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Submitted on September 28, 2012

What problem are you intending to solve?

OpenPath makes place-based, collaborative learning possible for all in real-time.

What is the technological approach, or development roadmap?

OpenPath connects place-based learning experiences using WebRTC, HTML5 and Gigabit connectivity. It enables wall-less, wireless learning, using live group video communication and interest-sensing to connect learners to resources at museums, arts centers, workshop spaces, schools, homes, concert halls, nature centers, and more. <br/>

In the first development round, we build a working prototype of OpenPath. Though OpenPath is particularly suited to mobile devices, WebRTC is not yet in mobile browsers: getUserMedia() works on some mobile browsers already, but not peerConnect(). To begin, we build a way to get multiple videostreams into a desktop browser using WebRTC. We test the limits of a mesh topology by seeing how many people can join a chat using a GENI slice (see diagrams).

In this development round, we work in two sprints:

Sprint 1

• Set up a multi-user video chat with WebRTC in the browser • Research GENI (get some help on GENI set-up as needed).

Sprint 2

• Set up GENI and test mesh topology for realtime streams (i.e., the essence of wireless, wall-less learning). • Test the number of concurrent sessions that the browser will support (variables include browser codecs and network speed).

Shawn has worked on projects with multiple real-time streams, so he leads this work (see Shawn’s and Michael Naimark’s work with We are aiming for instantaneous videostreams that learners can access and/or share from any browser in this round. These streams help the learner do two things: create context and meaning during their own place-based experiences, or see through the lens of someone else's experience.

In later technology sprints we:

• Capture users’ locations from multiple browsers/devices • Use the Geolocation API to send data using a WebRTC data channel (if spec is implemented) • Visualize data on a map using a maps API (Jared has built a mockup of a location aware geo-fenced app using Google Maps) • Experiment with push notifications using Mozilla’s Web push notification system or a similar system • Port to mobile

To simulate a learning scenario, we use MacBooks at different locations. The data-driven interest-sensing components of OpenPath come in a later round of development. Contextual notifications, which alert learners to relevant learning opportunities, also come in a later round of development, though Jared has already been working on this part of the app. For the current round, we simulate a personalized push notification. Community-based events, listed in a Google spreadsheet, are sent via SMS based on answers to questions such as: what grade are you in? are you interested in history, art, science, technology, outdoors, nature, transportation, etc.? what would you like more experience with? As a learning tool, the OpenPath experiences will be scaffolded with standards-aligned template activities for educators and students.

How will end users interact with it, and how will they benefit?

OpenPath allows learners to access their network of mentors and co-learners at any time from any location. They can participate in and share events and experiences, both local and global. Informal learning institutions, free-choice and life-long learners, and students and teachers will benefit. For instance: • Go to the Smithsonian to look at the Apollo capsule; share it with classmates and teacher in live video and audio; see an astronaut’s feed from outer space on device while at the Museum. • See Yo-Yo Ma perform the Bach Cello Suite you’ve been listening to on Spotify from Alice Tully Hall based on an OpenPath notification. • Go to a zoo, see baby elephants play, and get live feeds from researchers studying elephant behavior in the field in your phone’s browser. • Walk by a museum and get a notification that the Mondrian you pinned on Pinterest is in the museum, and there is an talk there today with a docent in 2 hours. • Send your high school students to various historic sites connected by a theme; interact over the Gigabit broadband connection as they explore, and pose differentiated essay questions tailored to their experiences, which they answer during the next classtime. • Go to many different sites in your city connected by a common theme, i.e., the Revolutionary War in Brooklyn (see

How will your app leverage the 1Gbps, sliceable and deeply programmable network?

We use the network to enable a new form of distributed, place-based learning; there are lots of online lectures along the lines of Khan Academy and OCW, done very well. There are many collaborative learning sites (, motuto) and live video services (Ustream, Livestream, Tango). However, our solution is open-source, requires no plugins, and focuses on the particular time and place where learning happens. We do not focus on recording videochats or creating videotaped lectures: there are screen-grabbing and production tools to do that already. We are interested in the instantaneous experience and sharing that the network enables, tailored to the learner's context and profile. With 1 Gb/second speed and deeply programmable networks, the usual clunkiness expected of live video goes away, and more detailed (1080p) resolution bring to life what otherwise would be pixelated or intermittent. Even now, Facetime and Google Hangouts are subject to low quality. In developing this, one challenge will be coordinating stable releases while the development happens with WebRTC and other p2p projects. Also, it is unclear when mobile browser versions of WebRTC will be ready, so we may build native using the Android C++ SDK in a later development round. To accomplish the interest-sensing portion of the project, we may develop our own open-source solution (rather than something like geoloqi or Gimbal); much of this depends on the big data available on the future learner.

Further application information

Additional supporting information, materials and resources

Read about project updates - project blog

Will your work be beta-ready by the end of the Development Challenge?

At the end of the first round, a browser version of OpenPath will be running, with the push notification and interest-sensing part simulated, as described, using SMS. The goal is to better understand how speed and bandwidth make a difference in real-time and place-based learning. We will develop and test the boundaries of the technology, and learn from other participants and mentors, as we go. We will put up a link to the code once we get something a little more usable.

How much effort do you expect this work to take?

We anticipate it will take 40-50 hours per week to develop what we describe in the three week timeframe.  In this round, Shawn and Jared will have approximately 85% of that time, dedicated to software development and configuring GENI.

Do you need help?

We will need help in the form of mentoring and learning materials on GENI. WebRTC is pretty straight forward using Chrome, but we would appreciate talking to project team leaders as it gets ported to mobile browsers. We may have some other ITP folks help us on the technology as needed, especially as we experiment with architecture, including our server (in Javascript). We want to test the latest updates regarding WebRTC and contribute to its development where we can.

If you can help let them know in the comments below.


Technologist and musician interested in inventing a rich future of learning and living

and team members

Shawn Van Every is a professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University. He is a mobile and streaming consultant at Walking Productions, focused on Android applications and p2p streaming solutions on both the front- and back-end. On this project, he will help develop the mobile apps to make distributed, place-based learning possible. Jared Lamenzo is the principal of Mediated Spaces, Inc. and runs the MacArthur DML award-winning WildLab educational program. His focus is on leveraging mobile technology to amplify the human imagination and create meaningful times and places. He will work on the technology development with Shawn, and handle project management and implementation duties. Ilona Parkansky has designed technology-integrated programs for children, teens, and professional educators, wrote curricula, and developed grant proposals, including SOBRO TEC, a $1-million NSF-funded program serving over 200 youth in the South Bronx. At Ralph Appelbaum Associates, her assignments included education and media planning and content development for science centers, libraries, and museums around the world. She will guide how the technology can be used to bridge formal and informal learning contexts in meaningful ways. Richard Scullin founded, an organization that helps integrate digital media and mobile devices with curriculum. MobileEd runs mobile learning pilots at elementary, charter and high schools, and colleges, helping teachers, administrators, and students understand how mobile phones can be leveraged for inquiry-based learning. He is currently the Digital Media and Learning Specialist at Mount Greylock High School in Western Massachusetts, and will collaborate on testing and system design.

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