The Digital Ghost Hunt

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Media, Film and Music

Abstract

The Digital Ghost Hunt is an immersive storytelling experience that transforms coding and digital technology from something foreign and mysterious into a tool of the imagination. In its first implementation, the Digital Ghost Hunt immersive experience will be realised in the historic Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), with a narrative that explore the building's rich historical memory using the creative spirit of an earlier era of open-ended technological experimentation. The key objective of The Digital Ghost Hunt is to present technology to students as an empowering tool, where coding emerges as - and fuses with - different forms of storytelling. It seeks to shift the context in which Key Stage 2 students see coding, engaging groups who may be uninterested in or feel excluded by digital technology, to open up an imaginative space through play for them to discover the creative potential of technology on their own terms.

For this pilot project, we will publish code libraries and instructions for affordable hardware kits, and write an initial narrative formed around the fictive Ministry of Paranormal Hygiene. Learning facilitators will appear in class as a team of Ministry scientists, led by the Deputy Undersecretary of Paranormal Hygiene, to initiate their training. Using Raspberry Pi microprocessor kits, their first task will be to program their detection devices. During this phase students will be introduced to the basic logic of programming: variables, looping and decision structures. They will be taught how to use the high-level API (Application Interface) to query their sensors for information, store it and display it. The emphasis will be on students taking ownership of their devices, deciding which of the ghost detectors they want to build and how it works.

When they are ready, students will begin their first hunt at a haunted historical building. Students will use the devices they've built to discover clues and research the history of the building to discover the ghost's identity. The ghost will in turn communication with them, given life by actors, practical effects and the poltergeist potential of the Internet of Things. Together students will unravel the mystery of the ghost's haunting, and help set it free.

Planned Impact

The impact for the project will target three types of audiences and follow three main pathways: students and teachers in primary education, creative industry practitioners in Augmented Reality and Immersive Theatre, and Maker culture community. The Ghost Hunt is not only a single discrete experience but a structure and process whose parts can be separated, modified and remixed for many different audiences and uses.

Educators in the UK are struggling to deliver the ambitious new Computer Science curriculum, and the problem is especially acute for groups who have felt excluded from coding and geek culture. The code and course materials produced by the Ghost Hunt will be relevant to the current Key Stage 2 syllabus and would serve as a resource for teachers to engage their students with technology in new and innovative ways. The teacher materials will be aimed at educators with a non-STEM background, to encourage the same kind of interdisciplinary experimentation that gave birth to the Ghost Hunt. The goal of the Ghost Hunt is not only to create fun, practical materials for the teaching of coding, but to encourage both teachers and students to see computer science in a fundamentally more creative way.

Separate from yet connected to the educational material will be the immersive experience developed during the scratch. With the prototype being developed during this project we plan to create a framework for dedicated immersive experiences adaptable for all ages. The material and technical knowledge gained during the scratch will form the basis for partnerships in the heritage and creative industry sectors. Through its longstanding relationship with KIT Theatre, the project will be collaborating with the Battersea Arts Centre on their HLF funded heritage trails, and exploring possibilities for applying the lessons learned during the project to create bespoke ticketed experiences such as museum lates and immersive Augmented Reality experiences at festivals.

The project's DIY aesthetic and emphasis on the ownership of technology is a natural fit to the online maker community. The 3d models commissionedcommissoned for creating the hunting devices will be released alongside the project's source code. The project plans to build on this foundation by running contests to encourage makers and artists to build new and exciting additions of the ghost hunt devices, as well as taking the initial blueprint and remixing it themselves for their own projects.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Performances 
Description The main output of the project is two performances of the experience at the Battersea Arts Centre in November 2018 for Year 5 pupils from Shaftesbury Park primary school. The theatrical experiences at BAC were preceded by theatrical classroom inductions led by Digital Ghost Hunt actors and facilitators, supported by class teachers. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The project has led to offers of future work from partners and those involved. We are still analysing the impact of the work and expect further outcomes. 
 
Title ghost detectors 
Description A number of "ghost hunting" (sensing) devices were built to be used during the performance. These are currently with Co-I Hall at King's Digital Lab. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The devices developed were used in 2 performances each with approximately 2 dozen students and accompanying teachers and chaperones. They will be used again in the project work supported by the follow-on funding we received. 
 
