Niagara-on-the-Lake proved to be the perfect community for Naser Ezzati-Jivan to combine his love of history with his skills in computer science.
With the help of Sarah Kaufman, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum’s managing director and curator, the associate professor of computer science at Brock University has created a new, interactive exhibit for museum patrons to enjoy.
Ezzati-Jivan likens this new, virtual exhibit to a digital kiosk one might see at an airport.
“The kiosk has a tablet in it, so people can just play with the system with their finger: they don’t need to have any special capabilities,” he explained.
For visitors to NOTL, the digital exhibit will offer a good baseline knowledge on the town, Kaufman said.
“People can use a screen and gallery to go through the timeline of our town,” she said. “It helps to sort of understand the process and the timeline of our unique Canadian heritage. We are very excited to have it.”
The system was implemented physically at the museum and online, so those who can’t visit in person can still learn a bit of history, Ezzati-Jivan explained.
He added that the interactive exhibit will be a continuous project with the museum, hoping to implement a chat box, so that people may verbally ask questions and get a response.
The entire project was funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev), the Brock-Niagara Validation, Prototyping and Manufacturing Institute and Gatta Homes Inc.
“I hired four co-op students: they are still Brock students but worked full time and I paid them through the grant (from FedDev),” Ezzati-Jivan said.
The students implemented different techniques related to artificial intelligence and virtual reality learned in software engineering, taught by Ezzati-Jivan.
“Most teachers just focus on research, but I wanted to collaborate with the community, to give back and make something that is useful and useable and helpful,” he said.
“Going beyond the classroom and showing them real results is something important that I think all professors should do.”
Kaufman was also able to help students out by providing her unique historical perspective.
“They would ask us questions and explore the museum, figure out where some needs are that they could help address,” she said. “We got some conversation going about heritage as well and how museums work.”
The NOTL museum staff thanked Brock University and the sponsors for the unique and mutually beneficial learning opportunity.
“A small (museum) like us that isn’t a municipal museum can use all the help we can get and we appreciate that Brock took this opportunity to support a small museum,” Kaufman said.