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Videowalls in remote classrooms to simulate learning experience

<p><b>An individual observes the surround sound videowall, which Richard Martin, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Scienece, describes as “looking through a window into another classroom.” </b>COURTESY OF RICHARD MARTIN</p>

An individual observes the surround sound videowall, which Richard Martin, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Scienece, describes as “looking through a window into another classroom.” COURTESY OF RICHARD MARTIN

Creating a surround-sound videowall could revolutionize the way people learn.

That is the concept behind a research project by the Aresty Undergraduate Research Program run by Richard Martin, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science Department at the University.

“The idea behind the videowall is to make it look like you're looking (through) a window into another classroom,” Martin said.

The walls have multiple panels, which are large video feed monitors, he said. There are also cameras for each panel with microphones and a large omni-directional microphone on the top.

Several cameras would transmit to the panel feeds, he said.

Students can also see information projected in the remote room using a projector in the local room, he said.

"There's another camera that's not on the panels, that's actually in the ceiling," Martin said. "That's focused on the wall, (where the local projector) projects. (Its purpose) is to give the students the same experience as being in the room, so it will be on a big projector.”

The idea for videowalls had its origin in a research collaboration with researchers at MIT who wanted a better way to communicate for collaboration, he said.

A mockup was built by the University research team that the MIT team liked, he said. 

The videowalls are already being used for teaching an advanced Portuguese class with an instructor based at Rutgers Newark, he said.

“Other classes that we want to use these for are … for instance, teaching music,” Martin said. 

Teaching languages through a videowall would help due to the lack of advanced Portuguese teachers, he said. 

Creating alternative means of sharing information allows educators to change the core of what teaching should be, said David Awad, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

Education in its present state has a high potential for failing at its purpose, he said.

What Aresty was looking for in terms of research and what the project is trying to accomplish is keeping the video wall more of a directional audio experience than a video one, Martin said.

Shmuel Lotsvin, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he has been conducting experiments on sound detection.

“Right now, what we're doing is seeing if people can tell where a sound is coming from without any interference, and then if the person can tell where it's coming from after we alter the sound a little bit,” said Lotsvin, a research assistant with the Aresty project.

Listeners would hopefully be unable to detect the sound's point of origin after it is altered, he said.

With the videowall, audio would come from the specific part of a panel that showed people talking, Martin said.

The bigger picture is creating surround sound technology shared in real-time, he said.

“We already have surround sound systems out there, but most of those have a prerecorded sound that they're going to be playing back,” Lotsvin said.

Video games have pretty good surround sound technology already, Lotsvin said.

Games such as League of Legends use headsets to provide real-time surround sound for events happening on the game map, he said. Players do not necessarily need to see the relevant part of a map to know what is happening there, he said.

That is much easier to do in a headset, Lotsvin said. But he wants this with speakers in a classroom, which makes the job "a lot more difficult."

“The goal is to replicate the classroom experience as closely as possible,” Martin said. “So in the video wall, we want surround sound that's happening right now.”

One of the difficulties is reducing latency, or the lag between a sound and video, he said.

“I think video sharing (in) classrooms like this is an awesome new way to make someone feel like they're really learning, and not just like they're watching a video,” Awad said. “It looks like yet another example of breakthrough technology that will undoubtedly shape the future of us, humanity, the future of sharing."

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