Geolocation Storytelling Revisited

We’ve observed an uptick in interest in Geolocation Storytelling. We’ll revisit the subject for those who know little about this medium as well as those who either want to design a project on paper (i.e. Word) or who want to go all the way and use the LodeStar Authoring tool to complete a working project.

To reach all audiences at some level, this article starts from the general and ends with the specific. Hop on and off at any point.

Introduction

Every place hides its own unique, rich story. Have you visited an unfamiliar town or area and wondered about its history,  geography, and points of interest? Have you ever wanted to connect to a place on a level deeper than a quick drive-by?

A new form of storytelling—geolocation storytelling—combines technology and traditional storytelling to connect visitors at a deeper level.  With the help of an app, the place where you’ve entered or visited on a map suddenly comes alive with narrative and imagery.  You may hear about the past or be guided to an unusual rock formation or the vantage point of a famous painter.   Geolocation stories can work on-site, guiding you from point to point or they can help you discover a place from the comfort of your home.  Geolocation stories can be both informative and entertaining.  They can involve the visitor in discovering why a place got put on the map, or solving a challenge, or even solving a murder mystery.  In short, geolocation stories can be about anything that piques the visitor’s interest about a place.

The Inspiration

Places inspire people to learn more about them.

A group of history buffs, known as Lensflare Stillwater, were inspired by the many untold stories of Stillwater, a Minnesota river town.  Stillwater was a lumber town with connections to Minnesota and Wisconsin pine lands by river and connections to Saint Paul by stage road and later by rail. 

Stillwater inspired a number of geolocation stories. The first stories were guided  tours of Stillwater’s historical downtown.   A subsequent story helped cyclists learn about the rich history from the vantage point of a bicycle trail.  Even later, another story recovered the lost memory of Stillwater’s streetcars.   

Thousands of miles from Stillwater, a geolocation project told the story of Vincent Van Gogh’s year in Arles, France, and what went horribly wrong for him.   Its authors first visited Arles to learn more about Van Gogh but were disappointed in the local tour booklets, which didn’t sufficiently tell the story. 

If your town or place has points of interest, a rich history, or geographical features, you will want to consider creating a geolocation story to help others see the place from a new point of view.  Visitors can walk to the specific places of interest and hear audio, see imagery, read text, scroll through time lines and learn more about this special place.

How it works

Typically the visitor launches a geolocation story (a web-based application) from a web address on a smartphone. The first page of the story provides instructions and a starting point. When the visitor reaches that point, she crosses an invisible geofence. Geofence is a just a metaphor. Actually, the visitor’s location is calculated from the signals of three or more satellites . Most modern smartphones are equipped with the hardware to detect these signals. Global positioning satellites constantly emit signals. The GPS receiver in the visitor’s phone listens for these signals. Once the receiver calculates its location from these satellites, it provides that information to the application. The logic of the application is constantly checking to see if the location matches a place of interest. If yes, then content in the form of audio, text and imagery is called up and presented.

Getting more specific: Best practices

If you already understand the power of the geolocation story and wish to get started, you’ll want to consider a few things.  These are not hard and fast guidelines.  As we gain more and more experience, we’ll learn about what works and what doesn’t.

  1. First, geolocation storytelling works best when the audience is on foot and out of doors.  Smartphones can’t receive satellite GPS signals from inside of buildings.  The technology works best outside with clear line-of-sight to the sky.
  2. Geolocation projects must be housed on a website that supports HTTPS.   Smartphones don’t reveal their locations to applications that run from websites that begin with http:// The web address must be https:// The ‘s’ means secure.  Information that is transported by HTTPS is encrypted in order to increase security of data transfer.  
  3. There is a limit to the distance that people will walk on a tour or the length of a tour in time.  Limit yourself to two miles completed within one hour.  Of course, this is a very loose rule of thumb.  Consider your audience when setting the limits.  Young adults will have no difficulty with 3 – 5 mile hikes.  Time and attention span, however, will remain a factor.  Senior citizens with mobility issues will find two miles too long.  The steepness of the terrain will be a factor. Use your discretion but keep it as short as possible.
  4. Some people’s interest may wane quickly.  A two mile tour should have at least a dozen points of interest.  Limit the distance and length of time between geolocation points.
  5. Present narrations in audio and text formats.  People like to hear a recorded narration but, without headphones, the narration could easily be drowned out by traffic or a rushing river. On the flipside, audio narration often works in situations (e.g. bright sun) where the screen is difficult to see. You’ll need to use your judgement.
  6. Consider the format of the tour.  Will you guide your audience from point to point or will you cluster points so that the audience will simply wander about and come upon points of interest? 
  7. Audio should be cleanly recorded.  The audience should not hear background noise or a muffled narration.
  8. Text must be spelled correctly, grammatically correct and short. 
  9. Favor more points of interest and shorter narration/text rather than fewer points of interest and narration that drones on.
  10. Have fun creating this story. You’ll learn a lot!

