Starting in November area schoolchildren will see a whole new studio presentation when their teachers arrange a virtual lecture with the McMillen Center for Health Education.
It has been a week and a half since the nonprofit health center announced its new technology and just eight years since it first ventured into the realm of using video conferencing/lecturing as an option for schools. Although the center has classrooms and traveling lecturers, the online component offers schools another way to access McMillen's programs.
Linda Hathaway, director of education and curriculum, said they first started doing video through a joint venture with Science Central in 2005. At first they would use the studio facilities at Science Central, then in 2008 they created their own in-house studio. Hathaway said the space was so small you could literally stretch out your arms and touch either wall. When someone would demonstrate touching his or her toes, the person would disappear from the screen, because the shot was really only from the waist up.
“The students would all giggle,” Hathaway said with a laugh.
Standing in the new green-screen video studio at the McMillen Center it is impossible to reach out and touch both walls. They have remodeled a former classroom. Using an $80,000 donation they have designed the new space, purchased, and installed the latest in state-of-the-art green-screen technology.
The video program works by reading every color but green. It's the same technology weather forecasters use on the news. One wall of the room is bright green and has a rounded bottom; a portion of the floor in front is also painted neon green.
“If I was wearing a green blouse, my upper body would blend into the background,” Hathaway said.
By using a projector to enlarge objects on a green-covered table they can make them as big or bigger than Hathaway on the screen. By watching a 42-inch flat- screen monitor mounted on the wall, Hathaway could see where she was standing in proximity to the objects. Directly in front of her is a 55-inch monitor that provides a split-screen image of the audience at their remote location and her image as she appears on the green screen.
On this particular morning she was showing the differences in two real plasticized aortas. One was healthy and one was not. The magnification in the projector made the objects so large it was easy viewers to see the differences. Hathaway said right now the staff is just getting used to working on the green screen.
Schools that are interested in using the video offerings at the McMillen Center can go through a program at IPFW, called ACELINK, which will pick up the cost of the program and will cost them almost nothing for the school to use. With close to 30 different programs there is plenty to choose from.
New this year is Don't Text and Drive for grades 7-12, Bully Don't Bother Me for grades K-3, and Sexting & Texting: No Unsend Button, for grades 7-10.
For the past 31 years McMillen has offered education to 1.5 million youths and adults. Last year alone they served a little over 36,000 students in counties as far away as Delaware.