Friday, 16 November 2012

Go Botany: Integrated Tools to Advance Botanical Learning

Elizabeth Farnsworth, PhD                                                                                                    PDF
Senior Research Ecologist, New England Wild Flower Society,
180 Hemenway Road, Framingham, MA 01701, United States 

Go Botany: Integrated Tools to Advance Botanical Learning is a project to educate people about the plants of New England. New England Wild Flower Society, the oldest organization dedicated to plant conservation in the United States, is developing a multi-faceted, on-line resource designed to: i) improve self-directed scientific education in botany among novice learners, amateur and professional botanists, and citizen-scientists in New England, and ii) train science educators to integrate innovative web tools into lessons on botany and plant identification.    
   This web-based project will result in an online New England flora called Go Botany, which will build upon the Flora Novae Angliae, written by Arthur Haines and published by Yale University Press (2011), the first comprehensive scientific reference on the region's plant species produced in the last 25 years. The educational products and innovations from this project will be nationally distributed to educational organizations and will serve as a model for engaging teenage and adult learners in science.

We seek to engage life-long learners in learning about plants in both formal and informal educational settings. The Go Botany Simple Key (released April 2012) has been user-tested with people ages 8 to 80 and is being used in classrooms, teachers participating in the Harvard Forest Schoolyard LTER Program and Project Budburst, professors teaching botany courses at the college level, instructors conducting workshops for adults, Plant Conservation Volunteers and Task Force members of the New England Wild Flower Society, professional botanists of the Natural Heritage Programs throughout New England, Garden Club members, the American Society of Botanical Artists, the Army Corps of Engineers, and many other audiences. Over 35,000 people have visited Go Botany, with the number of visits ever-increasing.
Simple Key ID
  •  Beginners or experts can identify over 1,200 of the more common species of plants with ease.
  • Users first choose what broad group their “mystery” plant belongs to; Go Botany provides videos, text, and photographs to help categorize the plant. Next, users choose what subgroup the plant is in, using the same helpful tools.
  • Third, users answer some easy questions about features of the plant you can see, like bark and buds in mid-winter or flowers and fruits in summer – you choose! The Simple Key ID is smart, giving you questions based on the answers you’ve already made. It’s also friendly, minimizing jargon, and instantly giving illustrated, pop-up definitions of botanical terms. The Simple Key provides images and summary information about possible matches, so users can quickly determine the identity of the plant by the process of elimination.
  • Once users have arrived at a species, visit its information page to learn lots more: fun facts and uses, maps of the species’ range, gorgeous photos, information about all its features, look-alike species, and whether it’s native, invasive, or rare in New England.

Advanced ID Tools 

For more experienced or professional botanists, Go Botany will feature (Winter 2012):
  • A Full Key that uses the same friendly interface as our Simple ID Key, but allows user to identify all 3,500 species, subspecies, and varieties of plants in the New England flora.
  • A Dichotomous Key which is clickable and interactive, allowing users to trace their steps, change their choices, and key out plants to families, genera, species and subspecific taxa.
This online forum (due Spring 2013) will connect users with other plant enthusiasts to create and share checklists and photographs of species they have seen. Users can:
  • Collaborate to assemble lists of plants in their schoolyard, neighborhood, or hometown.
  • Keep a map of all the plants they have seen, and view other members’ discoveries.
  • If users have a question about a plant they are trying to identify, they can consult our online Expert Botanist or the community of PlantShare members and get answers.
Tools for Teachers
Looking for new ways to engage your students? Go Botany provides a forum to share ideas on using Go Botany in the curriculum. Go Botany is designed to help formal educators meet state teaching standards.
  • Teachers can use our innovative technology to encourage students to look carefully at plants, build skills to identify them, and search for particular species they’ll want to know more about.
  • Students can use Go Botany outdoors with a tablet computer anywhere they have a web connection, or in the lab to key out plant specimens they have collected.
  • Use the checklist feature to develop a customized flora of a local schoolyard, backyard, environmental center, or hometown.
  • During 2012-2013, we’ll be offering free workshops all over New England specifically for formal and informal science educators. 

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