by Fiona Booth, Digital Engagement Officer

Recently I’ve been working with colleagues to plan, develop and test out new online learning resources. One project with our Learning Officers, Sara Norrish and Charlotte Gunn, has looked at digital activities for families.

Most people access our website now using a mobile or tablet. When The Box opens, we anticipate they’ll use a mobile most frequently. As a result, it’s really important for us to get a feel for how our visitors will enjoy future activities on their phone.

There’s a myriad of software that can help deliver this and I chose WPTour. It’s free and is based on WordPress, which our website uses too. It’s also easy to add text, audio, video and even quizzes to it.

Image of WPTour software

Next we needed a theme and physical area. The content is streamed on your internet connection as you go so we needed to try it somewhere with a good phone signal.

We decided to start with the city centre and chose the theme of civil engineering because it ties in with the 200th anniversary of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). There are many examples of amazing civil engineering achievements in Plymouth, designed by engineers such as Smeaton, Brunel and Rendel.

Then the fun began! Sara and Charlotte have a wealth of knowledge and experience in working with families and young people. We got our heads together to consider what could be seen along a route from the city centre to the Hoe, and the sort of content the resource needed.

We drafted up some text, sourced images and videos from our collections and started to flesh out our plan. WPTour is built up using a series of ‘markers’, so this helped us structure the story (told by Mr Isambard Kingdom Brunel, no less) and activities. We felt it would be more interesting to explain civil engineering through a story. That’s why we’re calling this an activity, rather than a trail.

After looking at potential areas of interest, we spoke our in-house local history expert Nigel Overton who really filled in the gaps for us. I didn’t realise just how many ‘firsts’ and important connections Plymouth has with the beginnings of civil engineering.

Image of design for Smeaton's TowerBeing surrounded by water, it’s no surprise that many of our most prominent structures relate to the sea and rivers. We reviewed our content and felt the focus should be on the Breakwater and Eddystone Lighthouse because they symbolise the determination of civil engineers. We also have a lot of fascinating artworks, prints and photographs in our collection that help tell their story, such as the design showing how John Smeaton based his lighthouse on an oak tree.

I started to input the content into WPTour, ably assisted by Sara who also managed to persuade some neighbours to record some of the text! The next step was to go through this version in situ – so back we went to the Hoe with my phone to try it out. It was a crucial step to ask ourselves, does it makes sense? Is it too long? Are there enough images? Do the buttons work?!

After more refining, we needed to test it out on other people. On a sunny day in February, a group of families came up to the Hoe to give it a go. It was exciting (and nerve-racking) to see it in action! Although I access lots of ‘hard stats’ for our online content, nothing beats talking with people face to face. The activity was well received and we gathered some constructive feedback to help move things on.

I then added some ‘help’ instructions for the phone, got some additional colleagues to check the text and we took our superstar ‘voiceover artists’ to a recording studio. We’re really pleased with how the audio turned out. Check out our young friend in the recording studio!

Recording of audio for digital family resource

Recording of audio for digital family resource

Super Structures is now live so why not have a go yourself? We really hope it helps families get a better understanding of civil engineering and the achievements of building the lighthouse and breakwater.

Super Structures digital family resource

Until the end of June we’ll be gathering as much feedback as possible through a Surveymonkey link at the end of the activity. We‘ll be using this to evaluate it and make any final amendments. The finished version will be ready for the summer holidays. If all goes well we hope to use the software again to develop more trails and activities in the future.