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Get roving video conference robots at your school or museum!

February 9, 2015

Double robot
Double Robotics iPad robot seen in Atlanta at ISTE 2104

There has been much talk around National Museum’s video conferencing robot. Developed in collaboration with the CSIRO and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the telepresence robot roving the NMA’s floors has allowed multiple remote schools and libraries to simultaneously connect to an onsite educator to ask questions as well as explore the exhibits themselves using the panoramic cameras that create a 360 degree view with zooming capability. The only issue is that whilst the technology is very exciting the associated price tag makes it difficult for other sites to attain easily.

There are low cost options that have been roaming educational halls and hospitals for years and represent an exciting way to scale the concept for Australian needs. During my Churchill Fellowship tour I came across a couple of these solutions and was very impressed with how easy they are to operate and the attainable price for implementation. The New York Hall of Science uses a VGO robot as a way for remote learners to interact with summer science camps occurring within the galleries. The learner is able to log onto the robot and control its movement, effectively acting as an autonomous student. There are other models available too; a popular one in schools is the one from Double Robotics that is effectively an iPadTM rolling on a small version of a SegwayTM. In both cases these VC robots have found uses in hospital systems for bed ridden patients to provide virtual mobility as well as in schools for remote students to participate in lessons. The remote site simply downloads an app and controls the robot from their location. The result is the ability of a remote student to move around the school or similar and interact with classes… not unlike ‘Shelbot’ seen in the Big Bang Theory comedy series!
At Fizzics Education we had a Double Robot roaming around our offices for a bit… even my 5 year old daughter was able to control easily although it did freak out my two year old when she moved it towards him 🙂

Schools have been using these systems to allow sick kids still attend classes, even for students to present their oral presentations to their class whilst on an excursion. The technology also be used as a way of giving visitors a virtual tour of your site before they even step foot on your grounds – as a former boarding school student I reckon this also presents an interesting possibility for families looking to get an idea of where they are sending their kids! Regardless of how you look at it, these robots and other similar products add yet another dimension to an already exciting field for distance education!

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USS Intrepid: Combining science & history for virtual excursions

June 27, 2014

After a fantastic visit to New York Hall of Science my Churchill fellowship continued on toward Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum Complex in Manhattan. Approaching the World War II aircraft carrier from the heart of Hells Kitchen t I couldn’t help but be excited to learn the history of the vessel and see the variety of aircraft on the flight deck. USS Intrepid was launched in 1943 and saw active service in World War II and Vietnam as well used for recovery operations for the NASA Gemini program. During World War II the carrier was survived by 5 kamikaze attacks and 1 torpedo strike as it participated in operations across the Pacific.

USS Intrepid

USS Intrepid

During my visit to USS Intrepid I met up with Kerry McLaughlin, Enrichment Programs Manager. On arrival we headed into the Education Centre to discuss how video conferencing was being used to teach remote students about history, citizenship, geography, flight and space. A variety of workshops are taught using traditional H.323 video conferencing as well as Safari Montage Live & Google Hangouts. A favourite of mine was where students are asked to plot the map of the World War II island hopping campaign whilst learning the geography and culture of the ports visited. This workshop ties extremely well with the another conference whereby students are shown first hand materials such as Captains Log to build a picture of the events of October and November 1944 and discuss the impact of the decisions made at the time . Apart from history lessons the museum presents a variety of STEM video conferences such ‘Take Flight’ focused on the mechanics of flight and ‘Be Healthy in Space’ looking at nutrition requirements on board a space shuttle. Of course there is some difficulty to present from the flight deck due to the possibility of inclement weather . Using WiFi for roaming about the ship is also challenging as the aircraft carrier is predominantly made of plate steel – the signals are interfered with (see Faraday cage!).