Description Our key aims for the first phase of the project (to design, produce and deliver an immersive technology-aided AR experience to KS2 pupils across a classroom and a theatrical experience) were achieved. The designed experience was performed twice (as planned), and received positive feedback from our project partners and participants. Our audience responded well to the way the experience was introduced by performers, supported by class teachers. It was notable during observation of the part of the experience that took place in an educational setting that young audiences require more closely guided designed activities than older audiences to maintain focus and confidence in their experience, but that the rewards of skilful induction and narrative presentation are significant and lasting. While adult audiences can find sufficient drive to initiate and sustain engagement from more ambient social and design cues, young audiences depend to a greater extent on trusted adults (in this instance, class teachers) to frame and warrant commitment to an immersive storyworld. Close engagement with the school in preparation for the performance was an important part of the success of the production, and supported the later theatrical experience at Battersea Art Centre.

The involvement of teachers continued to be important at BAC, as the pupils explored the theatrical experience guided by actors. The continued involvement of teachers in collaboration with performers allowed us to support pupils with different degrees of courage and confidence, from the most adventurous to the occasional pupil who found the mystery element somewhat overwhelming. Our collaborative approach was rewarded with enhanced response capacity to accommodate different preferences, and part of the research outcomes of the first phase of Digital Ghost Hunt is the critical importance of 'shepherding' of young audiences by trusted adults (e.g. teachers, parents and/or facilitators), not just for ethical and functional purposes, but also for dramatic and aesthetic immersion.

Given the highly experimental nature of the project, it evolved rapidly and in sometimes unexpected ways. The initial ideas for the AR experience were centralised, depending on devices communicating with a server and receiving regular updates on what was happening. The technical and logistical hurdles of doing a distributed AR experience with a young audience necessitated the development of a technical solution that was portable, flexible, and lightweight. Working with live audiences in a heritage building threw up some unexpected problems, even under previously tested conditions. In order for the technical work to keep apace with the development of the theatrical experience as it changed during devising, we adapted development and working practices from an agile, iterative approach into a more constant improvisation that was more closely related to the workflow of the actors. During this first phase of Digital Ghost Hunt, we learned that integration of the technical element with theatrical devising calls for more elastic, flexible timelines to allow for teachers and pupils to develop an understanding of the technology at their own pace. We found that technical expertise is very variable among teachers and indeed pupils, with some developing digital literacy outside of the classroom and others rely entirely on digital learning in school.

These developments are of value to creative practitioners and designers of immersive experience for young audiences more broadly, perhaps particularly the importance of adult support and closer narrative guidance. Our evolved methods for the integration of technical and dramatic development are also of interest, and may support theatre companies, experience designers and/or schools that wish to replicate or develop derivative experiences based on the open-source code libraries that we have developed and published on Github. A scholarly article discussing the findings of phase one of the project will be published in the peer-reviewed literature, aimed at researchers and practitioners in the arts and humanities, theatre and experience design.
Exploitation Route Primary future developments include those outlined in the awarded extension of the first phase of the project; to develop the existing designed experience, code libraries and technologies for other venues and wider audiences. We want to devise alternative approaches to inducting older children and their families to the theatrical experience, outside of an educational context. Replacing the classroom part of Digital Ghost Hunt with a remote and/or personalised introduction to the performance will require that we build on what we learned during phase one, and adapt it for situations we have limited or no prior insight into. Our observations of the process of immersion in young people suggest that the involvement of trusted adults is important, meaning that we need to involve parents (or other carers) in the lead-up to the theatrical experience. This fits with our plans (as outlined in the application for extended funding) to involve the whole family in collaborative problem solving towards the solution of the mystery in the designed experience. We will be able to build on the developed code libraries and technologies developed in phase one to present new form of technology-driven 'magic' that sits alongside more traditional theatrical illusion techniques, and which supports audience engagement with each other and the performance environment, rather than turning attention towards an individual, and ultimately isolating experience.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://digitalghosthunt.com/
 
Description As phase one of the project has recently concluded, we can only outline early impact. This includes our invitation to participate in the AHRC Immersive Experience programme for SXSW, for which Elliott Hall will represent the Digital Ghost Hunt team, the follow-on funding awarded the project for audience development, and discussions with Battersea Art Centre for staging further performances of the Digital Ghost Hunt in late 2019.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Digital Ghost Hunt - Impact and Engagement
Amount £32,255 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S010521/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 10/2019
 
