Dr. Maja Krzic is an Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Biology/Forest and Conservation Science at the University of British Columbia-Vancouver. She and colleagues from the university’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) have developed self-study quests, based on a mobile app, that are used for analysis of forests and soils in two second year undergraduate courses at UBC.
Dr. Krzic and her colleagues have had a close, ongoing working relationship with UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology resulting in 20 projects since 2003. In 2013, CTLC put Dr Krzic in touch with a local app developer, 14Oranges Inc. This company has developed a free app, Questogo (http://questogo.com/), an interactive game, similar to a scavenger hunt, in which users explore new places by navigating through neighbourhoods, deciphering clues, conquering challenges, and discovering hidden treasures. User experiences can then be shared on a social platform.
Dr. Krzic and her colleagues saw an opportunity to develop scaffolding activities built around the app for two of the undergraduate courses that she teaches (FRST 201 and APBI 200).
FRST 201: Forest Ecology
In FRST 201 five field-based laboratory sections are carried out in the Pacific Spirit Regional Park (http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/parks/parks-greenways-reserves/pa...) that is adjacent to the UBC’s Point Grey campus. The laboratory exams evaluate student’s ability to identify plant species and habitat, including soil nutrient and moisture regimes and types of forest disturbances. Two weeks before the laboratory exams there are no laboratory sections, which allows students to focus on reviewing course content.
For this course the app is designed as a self-study activity that supports the field-based laboratory sections. In particular the learning objectives for the app are to review previously learned course contents, enhance students’ interest in forest ecology, and view the forest ecosystem in an integrative and interactive manner.
The app is used in an activity designed as a ‘quest’. Students have the option of conducting the quest during the 2 weeks before a final laboratory exam.
The quest follows a distinct pattern of instructional tasks, followed by location tasks, and then by a single question or series of questions. This ensures that students will be in the right location in the park to answer location-dependent questions.
Instructional tasks either direct students to the next location in the quest or provide students with some brief descriptor of where they are and for what they should be looking. Location-based tasks require students to verify their location using the GPS unit on their Apple platform mobile device.
The question and answer task follows completion of the previous two tasks. Students are asked either a single question or a series of questions, for example, what species of tree is found here, and what chemical compound is found in this tree that makes it resistant to rot? The questions prompt pre-registered answers as either single-, two- and three-word answers, or multiple-choice.
It takes about two hours to walk from campus, locate the sites, take the tests, and get back to campus. Students go out in groups of four to six. They can take the tests individually or in a group.
No mark is awarded for the completion of the quest; however, students who complete the quest are given the opportunity to have their lowest laboratory report mark taken out of course mark calculation.
After completion of the quest, students were asked to submit a group written report that needs to include the group’s total number of points achieved and photos of the group members participating in the quest.
APBI 200 (An Introduction to Soil Science)
APBI 200 is a required course for several undergraduate programs in the Faculty of Forestry, and Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC, and the course focuses on the structure and function of forest ecosystems. The course each year has about 260 students with varying background knowledge of ecology, biology, and soil science.
In 2014 and 2015, funding from UBC’s Flexible Learning Fund was used to focus on development of instructional scaffolding activities for APBI 200 (An Introduction to Soil Science). The project team, led by Dr. Krzic and her MSc student Darrell Hoffman, developed a variety of instructional techniques that moved students progressively toward stronger understanding and greater independence in the learning process, through the use of the app.
Figure 1: The home page of the app for APBI 200
The scaffolding activities (all focused on the topic of forest soil) focus on: lecture instruction, hands-on laboratory instruction, online multimedia material and self-study, and a mobile-based quest based on the Questogo app. The app was adapted to enable participants to find the specified locations, to describe soils in the forest through a set of guiding questions, and to even compete with other participants by seeing scores achieved by all participants on the scoreboard of the app. Questogo also provides a set of analytics, which can be used by course instructors to review users’ results, evaluate students, or adapt quests accordingly.
Figure 2: Finding and identifying the desired location
Benefits and outcomes
The need for innovation in the teaching of forest and agricultural management, and in particular the online recording of expertise, has been driven by an increasing shortage of expertise and experience, especially in soil sciences. Many of the experts in this area have died or retired. There are relatively few university programs in soil sciences, yet it is a subject of critical importance for the forestry and agriculture sectors.