On speaking with Kerry I was left to roam the ship. On the flight deck there are variety of aircraft including the A-12 Blackbird, AH-1J Sea Cobra, AV-8C Harrier and F-14 Tomcat as well as a variety of civilian planes to complete the flight pattern. One of the major attractions to the flight deck is the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the prototype shuttle used to test flight dynamics of shuttle orbiters prior to the full production. Now used as a education tool, the shuttle now resides on USS Intrepid  to inspire children to consider a STEM career. On the lower deck there is a moving presentation on the kamikaze attacks as well as exhibits on ship buoyancy, camouflage, submarines and space exploration. There is even a huge replica of USS Intrepid created in Lego! Time was also spent roaming through the tight corridors of the submarine USS Growler and checking out the Concord airliner adjacent to the aircraft carrier.

Space Shuttle Enterprise

Space Shuttle Enterprise

Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum marked the end of my New York leg of my Churchill Fellowship tour. My final stop of this trip will bring me to Atlanta, Georgia to attend the International Society of Technology in Education conference. I’m looking forward to learn about the new developments in technology for education and to meet with many members of the ISTE Video Conferencing Professional Learning Network. Whilst the tour is almost finished there is still much to do!

All the best,

Ben

nySci: Bringing science to remote students

June 24, 2014

After zipping across to CYNRIC in Syracuse I dropped into the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY. Also known as NYSCI, the museum was established as part of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair near the banks of the East River. Finding the museum is easy, just keep an eye out for the Mercury Atlas-D and Gemini Titan II Rockets poking above the surrounding Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Maker space at New York Hall of Science

Maker space at New York Hall of Science

On entry to the museum you are greeted with a new tinkering area where kids can build, create and manipulate all sorts of objects to solve engineering problems or simply to have fun! 3d printing is available as well as a new digital maker studio where visitors can create movie productions and web media. This ‘maker movement’ is the hot thing in STEM teaching right now – the White House hosted a major Maker Fair only 2 weeks ago and schools and museums followed suit in a national day. The museum has a variety of areas:

Mathematica: dedicated to showing concrete examples of mathematics

Molecules and Health: highlighting biochemistry in our bodies

Seeing the Light: featuring optical illusions, light, sounds and shadows

Rocket park mini golf

Search for Life Beyond Earth: Detailing possibilities of life in a variety of extra terrestrial habitats

…and more

Dedicated area on health at nySci

Dedicated area on health at NYSCI

Whilst at NYSCI I caught up with Anthony Negron the Manager of Digital Programming who has championed the use of video conferencing since 2006. All sorts of traditional VC programs are presented from liquid nitrogen demonstrations to climate change. The museum also has a VGo, a roving robot with embedded technology which allows a remote student to join in on onsite holiday camps and workshops. In addition to this nySci works with senior citizens in multi-point connections using Blackboard Collaborate and Safari Montage Live. A major focus is connecting with bed bound hospital patients and teens not attending formal school – here the students can be introduced to lab apparatus, safety and experiments using available apps on Apple iTunes or Google Play so that they can visit formal schools at a later date to complete compulsory lab work successfully.

VGo Telepresence Robot at New York Hall of Science

VGo Telepresence Robot at New York Hall of Science

It was great to speak with Anthony, the museum has a refreshing approach whereby workshops are created quickly without over thinking or overproducing a given video conference program. Creativity and interactivity is highly valued and the measure of a program is placed with the level of engagement that the student reports. It was inspiring to talk about the interactions experienced between students in Kenya and New Jersey, comparing cultures and schooling.

Presenting Light and Shadow at nySci

Presenting Light and Shadow at nySci

On visiting the New York Hall of Science my next stop will be Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum, an aircraft carrier moored in Manhattan which houses the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a A-12 Blackbird, the Concord as well as a large number of exhibits showing how it was like to live and work on a naval vessel. Very much looking forward to this visit!

Until next time,

Ben

CNYRIC: Championing the use of VC for New York Schools

June 24, 2014

With a short flight out of New York I dropped into Syracuse to visit the Central New York Regional Information Center (CYNRIC), an entity that serves as educational support for 50 school districts and four Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) across eight counties in the central region of New York State. Everything from technology integration, flipped learning consultancy to digital media loans is covered plus in addition to this they help schools get connected with video conferencing equipment and help teachers learn how to use VC in a varieyt of situations.

