Tools for schools: Eduspace offers new ways to teach Earth observation
Ask educators from across Europe what they think about the new Eduspace website and teaching Earth observation in secondary schools. You may be surprised at the answers.
For Maurizio Bertoldo, a science teacher at a secondary school in Palermo, Italy, Eduspace affords the opportunity not only to educate his students about the process of Earth observation and the underlying science and technology, but to broaden his students' education in other sciences as well.
"What I like about Eduspace is that it focuses on an underlying technology that can be applied in other areas, such as chemistry and geology, not just on remote-sensing and space," Bertoldo said.
Part space technology, part image analysis, part distance learning, Eduspace is mostly about satisfying the natural curiosity of young people about the world around them. Containing satellite imagery from both ESA and non-ESA spacecraft, the site includes free software to analyse the images. It also presents suggested projects to build curricula and collaborate with other schools for online learning.
ESA takes the Eduspace reins
Eduspace is part of ESA’s ongoing programme to heighten the awareness of science and technology education in European secondary schools. Developed with the twin goals of giving students a portal to space applications and boosting the visibility of Earth observation technologies, the site is being coordinated by ESA and its European and national partners.
The web site was first launched in the spring of last year by the Eurisy Association. Based in Paris, Eurisy was formed as part of Europe’s preparations for International Space Year of 1992. Afterwards, the association’s members decided Eurisy should continue its work in raising the public’s awareness of European space activities.
So far, about 225 schools have joined the Eduspace network. Its reach extends beyond ESA's member states to schools in countries including Bosnia, Turkey, Lithuania and Hungary. The website currently receives approximately 80 000 hits monthly, and 25 000 page views.
Eurisy formally handed over the Eduspace site to ESA at a ceremony held at ESA’s ESRIN facility in Frascati, Italy. More than 50 teachers from 14 countries travelled to ESRIN for the handover ceremony, followed by two days of workshops in Earth observation technology, lesson planning and practical classroom exercises.
The programme also included training on geographic information systems and LEOWorks, Eduspace’s downloadable program for imagery analysis developed by ESA and its partners. Finally, the teachers took a field trip to Lake Albano and Mount Tuscolo, outside of Rome, for hands-on experience in comparing satellite images with ground realities.
At the handover ceremony, ESA officials noted that ESA is committed to educational activities as part of the organisation’s charter. Several also cited the potential of Eduspace to help turn around lower levels of attention to science and technology subjects in schools.
"Education is a mandatory task for ESA," said Wubbo Ockels, head of ESA’s education office. "Our role is to combat flagging interest in science and technology among young people."
"We hope ESA will take Eduspace and make it even more far-reaching and focused on educators and students," said Valérie Hood, secretary general of Eurisy. "We are pleased to have made this concrete contribution to hand over to ESA.”
Learning at the speed of click
In spite of Eduspace’s short lifespan, European educators already are using it in some very creative ways. Anna Narciso, a teacher from the small town of Porto de Mos in Portugal, is taking the technical lessons of Earth observation and using them for a purpose that hardly could have been planned for, but one that clearly demonstrates the site's capability to raise awareness of space technology among students who are studying non-science subjects.
"I use Eduspace to teach English," explained Narciso. "The students think it’s fantastic."
For Narciso, however, the most compelling rationale behind Eduspace is its collaboration feature to allow participating schools to link with each other as part of the education process. "I would like to use this web site as part of the distance learning process - take education and reduce it to the distance of a click," she said.
The capability for teachers from different disciplines and different countries to meet and share their experiences is also an important part of Eduspace for Dominique Lambert, who teaches physics, chemistry and informatics subjects to teenagers at a Belgian school. He believes the person-to-person connections through Eduspace will find a broad appeal among his fellow educators.
"It allows teachers to meet, and that’s a very human touch," he said.
Students offer their opinions
Eduspace was developed by a small team led by an ESA Earth observation specialist and a secondary-school professor. Educators provided essential contributions to the site’s design and implementation. Teachers may now enjoy the new educational capabilities of the Eduspace site, but what about the students?
Maurizio Ravagnana, for one, is an ardent fan. Just graduated from an Italian liceo in Frascati, the student is headed for university and medical studies. He sees the potential of Earth observation technologies to help provide medical relief teams, for example, with terrain analyses of remote areas where medical relief is needed.
"Somebody needs to get the word out to more students about this," he said.
In fact, students were involved in the ESA process of designing the Eduspace site from the very beginning. Claudia Lichtenegger, a student at the Swiss School in Rome, remembered seeing the initial design for the site. "I hated the first design," she said, telling one of the ESA training specialists building the site, "If you want students to use this, you have to interest them."
In fact, Claudia was speaking to her father, Juerg Lichtenegger, ESA Earth observation exploitation engineer and one of the chief architects of the Eduspace effort.
"I listened," he said.
For more information, please visit the Eduspace website.