Schools are shifting from being the center of educational life to being one node in a larger learning network. This network includes museums, libraries, makerspaces, parks, schools, and more. As educators, we know how effective place-based experiences, led by knowledgeable practitioners, can be for learners. At the same time, it is very difficult to bridge in-school and out-of-school learning. Our goal is to connect learning both in and out of school, and become the go-to resource for learners and institutions for place-based learning. In Burlington, one of the U.S. Ignite Gig cities, there are many places with a gig connection and wifi. We decided to create tours of these "gig-enabled" places with OpenPath to test the bandwidth, the OpenPath user interface, and the use cases we envision.
How it works
Through interactive videos and chat, learners get a narrated point-of-view tour of a rainforest, the Louvre, or a threatened watershed. Learners form a personalized learning path that builds over time. These real-time tours can be recorded for later viewing and sharing. Gig speed is integral to minimizing transmission latency and creating an excellent user experience.
Challenges I ran into
We asked some locals where we could find a connection, and they suggested Fletcher library, BCA (Burlington City Arts), Burlington Generator (makerspace), North Beach Pavilion, Leddy Park, and a few others. Firstly, audio was a noticeable problem since we were using laptops without headsets. The high ceilings (and a bug in the code) made for a difficult experience. We also discovered the limitations of public wifi--the routers get maxed out rapidly, leading to poor signal quality. The architecture of some buildings limited the reach of some routers too. There is always a tradeoff on wifi (wired connections always are better because they don't have interference problems): concurrency is about 20 users over the bandwidth shared, and with 2.4G we get distance and through the buildings, but less bandwidth and more interference vs. 5G where we get less distance but higher throughput. We weren't able to find out which species of router we were dealing with at the locations. Generator had routers everywhere, so throughput was good there, and BCA was no problem either.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
We were able to record the tours we did of Burlington, and the Web app more or less worked as intended. People we met along the way were enthusiastic, and had great suggestions as to how they would use it for events and as an always-on connection.
What I learned
A good quality OpenPath tour depends on bandwidth (high transmission speeds) and a high number of routers at a location. Having good interaction between locations is actually audio dependent; visuals can get pixelated with movement, but that's excusable when there is good audio.
What's next for OpenPath.me
A mobile version is in the works--carrying a laptop around is not ideal for more than 10 minutes (even a MacBook Air). Based on work we've done, there is a growing list of schools and museums that want to try OpenPath. After some more debugging, we're excited to release this resource into the hands of other users, letting them curate, create, build, and share tours of their own (one boy toured his neighborhood on his skateboard). We think this is where OpenPath is going, and we're excited to see where it goes.