A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit in on a NASA Digital Learning Network program with a fourth grade class that ironically was located about fifteen minutes away from me.  Scott Anderson, a DLN Coordinator at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, taught a module about Toys in Space. The program focuses on forces and motion and consists of an investigation of what toys will work in a microgravity environment (such as space).

Did you know that a boomerang actually works in space? It’s because the looping path a boomerang follows is actually the result of the uneven forces exerted by the air they travel through and not the influence of gravity.

For each segment, a short video of an astronaut using a toy, such as a jump rope, is shown to the class. After the video, the instructor gave a brief explanation as to why the toy did or did not work in space. In the jump rope’s case it is because of the law of motion; an object in motion will stay in motion until something (usually gravity) causes it to stop.

The instructor then poses the question to the class, what could be done to modify the toy to perform better in space? After a flurry of raised hands, the teacher selects a few students to answer the question. My favorite answer for the jump rope was magnet boots. When you jump up the magnets pull you back down similar to gravity (smart fourth grader!).

After the lesson is completed, the students have the opportunity to ask questions about the lesson or NASA programs.  For example, what animal has gone into space the most? The answer is the squirrel monkey although France did send a cat into space one time.

Overall, the program was extremely interesting and the kids were well behaved and actively engaged.  I learned a lot of interesting tidbits so I imagine the children learned a lot from the class as well.  It’s great to take a break from typical lessons and learning channels (or work day) and learn something new!

Watch the below video for a sample of one of NASA’s DLN programs where they connect Mission Control with students in Georgia.

Did you know that NASA, home to astronauts, rovers, and space shuttles, also offers a comprehensive program of free Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses for students across the U.S.?

NASA’s Digital Learning Network (DLN) reached almost 76,000 students last year using video and web conferencing from one of their 10 studios. Caryn Smith Long , manager of DLN, explains how the innovative program helps to broaden students’ learning—and worlds.

IVCi: Who uses NASA’s DLN?
CSL: We work with students from kindergarten through certified teachers. We’re developing some asynchronous courses where we take some modules we offer classrooms and teach them to teachers so they’re able to do the same offerings with their students. Our calendars get really full really quick, so this gives them the opportunity to learn the material and do the module themselves in the classroom.

IVCi: What are the benefits of the program and video learning?
CSL: There are a variety of different benefits. I was a teacher for 16 years and I tried to give kids a chance to see beyond their own limited backyard so they could see a future for themselves. Video conferencing provides them with the technology that allows students to see beyond their own world.

When kids hear they’re going to be connecting with NASA, it automatically generates excitement just because of the branding. The meatball, the little blue insignia, is second (behind Coca-Cola) in terms of international recognition.

We’ve done some research on the effectiveness of video conferencing and have found that integrating inquiry presentation within video conferencing is indeed an effective way to have students learn. It’s actually a more effective way to learn the content when you’re being interactive and the students have supplies on their end and you’re facilitating that through a process of questioning.

IVCi: Are there any challenges with using video, especially regarding schools’ access to technology and equipment?
CSL: Initially, there were issues. Video conferencing equipment was very expensive. You could spend anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 for a complete system and a lot of school systems didn’t have that money. Originally that was the only way we could connect with them because it was consistent in quality for both audio and video. But over the years, web conferencing has become more stable and reliable. We have web conferencing software that allows schools to connect via webcams on their computers directly to our video conferencing units. We’ve also used Skype software solutions. So opening up that door has made us more accessible to schools.

IVCi: Have you seen an audience growth due to this increased accessibility?
CSL: Yes, I think so. We have about a 20% growth and I anticipate even more growth at the end of this fiscal year.

IVCi: Which are the most popular programs?
CSL: Our Magnificent Sun seems to be really popular with our elementary students. Planet Hopping is another one, and States of Matter, and Roving on Mars with Curiosity. This one’s been revamped to include the ongoing research Curiosity is doing on the Red Planet.

IVCi: Are there any particular challenges with keeping students engaged when using video conferencing?
CSL: When you first start with these programs and the kids aren’t used to it, they’re all amazed the TV is talking back to them. But eventually the technology becomes transparent so it’s as if you’re in the classroom with them and they begin to realize we can see them. Sometimes I can see the entire classroom with video conferencing better than I can in the actual classroom because you have a different perspective. We try to personalize it as well. We ask for the kids’ names, and that forms a relationship.

IVCi: What are some of the most memorable questions you’ve heard from students?
CSL: The funniest questions they ask are astronaut related: How do you go to the bathroom in space, how do you sleep, how do you eat? When we open the session up at the end for questions, 9 times out of 10, we’ll get those three.

IVCi: Can you share some of your favorite moments?
CSL: Not only have I had the chance to work with astronauts, which is way cool, but I’ve also met the Tuskegee Airmen. We had author Chris Van Allsburg in our studios to talk about his book Zathura and about myths and realities of space travel. We had a chance to celebrate NASA’s 50th birthday. We had a big web cast where we did a NASA love-fest and connected all day long to each of the 10 NASA centers and each did a special presentation for U.S. schools, but we also did schools internationally that day.

