The Classroom of the Future: Enhancing Education through

The Classroom of the Future: Enhancing Education through
The Classroom of the Future:
Enhancing Education through Augmented Reality
Jeremy R. Cooperstock
Centre for Intelligent Machines
McGill University
3480 University Street, Montreal QC, H3A 2A7 Canada
Electronic classrooms offer instructors a variety of
multimedia presentation tools such as the VCR,
document camera, and computer projection, allowing
for the display of video clips, transparencies, and
computer generated simulations and animations.
Unfortunately, even the most elegant user interfaces
still frustrate many would-be users. The technology
tends to be underutilized because of the cognitive
effort and time its use requires. Worse still, it often
distracts the instructor from the primary pedagogical
Information technology promised to empower us and
simplify our lives. In reality, we can all attest to the
fact that the opposite is true. Modern presentation
technology, for example, has made teaching in
today’s classrooms increasingly complex and
daunting. Whereas fifty years ago, the only concern a
teacher had was running out of chalk, faculty now
struggle to perform relatively simple tasks, such as
connecting their computer output to the projector,
switching the display to show a video tape, and even
turning on the lights! Technology’s capacity to
improve the teaching and learning experience is
evident, but so far, its potential remains largely
A related concern in the pedagogical context is the
effort required to exploit the technology for novel
applications, for example, distance or on-line
education. The desire to provide lecture content to
students who are unable to attend the class in person,
as well as to those who wish to review the material at
a later time, has been a driving force behind the
development of videoconferencing and web-based
course delivery mechanisms. Although a number of
universities now offer courses on-line, the cost
involved in creating high-quality content is
enormous. Both videoconferencing and simple
videotaping of the lectures require the assistance of a
camera operator, sound engineer, and editor. For
asynchronous delivery, lecture material, including
slides, video clips, and overheads, must be digitized,
formatted and collated in the correct sequence before
being transferred. Adding any material at a later date,
for example, the results of follow-up discussion
relating to the lecture, is equally complicated. The
low-tech solution, which offers the lecture material
by videotape alone, still involves considerable effort
to produce and suffers further from a lack of
modifiability, a single dimension of access (tape
position), and a single camera angle. This prevents
random accessibility (e.g. skip to the next slide) and
view control (e.g. view the instructor and overhead
resolution), thus limiting the value to the students.
In response to our frustration with this situation, we
have augmented our classroom technology with
various sensors and computer processing [3]. The
room now activates and configures the appropriate
equipment in response to instructor activity without
the need for manual control (see Figure 1).
For example, when an instructor logs on to the
classroom computer, the system infers that a
computer-based lecture will be given, automatically
turns off the lights, lowers the screen, turns on the
projector, and switches the projector to computer
input. The simple act of placing an overhead
transparency (or other object) on the document
viewer causes the slide to be displayed and the room
lights adjusted to an appropriate level. Similarly,
picking up the electronic whiteboard marker causes a
projector "swap." so that the whiteboard surface
displays the current slide while the main screen
shows the previous slide. Audiovisual sources such
as the VCR or laptop computer output are also
displayed automatically in response to activation cues
(e.g., the play button pressed on the VCR; the laptop
connected to a video port).
Together, these
HC 12
P/2 DA2
drape motors
P/2 DA2
RS-232 serial
IR emitter
(HD15) video
screen motor
Figure 1. Architecture of our computer-augmented classroom connections. The large black module in the center of
the image is the AMX Accent3 controller, which drives various devices under computer control and the HC 12
module is our button-panel unit with microcontroller, pictured separately in Figure 2. The SW/2 units are video
switchers, one of them running in an auto-sense mode, such that an active signal on the laptop connection is
automatically selected, while the second is driver by computer control. The P/2 DA2 units are video splitters, such
that either video signal can be routed to both projectors.
mechanisms assume the role of skilled operator,
taking responsibility for the low-level control of the
technology, thereby freeing the instructor to
concentrate on the lecture itself, rather than the user
Manual Override
Along with such automation, the need for a seamless
manual override mechanism becomes paramount.
