Real-time Learning Live From Africa

Real-time Learning Live From Africa

Two UCF professors are taking their courses to a whole new level this semester — better yet, make that a whole new continent.

On Nov. 11, humanities professor Bruce Janz and anthropology professor Rosalyn Howard will leave for South Africa, where Janz will teach the remainder of his African Humanities course and Howard will teach the remainder of her African Societies and Cultures course.

“It’s Skype on steroids,” Janz said of how they plan to teach their courses. “We can have B-roll material, we can have PowerPoint and slides, and we can edit that in seamlessly in a live broadcast.”

The overseas portion will be taught through a series of 90-minute live webcasts using wireless cameras to feed video to a video mixer. This will allow the professors to introduce the video clips, slides and other media to the students via satellite.

The trip will begin in Johannesburg and continue on through Swaziland, Durban, Grahamstown and then end in Capetown.

Howard first saw the potential for this technology during a trip to Bermuda in the summer of 2008.

Phil Peters, a film and digital media professor at UCF, was on a cave-diving and conservation trip in Bermuda with Interactive Expeditions and learned that Howard would be conducting research in the country during the same period.

Peters invited Howard to see the work he was doing with this technology.

“I was totally fascinated by what they were doing,” said Howard.

She also said that, as a cultural anthropologist, the possibility for her to be able to have contact with people in rural locations and urban locations at the same time and to be able to broadcast the interactions in real-time would serve as a great learning tool.

Though the original goal was to do a full-term trip from Cairo to Capetown, Janz said the original plan had to be scaled back due to various reasons such as the concerns over the financial cost of a semester-long trip.

Peters, who has been responsible for laying the groundwork for the project, will travel with Janz and Howard to provide technical support for the equipment that will be used.

A portion of the funds for this trip will come from UCF, but most financial support will come from corporate sponsors, like Cobham Plc, an international company that develops, delivers and supports aerospace and defense systems.

The other main sponsor is the Florida’s High Tech Corridor Council, a regional economic development initiative of UCF, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida.

Peters also serves as executive director of Interactive Expeditions, a research partnership between Cobham and UCF.

It makes excursions like this one possible, Peters said of the partnership that developed four years ago.

Also made possible is Peters’ goal of providing students that are not able to travel abroad with an opportunity to have that experience in real-time.

“I was working on a way to create a distance learning model that allowed people to go and be able to go on classes the best that they possibly can through technology,” Peters said.

The work with the African courses isn’t the first time Peters has worked with UCF students on experiencing different countries and cultures.

In the summer of 2009, Reuben Rogak, a graduate digital media student, traveled to India with Peters as a member of Interactive Expeditions.

The trip to India was not part of an actual course, but Peters and his assistants did several broadcasts from that country that discussed the ethnobotany of the region.

Rogak worked as a cameraman and editor during the trip.

“I do think it was pretty successful because we were able to go to very remote locations and very different atmospheres and broadcast live,” Rogak said.

Rogak said the ability to interface with students and have them ask questions of the professor at these remote areas went very well.

The success of that trip served as a prototype for developing the plan for the trip to Africa, especially in ensuring that the technology was fully operational would allow for professor and student interactions.

The final broadcast is scheduled for Dec. 9 from Capetown, according to a draft of the schedule provided by Peters.

Source: Central Florida Future, Teaching from Africa,  by Adolfo Ceballos,  contributing writer.  Published: Wednesday, September 15, 2010,  updated: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 20:09