss in this article is an attempt to articulate the need and the utility of such an allencompassing spatial environment. Our assumption is that geo and temporally contextualized information is far more valuable to us than information devoid of such contexts. The benefits are derived not only from the fact that the user has a larger array of situations and contexts to explore and to use for constructing knowledge and social groups, but also because contextual information is easier to remember and the type of spatial environment that we propose can affect in a direct and profound manner our ability to learn. This, as we will explain below, is derived from an existing body of literature that discusses the innate, natural abilities of humans to index information spatially and temporally. We learn, process, and store information that is spatiallylocated much easier than information that is divorced from specific locales or temporal frameworks (Matei, et al., 2005; Matei, et al., 2006a). We are able to retrieve vast amounts of information, meaning, feeling, and experience from our real world those actual, physical locations where we live our first lives because we store a good deal of that information using spatial referencing as a main indexing mechanism.
For all of their titillation and sparkle, for all of their realized and future potential, Second Lifelike environments arent engineered (yet) to be open, expandable platforms for communication and social interaction across spaces and experiences. Second Life falls short of being an architecture supported by open and extensible protocols that can seamlessly support 2D and 3D worlds beyond its own. Opening the Second Life idea to data and geographies that connect real worlds to real social communities opens it to existing and future virtual environments, existing and future participatory communities, and existing and future scholarship and teaching methodologies.
In what follows we will attempt to offer a workable solution for these challenges in the context of describing a project under development at Purdue University. The project, called Visible Past, aims to create a method for geotemporal referencing of socialspatial environments that is independent of any particular delivery platform and which can be used for information storage, creation, and delivery via smallscale or massive social collaboration. The ultimate goal of Visible Past is to create an open universe of social and intellectual development that leverages the best next technologies for Netcentric and experiential computing and pushes against the frontiers of information discovery, delivery, and cognizance. While the project is primarily aimed at the education community with a particular interest in historical and archeological education, its ultimate goal is to create a framework for spatiotemporal georeferencing of information that can be used to extend the confines of current virtual worlds and their information delivery architectures, which are both indifferent to real locations and historical time and narrowly defined by the conceptual definitions of cyberspace and abstract Internet addressing.
Our specific vision
Visible Pasts flagship will be The Exploratorium, a crossplatform, scalable environment for social, geographic, and historical education or research. It will combine small and large scale 3D models of historical and geographic locations, natural or humanbuilt, with information that can be collaboratively built by the users and delivered according to proximity. The environment can run on a variety of platforms, its capabilities and richness scaled to each. From dedicated CAVETM, fully immersive, lifesize 3D environments, to desktop applications such as NASAs World Wind or Google Earth to the traditional Web wiki, The Exploratorium can facilitate formal (classroom) or informal (museums, selfdirected online) educational activities in novel, but intuitive ways.
The Exploratorium concept has both practical and theoretical benefits. It emphasizes development of applications and usability research of multisensory spatial orientation and learning (Abowd and Mynatt, 2000; Emmorey, et al., 2000; Matei, et al., 2005; Werner and Schmidt, 1999). It creates a new class of learning and teaching tools and it furthers our understanding of how a new class of information environments, which take advantage of 3D and of locationaware knowledge distribution, can be developed to facilitate learning and research (Abowd and Mynatt, 2000; Agre, 2001; Bellotti, et al., 2002; Benford, et al., 2005; Chown, et al., 1995; Dourish, 2001; Feiner, et al., 1997; Forlizzi and Battarbee, 2004; Freksa, et al., 1998; Golledge and Stimson, 1997; Gould, 1975; Graziola, et al., 2005 ; Güven and Feiner, 2003; Hartson, 2003; IEEE, 1999; Koo, et al., 2003; Madsen, 2006; Matei, et al., 2004; Matei, et al., 2006a; Weiser, 1991; 1993; WWRF, 2001). It is an information space that references real geographic space and as such can serve as a teaching platform, a tool for archeological research, and most importantly a research environment for designing a new generation of locationaware technologies. On a more theoretical level, the Exploratorium will further our understanding of the role played by spatial indexing or referencing in knowledge acquisition and will enable experiential research on locationaware delivery of information and embodied interface design (Abowd and Mynatt, 2000; Agre, 2001; Dourish, 2001; Forlizzi and Battarbee, 2004; Hartson, 2003; Madsen, 2006; Matei, et al., 2006a; Norman, 1998; Weiser, 1991; 1993; WWRF, 2001).
A defining trait of the Exploratorium is its locationaware capabilities (Abowd and Mynatt, 2000; Agre, 2001; Matei, et al., 2005; Matei, et al., 2006a). Locationaware delivery of information is predicated on the idea that the information system can locate the user in situational or geographic space and can deliver or make available upon demand information and services relevant to that specific site or situation. Locationaware situations will be especially useful in the CAVETM version of the Exploratorium where information will be delivered via portable devices, such as cell phones, laptops, PDAs or directly through the environment itself.
The central information environment employed by our concept is a CAVETMlike virtual reality theater (FakeSpace, 2005) and a set of ancient geohistorical models. The first version of the Exploratorium will take advantage of an existing 3D representation of Ancient Rome (Frischer, et al., forthcoming). However, this is just a skinlike (in user interface design terms skinnable) interface. The Exploratorium can be used with any number of present or past geographical or urban environments (Gaitatzes, et al., 2005; Gaitatzes, et al., 2000; Kirchner and Jablonka, 2001).
Figure 1: Student using tablet PC in the FLEX theatre displaying a model of the Roman Forum.
