Chris Johnson, Roger Payne and Genevieve Johnson interact with school
groups at the Melbourne Zoo via a videoconference link in the "Voyage of the Odyssey
- Ocean Encounters" program.
Photo: Ann McMann
March 18, 2002
A Live Link-up to School Kids
This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey.
Although they were simply searching for whales, it was the early whalers as much as the early explorers who opened up the world to European eyes and world commerce. The Odyssey crew are likewise embarking on a voyage of discovery and are also searching for whales. Though there are distinct similarities, our experiences today are markedly different, but perhaps not always improved.
Those of them who could write often left accounts that spoke of arduous voyages that tested the endurance and strength of the crew, the long, lonely, open ocean passages, visits to uninhabited islands sheltering bizarre creatures, and meeting isolated indigenous cultures. The Odyssey crew have experienced such things and have often felt an affinity with those early sailors, yet there is something that separates us totally, that brings us hurtling back into the 21st century at light speed, even when we are in the most remote, the most desolate, the least populous places on the face of the planet, and that is technology.
We can make instant contact, anywhere in the world. Satellite communications, epirbs, telephones and a myriad of laptop computers linking us to the internet, all assist in doing so, yet sometimes it is hard not to think that such mod cons may be ultimately detracting from the experience.
However, there is very bright side. Unlike the early sailors, technology is giving us the opportunity to take the world with us on our five year global expedition, allowing people to follow us by linking to our website.
As a teacher, I believe the future of the world's oceans is precarious. Whether it is pushed over the edge into oblivion, or pulled back from the brink, restoring it to a vibrant, healthy, thriving habitat, depends almost entirely on the decision makers of the future. And that is what makes it so important to speak with the decision makers of the future now, the children we spoke with today.
This morning the Odyssey crew linked live via satellite to two groups of Grade 7 students (that's 12 year old's) from Ballerine and Glen Waverley Secondary Colleges in Melbourne, Australia. The students had gathered together at the Melbourne Zoo in order to participate in a pilot program 6 months in the planning that we have called 'Ocean Encounters'. It's an interactive multimedia program designed to bring the study of whales and the ocean environment, scientific research and marine conservation issues into the classroom (as well as to the public). One of the people on board is Adrian Howard who works at the Melbourne Zoo in the marine mammal department.
I was a teacher for six years, and in many ways I miss the classroom and the daily interaction with children, particularly discussing environmental issues and taking students beyond the boundaries of the school fence in order to experience the wild world. However, with the development of the Ocean Encounters project, we are now able to live and work at sea with whales, while continuing to reach children and sometimes even talk with them directly as we did today. Children are constantly bombarded with useless technology and gadgetry, perhaps in this case, however, we have found a way for technology to serve as a genuine facilitator to make discovery and learning worthwhile.
I am still a teacher, but now a "distance educator", a form of teaching I believe is probably one of the most valuable methods yet devised for engaging students in the learning process. The response from the students today was outstanding. What an exciting way for them to explore the oceans. By following the website and periodically linking live with Odyssey scientists and me (without question the luckiest teacher alive) students can now make discoveries about the oceans of the world and their inhabitants, as well as experience and witness the threats to the marine environment at the same time that we do. Roger Payne, who is now on board put it this way:
Today we made history: by successfully pulled off a live videoconference from the Odyssey with a group of school kids who were visiting the Melbourne Zoo. It was at the limits of possibility and right up to the last second looked as if it might not work. But Chris never fails, and with seconds to go he got it working, and the whole delightful incident began to unfold. By the time it was over it had become one of the most altogether charming experiences I've ever had. The format was simple: the kids asked questions; Gen and I tried to answer them. The questions were wonderful-right to the heart.
The first question was: "Does anyone get Seasick?" Then Came: "Do you get paid for this?" Then "How do whales mate?" [I gave a pretty detailed account, at the end of which the child who had asked the question leaned close to the microphone and said loud and clear "Thank You." I got the feeling that there was a sub-text being addressed to his teacher which was: "Nyah Nyah! Now we know how they do It."].
Adrian Howard of the Melbourne Zoo joins the Odyssey for this research
Learn more about Adrian in the Odyssey log -
Diving Through Debris
Photo: Chris Johnson
Having disposed of the important issue of Sex, next came: "Do you like your job?" [Great chance: I told them I thought the hardest thing for any child to escape was truly loving parents who want them to have a secure life, and I pointed out that the pursuit of security can destroy lives. I urged them to follow their bliss, pointing out that they didn't have to be nasty to their parents to do so, but that they did have to summon the courage to go ahead and do the thing they loved, because as long as they were doing so they couldn't fail, whereas as long as they were doing something they didn't love they couldn't really succeed.]
Up next was; "What are you finding out about pollution" [this from a girl (it's always a girl who gets it right) who was asking the kind of question her teachers wanted to have students ask. There were some more questions and then, with time nearly up, Gen came back on to say we could take only two more questions.
I don't remember the first one but I'll never forget the second. It was: "Do you miss your family?" It hit me like a fist. Without a beat, and with my voice almost breaking I found myself saying; "Always! Always. Every minute-sometimes I miss them every minute of the day."
As a result of yesterday's success, Gen and Chris think that other schools will want to do live link-ups. I can't wait to do it again. It is altogether engaging. It makes me conclude that maybe only children have their priorities straight-that maybe the process of becoming an adult is to go slowly out of focus and become concerned with the details rather than with the main points of life. Maybe it's literally true: and the Devil is in the details.
As I lay in my bunk tonight, I said to myself: I think I'll write a book about talking to the world from aboard Odyssey. I'll call it: "Do You Miss Your Family?"
This is Roger Payne, speaking to you from aboard Odyssey and missing my family.
Log by Roger Payne & Genevieve Johnson
For more information on the Voyage of the Odyssey - Ocean Encounters program, email the Ocean Alliance.