Get your Geolocations

Even if you’re starting with Word to capture your text, find the locations. You can use Google Maps.  This is a very accurate way of finding locations.  For example, if I wanted the location of the intersection of Myrtle and Water Streets in Stillwater, I would do the following:

  1. Go https://www.google.com/maps
  2. Search for Myrtle Street, Stillwater.
  3. Move the map to the location of interest.
  4. Click on the intersection.
  5. Either write down the location coordinates or click on them.  The coordinates will now appear in the address field at the top and can be copied and pasted into your Word document or directly onto a LodeStar page (see below).
Google Maps reveals latitude and longitude

About the Location Coordinates

In the example above the coordinates were 45.056745,-92.805510.  The first coordinate (45.056745) is the latitude.  The second coordinate is (-92.805510) is longitude.  Always use a coordinate with six digits of precision (six digits to the right of the decimal point).  The six digits will ensure an accuracy within a few inches but never rely on that.  Never create a geolocation story that relies on an accuracy of a few inches.  In our geolocation stories we trigger something (e.g. show content) when the user is within 25 to 50 feet of a location.  We call that crossing the geofence.   The minus sign is important.  In latitude, the minus sign denotes the southern hemisphere (south of the equator).  In longitude, the minus sign denotes west of the prime meridian (Greenwich) and east of the antemeridian (roughly where the international date line resides).

If you want to grab your location while physically on the spot, use your smartphone’s Google Maps app. 

Current Location Arrow in Google Maps
  1. In Google Maps, click on the arrow to show your current location.
  2. Scroll down until you find the marker and the location.  See screenshot below.
  3. Copy and paste the coordinate into your notes so that you can transfer the coordinate to LodeStar.

Getting a location from Google Maps while on site

Preparing a Geolocation Story in Word

Your role might be to prepare the content. When you’ve completed the preparation, you can hand off the content in the form of a Word file. In Word, each location should be on a separate page. At the top of each page, key in the title and the latitude and longitude coordinates of the location. Add your text, graphics, image and narration. If your version of Word doesn’t support audio narration, use a free tool like Audacity to generate an MP3 audio file.

Even More Specific: Authoring a Geolocation Story with LodeStar

To create a geolocation tour in LodeStar, do the following:

Launch LodeStar and select the ARMaker template.  (AR stands for augmented reality.)

LodeStar’s ARMaker template
  1. Title your project.  The project will now reside on your hard drive in a folder with the same title.  It will be found in the LodeStar/Projects/[your title]  directory.
  2. Add your title to the first page.
  3. Add a page by clicking on the + button at the bottom of the app.
  • Ensure that the new page is a Text Page Type.  Examine the screenshot below.  The page should have a place to enter a latitude and longitude.
  • Add your content.  You can insert a widget (e.g. Image Layout Widget), text, audio, and more.
  • Add a page to add more content.
  • Then Preview in Browser (find button at the top).
  • When you are ready to publish,  Export as a SCORM 1.3 package and import to a Learning Management System or simply copy the LodeStar/Projects/[your title]  directory to a web server.
LodeStar authoring tool with ARMaker template. Click on image to view.

Below is what this page looks like in Preview.  Notice the audio control at top left and the Show Map at the top left.   Notice the navigation buttons top right (depending on layout).  Notice the how the image slider appears, created by the PWG Image Slider Widget.