Three brief examples, which expand on work already started by the principal investigators, illustrate the manner in which the Exploratorium will be used, making its benefits more apparent. The scenarios describe three types of experiences made possible by the Exploratorium: teaching, museumrelated, and research activities. The examples are not hypothetical as they illustrate activities that our team has already started exploring. We are at the stage of proofofconcept development of a majority of the ideas presented in these examples.
Exploratorium use scenarios
The final assignment for the Julius Caesar class (Classics 381) at Purdue University includes participating in the Burn Down the Forum! The Origins of Mob Violence in the Roman Forum game. The activities take place during regular class periods or during after class individual study sessions in the Exploratorium. The Exploratorium is hosted in a FLEXTM (FakeSpace, 2005) theatre. Students wear special glasses, which allow them to perceive the lifesize stereographic images Exploratorium projects on four walls (front, left, right and floor) as having true depth. Students can walk through the Forum as if they were there. As they move, the environment adapts to the shift in their position and it changes the perspective accordingly, simulating the impression of movement through space. Students can visit the buildings as they appeared in antiquity, see the statues from all angles, and read the inscriptions on the statues and on the buildings. Since this is virtual space, they can even fly to the top of the Arch of Augustus for a panoramic view of the Forum.
The overarching goal of the exercise is to give the students a full image of what life was like in the Roman Forum at the time of Caesar and to help them understand the functions of the Roman Forum as a built environment, that is, as a center for civic, religious, judicial, and economic activities. The more specific goal of the activity is to teach the students about the specific topographical and political forces that generated urban violence in the Roman Forum. For this, they have to find a set of clues embedded in the environment. Some are hidden in inscriptions or allegoric symbols, while others require interacting with and investigating the environment.
In the fully functional version of the Exploratorium students carrying tablet PCs will communicate with the virtual environment of Ancient Rome through a number of interfaces. A tablet PC is a highly portable laptop, which can be used as a virtual notepad. It can be connected to the virtual reality model or to the World Wide Web via wireless connections.
Each time a student finds herself in the vicinity of an area that contains information about a given event (electoral disturbance, instance of mass protest, assassination, etc.), she is alerted by sound signals delivered by the tablet PC. The tablet can then provide more information via either text or voice interaction.
The mission of the student is to find all the clues embedded in the environment that will point to the real culprits responsible for the greatest mob disturbances during Julius Caesars lifetime. When she has found all the clues, she will write a brief essay that will synthesize her interpretation of the role played by mob violence in Late Republican Rome. She will attach this essay to a list of hyperlinks visible on a tablet attached to the wall of Basilica Aemilia, a central Forum building. The information will become part of the general repository of knowledge about the Forum. It is recoverable in the Forum by touching the tablet or via a wiki Web interface that resides on the Web. A wiki is a set of Webbased collaborative tools that allow any user/reader to add content to it. The wiki, whose rudimentary prototype can be found at http://personal.unwiki.com/index.php?title=Virtual_Roman_Forum, allows students to add information to the environment collaboratively either in the Exploratorium or from their computers at home. Each time the student adds information to the wiki, that information is transferred to the Forum model. Students can use the Webbased wiki either via a simple Web page, or via a Geographic Exploration System such as Google Earth or NASAs World Wind.
The environment can also by used by researchers. Imagine an archeologist studying the Coliseum. He is in the Exploratorium, holding a tablet PC. A view tracking sensor locates the direction of the researchers gaze and when he looks at the first floor arcades, the tablet PC is made aware of this gesture and automatically displays information about that particular location. Looking at the tablet, the researcher sees the wiki page dedicated to the particular wall segment she is looking at. Clicking on a wiki page control makes the monument translucent, revealing the surviving portions of its walls in actual state and visibly highlighted within the reconstructed monument. Next, the researcher can select from a number of options. Through the controls displayed on the wiki page she can request additional information. A voice narration about the ancient mode of construction employed in building the standing walls can be delivered through the Exploratorium speaker system. Another wiki page control can make all the walls, except for those of interest, disappear. The researcher can also call up all the images of objects retrieved during all previous excavations within the same context. The objects will be visualized in the virtual environment as a pile of virtual masonry. Retrieved from published photographs and digitized field notebooks, inventories, and registers scattered throughout Rome, the assembled data about this pile would furnish a single, virtual repository for all available information concerned with the reconstruction of this particular space. Next, the researcher can examine the pile of virtual masonry rubble from several angles, including from below ground level. Using a pinch glove, which allows direct interaction with the virtual reality environment, she can remove pieces of masonry from their location and put them aside. Buildings that have been visited or queried can be highlighted and rendered translucent. Locations that contain information for a specific historical topic can be surrounded by a specific halo. The halo can be generated via a search query entered in the wiki page on the tablet PC.
Similar to the student scenario, the researcher can access the model not only on site, but also in Google Earth, a Webenabled program that offers access to 3D representations of geographic and built environments. He launches queries for specific details about the existing remains of the Coliseum. Clicking on various portions of the model calls up the wiki interface, where she can add new information to the location, including details about pieces of masonry that have recently been destroyed by the weather.
The Exploratorium can also be used in conjunction with ancient art or archeological exhibits. These would mix the reallife experience of viewing the artifacts with a virtual tour of ancient environments. For example, a Roman Art exhibit can examine the interrelationships between various sculptures and artifacts on display within the built environment of Ancient Rome. It will achieve this goal by matching, for example, real statues of Roman emperors to buildings in the Exploratorium environment that were constructed during their reigns.
Museum guides can also take the visitors on a tour of Rome, presenting them with information about the most likely locations at which artifacts like the ones they saw in the exhibit could have been found in antiquity. The guides would also explain, making reference to specific buildings, places or locations, what role they played in the Roman world. While delivering their presentations, the guides would be able to call up supplementary information about the objects or contexts they are talking about through hyperlinks connected to very specific locations in the model (statues, altars, decorative elements, etc.)
