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INTRODUCTION

We are living in a time marked by extreme innovation, specifically technological innovation. The pace of technological change has been transforming human life rapidly. We have very little grasp on what world will look in the near future. Like all fields of human endeavor, education is rapidly being disrupted by advances in technology. At this juncture, it is critically important to understand the needs of 21st century education to develop contemporary life and career skills. Traditionally entrenched methods of teaching and learning fall woefully short in matching contemporary and future needs.

RK University is spearheading a revolution in learning and teaching methods by ushering in new pedagogical approaches and tools for students and faculties that help in imparting integrated knowledge. One such initiative that is designed with an amalgamation of world’s most advanced technologies and contemporary educational research is “Interakt” . Interakt is a museum of multi- sensory experiences. The interactive exhibits designed and developed by RKU have never been seen before. These exhibits are so immersive that visitors feel complete sense of disbelief and wonder. These exhibits are demonstrated through four spaces:

OUR STORY

Background

While working on my project at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, I realized how technology can inspire a person. A technology sufficiently advanced seems like magic to people who do not understand its workings. My project involved using augmented reality in enhancing learning experience by assisting the users in interacting with digital information embedded within the physical environment. When we showed a use-case scenario to other students, we were amazed by the response. Most people were amazed by the “magical” technology. Though we did not pursue that line of work in our final submission, we sure had fun exploring AR. That same year, I wrote a paper on Augmented Reality for a neuroscience course at Harvard titled “Embodiment and Embedment in Situated Cognition through Augmented Reality”. There is growing evidence that AR affords the creation of high fidelity real world experiences and the capacity to promote kinesthetic learning through rich sensory spatial contexts. Studies have reported that the technology assisted learning activities based on AR simulation involving a narrative and interactive, situated, collaborative problem solving components are highly engaging, especially among students with behavioral and academic challenges. Of-course we are far from having a comprehensive “finished package” of educational ecosystem around AR to to be deployed right away. But the start is promising.

I had decided at that very time, that I will show the possibilities that AR represents to students in India. Of course I had no idea of how or when. Fast forward three years 2015: We just inaugurated India’s first multi-sensory immersive museum called “Interakt” at RK University, in Rajkot. Though the seed of the whole idea was planted in the form of AR, I wanted to explore other “magical” experiences mediated by technology. At around the end of 2014 I came across a multiscreen implementation of Google Liquid Galaxy in a webinar by Campus Technology. I immediately saw the possibilities it had in delivering an inspiring visual experience. We went ahead and implemented Liquid Galaxy on a much large screen using custom built projector system. This is one of the largest implementations we know of!

To the already interesting mix we added Google Cardboard. VR headsets offers a highly immersive visual experience. Put together, we had a sufficient material to put up a dedicated space and create a kind of “immersive museum”.

Rationale

The primary purpose of creating Interakt is to explore the possibilities of technology. Current technologies in information processing, display rendering, data capture, human-machine interaction and other auxiliary systems are advanced enough to simulate realistic and deeply engrossing virtual worlds. Can we present some of these to young students and let them wander through possible worlds? Some of the technologies that we are displaying present a convincing case of facilitating situated cognition beyond the current possibilities. Researchers and practitioners who are experimenting with instructional models based on situated cognition accept that modern computer technology can be a viable alternative to real-world settings and these virtual settings can be used without sacrificing the critical element of authentic context (Herrington & Oliver, 1995).

If we are able to create a sense of wonder and kindle thought & reflection in our visitors then we would consider our project to be successful.

Process

Concept

As Mohit had worked on Augmented Reality earlier, we were pretty confident on use case and demo scenarios of Augmented Reality Lab. For Panorama Theatre, we wanted to implement a really large screen. Television screens were a bit too small for us (and way more expensive too). Hence we thought of implementing a projector based system. There are some inherent issues with a projector based system such as lower resolution and brightness (compared to HD TVs). However, the edge to edge merging of slave systems with the master system projection is an added benefit. However, the setting up of projectors was a mammoth task. It is extremely hard to get the alignments just right. We designed a projector suspension rig along with projection screen. Within the constraints of the room size, we managed to make a gargantuan 50 feet wide screen using 5 projector systems connected to 5 CPUs. If you’d like to know more about the implementation, we’d be happy to share our experience with you. For Virtual Reality Lab we adopted Google Cardboard. Cardboard perhaps has the highest ratio of realistic experience to cost.


Hardware

A: Panorama Theatre

a) 5 CPUs with decent (midline) configurations
b) 5 Acer Projectors
c)  50 feet wide and 8 feet high screen made from projection grade flex sheet.

B: Virtual Reality Lab

a) 4 Virtual Reality Headsets
b) 4 Cell Phones with gyroscope

C: Augmented Reality Lab

a) 5 Acer Tablets
b) Trigger images
Project Head

The entire exhibit is conceived and planned by Mohit Patel, Vice President at RK University. He is an educator, engineer and designer who designs and executes learning experiences for teachers and students that are based on learning theories and cognitive neuroscience. He also focuses on long term planning and execution of projects in the areas of curricular reforms, governance, and outreach. He has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and master’s degree in Industrial Systems from University of Cambridge on a scholarship by the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. He recently returned to India from the US where he completed his master’s degree at Harvard University focusing on education and technology. He has been a cross-registered candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he focused on institutional management. His program was funded by a scholarship from Harvard University.