Students Meet Up with Scientists in Antarctica and Engineers at NASA with Videoconferencing Tools


Classes from around the world will be using Polycom visual communication solutions to connect students to NASA space and research centers, to Antarctica to study climate change with a scientific research team, and to Africa to examine democracy through the lens of United States and Ghanaian presidential elections. Polycom's hardware and software provide telepresence, video, and voice to allow people separated geographically to communicate and collaborate.

In the NASA project students from two schools, one American and one international, will interact face-to-face with NASA scientists about topics including: the Space Shuttle and The Mercury Project over the course of 10 weeks. Students were scheduled last Friday to e-mail questions and receive answers live during a program taking place during preparations of a planned launch of the space shuttle Endeavor from Kennedy Space Center. Hundreds of other schools were expected to participate by watching a live Webcast.

The Antarctic project will allow Global Nomads Group, an international NGO that creates interactive educational programs for students, in partnership The Offshore New Harbor Project (part of the Antarctic Geological Drilling Program or ANDRILL), to host a series of virtual classrooms from Antarctica through December to study evidence from the last time carbon dioxide levels were this high--25 million years ago. Students from 30 schools around the world will use visual communication to connect directly to scientists in Antarctica and with each other to discuss different topics relating to changes in the environment.

The 15-person scientific expedition team includes an eighth-grade science teacher from Promise Academy in Harlem, New York, who uses Polycom visual communication to teach classes from the ice. During the seven-week adventure, the team will study the rock beneath a sheet of ice 20 feet thick called the Ross Ice Shelf. The scientists will collect weather data and use a series of microphones to map the rock floor and study carbon levels in a region that has gone largely undocumented.

"The Antarctica program is an example of what 21st century education is all about: bringing science to life for students through a remarkable partnership between Polycom, Offshore New Harbor Expedition, and Global Nomads Group," said Terry Culver, executive director, Global Nomads Group. "Each week, this partnership takes students to the coldest place on earth, to learn about climate change by speaking directly with the scientists who are researching it."

Global Nomads Group is also running a distance learning program called Election Watch 2008: Global Perspectives, to examine the meaning of democracy by studying the recent American presidential election and putting it in context of the international community. Students from several US schools were expected to use visual communication to discuss the recent election of Barack Obama as the 44th president. Then they'll connect via video with students in Ghana to discuss their upcoming presidential election and examine the similarities and differences between American and Ghanaian democracy.

Besides technology, Polycom provides services, such as a searchable content database and Polycom Collaborations Around the Planet, which allow schools to connect with distance learning content providers, as well as educators.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.