A vRoom with a View: North Carolina Students Are Peering in as Doctors Perform Surgery, Thanks to a Distance Learning Technology That Provides Unique Project-Based Educational Opportunities

By O'Hanlon, Charlene | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), September 2007 | Go to article overview

A vRoom with a View: North Carolina Students Are Peering in as Doctors Perform Surgery, Thanks to a Distance Learning Technology That Provides Unique Project-Based Educational Opportunities


O'Hanlon, Charlene, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


LIKE MOST MAGNET SCHOOLS across the country, Central Academy of Technology and Arts in Monroe, NC, offers its students hands-on learning experience in their future profession of choice, in whichever of the high school's six disciplines their interests lie: engineering, information systems, medical sciences, performing arts, teaching, or transportation systems. Students in the medical sciences academy, for example, meet with surgeons at North Carolina Medical Center to observe surgical procedures, discuss anatomy and physiology with doctors and other medical professionals, and play video games that teach surgery fundamentals. Students in the performing arts academy, meanwhile, are able to meet with cast members of Broadway shows to engage in dialogue and learn what it takes to make it onstage.

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The difference at Central Academy is that the students never have to leave the classroom. Using the vRoom collaboration environment from Elluminate (www.elluminate.com), students are connected virtually to their subjects.

"It's getting harder to get students away from the school," says Tom Moncrief, high school curriculum coordinator for Union County Public Schools, which includes Central Academy. These experiences allow the students and the [professionals] to connect and then get right back to their schedules."

Distance learning projects are nothing new to the K-12 education space, especially in rural areas where access to educational tools is less widespread. But these virtual field trips, as Moncrief calls them, go way beyond traditional distance learning. Rather, vRoom offers realtime, two-way communication that includes social networking tools such as instant messaging, application sharing, breakout rooms, interactive whiteboards, and a live webcam--ensuring meaningful communication and offering a project-based learning environment that engages all students in the subject.

Via the program, the medical sciences students are hooked up with the university surgeons, who show them videos of laparoscopic procedures. "They can talk about the anatomy and physiology parts of surgery, education, technologies used in the operating room--just about anything students would want to know," Moncrief says. "Plus, students can use the platform to log on to a surgeon's computer and play games that teach fundamentals of surgery. They really get a feel for the experience. We are working with three surgeons in different disciplines, and they discuss research, ethical issues--whatever is being taught at that time."

The program allows students in the performing arts academy to meet with artists whom, because of time and distance constraints, they otherwise would not have been able to speak with. A case in point was the three-day run the musical Rent had in Charlotte back in January. "We only had three hours to work with," Moncrief says. "The students used the platform to ask questions and have a dialogue with the cast members."

Students show equal enthusiasm for the technology. "I think vRoom helped me learn because it showed me what real surgery looks like," says Erica Torres, a student in the medical sciences academy. "After all the reading we do, and all the terminology we have to learn, it's nice to see how it is implemented in the actual surgical setting. Since we could not go to the surgery, the surgery came to us. Even though some girls became a little nauseated, I still enjoyed the experience."

The Central Academy program is an offshoot of a statewide project-based learning initiative developed in 2003 through the office of Gov. Mike Easley to ready the state to do business globally, Moncrief says. According to its website (www.ncintheworld.org), the initiative, called North Carolina in the World, seeks to strengthen K-12 international education through collaboration with business leaders and policymakers, teaching students about other cultures and equipping them to compete in the global marketplace.

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