NUI Galway Biochemistry Student hopes to Beam Science to the Classroom

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Have you ever wondered what the inside of a laboratory really looks like? Maybe you pictured it as a bustling place full of explosions and multi-coloured concoctions getting mixed by people in white lab coats? Of course researchers in NUI Galway are more than happy to discuss their work with anyone willing to listen, but it is simply not feasible to have an open door policy to laboratories. So, how can researchers show the inner workings of a scientific environment to those that are curious? Modern video conferencing technology is making this a real possibility. NUI Galway's partners at Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) in Atlanta have pioneered a research-led teaching programme where high definition cameras are placed in labs to enable researchers to interact with primary and secondary students in real-time. In this way the magic of science can be beamed directly to classrooms and incorporated into science curriculums providing an insiders view of the world of research. Georgia Tech have dubbed this teaching technique 'Direct to Discovery' or D2D. The benefits to education via D2D are many. Students see how the textbook concepts they are studying get applied to real research questions by actual research scientists. In one example already developed by GTRI, students learning physics and chemistry are able to control the gas levels used to produce carbon nano-tubes in a nano-materials lab. In another example students were instructed to gather fossils which they then sent into the microscopy lab for analysis. In this way budding young researchers can be involved in the real world of science and technology they would otherwise never see. A link was recently made between Georgia Tech Ireland and Killina Presentation Secondary School, Co Offaly as part of the 100mbps Post Primary Schools Project. This will allow the Killina students to join the D2D network that already links schools in America, Canada and Australia and will soon involve schools in Chile and Kenya. Over the past few months the Biochemistry Department at NUI Galway have been working with GTRI on the feasibility of launching Direct to Discovery in Galway. Oisín Keely, a Biochemistry masters student working on multi-media teaching technology, recently went to Georgia Tech Research Institute on a ten day study visit to investigate D2D first hand. Oisín also attended the FutureMedia Fest 2010 in Atlanta, a conference focused on the latest trends in media creation, distribution and use of media content. Large corporations, including Cisco, HP, and CNN sponsor the event which enables the leading people in the field of media to come together and discuss strategies for progress. At the conference Oisín and GTRI co-presented a poster on the D2D system and how the project is progressing in Ireland. In the words of Karin Markey, a teacher in Kingsley Charter School in Georgia that is using Direct to Discovery, this scheme gives all students the "opportunity to picture themselves in a college community". The teachers involved in D2D at Kingsley School found that students who were not normally passionate about these subjects were often inspired to progress into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in the future. Oisín Keely added, "It's a great idea. It really has the potential to inspire students and honestly I wish it was available when I was in school." So now, with the magical world of science being beamed out of laboratories, don't you wish you were back in school? For further information please contact Oisín Keely at oisinkeely@gmail.com
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