Animal Care students observing animals with pocket camcorders with Course Manager Ian Hall

Animal Care Unit Gets Webcam Project Underway

Sat, 2001-10-13 01:00

East Durham College’s Animal Care Unit is embarking on a bold new technological project aiming to help students engage with their learning more outside of college hours, as well as showcasing the work that is done at the unit.

The project, which is backed by a government grant, has seen a classroom at the College’s Houghall Campus Small Animal Unit fitted with a fixed webcam, letting people access the camera fed online and observe the everyday happenings at the unit.

The camera has been a huge hit with the animal care students from the Durham-based College, who have been accessing it out of hours to observe and study animal behaviour whilst they are not actually at the unit.

Ian Hall, Course Manager and Lecturer at the Animal Care Unit, said: “With ever increasing student numbers we needed to ensure that resources at the animal care unit are available to as many students as possible 24/7.

“Already students are accessing the camera out of normal college hours and are tweeting their observations via our Twitter account; learning should not be confined to 9-5.

“Keeping students interested and involved with their learning is so important.

“82% of our animal care students (296) accessed the College’s Virtual Learning Extranet last weekend. They didn’t have to but they did.”

But it’s not just students that are accessing the camera; this new technology has been receiving recognition both locally on radio and nationally at different colleges and universities.

Ian added: “We’re gaining national and local exposure about the project via our course Twitter account, as well as with the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) and several higher education establishments, such as Lincoln University.

“We are followed on Twitter by BBC Radio Newcastle who have picked up on the project, so we are naming three of our hamsters after the breakfast presenters, Alfie, Charlie and Gilly.

A member of the team from LSIS, the government-funded body backing the project, admitted it was the innovative thinking behind the initiative that lead his team to get on-board.

Mick Mullane, an independent mentor working on behalf of the LSIS, said: “The projects we get involved with are all about promoting good practice, so when Ian came to us with the idea of putting animal care online through a camera, with the aim to help students study animal behaviour, this struck us as very innovative thinking.

“The promotion of the key concept of being able to learn effectively outside of core college time, and perhaps uniquely having a tutor available too outside of the College’s main teaching hours represents a big leap forward for electronic learning.

“We’ve been fortunate that a North Yorkshire company, C-Ways, loaned us a CCTV camera to trial the concept. And now we’ve shown this is going to be effective we are now ready to install our own camera, which is to be delivered any day.”

But the project is not going to stay confined to in the animal care unit, LSIS have also made a number of handheld video cameras available to students - giving them the opportunity to video all the happenings regarding the animals around the Houghall site.

Mick added: “The handheld cameras will be able to go ‘in the field’ to record animal behaviours. Being waterproof they are also better suited to be out in all weathers - especially during lambing in the spring. 

“Students will be able to record footage that can be placed on the College’s VLE or used for their own assessment work.”

Both Mick and Ian hope the project won’t stop here, with them admitting that the project has been set up with future expansion firmly in their thoughts.

“A huge thanks needs to go to the College’s IT Technical team. They have fully supported the project and have already made other rooms ready for camera installations and have increased the Wi-Fi capabilities at Houghall,” Ian said.

Mick added: “The project has been built with expansion in mind.  The Tech Services guys have been a big help in preparing the computer network.

“The technology Ian is working with is industry-standard and could be scaled to cover other areas. The response from the students is the biggest indicator of success - the ones I’ve talked to absolutely love the technology.”

You can follow the Animal Care Unit's everyday goings-on on their Twitter account: @edcanimalcare