WSUV students design interactive Academy app

Digital technology and culture program aims to bring history of building and its founders to life

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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Click by click, Ryan Schafte fine-tunes an animated 3-D model of a bell, glancing back at historical archival photos of Vancouver’s Providence Academy as he shrinks a feature here or adds a detail there.

Schafte, a 26-year-old senior at Washington State University Vancouver, and his digital technology and culture classmates hunched over their computers Wednesday, hard at work on an application that, when completed, will bring the history of the Providence Academy and its founders to life.

As The Historic Trust continues with its multimillion-dollar restoration effort at the building at 400 E. Evergreen Blvd., WSUV’s digital technology and culture students — a program that brings together graphic design and computer coding with anthropology and history — are developing Providence Academy Journey, an augmented reality application that will allow visitors to point their phone at sites around the building and interact with the videos and graphics that appear. When Schafte’s bell is completed, for example, visitors will be able to pull their phone downward in a tugging motion, ringing the 400-pound bell.

“It’s been fun to actually work on something that’s going to be delivered,” Schafte said.

Richard Burrows, director of community outreach and programs for The Historic Trust, said the application will create a more engaging and interesting experience that challenges visitors to interact with the history of the space.

“Stand and talk isn’t what people are interested in these days,” he said. “They just like to feel like they’re interacting with information and not being talked to.”

Real-world projects is a cornerstone of digital technology and culture teacher Dene Grigar’s senior seminar class. In years past, her students have worked on applications with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Mount St. Helens Institute and the Museum of the Oregon Territory. Teams in her class are developing the code, the graphics, the text and the overall branding of the application. Students in the class have also visited the Providence Archives in Seattle to review historical documents and images, and have worked closely with The Historic Trust as they develop new components for the application.

Those days feel less like a classroom and more like a client meeting, Burrows said.

“They’re all dressed in their Sunday best, make their presentation, then we have a discussion,” Burrows said. “I love that part. They are just nerd creative.”

Connor Goglin, a 23-year-old graduate of the program, returned to work part time to help finish this and other projects. As the class provides different components of the application — graphics, text and other interactive pieces — Goglin is stitching them together into the final experience.

Demonstrating how the application will work, Goglin holds up an iPad and points it at a marker on the floor. With another tap of his finger, Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart rises from the floor, set against the background of a historical image of the Providence Academy.

“It’s very hard to connect (history) to yourself,” Goglin said. “That’s the advantage of this augmented or virtual reality.”

The application is slated to be released on Dec. 6.