Distance Learning – Connecting to Experts!

Megan and Jillian in the Distance Learning Studio

Megan and Jillian in the Distance Learning Studio

The Distance Learning Program is part of the Education section at the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Many schools across Alberta make the trek to Drumheller for field trips and participate in on-site educational programming, but there are many people who will never get the chance to visit the Museum in person. The Distance Learning Program was created so that anyone could get the chance to connect with an expert and learn about Alberta’s incredible palaeontology!

What is Distance Learning exactly? You’ve probably used Skype, Google Talk, or Face Time to video chat with friends and family. We use a different sort of technology to connect to schools, libraries, and other sites. Originally, we could only use videoconferencing equipment to connect to sites that also had this technology. But, there have been recent technology advancements so that you don’t need any specialized hardware – just a high-speed internet connection.

One of the great benefits of Distance Learning is the opportunity to speak with, and learn from, an expert. We have eight, 45-minute programs that range from a virtual tour of the galleries to a palaeo Q&A. For teachers, our programs are designed to cover core curriculum requirements and are delivered at an appropriate grade level. We use a variety of methods to bring the science of palaeontology to life: green screen technology that allows us to step in front of digital media, an overhead camera that allows us to show fossils up close, and a huge database of multimedia (images, videos, and animations) that help support our answers visually.

Behind the scenes, we are a two-woman team, Megan McLauchlin (myself) and Jillian Steele. During a program, one of us presents while the other operates the technical equipment (lights, sound, and multimedia). This allows the presenter to focus on interacting with the audience and the other to concentrate on running the show!

So, how did the Distance Learning Program come about? In 2003, the Museum expanded its education space with the addition of the ATCO Tyrrell Learning Centre. Museum management realized the need for a dedicated space early on and so a Distance Learning Studio was included in the blueprints. In 2006, the Distance Learning Program was launched and now we’re in our eighth season of programming. To date, we have connected to over 40,000 students and have delivered over 1,600 programs to Canada, the United States, and across the world!

We are always working on new ideas for programs and have a number of exciting projects that are in the development stages. Recently, we have been working on a Home Schooling Program where home schooled students will connect to us and other home schoolers for a three-program session. We are also adapting the Royal Tyrrell Museum Virtual Visit program to be suitable for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to send a big thank-you to all of the schools, teachers, former Distance Learning staff, and other supporters for making our award-winning Program the success that it is. Our plan is to keep pushing the boundaries of this technology and to bring the best interactive experiences to you.

Distance Learning is just another wonderful way to learn more about palaeontology from experts at the Royal Tyrrell Museum! To learn more about the Distance Learning programs, visit the Museum’s website.

– Megan McLauchlin, Distance Learning Coordinator

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