October 4, 2018 2:29 pm
Updated: October 4, 2018 5:39 pm

‘We want to be relevant’: Dalhousie, NFB launch new ocean VR learning tool

WATCH: A joint project between Dalhousie University and the National Film Board is using virtual reality to teach children about the ocean. Silas Brown has more.

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Dalhousie marine biology professor Boris Worm has been obsessed with the ocean for a long time, and for the last six years, has been obsessed with getting others hooked on his lifelong passion.

“This started when I was three years old, right, and I fell in love with the ocean and it transformed my life and my path and I would like to give that opportunity to everyone,” Worm said.

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“Really everyone on the planet, but particularly kids in Nova Scotia and across Canada: [a chance] to interact with the ocean in a meaningful way, to learn about the ocean, to enhance their knowledge, their curiosity and really think big about this planet of ours which is an ocean planet.”

READ: Study co-authored by Halifax marine biologist reveals fishing’s startling global footprint

Worm announced the launch of a joint project from Dalhousie University and the National Film Board (NFB) Thursday that he has worked towards for the last six years: Ocean School.

“Today we’re launching Ocean School, which is an immersive, web-based learning experince that essentially brings ocean literacy tools to students, teachers, classrooms, the general public,” said Helene Fournier, the director of education for the NFB.

“It helps students learn what impact they have on the ocean and what impact it has on them.”

The free platform is made for desktops and tablets and guides students through modules with videos and virtual reality content. Smartphones can also be paired with the platform, allowing students to use VR headsets for a fully-immersive experience.

Fournier says that the platform is the first of several immersive learning projects that the NFB is working on.

“We want to be relevant. We want to be relevant to the learners, the technologies that they use. We want to be engaging, so we don’t want it just to be a passive consumption of content, we want it to be something that they’re engaging with and that they’re finding exciting. But also that they’re learning from it and that they’re building agency through that content,” she said.

WATCH: ‘Unprecedented investment’ in ocean science to create world-leading institute in Halifax

The phrase “inquiry-based learning” was used a lot during the announcement, reflecting a shift in how educational materials are presented. Worm said the approach is trying to “modernize the educational approach that teachers can take in schools.”

“The learner is in the driver’s seat,” Worm said of inquiry-based learning.

“So you’re not passively kind of absorbing knowledge from text books, you’re seeking out the knowledge that interests you, you’re asking your own questions, you’re going on a quest together with your teacher, not necessarily led by your teacher. It really changes the dynamics of the classroom and we see students getting really engaged and really curious about the ocean and the world at large with what they can do to make it a better place.”

The NFB has been producing educational materials for decades, but Fournier says they’re trying to adapt with this new style of project.

“We’ve been in classrooms for over 40 years and it started with the film strips and with linear video in classrooms and we’ve been building a lot of interactives and a lot of engaging media and we want to bring that into the classroom because we understand that learning is about engagement, co-creation, activity, more so than the passive consumption of resources or media content,” she said.

“There’s more to come at the NFB. Similar programs like these are essentially how we’re trying to position ourselves back into the education system.”

The NFB was responsible for shooting the content on the six expeditions Worm and his team have embarked on so far. The crew has been everywhere from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to the Bay of Fundy, the Pacific Coast, to Newfoundland and even Costa Rica.

READ: Young people in Nova Scotia get failing grade in ocean literacy: study

Worm said the real push to start the project was a study he was a part of that found a lack of ocean literacy among children.

“People who had some engagement with the ocean, say they were swimming, or surfing, or kayaking, fishing, doing something, they had more knowledge and they were better informed. So we thought this was an opportunity to grow people’s awareness, people’s curiosity and also the careers that are there for them to take,” he said.

The program is currently being piloted in select classrooms in Nova Scotia. Sue Taylor-Foley, the director of learning resources and technology for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, says that it could be integrated into the curriculum in the coming years.

“We’ve been getting feedback from teachers and students about what they like, what they would like to see improved and advanced as we continue to move along in our partnership with Dr. Worm and his team and the NFB,” she said.

“We live in an ocean-related province and we want our students to understand the importance of the ocean, not only to our economy and to their well-being but to the future of our province as well.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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