Previewing a Geolocation story

If your audience clicks on the ‘Show Map’ button, a Google Map appears with all of the locations marked with red markers.  Again, each location represents a separate page in LodeStar. 

Each location (marked by red marker) matches a LodeStar page

Controlling the User Experience

If you allow users both to show map and navigate to content by clicking on a marker, then you need not adjust project settings.    If you want to restrict users’ access to the map and/or their ability to access pages of content from the map, select Tools > Project Settings.  Change the settings according to your needs.  (The important settings are marked with arrows. See screenshot below.)

Project settings in LodeStar allow control of application

Publishing your project

As a SCORM object

If you use a Learning Management System (LMS) and want to control access to your geolocation story, then, with your project opened in LodeStar, click on Export and export to SCORM 1.3.    Go to your LMS and import the story as a SCORM object.

As a website

If you have access to a web server, copy the project folder to the web server and use the index.htm file in your URL.  Once again, location services will only work on web servers that support https://

If you don’t have access to a web server, then read the following article that explains how you can use GitHub as a web server.

https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2020/05/14/seven-steps-that-will-change-how-you-share-elearning/embed/#?secret=5b4inntyGg

Alternatively, you can use Site44 to convert your Dropbox folder to a published website:

See https://www.site44.com/

(We are not endorsing Site44 but LodeStar Learning has successfully used it on a number of projects.)

As an Open Education Resource (OER)

Publish the geolocation story as a web site, then register the URL (address) of that site with OER Commons, Merlot, or whatever OER repository you prefer.

 

Additional Details

If you are new to Geolocation Story-telling to learn more detail, visit:

Geolocation Storytelling: Van Gogh In Arles | LodeStar Web Journal (wordpress.com)

To see an example of a finished product as OER, visit:

https://www.oercommons.org/courses/vincent-van-gogh-s-arles/view

Or view the app at:

‎Van Gogh In Arles on the App Store (apple.com)

Conclusion

Geolocation stories are a great way to help visitors uncover the hidden wonders of place. Google Maps and the LodeStar Authoring tool are indispensable ways of authoring stories and publishing them either to Learning Management Systems or to the web.

If you complete a project, share your project. Drop a comment or drop a line to supportteam@lodestarlearning.com.

Short Sims

Introduction

Some of us aren’t content with simply presenting information in a linear fashion in an online course.  We have dozens of words to express what we wish to achieve: interactive, game-like, thought-provoking, challenging, problem-based….   We are also hard-pressed to find the time or the budget or the design that will fulfill our highest aspirations for eLearning. 

It’s easy to get discouraged – but occasionally we’re offered a strategy that works within our budget and time constraints.  One such strategy is the basis of  Clark Aldrich’s recent book, “Short Sims” (Aldrich, C. (2020). Short sims: A game changer. Boca Raton: CRC Press.)  

In his book, Clark Aldrich discusses the methodology of the short simulation.  He begins by lauding the virtues of interactivity.  Interactivity allows learners to experiment, customize their experience, role-play, make decisions and apply skills. He writes that game-like interactivity is expensive to build.  We all recognize that.  Short Sims, on the other hand, can be built in the “same time frame as linear content”.  Short Sims engage students in making decisions, doing things, meeting challenges, solving problems, learning from mistakes and so forth.  Essentially Short Sims offer us a strategy – a methodology – to do things differently and more effectively.

The hook comes from this excerpt: 

“From a pedagogical perspective, the more interactivity the better.  Connecting user action with feedback has long been proven to be critical for most neuron connections”. 

Aldrich, 2020

Aldrich credits the Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology for that insight.  But again, in Aldrich’s words, “game-like interactivity is expensive to build.  It is time-consuming.”  Aldrich offers a new Short Sim methodology as an antidote to linear-style presentation the death-by-PowerPoint approach.

Short Sims

                Show, not tell

                Engage learners quickly and are re-playable

                Are quick to build and easy to update

Short Sims square with the Context-Challenge-Activity-Feedback model that we’ve heard so much about from Dr. Michael Allen, Ethan Edwards and the designers at Allen Interactions.  They are a solution to M. David Merrill’s lament that so much learning material is shovelware.  ShortSims are not shovelware.  They are a cost-effective means of engaging students.

