With galleries dedicated to animals and habitats throughout the Pacific Ocean, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif., is the fourth largest aquarium in the United States. Last year, the nonprofit organization launched a marine biology videoconferencing pilot program anchored by a new Broadcast Pix¢ Slate¢ integrated video production system. So far, the aquarium has delivered more than 50 live presentations to classrooms across the country.
The aquarium already had an active education department, with a staff of more than 40, plus three classrooms and a 160-seat presentation theater. But for many students, the facility is too far away to visit and with Californias current budget issues, field trips are not feasible even for many in-state schools. Sarah Swain, Aquarium of the Pacific education technology and media coordinator, said the aquarium wanted to broaden its outreach, but also wanted to maintain the creativity and interactivity of its classroom lessons in its videoconference offerings.
We didnt want to be a talking head sitting in front of the camera, said Swain. Our goal was to bring our programming to students who cant come to us. The vast majority of the aquariums distance learning programs are designed for K-12 students, though Swain is investigating potential programs for additional audiences.
A storage closet at the aquarium was converted into a small videoconferencing studio and outfitted with the Broadcast Pix system, which was purchased from VMI, Inc., and installed by RBL Engineering in September 2011. The studio and pilot program were funded through a grant from The Roddenberry Foundation.
There is no separate control room; one instructor operates the Slate and monitors the production through the built-in Fluent-View multi-viewer, while a second instructor conducts the class. The setup allows the instructors to switch between a webcam, document camera, video clips, and still images to produce compelling HD videoconferences. The distance learning programs rely heavily on chromakey to create unique live visuals, while prerecorded footage is accessed from the Fluent¢ Clip Store during lessons. Swain has also incorporated live feeds from cameras installed in exhibits throughout the aquarium.
In the aquariums classrooms, instructors rely on customized DVDs for clips, but Swain said there is no convenient way to replay clips during a lesson if a student has a question. She prefers the Slate, which makes it easy to access and replay clips or still images instantly.
For the instructors, the move to videoconferencing required some adjustments from traditional classroom teaching, none bigger than learning to use the Broadcast Pix itself, as they had no previous video production experience. Swain admitted there was a learning curve at first, but the instructors are now comfortable with their directing duties.
Its been a really neat team building experience, Swain added. Weve all really enjoyed learning how to use this piece of equipment. I love the flexibility. Its a really unique tool.