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For their latest annual field trip to Indonesia's Wakatobi Marine National Park, University of Essex professor David Smith decided to try something new: He and his class dove 18 meters (59 feet) under the surface of the ocean, and then he conducted his lecture on the local coral reef system using a microphone built into his face mask while the students listened using headsets under their masks. Over 15 hours' worth of videos was also shot during the lectures, creating a unique audiovisual learning experience. Smith says, "I was able to use the power of observation like never before... I was able to explain to students exactly what they were seeing and inject more passion and feeling into the whole lecture."

What's the Big Idea?

Underwater communication technology -- the kind that doesn't involve words scrawled on a slate -- is normally reserved for TV presenters and professional divers. Smith purchased the technology for his lecture series with the help of a special teaching grant. By being able to create a real-time underwater field study, Smith was able to bring together the theoretical and the practical. Student Tilly James says, "The underwater lectures...enabled us to get a much better understanding of how all the components of the reef system were interacting with each other. It was an experience you simply cannot get with traditional lectures."

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