Quite frankly, the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool was made for the Short Sim.  Instructors have used LodeStar for years to produce Short Sims but never used that term.  We called them Simple Sims, which sometimes included decision-making scenarios, interactive case studies, problem-based learning and levelled challenges.  We solved the same problem.  We made it easy for instructors to create Short Sims quickly. 

Our design methodology has a lot in common with Aldrich’s methodology as described in his book.   The following ten points outline our approach to creating a simple decision-making scenario, which, in our view, is one form of Simple Sim.  To avoid mischaracterizing Aldrich’s methodology, I’ll use our own terms in this outline.

  1. Select Challenge
  2. Pick Context
  3. Determine the Happy Path
  4. Determine Distractors
  5. Pick a setting – background graphic
  6. Choose a character set
  7. Produce the Happy Path
  8. Add the Distractors
  9. Add Branches
  10. Add Randomness                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Select Challenge

Selecting the right problem and the right scope is, in itself, a challenge for the instructor or trainer.  Straightforward processes that present clear consequences for each decision are easy to simulate.   Processes like strategic planning that are influenced by dozens of variables are much more difficult.   The Short Sim methodology itself would be good candidate for a Short Sim.  Another example would be the backwards design method of instructional design.  In my early days at Metro State, a decade ago, we discussed the backwards design approach with instructors.   We then used a Short Sim to rehearse instructors on the key questions to ask during each phase of the backwards design process.  We based a lot of our thinking on Dee Fink’s “Creating Significant Learning Experiences” and  Grant Wiggins’ “Understanding By Design”.  Our objective was to help instructors design with the end in mind.  In Backwards Design, outcomes and assessments come before the development of activities.   The Short Sim did the trick.  Planning instruction is complicated business.  A simple and short simulation is not, in itself, transformative.  But we just wanted assurance that instructors understood the basic principles of backward design by the decisions they made.

Pick Context

In the Backwards Design example, a dean asks an instructor to design an online class to help K12 teachers use educational technology in their classrooms.  So, in this context, the learner is playing the role of online course designer.  The learner is challenged to make the right decisions at the right time.  If the learner holds off on designing activities until completing an analysis, defining outcomes and creating assessments, then the learner succeeds in the challenge.

Determine the Happy Path

The happy path is all the right decisions in the right order.  Situational Analysis -> Learner Outcomes -> Assessments -> Activities -> Transfer.  It is all of the right answers with no distractors.  It’s like creating a multiple choice test with only one option: the correct answer.

Determine Distractors

Now come the distractors.  What are the common pitfalls to Backward Design?  What might tempt the learner to go astray.  If we were designing a Short Sim on the Short Sim methodology, the pits and snares might be what Aldrich calls the Time Sucks:  choosing the wrong authoring tool, too many decision-makers on the project, custom art, and so on.  The learner might be tempted with “the medium is the message.  Invest in the medium.  Commission a graphic artist to create a compelling interface.”  The point of Short Sims is to not invest heavily in artwork or graphic design.  The focus is more on describing the context, presenting choices to the learner, and showing the consequence of learner choices.

Pick a Setting

A background photo helps to set the context.  Images that display settings without people can be found on sites like Pexels, Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain section of stock image services and, of course, on stock image sites. Because one image often suffices in a short sim, authors can snap their own photos and not waste too much time.

Alternatively, vector artwork can serve as an effective background.  Vector art can be found and  downloaded from such sites as https://publicdomainvectors.org/.    (LodeStar Learning doesn’t endorse any of these sites – but we have used them all.)

In either case, if the scene is relevant to the learning context and not just a vain attempt to gamify, it might actually contribute to content retention and recall. 

