Civilisations AR is an outstanding new app developed by the BBC and and Nexus Studios, developed as a tie in to the documentary series of the same name. It features more than 30 digital scans of artefacts from museums across the UK which can be placed in the world in AR. The detail on the models is simply stunning and Civilisations is without a doubt one of the most impressive examples of augmented reality I’ve seen yet.
Here’s a little clip I recorded of it in action
What the app offers alongside each model is a well-detailed yet accessible text entry and a spotlight feature. This is great as it encourages young historians to examine the artefact more closely as they try to locate the hotspots. These are often audio clips that tell a little more about the model. Sometimes they are really special though – like the xray tool that unlocks in the clip below:
To find out more about the app and to view a list of the artefacts included, visit this link on the BBC site.
There are other AR apps for viewing historical artifacts but many are designed to work in situ when visiting specific museums. There are a couple of other good options for harnessing AR artifacts in the classroom though -
THE INSPYRO ACTIVELENS RANGE
The Activelens range includes both VR and AR apps that supplement the history curriculum content available from Cumputeam in the UK. AR apps in the range include Viking, Roman, Ancient Egypt and WW1 themed offerings along with many more with a range of relic available in each. These apps are pre-ARKit so they utilise printable trigger cards (but therefore can also be used on older iOS devices too.)
The content license is pricey but the quality and depth of the content is exceptionally high and the fact that you get both AR and VR experiences is great. Many of the models are interactive too so students get a less passive experience using them. Find out more about Active Lens here.
Sketchfab is a receptacle for a huge range of user-created 3D models. One category within the platform is Cultural Heritage and History and it’s here that you'll find relevant artefacts. This free platform is vast and contains a LOT of content so be prepared to dig through a little.Looking for specific user collections can be a good approach - especially since The British Museum are uploading 3D scans of their collections. In terms of AR, it’s ARKit-enabled so new devices only for the one.
Ultimately, it’s free and full of treasures and could well be a great starting place for history teachers looking to bring augmented artefacts into the classroom. Explore the collection here.
The real problem with trying to use the models from Sketchfab in a meaningful way would be the lack of relevant information and framing for them. This got me thinking of an activity that we used to use a few years ago with replica artefacts in Year 4 during a study of The Vikings. I had sourced a set of artefact analysis questions that I’m sure originally came from The British Museum (this was about 14 years ago now I can’t recall exactly.) Alongside my colleague Asa Firth, we turned these questions into an “artefact analyser” that worked wonders with the students and could easily be replicated with these AR treasures.
It consisted of three key questions, each with a secondary question:
What does it show us?
(What might your answer tell you about beliefs or everyday life?)
What could it have been used for?
(What might your answer help us understand about the people?)
What is it made from?
(What can you learn about what people could do from your answer?)
I dug around on an old hard drive and actually found one of the old templates too:
We’d borrow replica artefacts from other year groups (covering different eras) and hold archaeological digs by burying them in a KS1 sandpit. Students would dig up an artefact and take a photo then use the analysis grid to try and deduce what it could be. The only problem was a severe lack of decent replica artefacts – they were always mighty expensive! This is where a free AR platform like Sketchfab could come in – supplementing physical resources.
I want to give a shout out to my good friend Ronan McNicholl for giving me the heads up on the Civilisations app. Ronan is a former colleague from JESS Dubai and an amazing educator with a passion for AR and VR. Look for him joining a future #CPDinVR session and connect with him on Twitter - @RonanMcNicholl