OurPlace is the main project of my PhD. It's a mobile learning platform, designed to support communities in creating and sharing interactive learning activities about the places they care most about.
How can mobile learning technologies better surface and utilise the civic value of places and empower the communities which give them meaning?
About the App
OurPlace is a mobile platform which supports the creation, sharing and completion of highly customisable mobile learning activities. These activities are built by combining together bite-size modular tasks, which can each ask the user to perform a particular action. Tasks can ask the learner to take photos or video, record an audio clip, listen to a given audio clip, match an existing image (by comparing to an image overlay), draw a picture, draw on top of an existing image, mark locations on a map, navigate to a given location, answer a multiple choice question or simply read a piece of text.
This functionality is further expanded by supporting ‘follow-up’ tasks, which become available to the learner once another task has been completed. For example, an activity might ask the learner to walk to a particular location where, upon arrival, follow-up tasks ask them to document their thoughts through photos and an audio recording. Once created, activities can be shared in numerous ways. The accompanying website supplies QR codes which can be printed and launch the activity when scanned. Users can also enter given share codes, or launch activities when nearby the location activities have been optionally tagged with.
The ‘native’ applications were developed in Xamarin Android and Xamarin iOS, with the REST server running Web API 2.0 and an ASP. Net website. Because the whole project is written in C#, each component can share common code and be opened from the same Visual Studio solution. The OurPlace project is open-source, and can be downloaded from my GitHub.
OurPlace in HCI Research
OurPlace–and its precursor, ParkLearn–was developed using a participatory and iterative design process with multiple stakeholders, including local community experts and enthusiasts, school teachers and students. The research aims to explore how approachable mobile learning technologies can support stakeholders in creating their own bespoke, interactive resources to share their values and knowledge with others. Over the course of the project we ran small design workshops with park rangers and teachers, mixes of short and longitudinal studies with local schools and ethnographic studies with local heritage groups. To introduce communities to the application, I organised open-invitation workshops and events for community heritage enthusiasts, with the largest OurPlace workshop attracting nearly 50 attendees from around the North of England. These workshops proved to be both popular and successful, with multiple community groups going on to use the application independently and further workshop engagements being requested.
OurPlace has supported teachers, students and community experts in creating and sharing rich, digital experiences in authentic settings, without the need for large budgets or technical expertise. The app has been used by dozens of community groups and hundreds of students across nine different schools, in contexts ranging from local parks to lighthouses, and from zoos to castles. Much of the research to date is covered in detail in the publications listed below.
My final OurPlace study aimed to explore how technologies like OurPlace can help facilitate cultural exchanges, with children in different communities sharing and comparing their ways of life, beliefs and values. This work resulted in the production of a framework for the use of mobile technologies within project-based learning in formal education contexts, and was published at CHI 2020.
Schoolchildren use a custom jigsaw to prepare paper prototypes while designing their OurPlace activities
We are the Greatest Showmen: Configuring a Framework for Project-Based Mobile Learning
Dan Richardson, Ahmed Kharrufa
Parklearn: Creating, Sharing and Engaging with Place-Based Activities for Seamless Mobile Learning
Dan Richardson, Pradthana Jarusriboonchai, Kyle Montague, Ahmed Kharrufa
Exploring Public Places As Infrastructures for Civic M-Learning
Dan Richardson, Clara Crivellaro, Ahmed Kharrufa, Kyle Montague, Patrick Olivier