Learning Gains and Response to Digital Lessons on Soil Genesis and Development

Article excerpt


Evolving computer technology is offering opportunities for new online approaches in teaching methods and delivery. Well-designed web-based (online) lessons should reinforce the critical need of the soil science discipline in today's food, energy, and environmental issues, as well as meet the needs of the diverse clientele with interest in agricultural and/ or environmental disciplines. The objectives of the project were to: (1) develop web-based lessons in soil genesis and development and (2) evaluate context-based case studies or application lessons (agronomic, environmental, and ecological situations) to teach soil genesis and development. Six principles lessons, along with three applications lessons, were developed for use by undergraduate soil science courses. Pre- and post-tests were used to assess learning gains. A postactivity survey was also used to assess perceptions of the web-based lessons by student users. Students' test performance from pre- to post-test improved by 69%. Although there were no differences in post-test gains among learning styles, or between genders, the students majoring in professional golf management had higher post-test gains than other majors. Since their inception in 2006, lessons have continued to be both primary and supplemental resources for multiple courses serving over 140 students each year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Oregon State University-Cascades. The lessons will be especially useful for teachers who do not have extensive training in soil science yet cover the subject as part of a basic earth science course. © 2011 National Association of Geoscience Teachers. [DOI: 10.5408/1.3651402]


The Soil Science Society of America recently emphasized the potential of soil science to help solve the critical global needs in food security, the environment, and alternative energy (LaI, 2007). Soil science has the potential to produce quality graduates to help solve these major global-scale problems. However, soil science education has traditionally focused on the agricultural authence, thus in the past has fallen short of demonstrating the relevance of soil to students from nonagricultural disciplines, thus the need to broaden the application of soil science and disseminate materials via web-lessons.

A survey of web-based resources suggests that existing educational materials are not meeting the needs described above. Materials that are available seem to occupy two poles in the educational spectrum. On one extreme, there is an extensive array of learning resources aimed mainly at primary and middle school. These resources are illustrated by the web site maintained by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) National Soil Survey Center (http:// www.statlab.iastate.edu/ soils/ nssc/ educ/ edu_k-12.htm) by NASA (http://soil.gsfc.nasa.gov/) and by the Dig It exhibit of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (http://forces.si.edu/soils/index.html). These sites contain resources on different aspects of soil focusing on primary and secondary school authences. The other educational extreme found in current web-based resources consists of postsecondary level courses in soil science. These offerings are considerably less common than the resources available for primary and middle school. One illustration of such a course can be found at Oregon State University & (http:// ecampus.oregonstate.edu). The description of the course, however, suggests that its content and methodology are typical of classroom courses in soil science, only offered at a distance primarily using video. Other learning resources include one at Idaho State University on soil orders (http:// soils.cals.uidaho.edu/soilORDERS/). This site uses images, pictures, and maps to describe the 12 USDA soil orders. While the resources mentioned above are important and very useful in meeting some needs in the area of soil science, there is still a large gap that needs to be filled to increase the digital database of well designed soil science resources for undergraduate education. …


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