During this visit it was fantastic to meet Amy Spath, who apart from many things is the Coordinator of E-Learning and Special Projects at CNYRIC and the Chair of the ISTE SIGIVC (bit of a mouthful here…the International Society for Technology in Education Special Interest Group for Interactive Videoconferencing… phew!). Amy has been heavily involved with getting schools involved in distance learning and champions the use of interactive technologies to prepare students for the digital economy. Apart from providing IVC professional development through conferences such as 123VC, Amy works closely with schools looking to connect with remote instructors who can act as surrogate teachers to teach units of work that may not be available to the school on-site. There is even an option to learn American Sign Language, presented by a qualified teacher to students across the State.

Amy and me with little 'RIC', plus some Vegemite for the staff!

Amy and me with little ‘RIC’, plus some Vegemite for the staff!

It was fun to chat about how connecting remote sites enriches participants lives from both a lesson and cultural point of view. I was very interested to hear how a remote science class, maths class and french language class combined their expertise in a colloaborative project which called for an artwork to be sent around the country so that each site could contribute to add to the final shared project; science for clothing dyes, maths geometric designs and french art using mud paints. Plus we had time to chat about the geeky side of video conferencing – the gadgets, social media integration and how H.323 services to tablets and desktops will continue to grow in this connected century. I loved the chance to finally see the Swivl, a product I had seen a year ago that transforms an iPad into a movable camera which follows the speaker’s voice as they move across the room. Want one 🙂

SWIVL iPad tool

SWIVL iPad tool

After a quick trip to Zebbs for some local burgers it was time to head off back to New York.
The next stop on this Winston Churchill Fellowship will be at the New York Hall of Science. Can’t wait!

All the best,

Ben

International Spy Museum; covert distance learning!

June 20, 2014

Ever wanted to be a secret agent? Got a hankering to live a double life? Well this leg of my Churchill Fellowship found me at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC to find out all about the life of spies and how classrooms across the world have experienced this content presented via video conference. I must admit, this visit intrigued me as the educational content presented is completely unique; where else can you see a real spy gadgets or talk with an ex-CIA case officer about life as an agent? The pedigree of the International Spy Museum is highly authentic; most of the board has worked in the covert industry as senior executives and the museum artifacts are genuine materials. Throw in some pop culture references from 007 for the students and Get Smart for the adults and you’ve got quite a engaging topic!

Concealment devices housed at the International Spy Museum

Concealment devices housed at the International Spy Museum

Through the day I spent time with Jacqueline Eyl and Lucy Stirn, discussing how the museum reaches it’s remote audiences. Whilst there are obvious overtones of covert operations the real essence of the video conference lessons revolve around STEM, critical thinking, judgement, logical reasoning and historical perspectives. Efforts are made to make the topic relevant to the student’s personal lives connecting the delicate balance between security and civil liberties. There are 4 video conferences available:

a) Spy Science Operation STEM  – Students become Technical Operations Officers at the CIA trying support an agent in the field.   using their knowledge of science and technology.  Students build a signalling device from LED lights, a battery, paperclip, and chewing gum.

b) Operation Code Cracker which challenges students to find a mole in their spy agency by revealing codes and ciphers to lead them to their conclusion.

c) The Spy’s Eye View: Students step into the secret world of spying in a briefing with a former CIA Case Officer.

d) Cuban Missile Crisis Simulation. Students become all source analysts at the CIA in October 1962 and analyze primary documents and U-2 photographs to advise President Kennedy at various stages of the Crisis.

Chroma key is used to support the session as well as exhibit pieces from the onsite galleries.  Aligned to Common Core standards, the sessions are ideal for teachers wanting to extend their classes knowledge on a particular subject or simply immerse their students in a topic that is sure to grab their attention.