This scenario can also solicit reactions from visitors about their visit via the wiki interface. Visitors can add their thoughts or feelings to records in the database that reference specific areas in Rome or specific Roman artifacts. Or, they can participate in collective narrative creation of imaginary stories about the same artifacts. For this purpose visitors can use workstations or portable PCs, made available on site by the museum, or they can use their own computers, at home. In this scenario they can connect to the Netbased wiki interface, which taps into the same database that feeds the information to the CAVETM model.
Why the Exploratorium?
Significance and broader impact
The scenarios described above detail not just isolated situations in which virtual reality or locationaware learning can be implemented, but a new class of learning experiences related to past events, geographic locations, or social contexts (Abowd and Mynatt, 2000; Agre, 2001; Matei, et al., 2005). The proposed environment (Exploratorium) is thus not just a collection of technologies, but an integrated framework for enhancing learning and research (Feiner, et al., 1997; Jarke, et al., 1992; Suchman, et al., 2002). It is an environment that not only replicates past human experience as closely as modern technologies allow, but enhances that experience as well. It involves the student, the researcher, or the museum visitor in interactive and engaging experiences that transcend more traditional engagement with information and data, dramatically improving the quality and interactivity of learning experiences (Madsen, 2006; Matei, et al., 2006a). Until now, learning about antiquity has been focused on direct examination of ancient artifacts or indirect interaction with them via maps, plans, book descriptions, paper and pencil exercises, or slideshows. In contrast, the Exploratorium places the learner in locations that appear to be architecturally intact and sensory rich; it creates a world of interaction that presents and elicits questions and answers. Moreover, the environment is scalable across learning situations and technological platforms. The Exploratorium can be used both in dedicated, hightech facilities, such as the FLEX theatre, and in individual settings, using cheaper and portable devices, such as desktops or laptops (Arangarasan, et al., 2003; Arns, et al., 2004). All environments share the same core data, a georeferenced database that can be edited on the fly by a variety of users located throughout the entire world. Future work will investigate decentralizing the database itself, allowing full interoperability, vertical and horizontal scalability, and access between and among users.
Presenting geocoded information from within its accurate geospace engenders a certain vivacity that appears to not be possible in other media. A scenario wherein a student or researcher can locate information about a place while they are in that place holds great potential for those interested in empowering, enabling, and increasing the efficiency of research and learning. In the past, the organization and presentation (and therefore the discovery) of information has been largely prescriptive; librarians, catalogers, publishers, even authors encode material using complex (but nonetheless rigid) taxonomies and classifications and researchers are expected to locate and discover from within those structures, many of them remaining unintuitive and foreign without consistent practice (Reinhold, 2006).
The explosion of the World Wide Web has inverted this model and spread content across millions of computers serving millions of documents containing many millions of potential keywords, but with very little overall structure. Information scientists, researchers and teachers are finding that this dispersed, unstructured world of information enables great learning scenarios and techniques but also prohibits the measured, logical, ordered process of research where content as well as the vessels of content no longer share at least a handful of common traits. Information is no longer contained within an enumerated set of media (books, journal articles, news articles, CDROMs, etc.) but is fragmented and spans innumerable formats. Information is no longer available from specific locations (libraries, publishers, etc.) but rather any device that can connect to the Internet from most places around the globe. Information is no longer discoverable by restrictive languages of retrieval (library classifications, Boolean query syntax, etc.) but is in many situations being organized, categorized, and cataloged by the authors themselves or by social consensus (Clough, 2005; Reinhold, 2006). In other words, presenting readable/writable wiki content via its embedded, native geographies (adding structure to what is otherwise largely unstructured) helps ground information, almost literally, at a time when information is in constant danger of escaping into the ether of perceived meaninglessness.
Readable/writable databases are appearing at the core of many Web 2.0 applications and are enabling collaboration in distributed, crosscultural, interdisciplinary, and geographically diverse environments. Using common, open languages of data storage and retrieval, our wiki/client heart can beat within a number of different bodies and can present information to users in ways that are intuitive and familiar, in turn allowing them to contribute information in ways that are likewise intuitive and familiar. This is fecund territory for anyone interested in new modalities of information creation, discovery and retrieval. Cleaving content from presentation, in our case, will allow for scalability (up and down) and the result will be increased access. In much the same way that wikis, blog services and software, and social bookmarking are fostering communication and collaboration among those who were previously excluded from such communication by the technology of Web publishing, the Exploratorium will divest the creation of content from the complex infrastructure that presents and stores it (Clough, 2005; Miller, 2006; Teranishi, et al., 2006; Völkel, et al., 2006). The Exploratorium will in some ways democratize this information and its teaching by bringing tools and modalities currently reserved to very small numbers of researchers using highend CAVETM environments, to a far larger audience: students, museum visitors or the interested public.
In the following sections we further detail the intellectual merits and broader impact of this proposal by discussing our theoretical perspective, our development work and our planned research activities.
Two important characteristics of the information experiences that we describe in this proposal are their interactivity and locationawareness (Abowd and Mynatt, 2000; Agre, 2001; Matei, et al., 2006a; Weiser, 1993). The former refers to the proposed systems capacity to simultaneously collect and distribute information about specific places. The latter refers to the systems ability to make specific information available to users as they approach specific locations. These experiences also have important ambiental and haptic characteristics (Bellotti, et al., 2002; Benford, et al., 2005; Dourish, 2001; Forlizzi and Battarbee, 2004). Ambiental/haptic characteristics refer to the manner in which information is delivered via general visual cues (ambiental) or via sensory, especially tactile, channels. Such delivery methods do not oversolicit higher cognitive functions, leaving these available for the actual learning process (Raskin, 2000). A building that changes colors according to its function in a video game is an example of an ambiental communication experience. A cell phone that vibrates when information about a location is available is an example of haptic communication. In brief, ambiental/haptic devices use simple sensorial stimuli to convey rather complex information, replacing or complementing written or auditory/narrative cues. They usually blend in the surrounding environment or they work with the natural flow of gestures or movements of the human body (they are haptically/ambientally integrated in the experience).
