Evolutionary Technolgy: Using Google Earth, Cyber Databases, and Geotagged Photos to Enhance Students' Scientific Practices and Understanding of Darwin's Theory of Evolution

By Wang, Shiang-Kwei; Hsu, Hui-Yin et al. | Science Scope, February 2014 | Go to article overview

Evolutionary Technolgy: Using Google Earth, Cyber Databases, and Geotagged Photos to Enhance Students' Scientific Practices and Understanding of Darwin's Theory of Evolution


Wang, Shiang-Kwei, Hsu, Hui-Yin, Posada, Jean, Science Scope


To effectively communicate their research procedures, lab reports, and findings, scientists use technology to produce visual representations of information. Likewise, to prepare students to under-stand and do science in the digital era, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013) foster students' ability to read, interpret, and produce multimodal information to communicate. This set of skills is equivalent to the 21st-century new literacy skills. New literacy refers to new forms of literacy made possible by the use of technology. It is the ability to use information and communication technologies (ICTs) to "identify questions, locate information, evaluate the information, synthesize information to answer questions, and communicate the answers to others" (Leu et al. 2004, p. 1572; Hsu, Wang, and Runco 2012). To be fluent in new literacy, students need to be proficient in three important areas (Hsu and Wang 2010): technology skills (the ability to operate computer and network technologies), literacy skills (the ability to read, write, comprehend, and communicate), and cognitive skills (critical-thinking, problem-solving, and research and evaluation skills). This important set of skills parallels the scientific inquiry process and is considered essential for college and workplace readiness in 21st-century global society.

Our students are digital natives. They use technology to consume, produce, and share information in their daily lives and are accustomed to acquiring and producing knowledge through multimodal for-mats (Prensky 2001). Students can apply these critical skill sets to schoolwork to solve cognitive problems, specifically in science education, which values hands-on, constructivist, and student-centered approaches. Educators have avidly advocated the idea of helping students practice new-literacy skills across disciplines. In addition, the Next Generation

Science Standards (NGSS) support the notion that "being literate in science and engineering requires the ability to read and understand their literatures. Science and engineering are ways of knowing that are represented and communicated by words, diagrams, charts, graphs, images, symbols, and mathematics. Reading, interpreting, and producing text are fundamental practices of science in particular, and they constitute at least half of engineers' and scientists' total working time" (NGSS Lead States 2013).

The learning activity described here uses a variety of ICTs and other resources to facilitate students' scientific inquiry and new-literacy practices and allows them to express their understanding of discipline-specific knowledge through multimodal formats (e.g. texts, charts, images, or maps).

Google Earth, cyber databases, and geotagged photos

Google Earth is a 3-D image-mapping database that is widely used in environmental and geographic education and has been adopted by educators as a popular information-consumption tool. It provides students with rich multimedia information and real-time scientific data through the connection with public cyber databases. It can also be used as an information productivity tool to support students in developing and using models to explain, explore, predict, and collect data to test ideas about the phenomena in natural or designed systems. There are a vast number of databases connected with Google Earth; here we specifically focus our discussion on the photo database Panoramio.

Panoramio is a geolocation-oriented photo-sharing website that provides geotagged photos: images that carry geographical location data and are displayed in specific locations in Google Earth. This means that in addition to the 3-D virtual environment, teachers can show students one more layer of information regarding a geographic location. For example, students can visit Glacier National Park on Google Earth to skim the outlook of this area (Figure 1), enter street view (Figure 2), or click on the geotagged photo to see what it would look like if they were standing in front of the exact location (Figure 3).

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