As a new generation of students becomes increasingly digitally native, and grows further from the collective memory of the 20th century, history educators are increasingly embracing technology to better connect the lessons of history with the present.
In 2019, USC Shoah Foundation - The Institute for Visual History and Education—a nonprofit organization dedicated to making Holocaust testimonials a compelling voice for education and action—sought a partner capable of creating a thoughtul digital educational platform to bring in-person locations to life.
The Institute’s aim: an easy-to-use educational app where students and teachers can experience digital tours of historical places and events alongside primary-source testimonials from the Visual History Archive, which houses over 55,000 from survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides. Having created and successfully beta-tested a prototype in Hungary, the Institute needed a partner capable of robust feature development, and scaling the app to support localized tours across European and U.S. locations. Impressed with our portfolio in edtech, the Institute approached Substantial.
Key project considerations were accessibility needs, scalability within an existing educational backend system called IWitness, and sustainable product build for a small development team.
Design + Build
During the initial technical build, our team recognized that while Xamarin Forms was the client’s preference, React Native would support the app’s vision more comprehensively and sustainably. The team held collaborative feedback sessions, and aligned with USC Shoah Foundation on our recommended solution to pivot to React Native and provide training support as their team embraced a new language. From there, we moved into a collaborative development phase to build the MVP in just 10 weeks.
Measure + Optimize
One of our proudest client collaborations, the IWalk app launched to both iOS and Android platforms in only 27 weeks, introducing 30 IWalks across seven countries and eight languages. Two days after launch, the Substantial team flew to Philadelphia for the first teacher onboarding. Feedback from teachers and students validated the app’s educational efficacy—teachers felt that the app had transformed the learning experience, and that the UX was foolproof even for non-technical users.
Along the way, Substantial built a lightweight CMS for native phone localization, in-person product training, and methodology for sustaining IWalk data for long-term success.