Description Main Theatre Company / Director / Partner 
Organisation Battersea Arts Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Multiple 
PI Contribution The first phase of Digital Ghost Hunt was a multidisciplinary project that was made possible by a range of collaborations across academia and the creative industries. The project investigators contributed to the project organisation, guidance, framing and overall structure. We arranged for the work to take place and set the key research questions to be explored. The co-investigators (Westling and Hall) led on the critical development (Westling) and technical development (Hall) of the work once production began.
Collaborator Contribution The technical and theatrical experience was created in close collaboration between the research project's team, King's Digital Lab and children's immersive theatre company KIT Theatre. The collaboration also included Battersea Arts Centre as a venue and close creative producing partner. Film company Brickwall films created engagement videos that were used in the experience, documented the event and produced a two minute explainer of the experience, which will be published on the project website after our presentation in the AHRC Immersive Experience programme for SXSW. Augmented Reality company Playlines provided expert narrative feedback, and Brighton digital arts organisation Lighthouse provided mentoring and guidance during the project's conceptual stages through their Reframed program.
Impact All work maps to the following disciplines: Digital Media; Drama & Theatre Studies; Education; History; AR/VR; Digital Humanities Publications - (which are forthcoming and, therefore, not listed as yet). Performances - There were 2 performances staged during this work. They were performed in November, 2018 at the Battersea Arts Centre. Artefacts - A number of "ghost hunting" (sensing) devices were built to be used during the performance. These are currently with Co-I Hall at King's Digital Lab. Lesson Plans - The project developed four lesson plans based around thinking like a programmer, algorithmic thinking, working with physical computing, and basic coding with MakeCode to accompany the classroom portion of the experience. Website - a website with narrative descriptions of the project, photographic and video documentation of phase one of the project.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Main Theatre Company / Director / Partner 
Organisation Brickwall Films
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The first phase of Digital Ghost Hunt was a multidisciplinary project that was made possible by a range of collaborations across academia and the creative industries. The project investigators contributed to the project organisation, guidance, framing and overall structure. We arranged for the work to take place and set the key research questions to be explored. The co-investigators (Westling and Hall) led on the critical development (Westling) and technical development (Hall) of the work once production began.
Collaborator Contribution The technical and theatrical experience was created in close collaboration between the research project's team, King's Digital Lab and children's immersive theatre company KIT Theatre. The collaboration also included Battersea Arts Centre as a venue and close creative producing partner. Film company Brickwall films created engagement videos that were used in the experience, documented the event and produced a two minute explainer of the experience, which will be published on the project website after our presentation in the AHRC Immersive Experience programme for SXSW. Augmented Reality company Playlines provided expert narrative feedback, and Brighton digital arts organisation Lighthouse provided mentoring and guidance during the project's conceptual stages through their Reframed program.
Impact All work maps to the following disciplines: Digital Media; Drama & Theatre Studies; Education; History; AR/VR; Digital Humanities Publications - (which are forthcoming and, therefore, not listed as yet). Performances - There were 2 performances staged during this work. They were performed in November, 2018 at the Battersea Arts Centre. Artefacts - A number of "ghost hunting" (sensing) devices were built to be used during the performance. These are currently with Co-I Hall at King's Digital Lab. Lesson Plans - The project developed four lesson plans based around thinking like a programmer, algorithmic thinking, working with physical computing, and basic coding with MakeCode to accompany the classroom portion of the experience. Website - a website with narrative descriptions of the project, photographic and video documentation of phase one of the project.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Main Theatre Company / Director / Partner 
Organisation KIT Theatre
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The first phase of Digital Ghost Hunt was a multidisciplinary project that was made possible by a range of collaborations across academia and the creative industries. The project investigators contributed to the project organisation, guidance, framing and overall structure. We arranged for the work to take place and set the key research questions to be explored. The co-investigators (Westling and Hall) led on the critical development (Westling) and technical development (Hall) of the work once production began.
Collaborator Contribution The technical and theatrical experience was created in close collaboration between the research project's team, King's Digital Lab and children's immersive theatre company KIT Theatre. The collaboration also included Battersea Arts Centre as a venue and close creative producing partner. Film company Brickwall films created engagement videos that were used in the experience, documented the event and produced a two minute explainer of the experience, which will be published on the project website after our presentation in the AHRC Immersive Experience programme for SXSW. Augmented Reality company Playlines provided expert narrative feedback, and Brighton digital arts organisation Lighthouse provided mentoring and guidance during the project's conceptual stages through their Reframed program.
Impact All work maps to the following disciplines: Digital Media; Drama & Theatre Studies; Education; History; AR/VR; Digital Humanities Publications - (which are forthcoming and, therefore, not listed as yet). Performances - There were 2 performances staged during this work. They were performed in November, 2018 at the Battersea Arts Centre. Artefacts - A number of "ghost hunting" (sensing) devices were built to be used during the performance. These are currently with Co-I Hall at King's Digital Lab. Lesson Plans - The project developed four lesson plans based around thinking like a programmer, algorithmic thinking, working with physical computing, and basic coding with MakeCode to accompany the classroom portion of the experience. Website - a website with narrative descriptions of the project, photographic and video documentation of phase one of the project.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Main Theatre Company / Director / Partner 
Organisation Playlines
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The first phase of Digital Ghost Hunt was a multidisciplinary project that was made possible by a range of collaborations across academia and the creative industries. The project investigators contributed to the project organisation, guidance, framing and overall structure. We arranged for the work to take place and set the key research questions to be explored. The co-investigators (Westling and Hall) led on the critical development (Westling) and technical development (Hall) of the work once production began.
Collaborator Contribution The technical and theatrical experience was created in close collaboration between the research project's team, King's Digital Lab and children's immersive theatre company KIT Theatre. The collaboration also included Battersea Arts Centre as a venue and close creative producing partner. Film company Brickwall films created engagement videos that were used in the experience, documented the event and produced a two minute explainer of the experience, which will be published on the project website after our presentation in the AHRC Immersive Experience programme for SXSW. Augmented Reality company Playlines provided expert narrative feedback, and Brighton digital arts organisation Lighthouse provided mentoring and guidance during the project's conceptual stages through their Reframed program.
Impact All work maps to the following disciplines: Digital Media; Drama & Theatre Studies; Education; History; AR/VR; Digital Humanities Publications - (which are forthcoming and, therefore, not listed as yet). Performances - There were 2 performances staged during this work. They were performed in November, 2018 at the Battersea Arts Centre. Artefacts - A number of "ghost hunting" (sensing) devices were built to be used during the performance. These are currently with Co-I Hall at King's Digital Lab. Lesson Plans - The project developed four lesson plans based around thinking like a programmer, algorithmic thinking, working with physical computing, and basic coding with MakeCode to accompany the classroom portion of the experience. Website - a website with narrative descriptions of the project, photographic and video documentation of phase one of the project.
Start Year 2018
 
