Students Tour Historic Boston Without Leaving Campus

Physics and History Departments Team Up to Create 360-Degree Experience at the City's Bunker Hill Monument

Augmented and virtual reality tech brings storied sites into the classroom

Suffolk University students are surrounded by Boston’s revolutionary history. Now virtual reality is making expertly guided tours of the city’s landmarks possible without stepping foot outside the classroom.

The physics department has been busy since 2017 expanding its Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (ARVR) project by collaborating with other departments. A new lab space enables them to teach students and faculty how to operate the equipment and create more interdisciplinary applications for the technology.

History Professor Robert Allison was intrigued by the possibilities presented by Physics Professor Walter Johnson and his team.

He brought the physics team and some of his own students on a tour of Boston’s landmarks during his popular course "The History of Boston." Physics students Jack Thomas, Jackson Nolan, and Josh Tanguay joined their History major counterparts, including Devany Pitsas and Zane Hancock, to capture Allison’s entire walk and lecture using 360-degree camera ARVR equipment. The result is a 3D panorama with expert commentary.

The 360-degree images and audio were loaded onto Oculus Go headsets to create an immersive sight, sound and motion experience that makes users feel like they are outside on the walk.

“You can have students who are not here participate by putting on the headset and it's as if they are here,” says Allison. “This has great potential application as a way to teach 'The History of Boston' course to students from anywhere in the world.”

 
Outside the Bunker Hill Monument

Bunker Hill Monument: Interactive Video

History Professor Robert Allison:

00:02
ready so we're at the Bunker Hill
00:04
Monument which is actually on breeds
00:06
Hill in Charlestown and this was the
00:09
site of one of the first major
00:11
engagements in the war for independence
00:13
on the 17th of June 1775 British forces
00:18
came out of Boston trying to disperse
00:21
the American army that was surrounding
00:24
the town and on the night before troops
00:27
from Massachusetts as well as I'm from
00:30
New Hampshire had fortified the hill
00:32
building a fortification here that had
00:34
not existed the day before and on June
00:37
the 17th the British Army landed in
00:39
Charlestown and began marching up what
00:42
they thought was a pasture land and they
00:44
got to the top of the hill and had a
00:46
fire from this American our children the
00:48
American batteries that did nothing here
00:51
the day before and the British were
00:54
stunned they retreat to the bottom of
00:56
the hill it's a sweltering day in June
00:58
they come back up the hill and once
01:00
again the fire opens up from these
01:03
batteries on breeds Hill forcing them
01:05
down again on the third assault General
01:08
Howe what did the men to leave the packs
01:10
at the bottom and take the hill so the
01:12
once again the British marched up this
01:14
hill stepping over the bodies of those
01:17
who had been shot on the first two
01:18
attempts and this time with the American
01:21
army out of ammunition
01:22
the Americans retreated however the men
01:25
in these opening batteries held off the
01:28
British assault long enough for the rest
01:29
of the army to get to Charlestown
01:32
meanwhile the British had set fire to
01:33
the town of Charlestown which was
01:35
consumed in a fire and at the end of the
01:38
day the British held the hill although
01:40
their objective and nothing to take the
01:42
hill the real objective had been to
01:43
disperse the American army in Cambridge
01:46
general Nathanael Greene one of the
01:48
American officers said I wish I could
01:50
sell them another Hill at the same price
01:52
nine hundred British casualties out of
01:55
about 3,000 British soul
01:57
that has killed or wounded one of the
02:00
biggest losses for the British army and
02:02
in fact over the next 18 years over the
02:04
eight years of the war some 75 British
02:07
officers would be killed in combat a
02:09
third of them died on June 17th of 1775
02:13
the Americans had targeted the officers
02:15
knowing that the officers were
02:17
indispensable to the British forces
02:18
whereas in the American army each man
02:21
was really an army unto himself and
02:23
would keep fighting so this is a victory
02:27
for the British they hold the ground
02:28
it's a moral victory for the Americans
02:31
showing they could build a fortification
02:32
overnight it could withstand two British
02:34
assault this is why this is such a
02:37
special place piers and Charles

While a headset tour will never replace the thrill of seeing Boston in person --walking in the actual footsteps of history -- it offers engaging background information and allows users to visit a day’s worth of landmarks in minutes.  

Thomas, Class of 2019, was amazed at how real the 3D images felt in the headset.

“We went to the Bunker Hill Monument and took photos the whole way up to the top,” said Thomas, “When you put on the headset it’s as if you’re walking with Professor Allison during his lecture, hearing stories of the battles that happened there.”

“I think the most exciting application of [this technology] is seeing these places in a new way and being able to see them again. You see things you might miss the first time. What we’re always trying to do in history is give people the experience of having been there, recreating the experience,” says Allison.

 
Students film panorama of the Bunker Hill Monument
A panoramic image shot inside the Bunker Hill Monument.

This year Nolan, Class of 2019, has mastered setting up, organizing, and understanding the different types of ARVR equipment. When he first came to Suffolk he had no idea he would be using this type of advanced technology so regularly and with such freedom.

“We actually get to get our feet wet, get our hands dirty, experiment with this technology as undergraduate students, which is pretty great,” said Nolan, “It’s not something that you’re guaranteed or expect as a science student in other programs.”

This fall the physics team also worked with Allison on panoramas of Revolution 250, an event in Boston that features reenactments of the events that led to the American Revolution.

On campus they’re working on ARVR projects in physics, art & design, biology, and chemistry -- and more departments are reaching out. 

Although it’s been a lot of work so far, Johnson is excited to see how technology will change the way people interact and learn things at Suffolk.

“We realized about a year ago that this technology is something that students need to learn about,” said Johnson, “Plus it makes it easier to do some things in the classroom, like teaching concepts that involve 3D visualization.”

And Johnson’s students are already thinking about the next step in the future of history education: They want to create an application for the iPhone or iPad that allows users to access details of historical monuments they encounter as they explore the city.

 

Contact

Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs
617-573-8428

Andrea Grant
Office of Public Affairs
617-573-8410