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Virtual Field Trip Showcases ODU's Interactive Distance Learning Capabilities

Old Dominion University's Academic Technology Services is thrilled at the success of its first-ever "virtual field trip" - hosted at The Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk for four local schools. 

Academic Technology Services 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.

"We received many positive responses from the students and teachers at the elementary and middle schools, and their live, real time interaction with the experts and educators in and around the tidal pool was very effective," said Miguel Ramlatchan, Interim Assistant Vice President of Academic Technology Services.

"Our system was also very effective, using multiple live cameras we were able to follow the experts as they waded through the tidal pool and zoomed in as they collected and inspected animal specimens. Even on a live field trip, the students would not have been able to get this close, but via live video feeds these students were able to experience the search for oysters, fiddler crabs, anchovies, and shrimp without getting wet, or leaving their classrooms."

Now that this virtual field trip has been successful, Ramlatchan 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."

In this case, it meant students didn't have to leave their classrooms to interact with the educators from Nauticus, NOAA, and the Hermitage, who were 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.

The crew involved in the virtual field trip proved that, Ramlatchan said.

"We were able to unpack the SUV, and had plenty of time to get everything setup and tested," he said.

These broadcasts are still 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.

"We look forward to more events like these that connect community partnerships and distributed education."

The schools that took part in this field trip 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 23, 2009

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