Virtual learning
Business offers visit of aquarium through video conference

NORCROSS - Some children got a lesson Wednesday on the ocean's predatory fish that was just as easy - but definitely more interactive - than tuning into Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.

Summer campers from three Sunshine House centers visited Southern Business Communications Group in Norcross to take a virtual field trip to the New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences.

Through a video conference, the children were able to see different types of sharks and ask questions of the Academy's staff in Camden, N.J.

"This is the wave of the future for education," said Leslie Conley, the director of the Sunshine House's Spalding Drive location. "It was a way to go somewhere and experience something they were not going to see otherwise."

Conley said she was impressed that the children, who ranged in age from 5 to 10, were engaged in the activity. They were attentive and enjoyed the program, she said.

Steve Cone, a spokesman for Southern Business Communications, said Wednesday's event was the first time the company has invited children to its office for a virtual field trip. They have, however, set up video conferences in classrooms before.

Wednesday's "test run" was successful, and Cone said they'd like to bring in students on a regular basis.

Southern Business Communications, a Xerox company, provides audio-visual equipment and systems to education, commercial, military and government markets in the Southeast and Pennsylvania. Cone said the company's biggest market is education.

Karen Becker, who works with adaptive technology and grants and funding, said the company has worked with NASA to create a virtual field trip for students with special needs. She said the programs can reach into many curricular areas.

The interactive aspect of the virtual field trips make them fun as well as educational, Becker said.

"It's really important to give back to the community," she said. "We think it's important to expose the kids and expose the community to what's out there and the new technology."