Fort Wayne Zoo's Australian exhibit takes directions from Ball State

Topics: College of Sciences and Humanities, Immersive Learning

May 11, 2011

A team of Ball State University students left the classroom to help a kangaroo mob as part of an immersive learning project that created new signage for the Fort Wayne Children Zoo's Australia Adventure exhibits. 

The 10 students spent a semester learning about zoo operations, observing animals such as kangaroos and dingoes and shadowing zoo staff as part of the experience. The zoo officially dedicated the 15 new signs during a May 5 unveiling ceremony. Funding for the $11,000 project was provided by Ball State, the zoo and a grant from the Subaru of Indiana Automotive Foundation.

"It was great getting to see the final version of the signs in place like that, since the last time we'd looked at them, they were still computer images," said Gary Dodson, professor of biology and faculty representative for the immersive learning team. The signs feature facts, figures and directional information for visitors to the Australian Adventure exhibits.

Making up the interdisciplinary team were student artists, graphic designers, writers and biologists. "The number one thing we focused on is the fact the Ft. Wayne zoo is a children's zoo and is very family-oriented. We wanted something that would attract children and adults to the signs," said public relations graduate student Jara Rowe.

Rowe said the students surveyed the existing signage in the exhibits—in place since the Australia area opened in 1987—and knew an update would be a valuable project. "The signs that were up before ours were silver slabs with engraved text. You could see wear on them and recognize they were definitely in need of updating."

The signage project is the latest in a series of collaborations between Dodson's students at Ball State and the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo. Students in previous immersive learning projects have produced behind-the-scenes videos for the zoo and used video over broadband (VOB) to research the lives of monkeys living there. "It's been an incredible relationship and we've been grateful for how receptive they've been to letting our students take on challenging improvement projects," said Dodson, already planning for the next zoo-student collaboration this fall.

Zoo director Jim Anderson said the zoo appreciates the students' effort on this latest improvement. "This project is a great example of a partnership that benefits hundreds of thousands of people—from the 10 college students who created the signs to our half-million annual guests here at the zoo."

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