Captured Enigma Machine; World War II

Captured Enigma Machine; World War II

As a visitor I couldn’t help but get immersed in the detail of the experience. When you enter the museum you are given an alternative persona which you must memorize as a cover as you walk the museum…. you don’t want to be discovered! A variety of installations are presented including hidden transmission devices, assassination weapons, ciphers and historical pieces on espionage dating from Egyptian times right through to the present day. A sobering section on the information age is also presented in detail – what would happen in a cyber attack on critical infrastructure? Plus the experience at Operation Spy was great fun 🙂

International Spy Musem Logo

What a fantastic visit! With the Washington DC leg of this trip done it is now time to fly to New York to learn how science education via video conference is being practiced in the Empire State. More to come!

All the best,

Ben

Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, Washington DC

June 19, 2014

Following a very busy week in Cleveland I made my way over to Washington DC, home of a stunning array of museums and galleries. Walking around the National Mall I couldn’t help but be in awe of the history on display, everything from the favourites such as the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S Capitol Building through to  the Albert Einstein Memorial and United States Botanic Garden. Throughout each institution there is a sheer depth of information on offer – spending a week in the area really only scrapes the surface and I highly recommend that readers make their way over there if possible.

North American X-15 Experimental Jet

North American X-15 Experimental Jet

On entering the National Air & Space Museum I was surrounded by a plethora of artefacts from the past; the Apollo 11 command module ColumbiaMercury Friendship 7, a X-15 jet, and an entire area devoted to the Wright Brothers 1903 flyer plus much more. I was intrigued to see the Stardust capsule where I finally got to see aerogel; 99.8% air and used  to collect a dust from comets to determine the composition of the early solar system. Boasting a planetarium and IMAX theatre, the museum is highly popular and is visitation is high throughout the day.

Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia

Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia

During the visit I met with Mark Kornmann, Chief of Educational Outreach. It was interesting to discuss how the museum was working to reach students across the USA. The museum broadcasts distance learning programs via a movable video conferencing trolley as well as from centre stage within the Moving Beyond Earth gallery. Simulcasted with NASA TV, the museum hosts live video conference chats with space and  aeronautics experts within the gallery as an extra twist on the standard video conferencing offering. The onsite audience participates in the demonstrations whilst the offsite audience submits questions through the museum blog site. As per the Alaska Sea Life Center and the Alaska Zoo the challenge for distance educators is to work with both the audience within the museum and the remote learners on the video conference. Throughout the year there are down links from the International Space Station where students can communicate with astronauts as well as a fun K – 2 distance program ‘Dressed in Space’ run via puppetry.

Aerogel designed by NASA

Aerogel designed by NASA

There is a dedicated mixing room underneath the galleries, whereby both the NASA TV and the video conference workshops are meshed together. There are plans to move this room up into the Moving Beyond Earth gallery and make a full digital editing suite downstairs.   The Smithsonian also runs science education video conferencing from both the National Museum of Natural History in the Q?rious Centre as well within the National Museum of African Art which includes presentations on African astronomy.

Media room that coordinates digital productions

Media room that coordinates digital productions

As this Winston Churchill Fellowship continues I will next visit the International Spy Museum in Washington and then fly to New York for further science education visits. 4 weeks of traveling, a few more to go!

All the best,

Ben

Challenger Learning Center and BUBL; Rochester, New York

June 14, 2014

On leaving Cleveland Museum of Art I continued my Churchill Fellowship, taking a later flight out of Ohio and landing at midnight in Rochester, New York to visit the Rochester Challenger Learning Centre and Bathysphere Underwater Biological Laboratory over a 2 day visit. Both sites are run by Monroe #1 BOCES, one of 37 cooperative educational services that support education in New York State (they even run their own radio station to teach broadcasting skills and a touring solar education classroom).  In addition Monroe #1 BOCES run 10 video conferencing connections including underwater geometry via SCUBA, energy transformations and investigations of the ecology of Lake Ontario. As you could imagine, the skills of the team are diverse and so I was looking forward to checking out how they run classes that simulate being in a spaceship, a NASA command center or an underwater laboratory for a variety of student groups.  They didn’t disappoint!

