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Antarctic Researchers Engage UVI Students

Students at the University of the Virgin Islands got a little blast of Antarctica Saturday through a live video link-up that connected the university with a science crew on board Joides Resolution, an ocean-drilling ship on expedition off the East Antarctic coast.

The set-up was fairly simple: students on St. Thomas assembled in a conference room at UVI’s Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, equipped with a computer, a small television and a wide screen. Halfway around the world, scientists on Joides took turns in front of the one computer aboard capable of sending and receiving video data from the research vessel. For one hour, students in Saint Thomas listened to first-hand accounts about the Antarctic expedition, occasionally raising questions and receiving answers on the spot.

The live video chat was UVI’s fifth successful attempt to give students real-time exposure to breaking scientific research. The broadcast series began in late 2009, when oceanographer and UVI marine science professor Naseer Idrisi was part of a science crew doing research off the coast of Japan.

“I was the ‘educator-at-sea,’” said Idrisi. “My job was to actually do what I’m doing here, interfacing between the scientists and the students.”

Encouraged by the first series of video conference sessions, Idrisi returned to Saint Thomas and continued arranging live video sessions between UVI students and scientists conducting research in far-flung regions of the globe.

“This is something new,” Idrisi said. “Now we only have my class, which is Oceanography, and students here from Science 100. I’m hoping it gets put into the curriculum.”

However, the National Science Foundation grant that funds the connection was given to the research program, not UVI. That means integrating the video chats into the university curriculum relies more on factors onboard Joides Resolution.

“The deciding factors are if we can fit it in the schedule for the ship,” Idrisi explained. “And then fit it in our schedule. On the ship, there is only one computer connection to be able to do it. They don’t have like four or five computers with the software on it, just one.”

There is also the fact that the ship accommodates similar broadcasts to institutions around the world at least once a day.

“One of the things that they’re trying to do is to expand the number of schools to do the broadcast,” said Idrisi. “To make it more regular, include more universities that include these broadcasts as part of the education.”

Last Friday, Idrisi took a step further, linking the UVI-Antarctica connection with students from Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. Shortly after, Idrisi received an e-mail from a Eudora Kean teacher who said the students there had more questions.

“It’s amazing,” Idrisi said. “Something like this, especially for the younger kids, is an exposure that they haven’t been exposed to previously and they were able to imprint it on their minds.”

Idrisi said he is open to other high schools that might be interested in the video chat sessions.

“Anywhere in the states, science isn’t really that high-impact in terms of education,” Idrisi said. “Especially for us here, to get our kids interested in science I think is extremely important.”

Idrisi supports trying out novel ways of education “instead of just books and a professor” as a means of engaging the curiosity and interest of students.

“I think that you’re not gonna do it with all the kids, but if you get one or two interested, I think you’ve done your job.”

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