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Distance learning with dinosaurs; a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum

Written by Ben Newsome on May 28th, 2014.      0 comments

Buried in the Alberta badlands is the old coal mining town of Drumheller; a place I could not miss on this Churchill Fellowship as it is home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, a world class dinosaur museum and a major producer of distance learning content via video conference. After flying from Los Angeles to Calgary I jumped in a hire car and headed off to dinosaur country, looking forward to seeing the beautiful geology of this eroded landscape and to check out some one of a kind fossil remains!

Royal Tyrrell Museum, Alberta, Canada

On this leg I was able to spend time with Megan, Jillian and Jason to talk shop about educational video conferencing and how they go about producing school workshops in their immersive IVC room. Stepping into the space was a little like entering a small film studio, indeed it reminded me of a similar setup at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach CA that I visited last week. The distance learning room was setup with a presenting desk, green screen for chromakey, an overhead document camera and a tech desk complete with mixing unit that could pull in a variety of animations and cameras into a single feed for schools.

Royal-Tyrell-Museum-distance learning room
Jillian ‘teching’ the distance learning room at Royal Tyrrell Museum

Just like the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Royal Tyrrell Museum sessions have the presenters working together to produce the content. The on-camera presenter facilitates the session, taking questions from the students and presenting the material on the green screen and the presenter desk. The off-camera presenter ‘techs’ the session, combining the live feeds with pre-recorded content. The beauty in the presentations lies with the two presenters co-producing the session, with the off-camera presenter anticipating both the presenter and school students to have content ready to be put into the live feed from a variety of saved folders. Quite similar to the Aquarium of the Pacific and it also reminded me of some of our Fizzics video conference sessions where the students can receive content tailored to their own questions as they ask for it.

I loved the demonstration of PIQ; Test your Paleo Intelligence – this session is designed for K to 2 students where they race dinosaurs to a picnic down the side of a volcano. Each right answer brings the student’s dinosaurs closer to the finish… get the answers wrong and your dinosaur might be caught in the eruption! Cute and fun, but importantly the content is engaging for young students and still has strong links to curriculum outcomes.

Megan presenting PIQ whilst Jillian combined the feeds

Of course the visit wouldn’t be compete without a tour of the Museum. I was lucky enough to get ‘behind the scenes’ as Megan and Jillian showed me through the back storerooms which hold nearly all of Canada’s most significant dinosaur fossil finds. Whilst touring we discussed the different techniques in fossil excavation and recovery between Canada and Australia. At Fizzics Education we have been working with Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum (AAOD) in Winton QLD to prepare for the rollout of the National Broadband Network and therefore AAOD’s subsequent video conferencing capability. To support the entry of AAOD into distance learning we have been on dinosaur digs to learn the Australian context which is quite different to Canada due to the differing area’s geology.


Finally it wouldn’t have been appropriate to visit Drumheller without checking out the badlands themselves. If you ever get the chance I highly recommend visiting the Hoodoo rock formations, Horsethief Canyon and Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Hoodoo rock formations
Hoodoo rock formations outside of Drumheller

All in all it was definitely worth visiting the education team at Royal Tyrrell Museum. Next stop on the Churchill Fellowship will be Anchorage, whereby I’ll spend time with SchoolAccessAlaska Zoo and then head down to Seward and the Alaska Sealife Centre. Lots more to do and certainly lots more to learn. Thanks again to Megan, Jillian and Jason for hosting me – it was a blast!

Catch you all in the next edition,


Ben Newsome
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