5G in 3D: Immersive COSMOS Education Toolkit Wins Verizon EdTech Challenge

Feb 08 2019 | By Jesse Adams

COSMOS STEM: Networking in Harlem

Up to 100 times faster than current wireless networks, 5G is being touted as the future of entertainment and telemedicine. But how might it begin to transform education?

For a glimpse of what’s next, look no further than an immersive new educational toolkit in development from NYU and Columbia Engineering researchers with public school teachers throughout New York City. Designed to teach fundamentals of math, physics, and computer science through interactive research experiments in wireless networking, the toolkit will use virtual and augmented reality to create STEM-themed “escape room”-style games. In recognition of its innovative approach, the project has just won a $100,000 prize from the Verizon 5G EdTech challenge, one of only ten selected for their potential to harness 5G speed and bandwidth to enrich curricula in under-resourced middle schools.

The toolkit was borne out of a collaboration initiated this past summer, when NYU professor Thanasis Korakis led an intensive six-week program convening local math and science teachers with Data Science Institute-affiliated Electrical Engineering professors Zoran Kostic and Gil Zussman, Columbia Engineering Outreach director Emily Ford, and NYU’s Dr. Sheila Borges. The program explored how middle and high school lesson plans could be enhanced through COSMOS—the advanced wireless testbed Rutgers, Columbia, and NYU are jointly deploying in West Harlem as part of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) program. Together, the educators created a trial classroom kit of equipment to set up small-scale COSMOS-inspired testbeds along with curricula for 35 online educational labs ranging from signal modulation to data analysis. A pilot program launched in schools this past fall.

“It's been fantastic to work so closely with teachers on this project,” said Ford. “They’ve developed incredible lessons that tie wireless networking into their classes and put technology directly into kids’ hands to conduct experiments and connect with the whole 5G testbed.”

With support from Verizon labs, the researchers are now building on their initial project by integrating VR, AR, and clue-solving gameplay into an expanded toolkit, aiming to allow students to collaborate in a series of virtual labs about the cloud, the internet of things, and more. Dubbed 5G COVET (COSMOS Verizon Education Toolkit), this second installment includes a high-tech set of gamified learning modules integrating headsets, sensors, cameras, and state of the art connectivity. The team, which also includes Columbia postdoc Jonathan Ostrometzky and NYU PhD candidate Panagiotis Skrimponis, hopes to introduce a prototype this fall—and that their model will help spark a transformation in STEM education.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Verizon, one of the NSF PAWR consortium companies, on developing advanced educational tools that could have direct impact on schools in the COSMOS testbed deployment area and throughout NYC,” Zussman said.

Two other Columbia projects, Visceral Science: Grasping the Universe through Virtual Reality, led by physics Professor Brian Greene, and HoloLens to Improve Social Skills, from Xiaofan Zhang TC’19, also made the EdTech top ten.

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