Our Exploratorium concept has at its core a theorydriven methodology for designing and implementing learning experiences in virtual reality and locationaware communication environments (Madsen, 2006; Matei, et al., 2006a). It is based on a series of usercentric studies on locationaware experiences and tools that we have developed for improving delivery of information in a locationaware manner and within virtual reality environments. It is also based on a rich experience in teaching undergraduate and graduate classes in humanities, classics, and communication utilizing various computerassisted learning techniques such as FLEXTM environments, blogs, GIS applications and collaborative learning environments, such as wikis. Finally, it is derived from a number of convergent research concepts conducted by other researchers and scholars that have explored the capabilities of locationaware, spatial, and ambiental cues for conveying information (Bunting and Guelke, 1979; Chabanne, et al., 2003; Chown, et al., 1995; Emmorey, et al., 2000; Ferscha, et al., 2001; Güven and Feiner, 2003; Hartling, et al., 2002; Masberg and Silverman, 1996; Opermann and Specht, 1999; Schlender, et al., 2000).
The central theoretical insight that drives our Exploratorium concept is an emphasis on whole person experiences (Dourish, 2001). These are considered to be central in a learning process that utilizes virtual reality technologies. Much research done on computerassisted learning and teaching is either device or behaviorspecific. In both cases, the researcher strives to give answers to questions that refer to the isolated elements involved in the communication act, usually interface or control related actions. While knowing if device interfaces, conventions, or screen colors are friendly or easily graspable is important, they cannot completely predict the success or learning benefits of any specific communication device. What is necessary is to understand how the learner integrates all these devices or their interfaces into her repertoire of physical or mental actions. In other words, the question is: how do they become part of a holistic experience that involves her entire persona?
Our emphasis on experiential learning relies on an older tradition of research. This posits that communication tools are integrated by users into their lives as part of a broader experience (Norman, 1998; 2002; Norman and Draper, 1986). It is the nature of this experience, in terms of the affective, cognitive, habitual, or creative responses that it elicits, that will decide the fate of a device or technology. More importantly, the quality of the experience will predetermine the value of the learning process facilitated by various tools or technologies.
In more specific terms, the theory that informs the present Exploratorium concept is influenced by a school of thought that separates the perceptual from the conceptual aspects of humancomputer interaction. Our Exploratorium concept develops insights related to the centrality of experience and embodiment in launching successful communication technologies (Suchman, 2007; Suchman, et al., 1999). Communication devices impact users at the experiential level first and it involves their entire person in the learning act. Such devices are not simple tools, but a combination of techniques and practices. The latter encapsulate cognitive maps, social and cultural values associated with a device, plus haptic and situational relationships. Thus, our understanding of the concept experience is broader than behavior; it incorporates meaning, intentions, and subjective perceptions.
We believe that due to its experiential emphasis the Exploratorium will elicit a level of interest, excitement, and involvement that exceeds the needs of simple information transfer or educational performance. Because the students will be involved in a holistic learning experience that engages their whole person, thus minimizing cognitive friction with the learning tool, they will be cognitively stimulated to a higher degree than in traditional learning situations. Our proposed experiences will be more successful in promoting learning because they include not only rationalinstrumental behaviors related to information seeking but also sensory cues and perceptive experiences that stimulate an identification with the characters and situations the user has to learn about. This facilitates a process of subjective understanding (verstehen) that is essential, according to Max Weber, in learning about past events (Weber, 1946).
The emphasis that the Exploratorium puts on interactive, 3D, full immersion models of the past stimulates the learners interest by affective identification. The user is compelled to identify directly and immediately with the context and meaning of the historical facts, objects or persons he or she is required to learn about. This leads to enhanced understanding of the subject matter. Researchers will equally benefit from this system feature. The Exploratorium is in many ways an ideal scenario wherein a complex, progressive application of technology and computer science answers directly the apprehensions and anxieties of many nontechnical domain users of highend 3D applications (in this case humanities professors or students). As such, the inclusion of and respect for student and other enduser opinions about the development direction of The Exploratorium will inform the end result in important ways (see also section Involving undergraduate and graduate students in the development process).
On the research side, the Exploratorium is a prototype for a scalable research space befitting a twentyfirst century archeological environment. The Exploratorium provokes academics to rethink in a radical way conservation and accessibility of surviving material artifacts. In it, scholars and students can ask questions and receive answers about the most detailed and obscure aspects of ancient urban settings, artifacts or monuments.
The Exploratoriums most important research advantage is that it allows for preserving and recreating in situ locations of archeological remains, presenting these fragmentary remains as viewable 3D representations and supporting them with comprehensive primary and secondary bibliographic information. Once contextualized in this manner, the reconstructions and the remains associated with them can be examined again and again, in view of new a priori hypotheses. The Exploratorium engages the researchers to view the built environment of the past as more than an assemblage of isolated, unrelated archaeological materials. The Exploratorium is in fact a sui generis interface for a complex database, which can store a large diversity of content: text, multimedia, metainformation, etc.
