HALIFAX—Exploring the depths of the ocean is about to become a much more immersive experience thanks to a unique free online program being launched at Dalhousie University on Thursday.
Ocean School is a joint collaboration between Dalhousie University, the National Film Board of Canada, the Ocean Frontier Institute and Ingenium. It’s described by its creators as “a groundbreaking immersive learning tool designed to spark interest in ocean science and advance ocean literacy.”
Using augmented and virtual reality, live streaming and colourful, breathtaking 360-degree manipulative videos combined with engaging storytelling, Ocean School’s core audience is 11- to 15-year-old students and their teachers.
But it’s intended for anyone anywhere in the world who’s interested in learning more about what’s under the waves.
“Ocean School’s overall objective is to bridge the gap and bring about a better understanding of the world’s oceans,” said Hélène Fournier, the National Film Board of Canada’s director of education. “The hope here is for Canadians and the world to understand in an engaging and accessible way exactly what our impact is on the ocean and the ocean’s impact on us.”
For Dalhousie University professor and marine ecologist Boris Worm, the initiative is a way to share his love and passion for the ocean while hopefully effecting change through fostering ocean literacy.
As the lead marine scientist for the project, Worm features prominently throughout the Ocean School experiences as participants follow him on real expeditions across Canada and around the world.
“I fell in love with the ocean when I was three years old, and it changed my life. It did so for everyone I know who’s in this field,” he said.
“I hope the result of Ocean School is that more people fall in love with the ocean, become curious about the ocean, become knowledgeable and start to ask their own questions and start to become engaged in some way.”
Worm, an ocean scientist for 25 years, said despite comprising 75 per cent of the planet, the ocean doesn’t feature as prominently as it should in the public consciousness. He hopes Ocean School will help change that.
“We’re discovering all these very important relevant things about the ocean that people need to know. It’s part of humanity’s life support system that’s affected, and people need to know that the same way they need to know about climate change or unsafe drinking water,” Worm explained.
“Also, some of the amazing discoveries that we have done that are just inspiring don’t get out to people maybe as much as they should, and as such people have a more narrow view of the world than they could.”
Through Ocean School’s web platform, learners can do things like pilot an underwater robot, explore habitats at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River, dissect a cod in augmented reality.
Worm is hopeful that teaching young people about ocean life in a fun and immersive way will encourage more of them to pursue careers in a growing ocean economy. But more importantly, he said it’s essential they become stewards of our oceans.
“I got more and more concerned about kids because we’re going to hand over this damaged world to them,” Worm said. “They better understand what’s going on in order to make good, informed, compassionate, knowledgeable decisions about how to go forward.”
The Ocean School will be open 24/7 for anyone with a computer, cellphone or tablet and an internet connection. It’s now available in both French and English, but it is also being produced in Spanish.
“We have support from UNESCO to bring it to other countries, specifically Latin America, as a next step, so we’re very excited about that too,” Worm said.
In addition to its four collaborators, the project received support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
Thursday’s official ceremony launch takes place at Dalhousie University’s Steele Ocean Sciences Building at 10:30 a.m. followed by a worldwide Facebook Live public launch at 10:50 a.m. (ADT) with students.
Yvette d’Entremont is a Halifax-based reporter focusing on health and environment. Follow her on Twitter: @ydentremont