Eilidh Lawrence, a learning and access trainee at the Museum of the University of St Andrews, shares her experience at DigiDoc 2018, a conference hosted by Historic Environments Scotland on digital innovation in cultural heritage management.

Eilidh_DigiDocI was lucky enough to attend DigiDoc: Digital Innovation in Heritage Conference organised by the team at Historic Environment Scotland, at the Engine Shed in Stirling last week. The conference was a two day affair, preceded by a Research and Innovation Day, and followed by DigiFest: a programme of events, workshops and talks by experts themed around various digital innovations, including games and animation, for all ages. Presentations at the conference were delivered by digital innovators from across the globe: from the US, to Europe, to China.

What we hoped to take away from the conference were clear ideas of ways in which we can further engage audiences with the Bridges Collection, our collection of Cypriot archaeology that was donated to the University of St Andrews in 1994, and is in the process of being digitised into 3D models, available on Sketchfab.

Presentations that particularly gave us food for thought included those by Claire Spencer Cook from Nexus Studios, Jenni Mackay from Dundee City Council, and Maxime Durand from Ubisoft.

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Claire Spencer Cook (@nexusstories) delivered her presentation on DigiDoc Day 1, which was entitled ‘History in Your Hand: How We Made BBC Civilisations AR (Augmented Reality)’. The audience-centred approach taken by Nexus Studios to create their apps is surely key to their success. Spencer Cook spoke of the different ‘personas’ the team bear in mind when designing their apps, and the focus put on considering how the experience would make the audience in question feel – with particular emphasis on the potential for exploratory experiences to stimulate the senses. Other important reflections provoked by Spencer Cook’s talk included the fact that often, it is best to supplement the physical with the digital, rather than to focus on the digital experience in isolation. The use of a simple user interface was also acknowledged as best practice, in order that apps be as widely accessible as possible. Clearly, the potential of augmented reality to democratise collections to anyone who possesses a smartphone is great, and could be exponentially wide-reaching.

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Jenni Mackay (@lookwhatjendid) from Dundee City Council delivered a presentation on Day 2 entitled ‘Digital Technologies in Scottish Education: Creating Digitally Adaptive Learners’. The emphasis on the digital within classrooms in Scotland is heartening: the focus being on preparing the country’s young people for the workforce that they will enter upon leaving the school system. Mackay explained the Scottish Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy to delegates: emphasising the importance of digital technologies being recognised as being central to a learner’s education in Scotland, rather than as an add-on resource. The now-wide use of game-based learning, through games such as Minecraft, and software like Unity and GameMaker, was particularly exciting to reflect upon, as was the fantastic Forth Bridges Project (https://www.theforthbridges.org/news/go-forth-learn-and-be-inspired/). The project features different branches (‘Go Forth And… Discover/Design/Create/Explore’) and amongst its resources includes a series of mini-games, interactives and 3D modelling to illustrate complex engineering. The project perfectly demonstrates the potential of 3D digitisation to promote learning in a myriad of ways.

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Lastly, Maxime Durand (@TriFreako) from Ubisoft spoke about the expansion pack for Assassin’s Creed: Origins, called the ‘Discovery Tour’, in a presentation entitled ‘Beyond Gaming: How Assassin’s Creed Expanded for Learning’. The Assassin’s Creed video game series has long captured the imagination of those fascinated by the sights and sounds of history: with previous games set in Renaissance Italy, France at the time of the Revolution, and their latest offering (released this month) based in Ancient Greece. The Origins incarnation of the game was set in Ancient Egypt: the Discovery Tour offers players the chance to explore Ancient Egypt without being restricted in any way by gameplay elements. Players can explore as various characters from history: climbing the pyramids, swimming in the Nile and visiting the Ancient Library of Alexandria. Although artistic license is sometimes used to aid gameplay, thorough consultation is done at all stages to ensure that the stories told are representative of those they belong to. The result is a visually and sonically stunning journey into the past: the access to which is unrivaled.

Durand encouraged delegates to ‘Make History Everyone’s Playground’. That truly is what we hope to go forward and do.

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