Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mobile App and Historical Gazes

Baseball players, north of Barge Hall
The students have continued to develop content for our Explore Central mobile app.  We were kindly given permission to include Jackie O’Ryan and RIck Spencer’s excellent video of Javier Cavazos performing his slam poem, “History 101: Mt. Stewart” atop Lion Rock on Table Mountain, north of town. Clicking on the yellow “poetry” button on Table mountain now brings up the video of Javier’s striking performance.   We hope this inspires students in the coming quarters to create audio and video recordings of new poems, linked to specific locales in town and in the county.

The 31 sites on the Historic Ellensburg walking tour of downtown architectural history are now uploaded, with distinctive “Architecture”  pins for each at the correct location.  Brittany, in turn, wrote captions for 34 historical photographs of Ellensburg in the university archives and linked each image to a specific location on the GoogleMap; these images are now uploaded to the app. Since the downtown map was getting crowded with “History” pins, we create a new color-code “Historical Photographs” pins for these images, which we hope will simplify navigation. We’re hoping that future classes will develop audio commentaries to go with the old photographs, perhaps critically unpacking the composition of the images, reflecting on shifts in the ‘habitus” (including how bodies occupied public space), or even creating audio skits, imagining conversations that might have taken place during these scenes.

I’m fascinated, for example, by the stances of the students on the college lawn in this image, taken just north of Barge Hall, the college’s oldest building. How different are the stances of the catcher, batter,  fielder,  pitcher and runner at first base from present-day college baseball players? Just what is the fellow doing in the left foreground, stretched out on the ground near what seems to be third base?  iI he acting out sliding into third for the camera? And what is the man in the hat doing to his right, bending over? And why are four apparent players stretched out on the ground between what appears to be third and home?  Are any of these little mysteries recoverable from the thin evidence presented by the image itself?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tactile Tour of Campus

American Ash tree, at start of the Tactile Tour

Fauna Sculpture, Benson Shaw

My student Sarah Bair and I have been working on a tactile tour of the outdoor area surrounding the Museum, so  that low vision and no vision visitors will be able to explore nature and art through the sense of touch.  We have been hoping this will work with the ExploreCentral mobile app under development with the Computer Science students in collaboration with my Museum Studies students.  

We have started with several trees in the campus arboretum, just behind the Museum.  (Sarah notes that it is more difficult for the blind to navigate when they off the sidewalk, so for the moment we are concentrating on trees that are immediately along the main paved sidewalk that meanders through the arboretum.)  We are writing down tactile descriptions of each tree’s bark, as well as season-specific notes on other tactile-accessible elements —such as needles, pine cones, buds and leaves. We will supplement this data with botanical information from Biology Department faculty.  Our hope is to have audio segments, geared to the blind, on each of these trees.

It is fortuitous that the eight vase sculptures in Benson Shaw’s “Resources” public art project are all accessible to the sense of touch.  Each vase is devoted to a different natural or social resource, such as “Sun” or “Fauna” or “Community,”  and displays punched-out metal shapes that are well suited to haptic exploration.  Thus “Fauna” centers on the metal shape of an owl with outstretched wings, and “Flora” displays touchable plants with a root structure.

In time, we hope to expand this to create a tactile tour of the whole campus; we’ll need to be attentive to meaningful touch experiences available around campus that would  offer significant natural history or aesthetic encounters, supplemented by audio segments through the mobile app.  We are not quite sure about navigation for low vision/no vision visitors. One possibility would be a relief map of the campus, affixed to a wall in Dean Hall outside of the museum, or a portable relief map with braille that could be distributed to blind visitors.

We aren’t sure yet if voice recognition in the Android system will work well with the mobile app: the idea eventually would be that as a user moves her/his finger over a button, the text will be audible to the user. And we may  need to create a separate category, like "TACTILE" within the Mobile App to make it as easy as possible for users to find these Points of Interest (in addition to  tagging them with "Art" or "Nature", etc.)  We’ll clearly need to keep working on this experimentally as we develop the accessibility of the product.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

New ExploreCentral App

This quarter my Museum Studies students and  I have been partnering with a group of Computer Science seniors to create a mobile app, called “ExploreCentral” that will allow smart phone users to access material on art and other sites of historical and environmental interest on campus and in town. In contrast to the mobile phone tours we’ve done in the past, which only consist of audio material, the new app, embedded in a GoogleMaps environment, will allow people to call up text, audio, still images and videos. We are hoping the app will drive traffic to the Museum of Culture and Environment and will in turn encourage Museum visitors to explore the campus and the wider community.

Users will be able to select for a menu of categories, such as:
  • Architecture
  • Art
  • History
  • Mysteries
  • Nature
  • Social Services
  • Sports
Initially at least, the app will open with a GoogleMap centered on Ellensburg, WA with different colored pins indicating “points of interest.”  The user can filter all these points of interest, by selecting a category, such as “Architecture” and the map on their smart phone screen will display pins for all relevant locations in the immediate vicinity; I believe there will also be an indication how many meters the user is from each attraction.

At this point, the app only works on smart phones running the Android operating system, and will shortly be available through the Google Play Store at

It  is our hope that we will in time be able to run an IOS version of the app on iPhones  (this will involve some expense for a licensing fee, I gather.)

Following suggestions from students in my class, my grad student Nicolas has created a Facebook public page, “CWU’s Explore Central,” at
 so that users can easily share feedback on the app, and post helpful content (including commentary and images) that we might add to the app over time.

The plan is the app will be available  in beta form by March 13 (we have been loading content in advance of this); we’re eager to “test” it with students and community members in the coming weeks.  So please stay tuned!