UniServe€Science News, Vol. 4, July 1996

The Soil Investigation Kit:
A CAL Program for Soil Science

Marcel Chaloupka and Tony Koppi are with the Department of Agricultural Chemistry and Soil Science, University of Sydney

Nature and Structure of the Program

The Soil Investigation Kit has been designed to be learner focused and teacher driven. It places the student into a mimetic environment where the user engages in activities of exploration, physical testing, and information acquisition.

The Soil Investigation Kit is based on constructivist approach (as opposed to a instructivist, teacher centred approach) where the learner is engaged in problem-solving activities resulting in mental model building. The student control is a key factor in sustaining student stimulation and motivation. The Soil Investigation Kit can be broken down into four processes: Problem, Acquisition, Reference, Synthesis.


A horticulturalist wants to plant an orchard in one of four locations, the student is required to determine which site has the soil most appropriate for the orchard. Armed with the plant requirements, the student sets out to investigate the issue.


The student can visit five locations including a laboratory. In the field the student can dig pits, investigate the profile and take samples for the laboratory. Field investigations include identifying horizons, salinity, pH, texture, fabric and structure. Laboratory investigations include saturated hydraulic conductivity, pore space relations, bulk density. The student records results in a notebook.


The student can also refer to the reference section of the notebook to find information in solving procedural or conceptual problems. The notebook is also an information resource reference of soil science including general and detailed descriptions as well as videos and animations, illustrating how to measure the key properties and understand the concepts involved.


The synthesis stage is about the ability of the student to explain ideas and concepts in different perspectives. The Soil Investigation Kit encourages the synthesis by facilitating a question and answer process whereby the student is required to interpolate information from a quantitative to a qualitative viewpoint, i.e. the quantitative data must be qualitatively related to itself and to the requirements of the initial problem. This key-structured conversation is designed to dig deeply into the student's understanding. The synthesis stage starts with broad statements such as, "So your report shows that there is an A2 horizon at site two but what does that mean for my orchard?".


Interactive media only provides opportunities when users can learn to visualise and understand complex relationships in ways that are not possible in other media. Memorising and rote learning information for the sole purpose of reproduction is associated with surface learning and poor learning outcomes (Entwistle and Ramsden 1983; Watkins 1983). Alternatively, students that are engaged with the intention of understanding or seeking meaning are associated with higher quality learning outcomes and higher grades. It is thus the activities that are important, engaging the student in a learning activity where the action and activity evoke thought which leads to synthesis and understanding.

Marcel Chaloupka


Entwistle, N and Ramsden, P. (1983). "Understanding Student Learning" (Croom Helm: London).
Watkins, D.A. (1983) Depth of processing and the quality of learning outcomes, Instructional Science 49-58