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Niagara-on-the-Lake is steeped in history, a subject Naser Ezzati-Jivan is passionate about.
The Brock University Assistant Professor of Computer Science has a long-standing interest in using his software expertise to educate the public, particularly young people, about the past.
“As a professor, it’s very important for me to give back to the community,” he says.
With a little help from Professor of Computer Science Beatrice Ombuki-Berman, Ezzati-Jivan approached the Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) Museum, connecting with Managing Director and Curator Sarah Kaufman.
Together, Ezzati-Jivan and Kaufman created the “Innovating an Interactive Experience Software for the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum” project.
“This collaboration allowed us to extend the educational impact beyond the classroom, engage with local history and create meaningful connections within the community,” says Ezzati-Jivan.
They received funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev), the Brock-Niagara Validation, Prototyping and Manufacturing Institute and Niagara-on-the-Lake building company Gatta Homes Inc.
The project involved research and development led by Ezzati-Jivan and was supported by four co-op students. Additional ideas were generated by Ezzati-Jivan’s software engineering classes of about 100 students.
The group explored different ways artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality algorithms could be integrated to present historical information in a way that best meets the needs of the museum and its guests.
The research resulted in the creation of an interactive information system to be featured in two exhibits, “Niagara-on-the-Lake: Our Story” and “The War of 1812,” with plans to extend the content to include more events in the future.
“Niagara-on-the-Lake: Our Story” consists of a section in the museum that displays artifacts from the past, such as Maj.-Gen. Sir Isaac Brock’s Hat or Laura Secord’s collection of artifacts, on a rotating basis.
“The War of 1812” displays artifacts used from 1812-14, including swords, soldiers’ jackets, muskets, Brock’s hat and domestic items.
Kiosks in the exhibits will display timelines of major events occurring in these time periods, allowing visitors to click on specific points to see videos, images and text explaining what happened on that date.
“It’s helpful for our community to get a grasp of our extensive and unique history contained within the detailed timelines,” says Kaufman. “It’s fascinating to see how our community has progressed from when we were established in the 1780s to the present day.”
Gatta Homes founder Kekoo Gatta says he and his company are hoping the Brock-NOTL Museum partnership will bring an “active crowd” to the museum.
“As a building company that is always looking to be at the forefront of technology and energy efficiencies, we know how important it is adapt to digital tech,” he says. “It opens viewers’ eyes to a whole new side of the museum, and can reach a much larger, younger audience, which wouldn’t have had the opportunity to witness before.”
Kaufman says she enjoyed hearing the students’ ideas, questions and comments during the research process on a project that has great interest for tourists and the local community alike.