For example, if the instructor raises the lights, the
Furthermore, the ability to turn the lights on or off
must not be dependent upon the automatic controller,
as it was before this project began.1
As a default backup, manual controls for each device
(lights, projector, VCR, etc.) should be accessible and
functional at all times. Such manual controls serve as
basic on/off switches as well as output enable/disable
buttons. For example, a single toggle button on the
VCR would allow the presenter to select whether or
This led to disastrous consequences when the controller
became unresponsive, as was the case after any power
fluctuations. On at least two occasions, the instructor was
unable to control any of the room lights, as no manual
override mechanism existed!
Figure 2. Touch-screen interface involving a
hierarchical menu structure
not the video clip being played is projected to the
class. By observing the use of these manual override
mechanisms, the reactive classroom system can adapt
to the preferences of individual users and remember
these settings for future use by the same individual.
At the end of each lecture, the system resets itself to a
default configuration.
Early interviews with instructors revealed that for
most users, manual override functions were only
required for the room lights and speaker volume, so
these were made a top priority. The confusing multilayered touch-screen menu (Figure 2) was replaced
by a simple physical button panel (Figure 3)
consisting of six switches for the various banks of
lights, another two switches for the projection screen
and window blinds, and a volume control knob that
adjusts VCR and microphone volume, depending on
which is in use.
Usage Observations
However, advanced users wanted greater control over
the selection of projector outputs, for example,
display the laptop output on the main screen and the
primary computer display (current lecture slide) on
the side screen.
Unfortunately, our limited
deployment of toggle buttons does not permit such
flexibility. While the previously described (nondefault) configuration is possible, the mechanism by
which it is invoked is hardly obvious: picking up the
whiteboard marker.2 A second panel is presently
being designed to permit manual input selection for
the two projectors.
This apparently bizarre mechanism is, of course, related
to the projector toggle function, needed when the instructor
moves from the digital tablet to the electronic whiteboard.
Figure 3. The replacement button-panel interface
(right) for manual override, providing manual light
switches, projector, screen, and drape controls, and a
context-sensitive volume dial.
Interestingly, the one aspect of the current buttonpanel that failed to achieve improved results over the
touch-screen is the volume control. Although the
single, context-sensitive control knob is far more
accessible than the confusing choice of five
independent volume panels (only two of which were
actually useful) on the touch-screen, the physical
interface of a rotating knob poses problems when
used in conjunction with the AMX controller. Since a
change in volume is dependent on the response time
of the controller, which may be as much as one
second when the difference between the current level
and the newly selected level is fairly large, users
often assume that the controller is not working and
start turning the knob faster. The LED directly above
the knob, which flashes when the volume is being
adjusted, does not, unfortunately, convey sufficient
information to the user regarding the state of the
system. Once the controller catches up, the user may
find that the new volume level is far too low or high.
This was not a problem with the touch-screen system
since the slow response of the AMX controller could
be illustrated graphically by level meters.
In addition to automating device control, the
classroom is wired to record a digital version of any
presentation, including both the audio and video, as
well as the instructor's slides and notes written during
the lecture. This recording facility is based on
Eclass, formerly known as Classroom 2000 [1] a
system developed at the Georgia Institute of
Technology. Eclass provides a mechanism for the
capture, collation, and synchronization of digital ink,
written on an electronic whiteboard or tablet, with an
audiovisual recording of the class (see Figure 4).
Figure 4. A sample eClass lecture capture being viewed through a web browser and RealPlayer.
At the end of a class, the recorded version of the
lecture is then converted into a set of web pages
automatically. Each ink stroke written by the
professor is linked to the position in the video when
that stroke was generated. Students can review the
lecture any time after class, randomly accessing
portions of the lecture as desired, either from
networked university computers or home computers
connected by modem.
