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Virtual Field Trip Showcases ODU's Interactive Distance Learning Capabilities

After a successful trial last week, Old Dominion University's Academic Technology Services is ready for its part of hosting a "virtual field trip" for four local schools.

Academic Technology Services has teamed up with Nauticus and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to offer schoolchildren an interactive, two-way camera hookup between four Hampton Roads schools and the oyster beds near the Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk.

The field trip will run at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, September 23.

If this week's virtual field trip is successful, Miguel Ramlatchan, Interim Assistant Vice President of Academic Technology Services, believes the program can be expanded, and ODU can provide similar experiences to students from across the state, even around the world.

"We're using videoconferencing technology that we already have available," Ramlatchan said. "That's the technology that allows for two-way, real-time conversations."

That means students won't have to leave their classrooms to interact with the educators from Nauticus, NOAA, and the Hermitage, who will be standing in the museum's oyster beds, which are located in a tidal pool in an inlet of the Lafayette River.

For the ODU distance learning unit, this could be just the beginning.

"What we're really interested in is pushing the envelope of the technology that can be used for distance learning," said Ramlatchan.

The key is that the video transmissions - both from the oyster bed site to the Gornto Teletechnet Center on the ODU campus, and from Gornto out and back to the four participating schools - are being sent over the Internet.

That eliminates the need for costly microwave or satellite equipment, and means that the unit can "pack up their equipment and load it into an SUV" to get from remote site to remote site, Ramlatchan said, even for a multi-camera shoot like the one planned for the oyster beds.

The broadcast will still be in high-definition, because the technology has advanced to the point where such quality is possible, and portable.

Long-term, ODU's Academic Technology Services hopes to team up with Nauticus and the local NOAA office to provide a series of interactive programs, called Chesapeake Live!

The end goal for Nauticus is to expand its reach beyond downtown Norfolk and throughout Hampton Roads, to schools that normally would not be able to access the center's programming.

For ODU, the goals are even loftier.

"The sky's the limit for this type of technology. We could literally do it from anywhere, to anywhere, in the world," Ramlatchan said.

Officials from Nauticus, the Hermitage and NOAA will be on site at the Hermitage to answer questions during the day of the virtual field trip.

The schools that are taking part are STARBASE and the Portsmouth Public Schools, Booker T Washington Middle School, Greenbriar Intermediate school, and Ocean View Elementary.

This article was posted on: September 21, 2009

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