March 31st, 2020

Digital technology brings local history chapters to life

By Mabell, Dave on June 13, 2019.

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

Two dark chapters in southern Alberta’s history are seeing the light at the Galt Museum.

And two education faculty students at the University of Lethbridge are credited with making that happen. Working with museum staff, they have brought those stories to life using a simulation game from technologies like augmented reality, photogrammetry and 3D printing.

LaRae Smith, working with museum educator Ashley Henrickson, developed a board game-like simulation to teach about the Great Depression of the 1930s. The game, designed for Grade 5 students, is played in a number of rounds. Each round, students choose what crops to plant and which agricultural techniques to use.

“The students analyze newspaper articles and photographs from the 1930s to help inform their choices,” Hendrickson says.

“Their farms are then hit by a number of travesties which affected Alberta farmers, including drought, grasshoppers and low market prices. Finally, the emotional reality of life in the Great Depression is driven home by sharing the stories of local families who lived through the period.”

LaRae collected those stories through oral history interviews.

“As the ideas for this simulation started flowing and it began to take shape, I couldn’t help but get increasingly excited for the launch of this program,” Smith says.

“I can’t wait for students to be able to come and experience firsthand what it was like as a farmer in southern Alberta during the Great Depression.”

Benjamin Weistra, working with history professor Kristine Alexander – a Canada Research Chair in child and youth studies – focused on Ukrainian-Canadian internment here during the First World War. It’s currently part of the Grade 3 curriculum in Alberta.

“There was an internment camp here in Lethbridge, although many people don’t know a lot about it,” says Henrickson.

“Ben researched the camp in Lethbridge, located where Exhibition Park is now, and the camps in Banff because people from Lethbridge went there.”

Several prisoners escaped from the Lethbridge camp in 1916 using shovels, an auger and a fan to dig a tunnel under the fence. Those tools are now held in the Glenbow Archives, inaccessible to elementary students in Lethbridge.

But Weistra examined how technologies like augmented reality, photogrammetry and 3D printing can be used to bring them replicas of these objects.

U of L Agility, a student-centred program that focuses on innovation, provided support for Weistra’s project by sharing knowledge about virtual reality and 3D printing. He also won the Agility Pitch Competition with his idea, and now the Galt is waiting for the outcome of a grant application to help with the costs of digitizing the objects.

“This project not only made me realize the potential of using 3D/AR/VR technology in my future teaching adventures and other history projects, but led to great connections at the university, the Galt and Agility,” says Weistra.

“It also led to other great experiences like taking part in the Agility pitch competition. As a student with Ukrainian heritage, it makes me proud to be able to take part in a project like this which helps bring light to a darker and lesser-known part of Ukrainian-Canadian history” to local students.

“Recent scholarships about teaching and learning in higher education has shown that the opportunity to work on community-engaged research projects produces enormous gains in terms of student engagement and retention,” Alexander points out.

“The U of L’s Applied Studies program is a model in this respect, and it has been a real pleasure to be able to watch Ashley, LaRae and Ben work together to connect historical research, cutting-edge technologies and museum education.”

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