Mixed into this information system, though typically hidden, is the information science exercise the Exploratorium represents. For hundreds of years, access to information was largely at a metagranularity. However well an item could be described, multiplied by however welldeveloped the mechanism for discovering those descriptions and moving between and among them, equaled however well (or if) an item could be retrieved. Quite obviously the digital movement added to this limited schematic the ability to find content by content. That is, by searching texts for fragments and subsets of text. The Exploratorium will obviously include this capability, but its more innovative ability to present and organize information in virtual space will prove a fertile testing ground for other ways to organize and reveal information. This will ease the necessary evil of sieving through vast amounts of information for identifying that bit of knowledge that is relevant. It will also offer those interested in providing access and developing and maintaining systems that facilitate it (historically librarians and more and more computer scientists) new tools for study and research.
While no librarian would admit to geography alone being a particularly clever way to organize all information, it is an oft overlooked facet of nearly all information and carries a perhaps surprising ability to modularize, mobilize, and present content for analysis and discovery. Anchoring content to the universally understood representation of our known world means that it need not necessarily be anchored to anything else (including like subjects, like formats, or like types) in order to be concatenated, retrieved, and presented. This is not a novel approach to organizing and engaging information, of course (see GIS), but the idea has not been terribly well explored in environments where the information is not explicitly geographic and already on its way to some kind of geographic analysis.
Innovative, forwardlooking computer and information science facets
The organizational model of The Exploratorium is one of its most novel characteristics. In much the same way that cutting and bleedingedge technologies are today punching holes in the walls of previously selfcontained and monolithic information systems (including gaming consoles, Web applications, and published content online such as book databases and newspapers), The Exploratorium endeavors to punch holes in the sides of immersive 3D environments. The great benefit of agile, accessible, flowable information (think easily flooded river rather than super highway) is its liquidity, its ability to flow wherever the land can drop low enough to accept it. Perhaps the metaphor is not necessary after all: the mashup model wherein data that exist in two or more different, even disparate locations and applications are consumed and represented in a third is a minor explosion for those interested in connecting information to users, proving that information that can be consumed in more than one way by opening additional points of access. Allowing access to information from different angles, different methods, different technologies, different modalities, is not just trendy, its evolutionary. The Exploratorium intends to take full advantage of this agility by ensuring that its storage facility has plenty of holes through which a number of potential clients can reach in and pull information back out in ways that make the most sense for the clients purpose. Adding read/write capabilities to this model will result in an extremely flexible authoring environment.
Placing incidentally geographic information in its proper geographic place seems much more a Web 2.0 endeavor, however, as evidenced at least by the number of mapbased mashups launched in the last couple of years. Long after Web 2.0 is a laughable cliché and easily dismissed as the era of the shiny button in perpetual beta mode, the information that feeds the cycle of research and learning and communication will most certainly still be valued for its mobility, extensibility, and its egalitarian communality.
It follows logically that The Exploratoriums content should be similarly agile and similarly mobile. As such, we are imagining for the future of Visible Past the development of and support for pluggable wiki backends. The idea is that any one or more datasets the contents of selfcontained, even personal wikis or subsets of shared content from some other Exploratorium instance can be dumped to a flash drive or iPod or network host, then loaded up in any other Exploratorium environment. Provided these datasets reference the same grid (that is, that they are georeferenced) their contents will be modular and can therefore be loaded into any like environment, alongside any dataset that is similarly constructed.
The worlds that result from this, for lack of a better term, mashing together of independently produced datasets will be a kind of sandbox in which no limit of ideas, hypotheses, annotations, articles, discussions, even entire books can be written, discussed, tested, disproved, or discovered. A truly plugandplay dataset model one that allows anyone to read and write and load information to any given geographic space and time fosters our ability to see, read, write, suggest, and test ideas in a full, partial, or even imagined context that includes information from other experts and their otherwise foreign disciplines. We envision for this some xmlbased data vessel, not unlike Googles kml but with a much more robust nodetracking and content management capability more in keeping with the wiki model, that can be walked from or networked from place to place and loaded in both. User Xs collection of annotations about the cholera outbreak in nineteenth century Londons SoHo district can be loaded along with User Ys working 3D model of that eras probable waste management infrastructure. Neither dataset is traditionally geographic, even traditionally geospatial, but can be loaded together alongside User Zs History of Epidemiology Course Wiki to become a kind courseware forum for students of urban planning.
Naturally, there are a number of complexities inherent to even basic functionality of this sort, not least of which is a clientindependent, standardsbased, geowiki storage mechanism. But for The Exploratorium to be a true fulfillment of the promise that geofiled information holds we must necessarily have our eyes on the trajectory of modern information production and how consumers, producers, and consumerproducers increasingly engage, understand, consume, and contribute to it. As such, The Exploratoriums pluggable dataset model will facilitate interdisciplinary scholarship and the teacher/student experience in much the same way that Google Earth now facilitates sightseeing, where an easily edited data format allows and encourages users to pass locations and tours and in some cases rather rich datasets from one to the other.
Conducting locationaware research in Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is not only dedicated to areaspecific teaching and research (perhaps archeology and history especially), but it can also be repurposed for integrated research of interface and use experience design. The fact that the Exploratorium is deployed in a reallife teaching and research situation creates an ideal environment for fast prototyping and pretesting of various information delivery interfaces and experiences. Because of this, our Exploratorium concept incorporates, alongside device and interface development activities, a number of social scientific and human factor research activities. These will allow us to conduct research on some fundamental parameters of the experiences virtual reality and locationaware technologies make possible. Moreover, the activities will be conducted in an educational setting, involving students in the process of research and design. This will represent a net advantage over existing usability research of the next generation of locationaware or 3Dlearning environments, which is either device/behavior specific or is divorced from realistic use environments.
