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Brandt Secosh is an Education Technology Specialist for the University Programs Office at Kennedy Space Center. In this capacity, he supports the Learning Technologies Quest projects to include the Space Team Online, the Learning Technology Channel and the Virtual Science Mentor projects. Brandt has been involved with the Virtual Science Mentor project from its' conception at Kennedy Space Center. This project exports the expertise of scientists and engineers located at KSC to 62 classrooms around the state of Florida using video-conferencing technologies. This program is in its third year and is being transitioned to Industry partners such as Florida Power and Light (FPL), the University of Central Florida (UCF) and Florida Gulf Coast University. Brandt welcomes the opportunity to share the experience that Kennedy Space Center has gained over this three year-period, while involved in the Virtual Science Mentor program.


I come today with a few goals in mind. What I want to do is overview the projects with which we have worked at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). I want to share those experiences with you and share the vision we have for the future. Finally, I want to offer my assistance to all of you in the future, if I can help in any way. My e-mail address (Ckosh@mindspring.com) is available to you, my phone number is 407-867-2027. Pick up the phone and call me. I live for this stuff, as we all do. I think the answer to all of us advancing is our collaboration and working together. I think you will see in the presentation that the Virtual Science Mentor in particular became a success because of that collaboration.

The Virtual Science Mentor project in itself was designed to export the expertise of the scientists and engineers at KSC to classrooms in the state of Florida. So, it is a state-level program. We focused on the southwest portion of the state, where the scientists and mentors - "volunteer". It is interesting to me that volunteer is a big part of this. Without them the program would be nothing. Anyway, the scientists and mentors team up with the teachers, and we run them through summer workshops, which I will elaborate on a little bit more in this conversation, and explain to you how we prepare them for a year of mentoring. First of all, let us take a look at how it all began.

As with most things, it began with a simple idea at KSC with Greg Buckingham, the program's manager at Kennedy, wanting to reach out with some type of technology and export more information about what was going on with payload processing and shuttle processing, as well as the international space station. There is an organization in Florida called the Technological Resource and Development Authority. I am sure most states have something similar to this. It is a legislative branch of the state, and its purpose in life is to find ways to bring technology into the classroom. TRDA had made the point that it had noticed that the only people that really benefited from the activity at KSC and understood processing and things that were going on with the space program seemed to be within 50 nautical miles. From that point on, it diminished until we got down into the southwest and northwest parts of the state. It was just a huge difference in what they knew about the processing. So, we had a match here. Greg wanted to find a technology; and TRDA wanted to get that information beyond that 50-nautical-mile radius. It was a perfect fit. So, after discussing it, they went to the NASA Learning Technologies Project.

A quick note on LTP: There are tons, and I mean tons, of educational activities that are available to everyone right now. You can visit their website and see some of the really great Internet activities they have to offer. They can take pictures and have this set up for the classroom. This was presented to LTP, that we wanted to combine the technology and export the resource, being the knowledge of the scientists and engineers. So, the next thing that happened was we targeted seven counties in southwest Florida. At that time it comprised 42 different schools within those seven counties. This is when I came online, to support the mentors and scientists and engineers that were going to be at KSC. Support meant everything from installing cameras to getting workshops ready from the bottom up. Well, we needed someone to represent the teachers; that turned out to be Florida Gulf Coast University. This is a university that is leading the way in Florida right now with long-distance learning and Internet activity. This fit right into the university's purpose, and into ours also. Once again it was a perfect match.

Later, in the second year of the program, the Intel Corporation came on as a corporate sponsor. Intel donated $35,000 worth of videoconferencing equipment to what we already had from the previous year. They liked what they saw and how their equipment was being used. It worked out quite well. So, we have all of this in place at this point.

Our program goals, I have already mentioned, were to extend that benefit beyond the 50 nautical miles. Other goals are these:

  • The TRDA wanted to reinforce the Sunshine State's standards of education. So, we wanted to leave the task of identifying and reinforcing the Sunshine State's standards of education to the educators, which is Florida Gulf Coast University. How goals would be incorporated into ongoing projects was defined at workshops at the university.
  • NASA is not as much an education branch as it is an outreach branch, and we want to reach out and showcase the technologist and career fields that are at Kennedy Space Center. Most importantly, we wanted to stimulate interest in earth, life and space sciences. What better place to do that than KSC? We have all three of those elements there, and people there actively participating in those career fields.
  • It was also our goal to reach out and inform people more of the engineering fields that are involved with shuttle processing and launch operations.
  • Finally, we wanted to explore the technology and the associated logistics.

