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Virtual versus real

I am so pleased and proud of two of my long-term buddies: #StephenCure and #StephenHardin. (Aren’t you glad I didn’t say my “old” pals?) Both are still young and vibrant and moving ahead in a fascinating new direction. They have joined a brand new start-up company #ExperienceRealHistory.

I have to go back a ways to explain our connections. Stephen Hardin and I were competing for the same jobs at Victoria College and at Sam Houston State University some thirty (dear God, has it been that long?) years ago. I had been working at Victoria Community College since my dissertation/book had been about the founding of Victoria. He had written the definitive book on the Alamo: The Texian Iliad, by far the better-known book.

As it turned out, I was one of three women hired that year at Sam Houston State University. My advantage (and yes, it was an advantage back then) was that I was female, Hispanic, and I could teach Texas, US and Latin American History.  I accepted the job at Sam Houston State literally minutes before my beloved Department Chair Charles Spurlin offered the job at Victoria. If I had not already committed to Sam, I would have been spent my career at Victoria Community College and Stephen would have been at Sam.

Stephen Cure, the second of my Stephens, has been a force for good at the Texas State Historical Association for almost the same number of years. He and I have been involved in every conceivable teacher/student programs over the years. He helped me start the Walter P. Webb History Society at Sam for college students. We hauled students to reenactments and history programs all over the state. He hired me to teach workshops for teachers from West Texas to the Louisiana border. I have admired him for years and even more so when he willingly moved to Dallas for the TSHA and again when he moved back to Austin with his family and then, during the recent down-turn in TSHA’s on-going financial struggles, he sacrificed his job so others could be saved. It didn’t work out the way he hoped, and his sacrifice went for naught, but I am so pleased to report that he has landed in clover, and golden clover at that!

This past week, much to my pleased surprise, I ran into Stephen Cure here in Huntsville. He and I were presenting a segment on Texas History to our ESC Region 6 teachers, thanks to an invitation from #PattyBarfield, the Social Studies Coordinator. I had done my old-fashioned lecture including, of course, my ubiquitous power point on Mexico and Mexican Texas. Then Stephen started.

I didn’t know how “old fashioned” my presentation was until Stephen handed out a simple rolled up rubber flat map (Reality Board) of the Alamo, and a box with a set of six cards. He then had all the participants down-load an app onto their phones.

Within minutes, all of the teachers were aiming their camera phones at the site map and at the laid out cards. On their screens, they could see virtual images of the actual Alamo leap to life, and the figures on the cards magically arose and began fighting or communicating with each other. Thank to Stephen Hardin’s knowledge of the Alamo and skill at research, the details were superb. I was awestruck, literally struck dumb!

Alright, I know, I am way behind the times, and I’m probably explaining stuff you already know. To me, however, AR, VR and MR might as well be part of the Greek alphabet. But as Stephen Cure explained it, Augmented Reality is when technology overlays an image onto reality when viewed through a device such as a cell phone. Virtual Reality is a fully artificial digital environment that allows the viewer to see action on a screen. The Mixed Reality merges the real and virtual world to produce a new environment.

I’ve seen ads for video games that show a virtual reality. But they are just that, games with, in my view, no redeeming qualities whatsoever, other than that kids learn to shoot each other and blow up stuff. (Okay, I’m ducking to avoid the-digital-bombs being heaved my way.)

Now, however, my two Stephens are working on bringing it into the classrooms. By digitizing the actions of the historical characters in historical scenes they are able to actually bring the students into the experience. This gives the students a chance to do productive group work, create their own characters, retain the information better and, actually learn the history of the particular time period.

The app, to quote from the brochure, “creates virtual portals that users walk through.” The students virtually step into history and see the Alamo as it existed in the days of the Siege of 1836. “If they step on the elevator disk, they will rise above the grounds”. They can “see and hear the many stories of the battles and history of the immediate surrounding area.” To me, it is staggering! What was even more staggering was the price tag: a mere $55 dollars for the set. Teachers and school systems can actually afford to purchase classroom sets and have the students interacting in the classrooms.

The company, #ExperienceRealHistory, is planning to come out with programs on Gettysburg and then, who knows what is next? The sky is the limit. And my buddies are in the thick of it. What a great star to which they can hitch their wagons. I just watch in awe!

Now, all of that said, will my little Historic Tours be run out of business? Sorry, I don’t think so. As humans, virtual reality does not compare with the soft feel of sand underfoot and the gentle ocean breeze blowing across my face, the sun warm on my skin and the taste of a margarita in my hand while I lounge on the deck of #TerryNeal ’s 96 foot #BajaCharters yacht as part of my Trains Boats and Planes tour coming up January 9 through 18th. So sign up today. It’s not virtual. It’s real, but I couldn’t be happier for my two Stephens. Way to go, guys!