In order to improve the quality of the video capture,
we developed a presenter-tracking algorithm [2]
which follows the instructor's movements, even when
in front of a projected video screen, thereby obviating
the need for a professional cameraman. Device
activity, for example, the instructor’s use of a pen on
the electronic whiteboard, provides additional
tracking cues to the camera. Initialization, activation,
and recovery from tracking errors are all handled
automatically by computer augmentation, allowing
the instructor to remain oblivious to the fact that a
recording is being made. The only requirement is that
the instructor enters a userid and password to confirm
that the lecture should be recorded.
While interesting in its current implementation, our
augmented reality approach to the classroom holds
even greater potential when integrated with
videoconference technology, in which some, or all of
the students are in a remote location from the
While current videoconference technology has
proven to be grossly inadequate for the social
demands of effective classroom teaching, we believe
that augmented technology may play a role in
overcoming this shortcoming. In our envisioned
"classroom of the future" scenario, the teaching
technology would respond to events in both locations
so as to enhance the interaction between instructor
and students. For example, a student’s hand raised
might generate a spatialized background audio cue to
draw the instructor’s attention toward that student,
while a pointing gesture by the instructor toward a
remote student could bring about a zoom-in on that
student. Figure 5 illustrates a temporal-difference
image processing algorithm, used for extraction of
the direction of such a pointing gesture. This
information, when correlated with the current
display, can be used to determine where the remote
camera should zoom.
A key aspect to allowing for an engaging remote
lecture is the use of high-fidelity and low-latency
communication of audio and video information,
complemented by multichannel, spatialized audio [4],
allowing the instructor to capitalize on audio
localization abilities for effective interaction with the
students. Echo-cancellation, a constant source of
headaches for the videoconference technician,
becomes an even greater challenge in this context.
The author would like to thank Aoxiang Xu, Shawn
Arseneau, Stephane Doutriaux, and Christian Côté,
all of whom contributed valuable components to the
technology described in this paper. Special thanks
are due to Gregory Abowd and Jason Brotherton of
Georgia Tech for their assistance with eClass and
allowing us to benefit from their research. Support
has come from the Natural Sciences and Engineering
Research Council of Canada, Fonds pour la
Formation de Chercheurs et l’Aide a la Recherche
(FCAR), Petro-Canada, Canarie Inc., and the
Canadian Foundation for Innovation. This support is
gratefully acknowledged.
Figure 5. Extraction of a pointing gesture using a
temporal difference image processing algorithm.
As a preliminary effort in extending the use of
augmented reality to support such interaction, we are
developing the infrastructure of a Shared Reality
Environment, to provide physically distributed users
the sensory experience of being in the same space
(see Figure 6).
Figure 6. Video insertion of a remote participant in
the Shared Reality Environment. Note that the
segmentation algorithm used in this image was
unrefined and thus, results in a number of video
1. Abowd, G., Atkeson, C., Brotherton, J., Enqvist,
T., Gulley, P., and Lemon, J. (1998).
Investigating the capture, integration and access
problem of ubiquitous computing in an
educational setting. In Proceedings of Human
Factors in Computing Systems CHI '98. ACM
Press, New York, pp. 440-447.
Arseneau, S. and Cooperstock, J.R. (1999).
Presenter Tracking in a Classroom Environment.
Environments, Vol. 1, pp. 145-148.
Cooperstock, J.R., Tanikoshi, K., Beirne, G.,
Narine, T., and Buxton, W. (1995). Evolution of
a Reactive Environment. Proc. Human Factors in
Computing Systems CHI '95, (May 7-11,
Denver). ACM Press, New York, pp. 170-177.
Xu, A., Woszczyk, W., Settel, Z., Pennycook,
B., Rowe, R., Galanter, P., Bary, J., Martin, G.,
Corey, J., and Cooperstock, J.R. (2000) "RealTime Streaming of Multichannel Audio Data
over Internet." Journal of the Audio Engineering
Society, July-August.
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