December 18, 2006
Collaborative Distance Education Pilot Activity enabled by HPWREN at the Cabrillo National Monument
On December 15, 2006, the National Park Service's Cabrillo National Monument, its California Mediterranean Research Learning Center, the California Science Center in Los Angeles, the San Diego State University, and the UCSD Hillcrest Hospital collaborated with the National Science Foundation funded HPWREN project in an effort to demonstrate network connectivity and pilot a live distance education program from the Point Loma tidepools. Also involved were two Marine Magnet Schools in Florida, specifically the New River Middle School and South Broward High. Additional help was provided by the US Coast Guard, the US Navy, and the San Diego Sheriff's Department. Although Point Loma bristles with antennas and high tech military communication equipment, connectivity to the rocky intertidal area, which is managed by the National Park Service, is problematic due to its location below the rocky bluffs at the Pacific Ocean.
The team established ad-hoc connectivity from the HPWREN site at the UCSD Hillcrest Hospital, which connects to the HPWREN backbone site at SDSU, and utilizes the HPWREN-Internet connection at the San Diego Supercomputer Center. The ad-hoc link connected from Hillcrest to a temporarily mounted radio near the Cabrillo National Monument whale overlook. The link used a Solectek 4.9GHz radio, a donation by the manufacturer to the San Diego Sheriff's Department. The Sheriff's Department permitted the use for this demonstration to help evaluate the Public Service sector use of these 4.9GHz radios in various urban environments. The connection from the whale overlook to another relay site near the tidepools was completed using a set of 5.3GHz Trango Atlas radios. At the tidepool relay, a 2.4GHz access point with directional diversity antennas was used for a wirelessly connected NPS interpreter at the tidepools themselves.
The objective was a real time interactive audio/video conference for distance learning from the tidepools to classroom settings. To accomplish this, the California Science Center's computer laboratory hosted Ms. McGuire's third grade students as inner-city participants of the Dr. Theodore T. Alexander Jr. Science Center School. The computer lab was set-up in a theater style to facilitate the live two-way communication between the interpreter, NPS Ranger Patricia Heusner, and the third graders in Los Angeles.
Ranger Patricia Heusner used a headset to provide interpretive interactive communication with the students. The connection was initiated using remote videoconferencing via video-Skype. In the California Science Center computer lab, a single computer was used with a projector to enlarge the live tidepool images, with loudspeakers and a microphone connected.
The enthusiastic students took turns approaching the microphone to direct the NPS Ranger to focus her handheld video camera on areas of interest. In addition, a submersible Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) was moving below the surface of the water in a large tide pool and open water, providing underwater video across the network. An IQeye3 digital network camera on a tripod was directed at the team while working to complete the final connections to the ROV video. This camera was then turned to capture activities of the team working in the tidepool area.
The ROV and digital network cameras were also watched by the two Marine Magnet Schools in Florida.
The curious third graders inquired about survival in an environment with big waves and cold temperatures. Ranger Patricia Heusner focused the hand held video camera on examples of organisms such as crabs and gooseneck barnacles seeking protective crevices among the tide pool rocks. The submersible camera captured video of an anemone, hermit crab, coralline algae, kelp, sea grass, bubbles, while at times being tossed around by the tremendous wave action produced by a brewing storm.
"The ability to move all around the rocks to different crevices in response to questions makes the program more interactive and responsive, and enables the presenter to answer student questions more thoroughly," said Heusner. "Mobility is more than an asset, it is essential for the program to be effective in the tidepools. The creatures don't all live in one convenient spot! Without mobility, we would simply be showing an overview of the tidepool area or a few creatures that happen to be near each other, and would not be able to move to the many places where the creatures live." She was able to show kids answers to their questions, rather than simply answering with words. For example, they asked what would happen to the creatures in the event of a hurricane, and she was able to show them smaller rocks, which would be tossed around, and larger rocks with crevices in which animals would likely be minimally impacted by a hurricane.
"This was a great experience for the kids," added Chuck Kopczak, Curator of Ecology at the California Science Center, who organized the elementary school class participation. "From my perspective, at least, it seemed like they were engaged and very interested."
Various discussions are taking place regarding this event - specifically focused on lessons learned and potential improvements for future distance learning activities.
This temporary network connection verified the feasibility of distance learning applications facilitated by the planned permanent connectivity via the Point Loma Coast Guard tower to HPWREN. This proposed wireless network extension includes installation of cameras which will collect visual data of the tidepools for the National Park Service. The information made available by the cameras will include tidal level verification and tidepool visitation counts. Images from the cameras are expected to be posted to the Internet to provide a 180 degree perspective at two locations to the west of the peninsula, allowing staff to monitor all three management zones.
This demonstration across multiple collaborating entities is expected to promote advances towards being an enabler and a valuable resource tool for various environmental research and education activities. As one such application, images from cameras will eventually be linked to information from other cameras and real time weather information from a new NOAA weather station at the Cabrillo NM visitor center. The web site will serve as a platform to bring together scientists studying Mediterranean ecosystems in California, Chile, Australia, the Mediterranean basin, and South Africa, as part of the mission of the California Mediterranean Research Learning Center. The NPS and the CMRLC are looking forward to continuing a collaborative partnership with HPWREN and furthering NPS missions by expanding research and learning opportunities in California and internationally.
Many more photos of this event can be found at http://archive.hpwren.ucsd.edu/Photos/20061215/.
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