In Defeat, There Is Victory!

'In his 1914 painting A Hundred Years Peace, artist Amedee Forestier illustrates the signing of the Treaty of Ghent between Great Britain and the US, 24 December 1814 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-115678).'

In my mad rush to try and get this project to work, I completely lost sight of Bill Turkel’s initial comment when I and my fellow History 9832b Interactive Exhibit Design classmates first started; “it’s okay to fail”.  I think as students we’re subconsciously ingrained to think that success is only measured in the completion of an assigned task or the delivery of an end product rather than the path of discovery itself.  While preparing for another sleepless night, I arrived at the sobering realization that the project was definitely a lot grander than expected and I might have to scale back on my plans to have it work.

Taking stock of the original project concept, I had an epiphany. The project was all about exposure, buy-in and public engagement.  My first blog entry Twitter War of 1812! immediately generated challenges from both sides of the border by rival 1812 reenactor/history groups. @Navy1812Bicentennial immediately retweeted the blog post and I picked up Samuel Woodsworth@_thewar1812 and Maryland Milestones @ATHeritageArea as Twitter and Blog followers.  Another local 1812 supporter @BrianPMacLean joined as I’m writing this and it was great to get an inquiry from the folks over at Historica – Dominion about the proposed project and when we’re rolling it out.  From this varied sample of supporters, the objective was a success.

As I hunkered down in my foolish attempt to decipher the myriad of Arduino, Processing and Twitter hacks that litter the internet, I picked up support from Processing guru Marcus Nowotny who’s Tweet Balloon was really the key example to use.  I really thank Marcus, through a couple of wonderfully supportive emails about coming to the realization that what I was proposing was indeed a bigger kettle of fish than I had anticipated.  I’m regretful that I hadn’t found his example sooner in the semester.   Additional thanks has to go out to Nicholas Stedman for allowing me to participate in his Twitter to Processing class at Ryerson, which helped to get me over the hump in terms of having Arduino’s LED respond to a Tweet.  My car-pooling partner Namir (@Namir) who bounced various solutions back and forth to get this thing working, jumped in when things became too confusing.  Finally, many thanks to my 15 year creative business partner Romelle Espiritu for jumping in last minute with a stylized visual based on my original creative prototype.

Although I never really got the project to work, I did however get Arduino to blink on a per Tweet basis as demonstrated in the blog post Twitter to Ardunio Hack!.  Admittedly this has been one of the most frustrating, challenging and ultimately rewarding classes I’ve taken in my 20+ years of post-secondary education.  There were times in which nothing worked and I had to reevaluate the way I actually learn.  The project did force me to understand it from a “teachable moment”, something  as an educator I sometimes overlook when conducting my own classes.  Bill was supportive when needed and broad enough at other times to allow for student discovery.

Overall I’m satisfied with how the project engaged public, professional and peers alike.  As someone who has taught, developed curriculum and has been professionally engaged in Digital Media for over 20 years, the course has also redefined what “media” is and how the public can be engaged with it.  As a graduate student firmly entrenched in cultural resource management, these types of projects, whether failures or successes, enable us to connect at a different level with the public.  To engage them interactively, without constantly relying on expensive virtual simulators or displays.  Bringing the tactile and other senses to life when sometimes a static display cannot convey the depth of the subject matter or discovery.

In closing, the path to discovery has really been the success.  Now that this project has come to an end academically, I hope to engage a team to make it a reality professionally!  After all, what other way can we challenge our Southernly neighbours in a lively debate on the only War they lost : )

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