Keep in mind, this whole thing began two years ago. That does not sound like a long time, but two years ago, all this technology was relatively new. We did not know that much about it. We know a lot more about it now, as a group, collectively. Now it is a matter of just beginning to work together to bring it to where we want it to go.

The technology that we chose was the Intel Proshare 200 camera at the time. The reason we chose this particular camera is not so much because of the hardware, but because of the software that accompanied it. It had an ability for application sharing. That means that if you had a computer with an operating system on it, being Windows 95, and no other software, being Office 97's Microsoft PowerPoint, for example, and I did have it, then once you and I connected using the Intel system's application sharing, you could use, from a distance, whatever was on my computer. That was the sharing aspect. Then it also had a feature allowing for collaboration in which both parties could manipulate the same piece of software at the same time. We thought that was pretty powerful and would lend itself well to what we were striving for. Of course, that brought up other issues, such as security, which I will talk about later in the presentation.

Forty percent of our teacher-mentor teams are using ISDN connectivity. That is a dedicated line which allows a point-to-point connection at a high-speed rate, rather than an Internet connection. This works very well; it is a bit costly; and it is not the preferred way to go. Sixty percent, of course, are using TCP/IP protocol, much like your dial-up adapter. The only problem with that which we have experienced is that it is subject to Internet traffic. And, during launch activities at KSC, the websites there get up to 1 million hits per day, especially with the SDS 95, when we sent astronaut John Glenn back into space. That was an incredibly active website. In fact, any mentoring that was going to occur that day was canceled. So, the developments I have talked about were, in brief, the advantages of ISDN as a faster connectivity. Of course, we have other evolving communications coming up - ASDL, cable modem, other avenues that we soon will have from which to select. It is costly, but again it is very effective. TCP/IP allows a much more cost-effective approach; however, it is subject to the Internet traffic.

As I mentioned, because we had issues with firewalls or security issues that emerged because of the application sharing, we got the export control officer at KSC involved. We presented the implications of application sharing to security. We documented the information regarding that, and we had the teachers and the mentors acknowledge the procedures we would use to forego any security issues.

So, now we had the equipment selected. We had the agencies that would help us out, and we had the counties selected. We held meetings and put an e-mail out than announced the start of the program and determine if anyone was interested. The response was quite amazing, once again, with "volunteer" underlining the potential candidates. We did immediately receive our 42 candidates from KSC, and, at the same time, Florida Gulf Coast and TRDA were advertising in those seven counties for teachers that wanted to participate in the program.

Some interesting things came out of this. We seem to focus a good majority of our attention on students at this point, when a large part of our time should also be spent with the teachers. The teachers are the ones who have come to us saying, "You know, I am really not comfortable with this application," or "I am really not comfortable with this hardware." So, we have, in fact, focused in the summer workshops quite a bit of attention on the teachers as well as the students.

The next step was the application process. This was put online for the teachers. It was pretty much one-on-one at KSC. The applications process was received by Florida Gulf Coast University, and, once again, we came up with our 42 selectees. The selection criteria focused primarily on computer literacy at that time. We found that computer literacy is well and good, but what really makes the teacher-mentor-student team complete is the enthusiasm and dedication of that team. The technology is great; it is neat stuff. But the human factor is the magic. So, it is nothing more than a tool to make that magic happen.

The way we approached training was via summer workshops. The summer workshops took place at Florida Gulf Coast University for two days out of the week. Three days of the week were spent with us at KSC. We focused on the Proshare hardware, how to use it, how to set it up for the most efficient results, and how to troubleshoot in basic terms. The software is where we spent more of our times, particularly with the application sharing and collaboration features, because we intended to use a lot of the Learning Technologies Project products that were already out there and to share them via the application sharing.

Security issues were talked about and addressed at the workshops. The documents were signed and placed into folders that were maintained on each team. The teachers were given classes on basic HTML editing and website development because they were to take this information back to the classroom, and, at the end of the school year, the students were to develop their own websites to showcase what they had learned throughout the year.

Relation building and curriculum development were also key points to the workshops. For the mentors and the teachers to get together and actually see each other one-on-one brought a lot more depth to the upcoming relationship. The curriculum was pretty much governed by the Florida State Standards of Education, to which the teachers would dictate how we would employ the scientists and engineers in achieving those. Finally, the workshops culminated with a tour of the KSC facilities and the mentor workplace.

