May 4 AR App

Maria McGinnis

HD: May 4 and AR: Bringing the past to the present

Maria McGinnis


As Kent State approaches the 50th anniversary of the tragedy that occurred on May 4, 1970, commemoration is becoming more and more important. 


Various Kent State professors, students and the May 4 Visitors Center are collaborating to create a new educational technology resource with the help of grant money from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 


The product is an augmented reality app that is meant to supplement the material provided at the May 4 Visitors Center and provide a more engaged and immersive experience. 


The AR app will take users through a walking tour of seven hotspots on campus that are significant to May 4. These hotspots include the Victory Bell, Gym Annex, the original location of the ROTC building that was burned down, the Pagoda, the Solar Totem or Drumm sculpture, the parking lot behind Taylor Hall and the May 4 Memorial. 


Enrico Gandolfi, an Educational Technology professor at Kent State, has been working with the largely diverse team to create the app, which is in its testing phase now. 


“The idea is that at each specific location there will be specific content related to May 4,” Gandolfi said. “So you’re not just observing content, but you’re also consuming content in the right position in the real context of May 4. This is why it’s AR.”


The app works by using the camera on your phone and when you’re in the right location an image from May 4 will pop up with additional information to explain the location’s significance. 


“So for each hotspot we’re going to provide a little bit of context about what happened before and on May 4,” Gandolfi said. “We’re also going to have another category about commemoration and then there will be a prompt section called Voices for Change to trigger discussion. We’ll have audio, short text and a picture. There’s a lot of content but it’s still a mobile experience and we don’t want to overwhelm the user.”


All the hotspots are close to the Visitors Center so before or after the AR experience people can go into the Visitors Center, look at exhibits and expand or triangulate the information, Gandolfi said. 


The large hybrid team has been working on the app for a little over a year and are beginning to test the experience.


“The goal of the app is to promote discussion, reflection and to address this stuff because the problem is that people tend to forget,” Gandolfi said. “And we can use technology, especially new technology like AR, for addressing events that are related to very concrete and current issues. So it’s also using the past for thinking about the present and possibly the future.”


“The app will be free and available to anyone that chooses to download it. The team has completed some internal testing and it has been an amazing experience so far,” Gandolfi said.


“It’s incredible to see people who were there or people who remember engage with it. At the same time it’s cool to see young people being involved. The whole point right now for this AR is to be experienced with the support of the Visitors Center, because together it can give you a complete overview of what happened,” Gandolfi said. “Of course we want to involve everyone but I will especially say it’s good for people who don’t know. And actually it’s getting a little more common to see students coming to Kent State who don’t really know what happened. They are a very important target because they are the future.” 


The team working on this app is divided into two categories: content and development. 


Robert Clements, a biology professor at Kent State, has been working on the development side of the app and putting together the pieces to make it work. 


“We’re taking all this media and then generating a system where we can have these hotspots on campus to push media to users in this experience,” Clements said. “It’s working with the GPS coordinate system as well as a lot of walking around to these hotspots to see what’s working, what’s not working and come up with a development plan for those issues. The system we’ve created is a platform that is extendable so we’re hopeful to be able to continue the work and have this experience that should be educational and provide a viewpoint people haven’t seen before.”


Clements said the development process has been going well so far because of all the planning that has gone into this project and that he hopes to see this app used in partnership with DKS and other campus tours. 


 “I think it provides a concise, unbiased history of the events around the time period,” Clements said. “So I think we’ve kind of designed it to compliment the things that already exist.”


Director of the May 4 Visitors Center Mindy Farmer has been working to select the content that will go into the app such as the images, ambient noise and oral history. 


The seven hotspots were chosen based on their significance to the history of May 4 and to tell the story in a concise way for a mobile experience. 


“The app allows people to see parts of history that are no longer there, such as the former ROTC building, as well as parts of the landscape before they were altered, like the Gym Annex,” Farmer said. 

“A lot of these places are important and we tried to think about what visitors would want to know more about. Like the Drumm statue is pretty popular because of the bullet hole, so people want to come and see that,” Farmer said. “And this app is really beneficial because, like the walking tour, it’s available 24/7. The Visitors Center has hours, but people come all the time to the site. So this (app) with the walking tour gives people a chance to really go in-depth and get a better understanding of what happened here.”


Once the app is released to the public and the team gets a feel for how the audience responds to it, they would love to add more important hotspots that can further the information gained through the app. 


“There are also a whole bunch of things that happened downtown which are important,” Farmer said. “Right now, there’s not a lot that’s connecting downtown to our story here on Kent campus and that’s important, too. So those are things we’ve thought about, there are other important sites that have no marking at all. For this, we tried to keep it close to here (campus) but it can definitely be expanding.”


“A big difference between the app and the walking tour is the commemoration section in the app that is not covered on the walking tour. The walking tour has a different purpose and predates all of this,” Farmer said. 


“This app has all these different layers so it builds on what is already there and adds another way to learn about the history,” Farmer said. “I’m fine if just a few people use it but I hope lots of people see it. I don’t ever think teaching is a waste of time.”


The app’s official release date is tentative but it is progressing well. 


“We’ll need a little bit more time to refine it and do further testing but the core is there and it’s great,” Gandolfi said. “I’m confident that soon it will be possible to try it and see it and it’s very exciting. It’s using technology for a bigger cause.”