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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014

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New Gordy ‘Holo-deck’ lab offers classroom of the future


What sounds more appealing: going to class or going to the moon? There is a place on Ohio University's Athens Campus that allows students to do both.

Welcome to Gordy 015. One component of OHIO's Language Resource Center, this high-tech facility dedicated to language learning now includes what has been nicknamed the "Holo-deck." Installed this past spring, the Holo-deck is being used by OHIO faculty and students for the first time this semester.

The Holo-deck offers an entirely "hands-off" learning experience. Using an infrared sensor that detects motion to control what is shown, images from the Internet are projected onto three adjacent walls, providing individuals within the Holo-deck area a feeling of being immersed within the three-sided image. If, for example, the image being projected is of Times Square in downtown Manhattan, the Holo-deck user will essentially be standing in the midst of that location and can move throughout it.

With just three walls, three projectors and a sensor, the Holo-deck can become virtually any place on Google Earth.

When asked where the Holo-deck could take students, Greg Kessler, director of the Language Resource Center and associate professor of computer assisted language learning, joked, "We're limited to this planet." One of Kessler's colleagues, however, was quick to point out that the technology can actually allow students to explore Mars, the moon and under water as well.

Jeff Kuhn, visiting lecturer in the English Language Improvement Program and fellow mastermind behind the Holo-deck, teaches a class that frequently uses the Holo-deck. He said he finds the immersive learning environment a great tool for his students.  

Kuhn said the biggest benefit of the Holo-deck is that it allows him to not only teach about a particular place but to actually let his students experience that place.  

"If we're going to talk about Tokyo, let's go to Tokyo," he said.
 
Alex Cahen, one of Kuhn's students, has experienced the Holo-deck firsthand and said this new way of learning makes what would typically be an hour-long lecture class more engaging.

"It makes class much more enjoyable" said Cahen. "It's less of a lecture and more of an interactive experience."

While the Language Resource Center is equipped to service the technology needs of the instructors and students within the College of Arts and Sciences' Modern Languages and Linguistics departments, the Holo-deck is by no means limited to language studies.

The possible uses of the Holo-deck go far beyond a language-learning context. As an example, Kuhn demonstrated the use of a program called "Dissect a Skull" in which a human skull appeared on the screens of the Holo-deck with each part of the skull labeled. Using his hand, Kuhn could zoom, rotate and even dissect the skull.

The Holo-deck can display nearly any image on the World Wide Web, making the possibilities for this immersive learning environment nearly endless.

Renato Perez is a chemical engineering major who said he enjoys using the Holo-deck to play the building game Minecraft.

"The three projectors in Gordy 015 are awesome," he said. "It really gives you a whole side experience with whatever you are doing."

Kelly Matousek, a senior at OHIO who studies abroad, said the Holo-deck is something she would have loved to have had access to in planning her trips abroad, adding that she would definitely recommend it to students who plan on traveling.

"Being able to understand and navigate a city before studying there is beneficial for anyone," said Matousek. "When I go to Ecuador this winter, it would be extremely useful to see the areas where I will be living and really get an idea of where I will be studying for a month."

Whether it is to dissect a skull, construct a building or travel to Paris, with the Language Resource Center's Holo-deck, OHIO students can do it all without ever leaving campus.