By Carole McCauley, NUMSC Outreach Program Coordinator
I recently attended the National Marine Educators Association Conference (NMEA) in Newport, RI along with Francis Choi of the Helmuth Lab. This is a highly collegial annual event that brings together educators and scientists from around the country – indeed from around the world – to share experiences, research, projects, and strategic thinking about the state and future of marine education.
Francis and I presented a session about an exciting new collaboration we are putting together for this summer. You may be aware of the incredible gigapan imagery that the Helumth Lab has been putting together over the past couple of years. The Helmuth Lab and MSC Outreach Program are collaborating on a pilot project this summer to introduce youth in two of our summer programs to gigapans and their use as a platform for annotated “virtual tours” of a particular site. Though a gigapan “virtual tour” could be used as a proxy field experience for learners unable to physically visit a site, we will be exploring the extent to which engaging in gigapan development might enhance the learning experience of youth engaged in informal STEM learning.
High school participants from our advanced Coastal Ocean Science Academy (COSA) class and middle school participants from our summer Beach Sisters/Eureka Bridges class will together develop a comprehensive gigapan virtual tour of the Forest River Conservation Area, a small estuary with extensive salt marsh habitat on the Salem/Marblehead line. After some practice, COSA high schoolers will lead the Beach Sisters middle schoolers on a guided field study in the marsh. Francis will have prefilmed a gigapan of the marsh, and both groups will collect “assets” to populate the gigapan image with photos, videos, audio snippets of the marsh, as well as charts and graphs depicting findings from their quantitative study of the marsh. The students will be exploring water quality, soil characteristics, plant communities, marsh fauna, and plankton in the water column in the marsh channel and Salem Harbor.
The project will culminate in the completion of a comprehensive and heavily annotated virtual tour of the Forest River estuary that we hope will be shared and viewed far and wide by visitors to this unique ecosystem. We also hope that what we learn about the student experience in creating the gigapans will help us to better understand the role that gigapans can play in developing a strong sense of place and enhanced student ownership of data relevant to a particular site. We hope to then develop a larger (funded!) project to explore this more systematically and with different audiences, sites, etc.
Stay tuned in August for a live update on this project in August!