VANCOUVER, Wash. - Brett Oppegaard, assistant professor at Washington State University Vancouver, has been named the National Park Service’s (NPS) regional volunteer of the year for his assistance in developing mobile device applications during more than 5,000 hours of volunteer service.
Oppegaard teaches and does research in Vancouver for WSU’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, in partnership with The Creative Media and Digital Culture program. He was selected from among the nearly 80,000 volunteers -- working throughout Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada and Hawaii – who competed for the 2012 George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service.
In addition, Oppegaard just received a $19,421 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to expand his smartphone-based work into the realm of tablet computers. Last year, the NEH provided a $50,000 "digital start-up” grant to begin the project.
Remote sites and classrooms
The most-recent NEH grant is part of the "We the People” initiative, "designed to encourage and enhance the teaching, study and understanding of American history, culture, and democratic principles.”
To that end, Oppegaard’s research is pioneering new ways to share history and enhance the "We the People” project.
"We are focused on mobile media use at place-based attractions, such as National Park Service sites and other informal learning environments,” said Oppegaard. "We also are intrigued by ways in which formal learning environments, such as middle school history classrooms, can use mobile technologies to extend education into informal learning spaces.”
This "We the People” grant will fund the production of a tablet app and initial research into its use in middle school history classes, he said. "Potentially, this app could be used nationwide, in partnership with Verizon through the NEH's EDSITEment program.”
The phone app is designed specifically to be used at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, allowing visitors to engage both digitally and with their physical surroundings, he said. The tablet app is designed to be used away from the site.
First interactive NPS application
Volunteering at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Oppegaard developed and produced mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android platforms that are the only interactive applications of their kind in the National Park system, according to Cassie Anderson, Fort Vancouver ranger.
The "Fort Vancouver Mobile” app uses geolocation technology in smartphones and tablets to help tailor the experience of visiting the fort grounds to the specific visitor at the particular place in which the person is exploring. Depending on where the visitor is standing, the apps deliver costumed re-enactment videos, still-image slides, animations, maps audio files, music and interviews with authoritative sources that depict the historic significance of each location and 1840s living conditions. Each location also offers visitors opportunities to interact, and ways for them to create their own media, as a method of participating in the interpretation of the history.
For example, the app describes the story of a Hawaiian pastor, William Kaulehelehe, who was brought in the 1840s to Fort Vancouver by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Oppegaard said Hawaiians were transferred to the fort as low-paid employees, somewhat like indentured servants. The role of Hawaiians is a part of Northwest history that isn’t often told, he said. With the app, though, visitors not only get to learn about the Hawaiian influence, but they also get to make media that relates to what they learn.
These apps are free, available in the standard markets for each platform, and found by searching "Fort Vancouver Mobile.”
One of seven nationally
As the NPS’ Pacific West region’s representative for 2012, Oppegaard is one of seven volunteers nationally to receive the regional 2012 George and Helen Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service. Those seven will compete later this year for the national Hartzog Award. The awards recognize the time, talent, innovation and work contributed to national parks through the Volunteers-In-Parks Program.
Oppegaard hopes the mobile app eventually can be expanded to more areas of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site as well as used as a model for apps at parks across the nation.