Georgia Tech beams HD science lessons to Irish schools

3 Nov 2010

Researchers at Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) in Atlanta have pioneered a new 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 insider’s view of the world of research. Georgia Tech has dubbed this teaching technique ‘Direct to Discovery’ or D2D.

The project is facilitated by Atlantic Corridor, a Midlands based development agency, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Atlanta Georgia and NIS, an IT services company based in the Midlands.

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.

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.

Over the past few months, the biochemistry department at NUI Galway has 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 10-day visit to investigate D2D first hand.

FutureMedia Fest 2010

Keely 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, Keely 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.

“It’s a great idea,” Keely said. “It really has the potential to inspire students and honestly I wish it was available when I was in school.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years