IVCi: What’s your favorite part of NASA’s DLN program?
CSL: Knowing that we’re impacting more than just 30 students in a classroom. We’ve connected with hundreds of thousands during the year and we’ve inspired them to maybe look beyond their own situations and get excited about science and mathematics. To know that, as an educator, you have that kind of impact with that many students, that’s why you go into education.

CarynBlogCaryn Long is Lead Education Specialist for NASA’s Digital Learning Network. She is a 25-year career educator and former elementary classroom educator currently pursuing her PhD in Educational Technology at Oklahoma State University. She resides in Newport News, VA with her significant other and two young sons.

Distance learning programs are rapidly increasing in popularity as colleges and universities try to reach a wider array of students. Potential students scattered around the globe generally select a school that is geographically continent because they cannot relocate simply to attend school. Additionally, part-time graduate students find it difficult to attend class on a weekly basis due to work commitments, child care coordination, and the plethora of other things that come up in their busy lives.

Unfortunately, even though distance learning programs are growing in popularity, many continue to lack the interactive experience that facilitates true learning. For example, two years ago I took an accounting class online to fulfill one of the requirements for my MBA. The class consisted of self-paced video tutorials, online message boards where we were required to discuss current events related to accounting and an online chat room where we could ask our professor questions about our homework assignments in real time.

The video tutorials were essentially PowerPoint slides with sound clips; however, I found myself having to replay sections three or four times because my mind would start wandering to other things. It is extremely difficult to focus on a static slide with a voice over because there is nothing to grab your attention. In a traditional classroom, you are able to see the professor’s facial expressions and movements around the classroom which helps focus your attention on what the professor is saying.

Furthermore, trying to ask and answer questions over chat was quite frustrating, especially for a math based class. It is extremely hard to articulate a mathematical process without a visual representation of the steps and the numbers. Often times it would take twenty to thirty minutes just to get one difficult question answered because the professor was having difficulty understand exactly what question I was asking.

At the end of the class, I was very disappointed in the experience as I felt I did not learn as much as I could have. Face-to-face interaction is a critical component of the learning experience and therefore needs to be integrated into distance learning programs before these programs can truly rival traditional classroom-based programs.

The good news is video conferencing solutions can help bridge this gap by creating a virtual classroom. With cloud-based meeting rooms, a professor can simulate a traditional classroom environment with lectures and interactive discussions. Students only need a webcam to join and can connect to the classroom with Skype, Google Video Chat or even their browser!

The professor can then easily present a topic, call on raised hands to answer questions and even see when students are not paying attention. After the lecture, the professor can facilitate an interactive discussion among students since they are able to see the professor as well as other students simultaneously.

Integrating video conferencing solutions into the curriculum can not only help address many of the distance learning challenges but allow colleges and universities to find a renewed efficiency and effectiveness within their operations.

Stay tuned for more ways to integrate video into educational programs!

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Today at the Visual Communications Industry Group Annual Expo, IVCi unveiled its comprehensive suite of distance learning solutions. Combining the best of Audio Visual Integration, Video Conferencing, and cloud services, these solutions enable educational institutions to extend the reach of education far outside of the classroom. IVCi is exhibiting at booth #201. If you are out at the show, come by and take a look! We are also showcasing our new UC Room solution.

Additional Resources:

IVCi Distance Learning Solutions Press Release

UC Group Systems

 

It’s finally here, the Capstone class that completes the last semester of my MBA. In it, we break up into teams and play a computer simulated game where we compete against each other in a mock business world. At the beginning of the class our professor said, “I would suggest meeting in person, teams that meet over video historically haven’t done very well.”

This slightly upset me since I work at a video company and truly believe that teams meeting over video can be just as effective as teams meeting in person. I thought to myself, challenge accepted, and set out to prove my professor wrong.

Every Thursday night my team meets over video to review the previous quarter’s results and submit our sales/marketing, operations and financial decisions for the next quarter. Granted I have an unfair advantage over the rest of the teams since I have access to an interoperable cloud meeting room which allows us to join over different platforms. I use Cisco Jabber, our “CFO” uses Skype and our “COO,” who does not have a webcam, simply uses her browser.

During the meeting, I share my screen so the team can easily view the supporting data, follow along and focus on what decisions we need to make. We all take turns sharing our thoughts and opinions and, since it’s harder to interrupt over video, raise our finger to signal we would like to speak next. After each set of decisions are entered, we review to ensure the numbers are correct and then submit them.

It’s been four weeks since we started and, not only are we in first place, our stock price is more than double that of our closest competitor. Obviously a lot can change in the remaining weeks; all it takes is one bad decision to knock us out of position. Even so, I can’t help feel victorious in proving my professor wrong.

I simply love video and all of its uses. Last semester, one of my professors had to cancel class due to a business trip. Instead, he sent us the PowerPoint slides with audio clips to deliver that week’s lecture. It was the absolute, most boring hour of my life and nearly impossible to stay focused. I had to listen to each audio clip at least twice because my mind kept wandering.

Looking back, I wish we could have had the class over video. We all could have joined in a cloud meeting room and the professor could have delivered his lecture while we followed along with the PowerPoint slides. It’s amazing how easily video can bring together students and enhance the learning experience; I know I would have retained a lot more out of that class session.

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