Key features of H2O are the development of educational activities that foster critical thinking and use of advanced technologies to maintain the attention of today’s students. While one of the most exciting features of this approach is integration of technology into outdoor hands-on learning about watersheds, H2O also will employ an indoor learning component at headwaters and tidewater/ocean locations.
In furtherance of this concept, the Ewing Halsell Foundation granted funds to the Harte Research Institute and River Systems Institute to devise a novel experiential, technology-enhanced water education program for youth on water and watersheds, from the headwaters to the ocean. A major part of that program focuses on two high-tech discovery centers, one at the headwaters and one at the ocean.
To fully realize the potential of the Ewing Halsell grant on use of technology in advancing education, the opening of the headwater and ocean discovery centers will be accelerated in a very special manner.
As a pilot and working test bed for the educational enhancements and technology designs that will go into the headwaters and ocean discovery centers, the technological inner workings of those centers will be brought on line now. A virtual “water education experience” will be installed in existing space at the River Systems Institute and mobile use of water education technology will be tested at the Harte Research Institute.
Students will experience novel use of multi-media “virtual experience” video related to freshwaters and oceans, enhanced by their simultaneous use of mobile and social media technology to provide an interactive personalized educational experience. This experience will be designed to meet research based standards for students to develop critical thinking skills and help connect youth with water.
By proceeding in this fashion toward the goal of building advanced technology discovery centers, it will be possible to more precisely design the ultimate in experiential interactive educational exhibits and realistically test the very latest technology and mobile media to complement our water education curricula. This approach will also allow for research to evaluate the effectiveness of interactive exhibits, experiences, and applied technology on student learning.
Unlike design of large facilities involving expensive consulting, engineering and design, these initial “mini-discovery centers” will operate on a small scale within existing facilities or from mobile platforms. It will be possible to work directly with designers of smart phone and media pad applications, engage local multi-media and virtual technology producers, and stay abreast of technology that works.
This will provide a test bed that will make it possible to acquire, sample and keep up with technology instead of trying to intercept it.
Mobile Hand-Held Technology and the Multi-Media Virtual Experience
Test locations will have a multi-media “command center.” This will include computers and computer-driven multi-media display screens, audio equipment and lighting where needed. Real-time on-line streaming video showing real-life scientists, educators or students engaged in activities with water may be used to allow students to “experience” water. Students may communicate directly with people on-screen in on-line conversations. When real-time experiences are not underway, thus unavailable, standard video will simulate the same virtual experience as live streaming video.
To complement use of multi-media display of real-life water experiences, students may be provided handheld devices, such as wireless display pads, which they can use to access added educational materials, such as additional video, quizzes, make journal entries, engage in online discussions, access interactive educational games, role-play, visit water-related web sites, access data bases, and view graphic watershed simulation models. Hand-held wireless devices may be made available to students for the duration of the experience.
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H2O (Headwaters to Ocean) is a cooperative project sponsored by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University and funding partner, the Ewing Halsell Foundation which supports the project H2O. H2O is an experiential, technology-enhanced education program focused on water, from headwaters to the ocean (http://www.water-texas.org)