In 2012, or thereabouts, I sat down with my boss, Dr. Kit Wesler. He didn’t really have an open door policy in spite of leaving his door open. Usually, an open door simply meant he was venting heat from his office into the hallway. Happens when one works in an old building with south-facing windows and poor HVAC.
Kit, an archaeologist, was a huge proponent of technology in education, and especially for archaeology and all of its varied topics. Kit, for instance, really liked SecondLife, by Linden Labs. He saw SecondLife as a means of recreating historical environments in some detail with the added benefit any person with a computer could experience this historical landscape. Individually, both he and I downloaded and explored functionality within SecondLife. I installed development tools required to design and build items and landscapes within SecondLife. Together, we may have spent 6 months working through different ways we might adapt SecondLife to recreate the landscape of, say, a Mississippian culture (800CE – 1600CE, American Midwest and Southeast.)
Parallel to investigating SecondLife, we examine other technologies. He bought an early 3D printer. The idea, here, was to print replica artifacts for distribution to local schools. He bought a 3d scanner, and then bought a hand-held 3D scanner. Kit was an voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy, and huge fan of Robert E. Howard and George R. R. Martin. He even wrote himself and was published in a fantasy anthology. Kit saw the technology moving in the direction which would allow him to develop virtual reality environments depicting historical scenes and landscapes.
About this time I ran across some references to students hacking a Microsoft Kinect at the University of California – Davis. Students were using this relatively inexpensive camera to 3D scan common objects, like a teddy bear, then converting the 3D data into a file format usable by 3D printers. This endeavor demonstrated considerable promise, I felt. I’m also a huge proponent of putting students in positions to do things, to explore, get their hands dirty, and break stuff (hopefully, not), see how things work, and, more importantly, how do we make them work differently? I shopped around the idea of developing a Makerspace on my regional campus. We needed to get our act together, begin engaging in these technologies, learn, enhance, grow; these automated manufacturing technologies are our future. People are now realizing how great the technology is; those of us paying attention knew this five or six years ago. I have some early blog posts giving away my notes and ideas for a student-managed Makerspace.
As an aside, as of January 2017, my regional university has made little effort to engage in these technologies, in spite of leadership recognizing these technologies are not “toys,” are not, “gimmick…flash-in-the-pan technologies.”
Kit was a supporter of my campus Makerspace effort. Both he and I realized to make most, if any of our ideas happen, more people, more talent, more interested parties would be necessary. Money, sure, but simply having a critical mass of people with skills or interested in learning and developing skills was crucial for developing virtual reality applications. And, I failed, but not for lack of trying.
And, then, Dr. Kit Wesler died, complications pertaining to cancer, on January 4th, 2016. My best advocate for advancing technology on campus, mentor, friend, sounding board, editor, and social filter pass away, and I lost considerable motivation to move forward.
To be continued…