Challenger Learning Center, Rochester

Challenger Learning Center, Rochester

First cab off the ranks was the Rochester Challenger Learning Center, one of 43 sites in the USA that run school education visits in honour of the Challenger Shuttle Mission STS-51L which sadly perished on January 28, 1986. Situated within the same building as the Strasenburgh Planetarium, the site is designed to emulate the challenges experienced by ground command staff and astronauts on a spaceship whilst completing a simulated mission to Mars. Schools can opt to first experience the Challenger Learning Center via video conference, whereby the mission commander briefs the students on what to expect when they arrive and the tasks and challenges that would be presented to them. Once onsite the kids are split into a ground team and space team are quickly ushered to their respective positions to fulfill the 2 hour mission that simulates landing a probe on Mars from a orbiting spacecraft.

Plotting the Mars rover course coordinates

Plotting the Mars rover course coordinates

I’ve seen many science presentations over the years but this would have to rank as one of the best sessions I’ve seen in a long time. In the command center the kids worked in small teams including spaceship navigation, medical, remote robot guidance, data communication, life support systems, energy systems plus probe and communications between the ship and ground team. The command center was linked via video conference to the spaceship room where these students had other science experiments and spaceship guidance activities to perform. The pace could only be described as frenetic as in real time the students were completing activities that were critical for the success of the mission; teamwork here was the key. So many aspects of STEM were covered; simple circuits, geology, magnetism, energy, human biology, mapping, robotics,  acid/base chemistry, code breaking, solar system… I could go on for a while. The best bit is that the Challenger team has woven pop culture throughout the presentation; combining jokes and music to not only liven the presentation but also highlight the need for levity in stressful situations. During the mission the kids swap so they each get their turn with the two spaces – this was done very well and did not seem to be jarring to the experience. Simply fantastic; thanks to Peter Robson and Andy Raab for having me along!

Guiding a robot for chemical experiments

Guiding a robot for chemical experiments

I also got to see how Peter runs the  video conference “Astronauts; Living the Dream” was presented to kids. This session incorporates green screen technology to show astronaut food, the shuttle launch site and launch, training requirements, microgravity, space toilets and beds, health needs, and training in the neutral buoyancy lab in Houston. The students are sent freeze dried astronaut food to try either during or after conference plus Peter demonstrated burning a real space shuttle tile with a Bunsen burner. On the more unusual side of video conferences is that run when the presenter is underwater with SCUBA gear. The center runs 2 of these VC programs; one on underwater geometry and the other on buoyancy. As per their other programs the sessions are interactive, requiring students to do simple activities in their classroom whilst communicating with the diver in the pool.

Shhh.. Live broadcast in progress

Next up was a session with the Bathysphere Underwater Biological Laboratory, whereby students must complete a series of investigations to investigate the health of the lake through experiments all linked together in a story tracing the uses of Lake Ontario and how students can protect its environment. A variety of STEM components are covered: density, buoyancy, invertebrates, mass spectrometry, archaeology, robotics & CAD, food webs, digital microscopy, filtration, understanding MSDS, navigation and more. Again the students are split into 2 groups to complete their tasks and communicate via video conference between the rooms throughout. A great touch was the addition of the simulators which incorporate diving into the lake and then subsequently resurfacing back to dry land at the end of the 2 hour session. Again, the students were thoroughly engaged and the center was highly immersive (pun intended!).

Dive simulators for BUBL

Dive simulators for BUBL

Of course I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit the Rochester Museum and Science Center nearby. I enjoyed the hands-on physics exhibits such as the tennis ball launcher and vortex makers plus I appreciated the section on American history on the upper level. Rochester was definitely worth the diversion within this tour – next I travel to Washington DC to visit a swath of museum and cultural sites. I very much appreciate the opportunity that the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust has given me and recommend that you look further into what it is all about.

More to come!

Ben

 

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