Webcasts Bring the Rain Forest to Students

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Students in California and Tennessee may not have been able to feel the heat and humidity, but they did see, hear and converse with explorer Robert Ballard as he taught a class from the Panamanian rain forest.

Ballard, best known as the man who discovered the Titanic, interacted with elementary and middle school students via Cable in the Classroom’s first Project Cam and broadband connections from Cox Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable and Comcast Cable.

Developed by CIC, the Web-based technology deploys videoconferencing, Web cameras and audio-interaction capabilities, as well as text chat and file sharing for teaching materials. Using this suite of applications, Ballard on Feb. 3 informed the students about the scientific expedition he’s leading in Panama’s rain forest and spoke about the culture, history and ecology of the area. CIC piggybacked on the experience-based initiative The Jason Project, which features Ballard, with students in tow, exploring the rain forests and then reporting back to their schools via satellite feed.

Students at Jefferson Middle School in Oak Ridge, Tenn., (Comcast) and at California’s Mira Mar Ranch Elementary School (Time Warner) and Vista La Mesa Elementary School (Cox) had access to a private Web page, a Webcam, live and text chat capabilities, and file sharing, including maps of Panama.

Ed Lopez, manager of government and community affairs for Cox San Diego, said Project Cam worked smoothly and without technical glitches at the Joe Rindone Technology Center in San Diego County, where Vista La Mesa students gathered for Ballard’s class.

The explorer — who grew up in the area, worked at the Scripps Institute and wrote an op-ed piece in the Feb. 3 San Diego Union-Tribune about The Jason Project and its coordination with Project Cam — told the kids about his background. Lopez said the students from teacher Nina Drammissi’s class asked about 10 questions.

“He was very personable and the kids were able to see the students with Dr. Ballard,” he said. “I think that helped them further relate to the subject matter.”

CIC spokeswoman Tegan Firth said the group hopes to engage in another half-dozen live Project Cam events in 2004. Among the participants CIC is talking with include members of Congress and programming executives, who would discuss the premieres of new shows.

Firth noted that technology also is in place for teachers and students from across the country to connect: “It’s a matter of teachers tapping the resources” available at CIConline.org/ProjectCam.

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