Oz Soils - an Interactive Multimedia Approach to Teaching Soil SciencePeter Lockwood and Heiko Daniel
School of Rural Science and Natural Resources, The University of New England
Soil is one of Australia's most valuable resources and it is crucial that future natural resource managers understand at a fundamental level how soils behave and how they interact with other components of ecosystems. Introductory soil science is taught to university students with a wide range of backgrounds and abilities, and the authors' experience has been that some students have difficulty in grasping the core concepts and processes of soil science. We have identified four basic problems that students face:
The rapid technological advances in computer aided learning in the last few years have offered a means of addressing these problems, in the form of interactive multimedia. We are in the process of developing such a program, which we have named Oz Soils, to assist in the teaching of introductory soil science (Daniel et al., 1996). The program has four major sections (Figure 1): nutrient cycling, the hydrological cycle, soil structure, and soils and the landscape. Each section contains a number of interactive modules.
Figure 1. Main menu screen showing the four major sections
Oz Soils started as a small experimental project in 1995, funded by The University of New England. The authors are lecturers in soil science, and we have worked in conjunction with instructional designers, graphic designers, and programmers from the UNE Teaching and Learning Centre. In 1996 we released version 2.0 as a dual platform (Mac and PC) CD-ROM, and currently we are designing an expanded version 3.0 with the support of a National Teaching Development Grant.
To illustrate how the program will function, here is one example of how UNE internal students use Oz Soils. After having attended lectures on the nature and behaviour of soil organic matter, the students are directed to Oz Soils for further study. A student can navigate, by pointing and clicking on hypertext links, from the Oz Soils opening screen to the organic matter module which is contained within the nutrient cycling section (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Nutrient cycle
Figure 3. The processes of crop residue decomposition
To give another example, students can expand their understanding of soils and the landscape by using the computer to examine a range of soil sites, their particular soil profile characteristics, and their associated land use. In the Australian Soils module, students explore a number of soil profiles and their associated landscapes from different environments in Australia (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Soil profiles and landscapes
Several formative evaluations of Oz Soils have been carried out as an integral part of the development process. In 1995 and again in 1996, students who had been using Oz Soils for a semester as part of their introductory soil science unit (SOIL 211) were asked, by means of a questionnaire, to evaluate the program (Lockwood and Daniel, 1997). The main theme running through the responses to the questionnaires is that students had a strongly positive response to Oz Soils. They found it easy to use, enjoyable and felt that it was educationally effective. Some typical responses to questions are shown in Table 1.
asked of SOIL 211 students in 1995 and 1996
In addition, we watched and videotaped students as they sat at the computer using Oz Soils, and during a follow-up interview. These observations enabled improvements to be made in the program interface and navigation. A study was also made of learning strategies used by students in their work with Oz Soils (McLeod et al., 1998).
The positive response we have had to Oz Soils has encouraged us to develop the program further, and has provided us with insights into what works with interactive multimedia and what doesn't. We benefited greatly from working as part of a team which included graphic artists and instructional designers. We also took the time to learn how to write material for the new medium and how to convey our message visually, and lessen our dependence on text. Users have liked the high degree of interactivity and especially the use of self-test revision questions. Finally, being able to offer Oz Soils to both Windows and Macintosh users has been an advantage, especially when the program is served out to students in computer laboratories.
The Oz Soils version 2.0 CD-ROM functions under both Macintosh and Windows operating systems, and ordering information can be found at the web site below. It is anticipated that an expanded and updated version 3.0 will be available from mid 1999. More information about the program, and a downloadable demo is obtainable via the World Wide Web at: http://www.une.edu.au/agronomy/ozsoilscd.html
Daniel, H., Greenwood, K.L. and Lockwood, P.V. (1996). Oz Soils - an interactive introduction to soil science, Multimedia CD-ROM, Teaching and Learning Centre, The University of New England, Australia, http://www.une.edu.au/dec/mm.html
Lockwood, P.V. and Daniel, H. (1997). Computer-assisted teaching in soil science. Sciences of Soils 2, 1997 at http://www.hintze-online.com/sos/1997/Articles/Art5/
McLeod, R.J., Daniel, H. and Lockwood, P.V. (1998). A Study of learning strategies used by students with the Oz Soils interactive multimedia program. EdTech '98 Proceedings at http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/gen/aset/confs/edtech98/pubs/articles/m/mcleod.html
A review of Oz Soils - an Interactive Introduction to Soil Science is also included in this publication.
UniServe Science News Volume 11 November 1998
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