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Field Museum technology project wins prestigious award

CHICAGO, May 14, 2010 The same digital technology that enables young people to play video games, Tweet and upload videos also can immerse them in a simulated coral reef environment where they participate in science with peers half a world away.

A project led by Field Museum scientists will link students from Chicago's Austin neighborhood to students in Fiji to experience coral reef environments in the Pacific Ocean, engage in the scientific process, and participate in real world conservation.

Students from Chicago and Fiji will collaborate on topics and issues around coral reef ecology and conservation by making and sharing videos, photos, and blogs and uploading them to the web site called "Fiji Reef." Students will get content for these videos from virtual coral reefs, interaction with Field Museum scientists, and trips to real reefs or to Chicago's Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum.

The project was among a small group of winners in a grant competition that attracted more than 800 applications. The 2010 Digital Media and Learning Competition is a HASTAC Initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. (HASTAC stands for Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory.)

"We will combine real life experience with digital technology, letting teens tell their own stories," said Joshua A. Drew, PhD, a Field Museum research scientist and leader of the project. "Teens have their own voices that need to be expressed. They feel marginalized when others speak for them."

"Digital technology is an integral part of teenagers' daily lives," Drew said. "They keep pushing the envelope and exploring new ways to interact and share with one another. We want to direct those interests to involve them in real science, and empower them to affect change both globally and locally."

The project, to launch next year, will engage 50 core students in Chicago and Fiji. The web site "Fiji Reef "will be open to everyone and Drew said he expects that thousands of interest-driven youth will participate, collaborating with the core students and uploading their own content.

The project will build upon WhyReef, an existing virtual coral reef developed by Field Museum researchers that is part of a larger science-oriented site called The WhyReef simulation invites youth to count and identify sea life, explore coral reef ecology, devise theories about how coral reefs are impacted by human and natural disasters, and to test those theories.

"By collecting data, generating hypotheses and testing them, young people learn how scientists work," said Drew.


Contact: Nancy O'Shea
Field Museum

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