Partly for this reason, there is a long record of innovative applications of online learning in Soil Sciences in Canada dating back to 2003, when initial web-based soil science teaching material was developed by Dr. Krzic and personnel from the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. This quickly led to other collaborative projects with soil scientists from 12 Canadian institutions and establishment of the Virtual Soil Science Learning Resources (VSSLR) group led by Dr. Krzic. The VSSLR web site (http://soilweb.ca/) contains a wide range of open educational resources focused on soil science. Examples of initiatives spearheaded by the VSSLR group include:
- educational video recordings of the soil science experts explaining the key features used in soil description and identification in the field,
- integration of problem-based learning and web-based multimedia,
- use of wiki platform in undergraduate teaching (http://wiki.ubc.ca/Course:APBI200),
- incorporation of mobile-based gaming in undergraduate courses.
APBI 200 is a required course for students in the Faculties of Forestry and Land and Food Systems, many of whom find the science component particularly challenging. In particular the analysis and categorization of soil is subtle and requires careful observation and practice. It is time-consuming if not impossible for a single instructor to provide the detailed observation and feedback needed for over 100 students.
The self-study, mobile-based quests, such as those used in FRST 201 and APBI 200 courses provide an engaging, interesting way for students to practice their skills and to test their knowledge in a strong, experiential way, enabling them to develop skills of observation and analysis. The quest was developed not as a replacement for the outdoor laboratory sections but as a resource that supports those sections.
A major benefit of the DE quest is that it allows students to go back to the app and review the questions asked and topics covered as many times as they wish. In a typical field-based laboratory section of the Forest Ecology course (FRST 201), a group of up to 60 students visited various sites with one instructor, limiting direct hands-on participation time by each student. The DE quest and the app allowed students to learn concepts that they may have missed during the outdoor laboratories because they were said out of earshot.
At the end of the first application of the app in 2013, one of the undergraduate students, on her own initiative, conducted an evaluation of the quest. Of the 130 students in the course, 52 responded (40%). The overall response of the students was positive.
The majority of students responding (96%) stated that they found the app easy to use or easy to use in most situations and 88% of students thought that the quest was designed at an appropriate level of difficulty, and that it incorporated suitable types of material for review. A majority of the respondents (81%) stated that they would recommend the DE quest to other students.
Forty seven per cent of respondents indicated that the DE quest helped them deepen their knowledge of material covered in the Forest Ecology course, and 44% of students indicated that the quest allowed them to learn more about the topic of disturbance ecology.
Forty-one percent of all students who completed the online survey stated that that there was enough information provided to complete the quest, whereas 16% thought there could be more location tasks provided, and another 19% indicated that there were too many location tasks.
28% of students stated that they would most definitely be interested in doing other quests in the Forest Ecology course, and 66% indicated that they would be interested in doing quests if they were incorporated into other courses.
The evaluation resulted in changes in the design of the quest for the next offering of the course.
Challenges and enhancements
Currently the Questogo app runs only on Apple devices although an Android version is in development by 14 Oranges Inc. However, in two self-guided quests done in FRST 201 and APBI 200 courses, students worked in groups and there was always at least one student in the group with an Apple device.
The special funding and grants from the university’s Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund and technical and pedagogical support from the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology were essential for enabling this development.
Some of the biggest challenges for all the technology innovations in postsecondary education is keeping up to date with on-going changes in technology, and particularly in maintenance of online educational tools and web sites. For instance, digital content often has to be repackaged or modified due to software licences expiring, new versions and updates, etc. Maintenance costs of digital educational resources are not usually covered by grants.
Development of the self-guided activity on Questogo from initial planning stages and conceptualization to implementation, evaluation, and adjustments was conducted took approximately 150-person hours. This is much shorter than what development and programming of a web-based educational tool would typically require. Mobile apps offer an efficient alternative to the development of active learning tools. However, the development of the scaffolding activities took longer.
There will be many other opportunities in other subject areas to locate an already existing app and slightly modify it for educational purposes, but this will require close collaboration between subject matter experts, learning technology specialists and app developers.
Hoffman, D. 2015. Blending multimedia and campus-based learning to enhance learning about forest floor and humus forms. MSc thesis, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC. pp. 130.
King, C., Dordel, J, Krzic, M. and Simard, S. (2014) Integrating a Mobile-Based Gaming Application into a Postsecondary Forest Ecology Course Natural Sciences Education, Vol. 43
Strivelli, R.A., M. Krzic, C. Crowley, S. Dyanatkar, A. Bomke, S.W. Simard, and A. Jakoy. 2011. Integration of problem-based learning and web-based multimedia to enhance soil management course. J. Natural Resources & Life Science Education 40: 215-223.
Applied Biology/Forest and Conservation Science
University of British Columbia-Vancouver