Choose a character set

A popular approach to Short Sims is the use of cutout characters with different poses and expressions.  Cutout characters can be photo-realistic images with transparent backgrounds or illustrations.  To see examples, please google ‘elearning interactive case studies’, select ‘images’ and you’ll see thousands of examples.  Despite their popularity, finding cutout characters cheaply can be frustrating.  Several authoring tools offer a built-in catalog of characters.  These tools tend to be expensive.  Many stock photo sites offer character packs but usually one must subscribe to these sites for a monthly charge.  Some sites offer pay-as-you-go services, meaning that you pay for the character pack once, without signing on to a monthly subscription.  The character pack can be as cheap as $4.  One such site is eLearning Templates for Course Developers – eLearningchips.  A complete character pack purchased from eLearningChips with more than 137 poses costs as little as $54. No subscription.  No additional fee.  (Again, we’re not endorsing eLearningChips, but we have used their service.)

Produce the Happy Path

With the LodeStar authoring tool, we had several options for producing the Happy Path.  We used the ActivityMaker template and, after the title page, added a sequence of Interview Pages.  The ActivityMaker template offers a range of page types. The Interview Page is one of them.  In an Interview Page, we dropped in a character and filled in the best choice.  We didn’t concern ourselves with the distractors (the wrong options) quite yet.  Again, we were focused on the Happy Path.

Here is the author view:

Authoring a short sim happy path

Here is what the student sees:

A short sim happy path

Add the distractors

Once we sorted out the happy path – a sequence of perfect, well-informed choices, we thought about the pits and snares—the problems and challenges.

In our course design example, a common problem is that we think too early about the content–that is, what topics should the course cover.  We anticipated those problems when designing our Short Sim.  If a learner unwittingly falls into our trap, we have the opportunity of providing feedback. It’s a teachable moment.

A short sim

An alternative to the Interview Page type is the Text Page.  In a text page, we can add images and widgets.  These give us a bit more flexibility than the Interview Page Type.  On a Text page, we can add an image (left or right aligned), then a Text Layout Widget.  Here you can see the page with image and the Text Layout widget.  The image was composed in our SVG editor. 

Authoring View

Here is what the student sees.

Student View of a LodeStar Activity

Add Branches

In one sense, a branch is a place where we get sent based on our decisions.  If this were a customer service sim and we made poor choices, the customer would appear more and more irritated and ultimately we lose his or her business.  Programmatically, the place where we get sent is a page that shows an irate customer and choices that represent a difficult situation.  The branches could lead us down a path of destruction but we may also have the opportunity of winning back the customer’s trust with a string of good decisions. 

Branching adds variety to the sim.  It gives us a customized experience or allows us safely to ‘test’ bad choices.

Branching can also be viewed as the consequence of a decision or choice.  In LodeStar, branch options include going to the next page, last page or jumping to a page.  They also include bringing up a web resource, adding an instructive overlay, setting a variable value, etc.  It could also mean the execution of a script or series of commands to make a lot of things happen simultaneously, such as setting a variable (that tracks our failings), sending us down a path, changing the image of a happy customer to an unhappy one, showing feedback, marking the choice with red, and more.

It’s probably most effective to show the learners the natural consequence of their decisions–an unhappy customer for example.  As designers, we might also need to be explicit and display feedback, or introduce a coach who provides feedback.  As Clark Aldrich writes, the sign of a good Short Sim is one that is played over and over again.  Branching helps us make the sim a different experience each time.

LodeStar Branching options

Add Randomness (optional)

Randomness might be difficult to achieve and should, therefore, be considered optional.

Randomness is more than randomizing distractors.  (Randomizing distractors happens automatically on an Interview Page.  It’s done through a simple checkbox in a Text Layout widget.)  More sophisticated randomness might include a randomly generated sum of money, or a randomly selected path or scene, or randomly generated assets that are assigned to the learner.  It might be a randomly generated length of fuse that represents the customer’s patience.   In our course design example, it might be randomly generated student characteristics that include age, gender, and subject interest.  That level of randomness is best achieved with the help of LodeStar’s scripting language and is best left to its own article.

Conclusion

Short Sims represent a level of interactivity that goes beyond the linear presentation of information.  They have the potential of promoting learner retention and application.  With the right tool (and there are plenty),  everyone can build short simulations.  One tool, LodeStar, was designed from the very start with the short simulation and the intrepid instructor in mind.  Short Sims may vary in sophistication and design but, in any form, they cause learners to think and to see the consequence of their actions.  The short sim is a strategy that is doable and repeatable within our budgets and time constraints.  Make it happen in your world!