$175K Augmented Reality Project Honors Kent Shooting Anniversary

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A $175,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will fund an augmented reality project to honor the 50th anniversary of the 1970 shooting on the campus of Kent State University.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13, announced the grant will be used to develop a digital program that allows users to overlay historical images of the campus from the shooting on May 4, 1970, onto today’s renovated landscape.

“As a community and as a country, we have a responsibility to carry the lessons from our past with us as we move forward,” Ryan said in a release. “I’m proud to help bring these funds to Kent State so we may all learn from, and carry with us, lessons from the somber events at Kent State fifty years ago.”

The project development team was initially funded in 2018 to build a limited prototype experience to help users better understand the nature, causes and events of the shooting, according to the release. With the success of the prototype, Kent State sought additional funding to fully develop and disseminate the augmented reality experience.

With nothing to mark the location of the former ROTC building on campus, there is no way to gauge the scope of the crowd size and the path the Ohio National Guard marched has been permanently altered by the building of the Gym Annex, according to the release.

“We believe that being immersed in those political, social, and cultural events is an essential step to understanding their historical importance and shaping our future actions. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to step back in time 50 years,” said Richard Ferdig, project director.

The forthcoming, freely accessible and mobile-friendly augmented reality tool will allow users to hold up their phone and see an overlay of historical images on today’s landscape. Users will also be able to hear a narration of the events leading up to and occurring on May 4th, access additional materials about those events and can reflect on those events with questions prompted within the experience.

“The use of augmented reality has been shown to improve understanding and connectedness to cultural, historical and social events,” said Enrico Gandolfi, assistant professor of educational technology and Co-PI on the grant. “We believe that this May 4th augmented reality experience will help visitors explore the nature and causes of this tragedy by offering them an enhanced sensory experience of the landscape of both memory and history of the 17.24 acres recently designated the Kent State Shooting National Historic Landmark.”

The grant was one of 32 NEH Challenge grants awarded to increase public and private investment in U.S. museums, libraries and cultural centers. Kent State will use the funds to expand the prototype’s content, reshape the user experience and further expand the software so that other Humanities experiences could be rapidly developed and made accessible to the public.

Kent State expects to have the application live in time for the 50th commemoration.

Pictured: View looking northwest of The Commons on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. The Commons were originally home of Rockwell Field, the first home of Kent State football. In 1970, it was a central site in the Kent State shootings. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. The Victory Bell can be seen on the right. (Image: Wikimedia Commons/JonRidinger [CC BY-SA]

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