The Exploratorium concept includes a number of specific designrelated research activities which will be used both for shaping and improving the Exploratorium, but also for extending our understanding of basic social and cognitive processes that take place in locationaware information delivery situations (Forlizzi and Battarbee, 2004; Graziola, et al., 2005; Lowenthal, 1961). In what follows, we will present our broader research vision and a number of specific questions we will address in work made possible by the Exploratorium.
Following theoretical insights developed by researchers working with mass media systems, such as television, who discuss media dependency relations, we posit that users engage communication media for any specific task based on the nature of the task, not on the nature of the medium (Matei and BallRokeach, 2003). For example, when individuals start shopping for a new car they employ the informationseeking strategies that fit their habitual way of doing things their learning experience of using various information strategies and technologies as opposed to strategies that appeal to the best technologies available (Gladwell, 2005; Simon, 1979). Many people prefer to ask their friends for advice than to do an Internet search because in their mind buying a car is a major experience that requires human input. More importantly, users make choices not only between people and machines, but also between different technologies using the same decisionmaking mechanism. Some people prefer to look for bargain cars using the local newspaper not because they cannot use the Internet but because in their mind the car seeking experience has established a relationship of dependency with the communication technology of the newspaper.
This is not to say that technical characteristics are not important and that for two technologies with the same level of dependency the one with superior features will not win out. Furthermore, some people can in fact go against the grain, displaying a conscious willingness to engage in experiential exploration and conscious openness to new devices and ways of employing them (a characteristic of those individuals called in the diffusion of innovation (Rogers, 1995) literature early adopters). However, new devices and information seeking behaviors have a significant level of inertia, created by the human orientation to tasks, not technologies.
Thus, what determines the success of a specific technology is a mixture of primary factors (learned images of appropriateness of technologies for a specific goal) and secondary criteria (technological performance or ease of use). These two factors together form a specific technology use experience.
From this perspective, experiences integrate habitformed or learned repertoires of task appropriate uses. Specifically, the communication technology experiences are formed by:
Taskrelated use habits (To find out what movies are showing at the closest movie theater I search 777film.com. And I always call my wife from my cell phone when I leave the office to check on her schedule for the evening).
Taskrelated cognitive maps (Since cell phone internet access is slow, I never check my mail using my cell phone).
Technologyrelated cognitive maps (Cell phones use radio waves, which limits the capability of the device to send and receive good quality sound, so I therefore never make phone calls from specific spots that I know have poor coverage).
Gestures and behaviors (I go out of a store when I get a cell phone call during a shopping trip. I cradle the receptor between my neck and my shoulder when I answer the phone in front of the computer).
In short, experience is a broader concept than use, including social and nonrational choice elements (Dourish, 2001). Our theoretical model emphasizes specifically these nontechnical elements. It argues that technologies are always subordinated to goaldefined activities: to reaffirm or express emotion (when getting in touch with a loved one to check in), to assert or acknowledge power (when sending commands or to reporting back), to understand a specific context (when searching or retrieving information), to amuse or to express oneself (such as when playing a video game, editing a photograph or watching a movie). Each of these goals involves the whole person and has specific codes of conduct attached to it. Some are instrumental, while others are symbolic. People use cell phones on the road to keep in touch with their families or with their coworkers (instrumental use), but they also make themselves available to certain people through their cell phone as a sign of trust or power. People like the untethered feeling of using a cell phone, as a symbol of freedom, or they shun it as an instrument of control.
One of the Exploratorium concepts main goals is to construct a theoretical model, from which we will derive specific methodological and applied research principles, which will try to answer a key question: what kinds of goals and experiences will be most amenable to the use of location/aware and haptic/ambiental technologies? The model will also try to explain what is the right combination of gestures, cognitive maps, emotional attachment and use skills that will make the locationaware and haptic/ambiental experience successful for classroom education or for humanities research.
Operationally, the model aims to parsimoniously explain how communication experiences emerge with each new communication situation enabled by locationaware and haptic/ambiental technologies. Its development will start from a number of theoretical insights. We posit that the next generation of mobile/locationaware/ambiental/haptic devices will be part of an omnipresent invisible computer network (Norman, 1998), whose use will be primarily mobile. Users will probably migrate to it a number of experiences (such as information searching and retrieval) that previously were associated with static use. For this migration to be successful a number of specific affordances will be built into the network and its terminals and we need to define their parameters and understand their functionality. A term developed by Norman from an older psychological concept (Gibson, 1977), an affordance is a set of perceptive cues that a device sends out about its intended use and capabilities. A cell phone, for example, is something tobegraspedinthepalmandusedbetweentheearandthemouth. A computer is somethingtositat. A television set is somethingtolookat. In each situation, the visible or known affordances of the devices define the experience they can facilitate.
The new generation of mobile, locationaware devices requires a new set of affordances. We believe that these affordances should be of ambiental and haptic nature because mobility involves multitasking (Goldstein, et al., 2003; Matei, et al., 2006b). Nonetheless, we need to move beyond this vague imagery. We need specific experiments and models that explain how specific devices can be used for onthefly information retrieval and delivery. We also need to better understand how locationaware communication can tie in with collaborative knowledge production.
The locationaware experiences we will design rely on several communication tools and controls that need to be employed simultaneously. A central research question of our Exploratorium concept will be: what affordances should be built into the future communication devices that will function in the CAVETM or will connect to the Webbased 3D and 2D interfaces of the georeferenced database? How can the multiplicity of these communication experiences be made immediately graspable and the devices easy to use?
Our tentative hypothesis, which we intend to explore further in this Exploratorium concept, is that new devices and the experiences that surround them have to abandon consecrated desktop computerderived conventions and interfaces (especially onscreen graphic user interface controls). We will investigate through a number of experiments conducted in the Exploratorium whether or not ambiental and haptic input and display methods, which replace reading and keying in with simple body movements and orientation in space, are better positioned to meet the requirements of the new communication experiences created by mobility and locationawareness.
