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Alaska Zoo: new distance content ready for schools

Written by Ben Newsome on May 30th, 2014.      0 comments

This leg of my Churchill Fellowship dropped me into Anchorage in Alaska to see the Alaska Zoo education team and view what they have been doing to setup their distance education school sessions. Accompanied by Pamela Lloyd from GCI SchoolAccess and my sister, we met Stephanie at the front entrance on a brisk morning keen to check out both the IVC and the animals!
alaska zoo entrance
Alaska Zoo

Alaska Zoo, whilst new on the video conference scene, has been running education programs for visitors for over 40 years. The Alaska Zoo is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting conservation of Arctic, sub-Arctic and like climate species through education, research and community enrichment. With assistance from GCI, the zoo now has a mobile distance education trolley that can be wheeled throughout the zoo to access a number of hi-speed wifi hubs placed along the tracks. Over 28 cold climate species are exhibited at Alaska Zoo, many of which that can be seen during an IVC workshop: polar bears, wolves, caribou, snow leopard, moose and more. An extra dimension to these programs is delivering them surrounded by the general public. The educator presenting the lesson therefore has 2 audiences; the on-site people and the remote class. This does not detract from the session but actually enhances it by demonstrating the zoo as a dynamic place that students can visit one one day. Unfortunately there was no school connection on the day of my visit but it was still great to chat about the developing programs and the plans for expansion of the zoo.

There are plans to install a purpose built video conference room complete with a green screen, sound proofing and document camera. This will enable conferencing on wet weather days and add an extra dimension to the sessions already offered. There is also an opportunity to connect with the quarantine section which means students will be able to see newly arrived animals and get behind the scenes of a working zoo.
As the sessions develop they will become available for students to view through the Center for Interactive Learning & Collaboration.

As the Churchill fellowship progresses I cannot help but reflect on the dedication and passion of staff involved in distance education. Many of the education staff in these institutions squeeze the design of video conference programs into what little spare time they have. Putting together a new distance program can seem daunting but education staff always seem to take it in their stride. Consistently the focus of the IVC programs is on the learner in terms of what they will take from session and how the lesson structure can support interactivity. I very much appreciate Stephanie taking the time to show me around as the zoo, especially with the recent arrival of orphaned wolves from the ongoing fires in the region and therefore the huge media interest and subsequent business!

With a final look around the zoo it was time to move onto the next site. The next visit will be across to the Alaska Sealife Centre in Seward, a site that has been video conferencing since 2005 and is well known in the distance learning community. Not too far, just a short 2 hour drive through some spectacular mountain scenery through the Kenai Fjords National Park. I’ll just have to keep an eye out for moose crossing the highway – there are so many in Anchorage!

Catch you on the next entry :)


PS: Use this link to find out more about the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and the Fellowships program.

Ben Newsome
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