Special Collections in the age of the app
25 August 2011
For students accustomed to an information-rich, online world, working with rare books and manuscripts can be an unfamiliar experience.
Together with colleagues at The University of Manchester, we’re using Augmented Reality to bring special collections to life by surrounding original materials with digital online content.
It’s important for students to have access to original manuscripts, and many tutors appreciate that using these materials can spark enthusiasm and engagement with courses. But these items are often fragile and kept in controlled conditions within libraries, meaning they are isolated from secondary, supporting materials and related digital content.
Here’s what we’re doing to help solve this problem.
We’re partnering with The John Rylands University Library, and lecturers from The University of Manchester on the SCARLET project (Special Collections using Augmented Reality to Enhance Learning and Teaching).
Working with a level 3 undergraduate course module, which explores the material history of Dante’s Divine Comedy using manuscripts and early printed editions, we want to see how using Augmented Reality (AR) can help students to interrogate the texts, and place materials in context.
While viewing the manuscripts in the library, students will use their mobile devices to call up and interact with supporting materials such as digital images, audio, video, and learning materials. So, for example, they could:
- ‘turn the pages’ of a digital medieval text
- zoom into details invisible to the naked eye
- hear a text spoken in Italian
- view similar digitized objects in the library
- read teaching materials prepared by their tutor
Project Director Jackie Carter explains more:
"In his keynote speech at the 2011 JISC Annual Conference, Professor Eric Thomas stressed that universities need to engage students with innovative use of technologies. We believe that our project is well placed to make a valuable contribution to the learning experience and respond to this challenge. AR will enhance the experience of using Special Collections materials, and overcome the major constraints inhibiting their use. It has potential to revolutionise teaching and learning in this field, helping students engage with primary source materials, and linking fragile and rare objects with online resources."
An interdisciplinary team
SCARLET is bringing together academic professionals from across The University of Manchester, combining our own technical and e-learning expertise with specialist knowledge of pedagogy. This puts us in a unique position compared to other educational experiments with AR. By taking advantage of the team’s diverse expertise, we can place learning and teaching at the very heart of the project, ensuring that the focus remains on the student experience and not the technology.
Enhancing the student experience
SCARLET will transform the students’ learning experience from passive observation to interactive engagement, as they will see and touch real manuscripts and editions while having the security of guided support. As our project partner Dr Guyda Armstrong explains:
"The SCARLET project will allow our students to utilize cutting-edge digital technology when researching five-hundred-year-old books. Using smartphone technology, they’ll have the library in their pocket at all times, and can access these precious objects and specialist secondary resources both within and outside the institutional environment. I hope it will be a huge step forward in terms both of evidence-based learning practice and the student experience. "
A toolkit for the future
At the end of this project, we’ll have an online toolkit that other special collections, libraries and museums can follow, enabling librarians, archivists and curators to develop AR applications for visitors to their own institutions. Content of the toolkit will include:
- Examples and guidance needed for others to replicate the work
- Course content templates for Augmented Reality
- Technical review
- An overview of the technical and pedagogical processes used
- An explanation of the benefits of AR for teaching and learning within special collections
The toolkit will help others to engage with their users, and offer new ways to demonstrate the value of the rich resources within special collections across the UK.
Have you got a newsworthy item about Mimas or our portfolio that you think we should publish on this website? If so, please get in touch and we'd be happy to discuss it with you.
The SCARLET project is funded by JISC.
Learning & Teaching Services Manager/SCARLET Project Director
T: +44 (0)161 275 6725
SCARLET Project Manager
T: +44 (0)161 275 6079
SCARLET Project Manager
T: +44 (0)161 275 8333
- Image is a page from the 1481 Florence edition of the Divine Comedy. Reproduced by courtesy of the University Librarian and Director, The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester.