The project goal was to develop a GIS application, accessed on rugged tablet PCs, that allows Agronomy students to access multiple maps of an area while out in the field.
Project RationaleIt is easy for students to see and conceptualize differences in soils that occur over only a few meters, say, from a high spot in a field to a low spot just a few steps away. It becomes more difficult, however, as the distances increase to several kilometers. The Agronomy 565 class, for example, takes two all-day field trips each fall semester, one north as far as Michigan City, the other south as far as Bloomington, each a distance of about 200 km one way. On both trips instructors try to make the students aware of the large-scale, often subtle, changes in soils and landscapes that occur over these distances. Over the past two years, the Agronomy Department has developed a few small- and intermediate-scale single-page color maps that have the trip route plotted on them. This has helped tremendously in teaching. They would also like to use more intermediate-scale poster-size maps and the small-scale soil maps published on multiple 11 x 17-inch pages in published soil surveys.
Paper maps, however, have limitations, especially in the field. Dr. Darrell Schulze wanted a way to have students “zoom in” on maps to see the detailed distribution of soils in a given area, and then “zoom out” to see how that area relates to a larger whole. Large, printed poster-sized maps are useful in this regard, but they are impractical in a van or bus. Even with the best paper maps, making sure that everyone knows exactly where they are on a map is not trivial. The instructor can announce the locations over the PA system of a bus, or call out over his or her shoulder while driving, but there is no assurance that the students have all located the proper position on the map. Dr. Schulze devised a way to provide multiple maps of the same area, such as a road map, a soil map, a geologic map, a topographic map, and a digital elevation model map so that students could quickly switch between them and see the correspondence between all of them.
ImplementationThe Agronomy Department provided IDC with digitized maps. The IDC team used the ARCGis software and keyed these into the Global Positioning System (GPS) maps, enabling the creation of multiple layered maps that work with GPS so that students have constant access to geological information about their current location when in the field. IDC provided the learning resource to Dr. Schulze on DVD. It was uploaded to a server in Agronomy and runs from the rugged laptops purchased by Agronomy for student use during class field trips.
Technologies UsedARCGis software was used with geo-referenced maps. A DVD was created and the resource uploaded to run from the Agronomy server.
Impact on Student LearningThe right visual (a particular map or sequence of maps), presented at the right time (while the students are in the field) makes complex relationships obvious and easy to remember. This has a tremendous impact on the quality and effectiveness of learning. After the first five weeks of using the Table PCs during field labs and on one all-day field trip in AGRY 565, Dr. Schulze’s team conducted a mid-term evaluation of the effectiveness of the Tablet PCs as a teaching tool. The student response was enthusiastic: all said that the Tablet PCs were useful learning tools that allowed them to better see the relationships between soils and landforms. One student commented, “the tablet is an incredible learning tool. It makes soil science visible and brings out in the landscape things that I would have never known were there without the tablet’s help.” The only complaint from the students was that there were not enough Table PCs to go around!
Using this technology, Dr. Schulze has seen a tremendous improvement in teaching and learning: “I’ve found that in preparing the Tablet PCs and GIS layers for use by my students, I’ve learned new things myself about the soils and landscapes of Indiana. I’ve then been able to immediately incorporate these new insights into my teaching.” He adds: “Using the Tablet PC / GIS technology in the field is like adding a fourth dimension. Not only can you see the soils and landscape in your immediate surroundings, but you can now relate those surroundings to a much larger whole that is displayed on the Tablet PC.”
IDC Staff Contact: Elizabeth Harris