In exploring the emerging communication experiences of the Exploratorium we will also try to understand to what degree they can be designed to minimize cognitive friction. We aim to identify conditions under which new communication devices and services facilitate satisficing experiences. According to Krug (2006), satisficing experiences leverage habitual use and unconscious cognitive operations. They reduce the need to engage in overt reasoning and inferential thinking during the use of a communication device (i.e., cognitive friction), allowing learners to focus more on the task and less on the device.
Satisficing experiences are intuitive and haptically adapted to the task at hand. They rely on semiconscious or unconscious mental maps and cognitive models of various actions people become engaged in when communicating. Most importantly, they allow using the communication device in parallel with engaging in another task. That is, they allow multitasking. Krugs main idea is that when confronted by rich information environments people do not engage in elaborate tradeoff analyses, and they do not always choose the optimal solution. Instead, they take the path of least resistance. They choose the solution that satisfies their immediate cognitive need in the least costly manner. Translating this into an experiential research perspective, our research activities will ask:
What cognitive maps, gestures and behavioral repertoires associated with mobile/locationaware devices are more likely to induce satisficing responses from the users? Or, in simpler terms, what would a satisficing design of a locationaware/haptic/ambiental device look like?
Cooper (2004) approaches the satisficing paradigm from a slightly different angle, partly aligning with Normans concept of selfexplanatory affordances, arguing that all interfaces should have one central goal: that of reducing cognitive friction. Moreover, Cooper emphasizes that all users should be able to use all software targeted at them with minimum training and learning. A central research question that derives from this is:
What physical and conceptual affordances should the new generation of locationaware/ambiental/haptic devices present to reduce cognitive friction and to encourage their adoption?
Supporting the idea that communication technologies should have useroriented interfaces, Raskin (2000) emphasizes that interface and interaction design needs to eliminate the need to decipher symbols or differences between modes and states. These needs become acute in a mobile environment, where multitasking makes cognitive friction costlier. According to Norman, a way of doing this is by replacing multipurpose devices with unipurpose devices and replacing complex input/output methods with simple, directly intuitive ambiental displays and haptic input methods. The main research question derived from this perspective is:
What design and conceptual parameters should a haptic/ambiental/locationaware experience incorporate to make it compatible with multitasking and onthego environments in which they will be deployed?
In conclusion, the goal of our experiential research is not to make simple contributions to interface usability of mobile, locationaware or hapticambient devices. The social scientific aspect of the present Exploratorium concept addresses the viability of a number of information delivery paradigms seen as holistic experiences. It is not just the viability of the possible device that interests us, but how the interaction between the user and the device takes shape. Our theoretical grounding is one that considers these experiences from the perspective of how they are situated in the lived, everyday life of ordinary users.
What we expect to generate at the end of this research process are experiential models of new locationaware and interactive communication in fully immersive 3D environments. Our experiments will aim to explain how and why various scenarios of mobile and locationaware information use might succeed or fail, before hardware devices are designed. Our conclusions will be completed by technical specifications for possible reallife implementation.
Conclusions and significance
The Visible Past Exploratorium proposes a technosocial environment that can close the gap between past and present as well as between abstract knowledge and concrete lived experiences. It leverages the ability of the Internet to foster collaborative knowledge creation and it makes a serious effort to push information delivery to new interfaces and use experiences. The Exploratorium strives to create in a creative, yet historically accurate manner a model for integrating communication technologies that facilitate collaborative knowledge creation, visualization, and acquisition. In substantive terms, the Exploratorium enhances student, researcher, or visitor involvement with classical civilizations and languages. The new communication and learning experiences the Exploratorium makes possible will add a level of excitement to the learning process and will contribute to our understanding of how individuals respond to reallife learning and research situations that utilize virtual reality and locationaware technologies. This will facilitate the future development of new applications and environments for other fields (geography, life sciences, information science, etc.).
The Exploratorium places the learner or researcher in locations that appear to be architecturally intact and sensory rich; it creates a world of interaction that is full of stimulating questions and which entices further individual exploration. This is a technosocial environment that can close the gap between past and present as well as between abstract knowledge and concrete, lived experiences. It leverages the ability of the Internet to foster collaborative knowledge creation and it makes a serious effort to push information delivery to new interfaces and use experiences.
The Exploratorium creates a universe of knowledge that recovers and ensures virtual preservation of past artifacts and environments. It integrates research and education in a scientific collaboratory that requires new methods for giving the user a realistic experience of historical research and the opportunity to work collaboratively with other students, teachers, and scientists. It facilitates online interactions that transcend geographical and institutional boundaries, through new communityoriented applications in the arena of collaborative electronic publishing. It allows for online multiuser collaboration creating a computermediated history, arts, and culture virtual participatory space.
Exploratorium activities include database development, creation of interconnections between Web pages, GES browsers and CAVETM environments, and social scientific research. Social scientific research will include evaluation (formative and summative) and strategic, basic research on the sociopsychological impact of location aware technologies. All activities will be conducted in cooperation with undergraduate and graduate students. A number of classes will be taught in the Exploratorium, where students will be tasked to contribute information to the georeferenced database through game scenarios.
Visible Past is concerned with the creation of new forms of digital content, representations of digital content, access frameworks, delivery services and presentation and analysis tools. Its central intellectual focus is to increase the capabilities of human beings and machines to create, discover and reason with knowledge by advancing the ability to represent, collect, store, organize, visualize and communicate about data and information. Our main intellectual contribution is a novel information structure designed to handle and exploit incomplete data and whose aim is to reconstruct past events, cultures, objects, and places in the fields of archeology and history. Another contribution is our unique solution for information integration. Our research and application development activities will lead to a uniform interface to a multitude of heterogeneous, independentlydeveloped data sources.
