Videoconferencing Exposes Students to New Worlds. (Applications)

T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), March 2002 | Go to article overview

Videoconferencing Exposes Students to New Worlds. (Applications)


Since 1939, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO), a nonprofit education organization, has been preserving and interpreting historical and environmentally sensitive places in Stony Brook, on the north shore of Long Island, N.Y. A vital key to fulfilling that mission is its commitment to education. Until recently, WMHO's educational programs have been limited to on-site field trips for Long Island students. The organization's historical sites and 88-acre salt marsh wetlands preserve are the basis for six educational programs that serve some 12,000 students each year. There is no question that these programs are a big component of WMHO's success, but just as technology is transforming the traditional classroom, it also allows the organization to reach more students every year through its distance learning program. WMHO trustees realized that the success of the wetlands field trip could start to harm the preserve as the number of students increased each year. So, the question became how to bring the wetlands experience to more students without negatively impacting the salt marsh. At the same time, WMHO wanted the ability to teach students from locations beyond Long Island about the importance of salt marsh ecosystems.

Electronic Explorations

The answer came in 1996 in the form of a TV commercial showing how a small school on an isolated island in the Chesapeake Bay was able to reach learning institutions miles away through Bell Atlantic videoconferencing equipment. With the help of the New York Institute of Technology, WMHO installed its own ISDN-based videoconferencing unit. The next step was to work with then partners at Stony Brook University's Marine Sciences Research Center to adapt WMHO's existing salt marsh ecology program to a distance learning format. One of the challenges in creating a viable videoconference using the on-site program as a model was streamlining the existing curriculum to meet the essential learning objectives in a 45-minute to 60-minute time period. Interactive techniques are incorporated to hold the attention of students and teachers in remote classrooms. The end result was the creation of a new distance learning program called "Electronic Explorations: The Salt Marsh Ecosystem."

The main focus of the distance learning curriculum is the food web of the salt marsh ecosystem. Concentrating on this subject enables WMHO to accomplish most of the same learning objectives outlined in the original onsite field trip. Students still learn how to explore an ecosystem, how to classify marine organisms and identify their functional roles in that ecosystem. Some of the ecological issues key to the continued health of West Meadow Creek are also discussed. The food web is used as a starting point to show animal adaptations, introduce invading species and discuss why it is important not to interfere with the balance of any ecosystem. By emphasizing this aspect of the program, WMHO can serve fourth- through ninth-graders, as well as address a variety of K-12 National Academy of Science Education standards and New York state's learning standards for mathematics, science and technology as they relate to the subject areas of ecology and marine biology.

To make these sessions interesting and entertaining, while giving students a sense of what a live visit to the salt marsh is like, WMHO has developed a variety of interactive components and preparation materials for the program. After booking a videoconference with the organization, and prior to the connection date, the distant classroom teacher receives a learning kit with a teacher's handbook and Windows CD-ROM. The handbook includes complete unit lesson plans for pre- and post-videoconference activities, introductory readings, black-line worksheet masters and a resource list. The CD-ROM adds interactive components to pre- and post-conference activities with a food web game, video and audio clips, maps, and a reference component with Internet and Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia access. …

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