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Unique graduation project

A group of students from Agder University College (HiA) in southern Norway recently produced a unique graduation project. They put together a public outreach / interactive / multimedia presentation about the organisms, communities and ecosystems in the deep sea using state-of-the-art interactive computer software.

The goal of the project was to provide members of the public with an attractive, informative presentation with which they could interact to learn more about the fascinating world of the deep sea.

“It was truly amazing to have such an exciting opportunity for our graduation project,” reports Espen Madsen, one of the students involved. Madsen, Silje Granhaug and Siri Skjæraasen formed a student team. They were part of the first graduating class from a new Bachelor’s programme in multimedia technology and design at HiA.

“The presentation is stunning,” says assistant Professor Kåre Mosgren, who was the group’s supervisor. The project’s success has also led to the integration of the software technology in HiA’s ‘Authoring Software’ course beginning next autumn.

“We wanted to develop a project that would have ‘real world’ value, as well as giving us some practical experience in the kind of work we hope to encounter in the future.” states Skjæraasen.

The background for the project began with the generous donation of Scala software to the MAR-ECO project in 2003. With its independent and interactive (touch screen) possibilities, the software is particularly well adapted to disseminate popular science material effectively.

Odd Aksel Bergstad, the leader of the MAR-ECO project, approached Mosgren autumn 2005 with the idea of using the Scala technology and MAR-ECO information in a graduation project. Mosgren is particularly well suited to supervise the project as his background is in marine chemistry. He teaches freshwater/marine ecology and pollution, basic chemistry, organic chemistry, basic biology and microbiology at HiA. He also is a musician and made the sound design for the project.

The project was formally presented together with the other graduation projects at HiA 8 June. It was such a success that an additional presentation was undertaken at the Flødevigen research station the following week, involving members of the press and Scala investor and member of board, Andreas K.L. Ugland, and Scala President and CEO, Mr Gerard Bucas.

“The tool can in some ways be considered as an advanced version of PowerPoint,” explains Madsen. He and Granhaug travelled to the Scala European headquarters for a two-day course in January. The final presentation ended up with around 400 “pages” involving around 8000 links!

In addition to the number of pages and links there were other technological challenges to be overcome in the project. Although the MAR-ECO project has extensively documented its activities since 2002, much of this material is in different formats (pictures, film, video, digital material). In addition, while the Scala software has features that are similar to many other multi-media software products such as Macromedia Director, Flash etc., it differs in aspects such as navigation and timing. Ultimately the student team used a number of software programmes to prepare the material before importing the elements to Scala and then integrating them into the final product.

“A whole new world exists under the sea,” observes Skjæraasen. “It was fascinating to learn about the amazing and unusual life forms that are found in the deep sea – things like bioluminescence and the fact that there are 42 000 species of crustaceans!”

Skjæraasen explained that although not having background in marine biology was a challenge, it was also an asset because the students were able to have more of a “user” approach to the material than the scientists do. They worked closely with Bergstad and Tone Falkenhaug, both MAR-ECO scientists and researchers at the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) to ensure the scientific “correctness” of the final presentation. Tor Birkeland, also from IMR, helped with some of the information technology solutions.

“These deep sea creatures have inspired the creators of monsters,” says Granhaug. She believes that this alone will captivate the viewing public.

Observing the interest their fellow classmates expressed in the project’s contents, the students believe that their ‘virtual submarine’ presentation will encourage greater public interest in the deep sea.  “After all,” they say, “not many people can actually voyage down to 4000m below sea level!” The touch-screen presentation enables viewers to interact personally with the deep sea environment.

The MAR-ECO / Scala presentation will form part of the international travelling exhibition, “Deeper than Light” that is currently being developed at Bergen Museum in Norway. The exhibition will be finished early in 2007. Interested centres include Japan, New York, Lisbon, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Spain and Germany.


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