Documentation and e-Learning (Part 4): Get Real! − Use the Webs Eyes
By Dave Powell, Documentation Manager, SyberWorks, Inc.
If you follow the SyberWorks “Lingo Podcasts” (at http://www.syberworks.com/lingo_podcast.htm), you know that (at this writing) Ive defined more than 120 e-Learning terms and concepts there. Many of them describe established theories of learning that apply to both online and physical training. But one teaching tool I havent yet covered is “reality.”
Teachers know that its one of the best instructors. Biology field trips, chem-lab explosions, astronomical observations can generate faster real learning than textbooks. And the discovery and adventure that accompany real-world experiences can be powerful drivers for making students want to learn and to continue learning.
The closest that the documentation and e-Learning fields have come (so far) to getting real-world content into their training products may be the Flash demonstrations that show how to perform procedures. But these are canned presentations. Even if they appear to be highly interactive, their commands-responses, context-sensitive routing, and procedural steps are pre-planned. There is no real exploration in them to spark student inquisitiveness.
Is this a flaw? Not usually. Its great for controlling the sequence in which facts and questions are fed to students. But at least some online training might be much more effective if it accessed real-world subjects… especially in real time.
Again, Im not talking about using Flash movies created with tools like iSpring or Captivate. Im talking about pulling real-time, real-world data and videos into online course pages and reference materials. The challenge, of course, is figuring out how.
This is the first of three articles that will show you how to bring the real world into your online training materials. And this first episode discusses pulling in real-time (or near-real-time) web cams and web-based data displays.
Teach Through the Webs Eyes
How many of you already stream pre-recorded videos to, or play Flash animations in, online course pages? Its not really a huge technical leap to similarly stream real-time web sites or live video to them. It actually can be pretty easy.
- Do eye doctors happen to be your training target? Then point your students to the following site on Wednesdays (usually from about 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST) for feeds of live Lasik procedures. (Be sure to tell students to click Control the Camera at the top of the page, to select their viewpoint (even through the surgeons own camera, as shown in the inset below) and to control camera tilt, pan, zoom, and focus. When I zoomed the main camera, the doctor and nurse heard it, turned, and waved… but the patient was unmoved.): http://lasiktv.com/
- Are air traffic controllers your training market? Some live ATC displays are still available online (though many have dropped due to terrorism concerns). Here are a few. New Yorks, for example, offers both current and past traffic data, which also could be useful in ATC courses:
- New York JFK (click on a plane to see its details): http://www4.passur.com/jfk.html
- Atlanta Center (animation builds over time): http://www.atcmonitor.com/
- All traffic over the U.S. right now: http://www.natca.org/flight-explorer/united-states.aspx
- If youre building online courses about vulcanology, heres one of many web lists of volcano-cams that display in near real time. You can even monitor Old Faithfuls geysering through this site. Italys Stromboli was pretty active at this writing, as you can see from this infrared web-cam shot of its caldera: http://www.volcanolive.com/volcanocams.html
- Earth-sciences? Then your students might benefit from a live demo of the Earths rotation that they can watch whenever they want. Give them this link to a 24-7 feed of a Foucault pendulum in Germany. (To see the effect, watch for a while or return periodically. When you do, note how the balls swing direction appears to rotate above the compass points due to the Earths actual rotation, and how the pendulum knocks down the pins as the minutes pass.): http://pendelcam.kip.uni-heidelberg.de/view/index.shtml
- Meteorology? Your students can use this shore cam (in Delray Beach, Florida) to witness tropical storms and even hurricanes live, as they approach, hit, and pass. (There are also links to past storm videos further down the page.): http://www.hurricanecity.com/cam.htm
- Zoology? Here are pages of cams for streaming into courses for kids. (Well, OK… the Smithsonians “Invertebrate Microscope Cam” can be icky!): http://search.earthcam.com/search/ec_kids_search.php?cat=ANI&vars=0:128:1
- Astronomy and space sciences? Boy, are you in luck!:
- The very latest images from the European Space Agencys Mars Express Orbiter: http://webservices.esa.int/blog/blog/6
- NASAs live Space Shuttle Countdown page: http://countdown.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/countdown/cdt/
- These NASA web-TV channels about space exploration often play canned videos, but they occasionally broadcast live views of Earth and of real-time space projects from the International Space Station): http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/
- Here are recent views of day and night on Earth from hundreds of orbiting satellites (you can even view the Earth from the direction of the sun or moon): http://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/uncgi/Earth/action?opt=-p
- Just a few of many real-time and near-real-time solar data/imaging sites:
- And though the following two sites dont display real-time data or images, they do make it possible for students to freely explore the entire visible (and invisible) universe under their own direction or yours… using the latest high-res photos from telescopes around the world and in space:
- Be online (web cams are easier to take down than to turn on, and in fact, some of the sites listed above may no longer be operating by the time you read this).
- Refresh in real-time or near-real-time (cams that refresh slower than every 30 seconds may strain viewers patience).
- Offer reasonably high-quality data and images for your needs (some cams now webcast in HD).
- Focus on subjects that are guaranteed to be on-screen much of the time (“UFO-cams” and “ghost-cams” need not apply).
- Permit users to control web-cam pan, tilt, zoom, and focus (usually done through web queues that give each viewer a short period of control).
- Be viewable through at least Internet Explorer and Firefox (some cams still dont play nice with Firefox). And Safari compatibility wouldnt hurt either.
Also be sure to check the WorldWide Telescope links to educational “Guided Tours” that have been created through the site… and to instructions for creating your own.
Thats just a few examples, but you get the idea. A vast store of real-time (or near-real-time) content is out there on the web… about any imaginable subject. And similar content may be available for your online training as well. Its always wise, though, to ask for permission before tapping this content. For even if its freely available on the Web, and its supplier should be thrilled to have more eyes brought to it, check first to see if permission is needed.
And if you have your own real-time video content, consider working with a video-streaming service to make it available to multiple web-based learners. For more information about that, see the “Streaming Server” section in Al Lemieuxs excellent article (Here).
Not All Content Is Usable
Naturally, this kind of telepresence isnt always as good as being there (which may not even be possible). But it can be almost as good (and in the eye-surgery example above, perhaps even better!). The hardest part may be just finding usable content for your needs… It can take a lot of searching.
For a web site or cam to be useful for e-Learning, though, it should ideally:
Part 5 of my Documentation and e-Learning series will describe an eye-popping new tool that both e-Learning content creators and documentarians will all probably start using within the next few years. So watch for it!
About the Author:
Dave Powell is Documentation Manager for SyberWorks Inc., a privately-held supplier of e-Learning software and training. For the past 15 years, he has written award-winning marketing collateral and user documentation for hardware/software companies like PictureTel, 3Com, Philips Medical Systems, Polaroid, and SyberWorks. Prior to that, he edited and wrote for publications like Computerworld, Infosecurity News, Networking Management, Digital Design, LightWave, Popular Computing, Harvard Business Review, and Leaders. (During that time, he also served as an author and Editorial Advisor for Sesame Street.)
SyberWorks, Inc. is a leader in providing Learning Management Systems and custom e-Learning Solutions for Fortune 1000 corporations, higher education, and other organizations. Located in Waltham, Massachusetts, the company serves the multi-billion-dollar e-Learning market. Since 1995, SyberWorks has developed and delivered unique and economical solutions for creating, managing, measuring, and improving e-Learning programs at companies and organizations in the United States, Canada, Europe, and other countries.