iPioneers: Advanced Human-Computer Interaction class revamps the Pioneer Village's digital presence

The phrase “human-computer interaction” might make you think of robots and futuristic sci-fi movies, but it can just as easily be used to connect with pioneer roots. A class of BYU Information Technology (IT) students recently gave the Provo Pioneer Village a technological makeover, helping visitors have an improved historical experience.

“I really enjoyed this project because we weren't just looking at new and exciting technology,” said Keith Smith, one of the students in the class. “We were looking at how that technology affects people and how technology affects a good or a bad user experience.”

The Provo Pioneer Village, located in North Park on 500 West and 600 North, is one of Provo’s hidden gems. It contains historical artifacts from Provo’s frontier settlement days. Even some of the buildings are original pioneer homes. 

“What’s remarkable about the Pioneer Village is that it’s not a re-creation. It’s the real thing,” said village director and “mayor” Steven Nelson. “We have a cabin here that a baby was born in—where families lived.”

The village also holds free craft workshops every Saturday, where visitors can learn about spinning yarn, tanning leather and more. However, one of the biggest challenges for the Pioneer Village is raising awareness of its existence. That’s where the Advanced Human-Computer Interaction class came in.

“We’ve been working with Pioneer Park Village to help them use modern technologies to help promote and enhance historical experiences,” said Derek Hansen, the professor of the class.

The students redesigned the Pioneer Village’s website, created an interactive map (complete with 360-degree panoramic images), and gave the village a social media presence.

“They’ve increased the effectiveness of the website, and created a ‘virtual village,’” said Nelson, “The students also made a Facebook page for us. Our biggest problem is getting the word out, and the students worked with us to help do that more effectively.”

In addition to improving the village’s digital presence, the Advance Human-Computer Interaction class also made plans and prototypes for “Phase II” work that the village could use in the future.

Smith developed the idea for an online game that would connect users to the Pioneer Village.

“I sat down with a group and came up with the idea of creating a game that would be fun by itself, but could be augmented by visiting the village,” Smith said. “This would drive interest in the village itself and provide fun things to do while at the pioneer village.”

The goal of these projects—in addition to raising awareness—was to give visitors an improved experience.

This Saturday, June 8, the Provo Pioneer Village is holding its annual craft fair. Craftsmen from all over Utah Valley (including quilters, spinners, blacksmiths, leather tanners and a coffin builder) will demonstrate old-fashioned pioneer skills. There will also be activities for children and tour guides dressed in period apparel. The craft fair will begin at 10:00 a.m. As with all Pioneer Village events, there is no charge for admission.

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