Title Code Libraries 
Description Three libraries of code were created by the project to run the Augmented Reality portion of the experience. These include libraries in Python and MakeCode to run the Raspberry PI and Micro:Bit respectively that make up the ghost detecting device used by the audience in the show. The third script library, also written in Python, runs the special effects in the show on the smart home platform Home Assistant. All three libraries will be available on Github under a public license. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2018 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact These code libraries were used with the ghost detectors (artefacts) mentioned elsewhere in this project and were similarly used by approximately 2 dozen students in 2 performances and will be reused in future project work. 
 
Description AHRC Showcase 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Primary Investigator Mary Krell, Co-Investigator Carina Westling and Co-Investigator Elliott Hall attended the AHRC showcase in York on 3-4 December 2018 and presented the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description EH and TB in York 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project Co-Investigator Elliott Hall and director/co-writer Tom Bowtell spoke about the project and storytelling in Augmented Reality at the Continue Conference, part of the York Mediale, in October 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Immersive Storytelling Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Mary Krell presented the project at the Immersive Storytelling Symposium on 14 December 2018 at the Liverpool Screen School.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description SXSW 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Digital Ghost Hunt was featured at SXSW 2019. Co-Investigator Elliott Hall attended on behalf of the Digital Ghost Hunt team. This took place in response to an invitation from AHRC to attend SXSW as members of the Immersive Experience Program (with support from the Arts Council & the British Council among others).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019