K-12 School Computer Networking/Chapter 25/Developing live classroom feeds: Interactive Zoo

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What is Distance Learning

Broadly viewed, distance learning is an educational process that occurs when instruction is delivered to students physically remote from the location or campus of program origin, the main campus, or the primary resources that support instruction. In this process, the requirements for a course or program may be completed through remote communications with instructional and support staff including either one-way or two-way written, electronic or other media forms.http://web.syr.edu/~tgillard/dl/index.html

Convenience is a key reason students enroll in distance learning courses. Other factors why schools are moving towards Distance Learning include; allowing children to learn through different teaching means as each individual has a specific style preference and motivation level, allows for teaching of time management skills, and improves overall computer and Internet skills as well as it teaches children how to become technologically competent.

Distance Learning or Distance Education is becoming a popular and viable way for teaching and learning. K-12 teachers use it to enrich classroom instruction. It allows independent study, group study or real-time interaction. Secondary and elementary teachers are able to supplement classroom instruction with distance education. Students can meet children from other countries or take a trip to the zoo without leaving the classroom. It allows students to access a variety of courses or in the case of the Metroparks Zoo allows students to view an environment they may not otherwise experience.

Metropark Zoo The following is a synopsis of the Distance Learning program that I found very innovative, useful and fun for students in grades k-12. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s Conservation Education division believes that people, as lifelong learners, can positively impact wildlife and wild places, through their caring, decision-making, and actions. In order to achieve this, the Conservation Education program was designed to foster respect and appreciation of wildlife and coexisting human cultures.

From its inception in the Fall of 1998, the Distance Learning Program has brought the excitement of the animal world to students who may not be able to easily visit a major zoo. By enabling children to experience the richness of the natural world from their schoolroom, led by experienced zookeepers who can communicate their love and respect for animals, the Distance Learning Program enriches the lives of children and leads them to a greater appreciation of the role of animals in their lives and the importance of the environment.

Recently the zoo added a new wireless component to the Interactive Distance Learning Program, with the intend of expanding the reach of Distance Learning to actual exhibits within the Zoo, rather than relying on a single studio or video recordings, as in the case of animals whose size or environmental requirements (e.g., elephants or sharks) prevent studio use. Now, with the Cisco® wireless mesh technology supporting mobile video systems, keepers can present the animals directly from their exhibits in real time. This not only has greater impact on the students, but has greatly increased keeper interest and participation in the Distance Learning Program.

This new technology will enable children to communicate with the Zoo keepers allowing them to ask questions as they observe the animals in their environment. What would be even more interesting and exciting would be if this type of technology was implemented into programs where wildlife experts and conservationists actually were in each animals habitat in the wilderness. This would allow children to see how the animals live: procreate, prey, and any other real environmental characteristics they may display that the zoo environment may not facilitate. This real-life interaction allows for wildlife experts to share their enthusiasm and excitement about the natural world with students around the world. Not only will students get a chance to see animals in their natural habitat they will be able to communicate with wildlife experts from around the world, not only from their own country. Students would be able to interact with the world renowned experts while being involved in real-time displays of animal behaviour, while the men and women leaders in the fields of wildlife biology and conservation would actively work to ensure the survival of endangered species. The scientific information and the personal observations these experts could share with students through distance education would enable people of all ages and socioeconomic status, to access live feed from experts on each specific species. This would help provide each and every students with the best wildlife encounter possible. http://www.cwhonors.org/viewCaseStudy2008.asp?NominationID=719

One major challenge with this concept would be designing a system that would be able to connect real time video with the animals habitat. Not to mention that mobile support may not be accessible due to dead-zones.

What the Cleveland Metropark Zoo did to accomplish the feed was use the Cisco Aironet 1510 Outdoor Mesh access points, Total Systems Integration, Inc. (TSI) which was able to extend real-time video conferencing to the seven most popular exhibits in the zoo, including the primate, shark, and rain forest exhibits. This intelligent wireless mesh solution eliminates the need for additional cabling or line-of-sight access from a given exhibit, which made it easier and less expensive to deploy. This meant that the Zoo could offer real-time video distance learning from more exhibits.

The seamless mobility offered by the self-configuring, self-healing mesh means that setting up a distance learning session is as simple as wheeling a mobile video cart to the exhibit and turning it on. This simplicity played a major role in building support for distance learning among keepers, as it permits them to share their excitement about their particular animals without requiring them to learn a complicated new technology. It also adds to the excitement for the children watching by making the experience even more like a real field trip, as the keeper can easily give them a “tour” of multiple exhibits simply by wheeling the cart, while still connected and broadcasting, to a new location.

So could this technology be used in the natural environment without disrupting their habitation? It would be interesting to test out this possible route and see if the “real-time” could actually occur with the ‘real life’ of these animals.

This program has made students more excited than ever about the programs presented by the Distance Learning department. Seeing the animals live in their actual zoo habitat increases the impact and effectiveness of distance learning. The intimacy of this on-location capability also delivers an enhanced sense of connection to the zookeepers, which has always been an important part of student interest.

The experience is far more dynamic than traditional distance learning, as well. The mobility of the video carts, which can move from place to place while still broadcasting, enables presenters to give children a “virtual field trip” that is far more vivid and memorable.

For the Zoo, the new wireless system makes it much easier to set up and deliver a newly improved interactive Distance Learning course. The keepers find it much easier to interact naturally with the children when teaching from their own exhibits, and the spontaneity of the animals in their usual setting generates many more “teachable moments” that the keepers can use to make the children’s experience even more memorable and valuable.

In addition to the expansion of wireless distance learning, the expanded reach of videoconferencing is making it easier for the Zoo to reach out to and cooperate with other conservation and educational organizations.

Other possibilities are opening up such as offering wireless Internet access to Zoo visitors, and even “at exhibit” programming that gives visitors the ability to access interactive modules via iPod, cell phones, or other mobile digital devices. Eventually, visitors may actually be able to “take the animals home” with them and keep track of animals they are interested in by signing up for virtual tours or access to “behind-the scenes” classes offered by keepers.

“This program allows the students to learn not just by hearing, but by seeing, doing, and being a part of the activity,” said Dianne Keller, librarian and high school technology coordinator for the Gladewater Independent School District in Texas. “This has been a very effective way for our students to learn about animals.” The number of requests for distance learning programs from school systems throughout the United States is increasing as news about the superior quality of the Zoo’s programs spreads among educators. . http://www.cwhonors.org/viewCaseStudy2008.asp?NominationID=719


Although Distance Education such as the MetroPark Zoo programme has many positives there is still the fact that children need to experience real life (not virtual) environments. Regardless of how advanced technology is being in the actual setting allows for the students to experience the environment more fully and in a different way than they would via television, satellite etc. I am an advocate for Distance Learning and it is fantastic that these programmes exist for students that may not be able to afford to go to the zoo but virtual reality should never replace reality.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Irwin http://www.cwhonors.org/viewCaseStudy2008.asp?NominationID=719 http://www.eetravel.org http://www.utsystem.edu/ogc/intellectualproperty/distguid.htm http://web.syr.edu/~tgillard/dl/index.html