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Marine Science Institute’s Virtual Voyage Sets Sail Using VBrick Systems

May 2, 2007 12:00 PM

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Since 1970, The Marine Science Institute’s (MSI) engaging educational programs have been providing students with unique insights into the San Francisco Bay ecosystem. MSI is using VBrick Systems to provide live video streaming for its Virtual Voyage distance-learning program. The new Virtual Voyage enables students to participate in MSI’s San Francisco Bay marine science education programs online without leaving the classroom. MSI is leveraging the Virtual Voyage to extend the reach of its educational programs and create new revenue streams.

The Virtual Voyage is an interactive, 45-minute webcast that is streamed live using a wireless broadband connection. MSI instructors on the ship provide entertaining and educational insight to remote viewers. Program stations include fish and invertebrate education and identification; a session that examines the role of salinity and other sea water properties; and a plankton lab exercise that provides a microscopic view of ocean activity. Using fish keys that teachers download from the MSI website, students identify fish during the Virtual Voyage, as well ask and answer questions with the MSI staff. Committed to expanding its educational services, MSI selected VBrick to provide IP video streaming for its Virtual Voyage.

“We required an economical and reliable solution to expand our programs from San Francisco Bay to classrooms anywhere via the Internet,” says Aaron Tinker, membership and development coordinator, Marine Science Institute. “VBrick provides the ease of use and portability that enables us to add distance learning capabilities seamlessly to our existing programs. Because our Virtual Voyage production cost is minimal, we are empowered to provide online lessons that are affordable and engaging. The technology is easy to manage, which frees us to focus on teaching and student interaction.”

Los Angeles Valley College and other schools have participated in Virtual Voyages with positive responses from teachers and students. “The vibrant underwater ecosystem is often difficult to convey in a textbook, which makes video an ideal teaching tool to provide students with added insight into diverse ocean life,” says Jacquelyn Hams, Earth Science instructor, Los Angeles Valley College. “The Virtual Voyages are providing my San Fernando Valley students with living examples of how fish adapt to environmental changes and other marine biology considerations. Students enjoy asking the instructor live questions and seeing the camera zoom in to magnify fish details. I am pleased with the video quality.”

MSI uses a Sony DV camcorder connected to a VBrick MPEG-4 encoder digital video appliance on its boat. As a camera operator records a marine biologist conducting onboard research vessel demonstrations, the VBrick appliance feeds the live, compressed video signal to an onboard radio transmitter that includes omni-directional antennas. The radio then beams the video signal to MSI’s Internet Services Provider, which streams the video in realtime over the Internet. Approximately the size of a dictionary, the VBrick appliance is portable, reliable, and easy to manage&$151;critical considerations for remote streaming.

Schools that participate in the Virtual Voyages use broadband connections to access the video streams on their classroom computers using QuickTime or RealPlayer media players. A teacher’s classroom computer is typically connected to a television or projector, allowing students to view MSI’s onboard demonstrations in real time. MSI uses free voice over IP software to make the session interactive—students respond to the instructor’s questions while also asking the instructor questions of their own.

“We are proud to anchor the technology for MSI’s Virtual Voyage program,” says Craig Myers, director, western region, VBrick Systems. “MSI illustrates how streaming video has reached the ease-of-use and reliability tipping point. In addition to providing live educational programming to classrooms easily, MSI is using Virtual Voyages to serve additional students and generate additional revenue.”

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