The possibilities here are quite open. Attaching information to geography and making it discoverable as such promises all of the fascinating, peculiar, innovative and dangerous relationships that real shared space offers and more. The whole of culture, history, politics, learning, indeed civilization is imbued with geography, is itself organized by geography, is at times informed by and at other times informs geography. Opening The Exploratorium platform to display virtually any shared space (virtual, of course, but thereby nearly unlimited and potentially imagined), then opening that space to accept, display, and concatenate the remarkable amount of input that flows from and to a collective user base with a collective expertise, will make the Exploratorium remarkable in its own right, perhaps even a prototype for the ages.
About the authors
Dr. Sorin A. Matei, the Project Director and an Associate Professor in the Communication Department at Purdue University, has been involved in research and development of user experiences and has developed a number of research methodologies for understanding spatial orientation and learning in location aware situations. His most recent and relevant project, Spaceaware, conducted in collaboration with the Envision Center, investigates in a usercentric manner the feasibility of information retrieval experiences in a fully immersive, 3D virtual reality environment that mimic locationaware scenarios. He teaches multimedia design classes and has designed and implemented Web applications that utilize 3D components (http://www.mentalmaps.info). His work was published in leading journals in communication such as Journal of Communication, Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, Communication Research, and Communication Monographs.
Chris Miller is Assistant Professor of Library Science, GIS Librarian, at Purdue University. He received his M.L.S. from the University of Iowa and has recently come to Purdue to specialize in library GIS after three years as a Government Documents/GIS Librarian at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. His most recent work focuses on how a convergence of modern tools and languages (Google Maps, xml, and wikis among them) may or may not stand as a longawaited manifestation of a more democratic, accessible GIS.
Dr. Nicholas K. Rauh is Professor of Classics in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at Purdue University. He is both an ancient historian and an archaeologist. His research focuses primarily of the cultural and social history and material culture of the Roman Mediterranean World. His books include The Sacred Bonds of Commerce. Religion, Economy, and Trade Society at Hellenistic Roman Delos, 166-87 B.C. Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben, 1993 and Merchants, Sailors, and Pirates in the Roman World. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Press, 2003.
Dr. Laura Arns is the Associate Director and a Research Scientist at the Envision Center for Data Perceptualization, Purdue University. Her research expertise is in the area of applied virtual environments and user interactions in virtual environments. Dr. Arns was involved in the recent Spaceaware project and directed the development of the virtual environment used for the project. Other recent projects address the topic of learning in virtual reality, including a project on immersive ecology education. She currently teaches courses including an introductory class on virtual reality and virtual environment creation, and a course on designing user experiments in virtual environments.
Chris Hartman is a computer science undergraduate student at Purdue University. His is one of the key developers of the georeferenced wiki database.
Robert Bruno is a communication doctoral student at Purdue University. He has worked for a number of years in Silicon Valley, most recently for Sun Microsystems. He is currently involved in assessing the usability and educational aspects of the project.
Part of the development and conceptual work for this project was supported by Purdue Universitys Discovery Learning Center. The Discovery Learning Center (DLC) is one of 10 interdisciplinary research centers in Purdue Universitys new Discovery Park. The mission of the DLC is to advance research that revolutionizes learning in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math). Through externally funded research projects, innovative programs, and collaborative partnerships, the DLC is committed to redesigning educational practices and creating innovative learning environments that have immediate impacts and nurture lifelong learning for students and citizens of a global community.
About the Envision Center at Purdue University
The Envision Center (http://www.envision.purdue.edu) serves the computational visualization needs of the greater Purdue University community. The mission of visualization computing is to serve, support and collaborate with faculty, students, and industry to be a leader in scientific visualization for discovery, learning, and engagement. It is a worldclass facility where students (undergraduate and graduate) are exposed to the latest technology in visualization computing through the use of the facility for instruction and their active involvement in research.
The Envision Center is a unique blend of computer science, engineering, perception, technology, and art that is used to process and display information through the use of computer graphics. Ultimately, computer graphics is used as a form of communications and has applications in every discipline, business, and industry. Visualization computing at Purdue serves two related but quite distinct purposes. The first purpose is to use computer graphics to create or discover the idea itself through the special properties of visual perception; that is, using vision to think an (for spatial tracking of hand and head position and orientation), gloves (for fingers gesture recognition), voice recognition (for speech input), synthesized speech/sound output (for acoustic feedback), are included and interfaced with visualization displays. Several input and output modalities combined effectively with the visualization facilities help researchers to interact easily, naturally, and effectively with their complex data sets in order to perceive new ideas that might not otherwise be apparent. The second purpose is to communicate an existing idea using computer graphics. After the idea is created or discovered computer graphics can be used to effectively communicate it to others. The visualization facilities support both the discovery and communication of new ideas.
Largescale immersive visualization systems provide the means for visual perception. In addition, the lab uses a number of haptic devices. To provide natural and intuitive interface to the researcher, in addition to haptics (for force feedback), other sensory modes such as 3dimensional (3D) 6 degreesoffreedom (DOF) input trackers.
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Paper received 27 March 2007; accepted 18 April 2007.
Copyright ©2007, First Monday.
Copyright ©2007, Sorin Adam Matei, Chris Miller, Laura Arns, Nick Rauh, Chris Hartman, and Robert Bruno.
Visible Past: Learning and discovering in real and virtual space and time by Sorin Adam Matei, Chris Miller, Laura Arns, Nick Rauh, Chris Hartman, and Robert Bruno
First Monday, volume 12, number 5 (May 2007),