UniServe Science News Volume 11 November 1998


Oz Soils - An Interactive Introduction to Soil Science

Ann Young
School of Geosciences, University of Wollongong

Oz Soils is an excellent teaching tool for courses involving the study of Australian soils. It is written from the viewpoint of agricultural science but the topics are so clearly presented that my students from geology/geography/ environmental science backgrounds enjoyed working through it. The program has four modules - nutrient cycling, hydrological cycle, soil structure and soils and the landscape. Within each module, the menu allows students to choose from a set of topics, and presents a short introductory section of text followed by an explanation of soil processes illustrated by photographs, diagrams or animated graphics. At the end of each module, a series of revision questions in multiple choice format are given. As the students do these, the number of attempts as well as details of the correct answers are shown - there can be quite noisy competition in class as a result! Oz Soils includes a glossary of terms and reference list.

The material is self-explanatory but I recommend individual topics as reading material to supplement lectures. Some topics are covered more than once and this is helpful (e.g. cation exchange on clays is dealt with in the soils and landscape module and also under nutrient cycling). The nutrient cycling module is particularly good for students struggling with concepts such as cation exchange and C:N mineralisation because of the animated graphics. In examples of soils from various areas, both Great Soil Group and Australian Soil Classification terms are used. I integrate the soil structure module with laboratory or field exercises, using Oz Soils to explain the concepts and then having students apply them.

There are a couple of minor flaws in this version - 'sandy loam' and 'sandy clay loam' transposed in the texture triangle; hitting 'play' under the 'particle size theory' topic crashing the program; and a diagram showing nett erosion on upper slopes and nett deposition below being over simplistic. All these are being corrected in the version now being developed.

My students have used the program for two years now and have enjoyed it and learnt from it. Those who worked systematically through the whole program know a lot about soils at the end. I recommend it highly.

Oz Soils - An Interactive Introduction to Soil Science is available from:
Teaching and Learning Centre
"Oz Soils Orders"
The University of New England
Armidale, NSW 2351
Fax: (02) 6773 3269

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UniServe Science News Volume 11 November 1998

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