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Interactive app brings Freedom Summer to life

(Left) Senior Kayla Orta browses the new, interactive Freedom Summer app with junior Michael Taggart (right).

Photo contributed by Anne Armstrong

By David Shoemaker, For The Miami Student

With the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, Miami faculty and students have collaborated to develop a location-based gaming app that will allow students to experience some of Western campus' history.

The app immerses users in the two-week training session that civil rights volunteers experienced on the Western College for Women (now Miami's Western campus) in June 1964.

In May, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded Miami Associate Professor Anne Elizabeth Armstrong a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant of $59,964 for her idea to create the Freedom Summer-focused app.

Since the app is location-based, users will have to travel to specific buildings and landmarks on the Western campus where training sessions were held.

"I really wanted to create a way to connect the history of Freedom Summer to the actual Western College for Women landscape," Armstrong said.

Although the app is a new platform for Armstrong, she has been creating ways to commemorate Freedom Summer since 2004 when she created the "Walk With Me" Freedom Summer Walking Tour, a student-led interactive walking tour.

With the app, users take on the role of a volunteer and must acquire pictures, videos and notes.

They do this by undergoing training, accomplishing quests and speaking with the local Mississippi community.

Filling their "inventory" with these documents will then allow users to board the bus to Mississippi.

In addition to the connections it makes on the Miami campus, Armstrong said she believes the app is interesting because of its ability for users to make choices.

"When you're making those choices, it's very different from when you're passively witnessing a performance," Armstrong said. "You have to make the choice to constantly move forward with the project."

Besides the technological side of the app, Center for Digital Scholarship for University Libraries digital initiatives librarian Elias Tzoc hopes volunteers' stories of sacrifice and uncertainty will inspire users to step out of their comfort zone.

Although tweeting your support for a good cause is great, physically going somewhere and doing something might be better, even if it is harder, Tzoc said.

Tzoc also hopes that the app will influence other departments and faculty to collaborate with the newly founded Center for Digital Scholarship for University Libraries in the future, since the center was founded for projects like this, he said.

Under the guidance of Armstrong, Tzoc and Interactive Media Studies professor Bob De Schutter, students spent their summer in Oxford designing, writing and programming the app.

For sophomore Garth Herbert, the process of developing a game and watching it take shape was a great learning experience.

"At the beginning of the whole process, I wasn't sure of how far we would get, but I played last week, and it was a lot better than I thought it would be," Herbert said. "It was solid."

Like Herbert, Armstrong said that developing a game is a long process due to "interactive play testing," where people play the game and then give their feedback.

Armstrong hopes Freedom Summer veterans will be play test the game when Miami hosts the Freedom Summer conference in early October.

Until the conference in October, interested users can find Armstrong and her team from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Friday in Peabody Hall.

After the conference, users will be able to access the app on their own IOS-run devices.