Curriculum support . . . I developed two courses initially designed to get the students involved with using the technology, using browsers, that sort of thing. So, the curriculum I developed was not really on an educational basis, as it was to get the students to interact with the technology that was available. We abandoned that idea because the maintenance that was involved for me was very time consuming. In fact, with the NASA Learning Technologies Project, we had a lot of really good products already out there. I think we are seeing more and more that when we start a project, there is probably something out there pretty similar to it. So, we are consolidating efforts at this point to make ourselves more effective.

I fell into more of a role of project support on request. For example, some of the scientists would take students and grow crystals with them. I would need to get supplies for this, as well as any information they requested.

The website that I built for the mentors was an internal website; it was not meant for external use. However, it was accessed externally quite a bit. Basically, the information that could be accessed was the participating teachers; current information on special projects that we might have coming up, such as launch activity; the KSC-developed curriculum; selected curriculum, which turned out to be primarily Learning Technologies Projects products.

The photographs that we had were pretty much from the Hubbell Telescope and were found on the NIX link page from NASA, some really high-end photographs that were used for picture exchanges with the program. Finally, we selectively went through links and make that available to the mentors and teachers, also.

So, what did the students get out of all this? Basically, in the end, we wanted them to develop their own websites showcasing what they had done and what they had learned throughout the process. On those websites that are up now - we had a lot of plant growth experiments in which students subjected plants to different types of light and different types of nutrients in the soil. They also experimented with growing the plants upside down, and documented all of this in PowerPoint presentations and placed them on the Internet.

This came out of the Mars probe, where we were using spectroscopes on the planet Mars. The students built their own spectroscopes out of toilet tissue, a 35mm lens and a piece of metal which allowed them to see bands of light here on earth. This was both effective and cost effective. That lesson plan is online and can be used by anyone who cares to use it.

One of our mentors developed an ongoing exercise in environmental contamination analysis to simulate a spill at KSC. This mentor would give the students a scenario, and then the students would form into a group with say $500, for example. They were given $100 per shot to determine what analysis they would use. They were actually running their own small company.

The bacteria growth in microgravity project evolved into something a lot larger than we even anticipated. That will probably go as a mid-deck experiment on one of the upcoming shuttle launches. It has not been approved, but it is well on its way. In fact, it has gained support throughout the state by a number of the pharmaceutical companies. It has been presented at KSC, and is being considered very seriously.

Finally, space station problem solving and design. As each project comes in through the videoconferencing equipment, we could televise that and have them ask questions, particularly about the international space station components.

Participating in science fairs . . . we approached our science fairs a little different than most. For example, we had our mentors talk about some of the logistical problems involved with keeping an international space station in space. The students developed their own as they explored some of the problem areas of living in a harsh environment like space. Then they presented these in PowerPoint presentations and in a final model, but there was no winner in the fair. We took the approach that the whole class was a winner. We felt that if everyone puts that much effort into it, then everyone should be a winner.

They were exposed to using office application software, basically Microsoft Office Products, PowerPoint, Word and Excel, in particular. They gained a big understanding of shuttle processing. In fact, we have an online manual that we use now to support the shuttle processing and payload processing at KSC.

They participated in facility tours and launches. What we are doing with that is we connect one of the Proshare cameras to a laptop, and then take the laptop into the vertical assembly building, for example, so the students take a virtual tour of that particular facility. Of course, they can ask questions throughout the entire presentation, so it is interactive.

We are in the third year of this program, and in this final year we are transitioning into industry. The program will transition out to industry, namely Florida Power and Light. Sea World is a potential candidate at this point, as are the University of Central Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University. For me, the industry transition is a sad thing. It is like having a son or a daughter go off to college, and you surely hope they do well. I am proud to see where this project is going because industry partnerships are very important. That is where we need to be going. I hope my baby does well.

At KSC, an interesting finding is that as successful as the program is, it is not really reaching the scalability level that we want it to reach. That is certainly a big issue with the programs, because we need to reach a large audience. The most recent technology we have found to be able to do that with is the webcasting using real media, real video technologies. We have been doing that for about a year now. I recall prior to the SDS 98 launch, when we had the phone damage, we had an engineer on videostreaming talking about the phone damage, and a student in Africa's comment was, "I can't believe I'm down here in Africa talking to a scientist at Kennedy Space Center and getting an answer, right over my computer." So, we have reached out on a much larger scale using that video webcasting, and I think that is probably the way we will end up going.

I will be glad to entertain any questions that you have regarding the program. Most importantly, the message I would like to leave with you, is that I would welcome at any time if I can assist you in any way in the future, give me a call, I would be happy to do it.


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