Can a computer replace what's typically learned during hands-on in the field experiments? A pilot study, with Soil Science Society of America and American Society of Agronomy Member Martha Mamo at the helm, may indicate a virtual environment does more than just fill the gap.
The technology explosion is rocking all aspects of computer use-- at the social level, to the ever-expanding possibilities for gaming . But it's quickly creeping in to educational applications, specifically multi-user virtual environments (MUVE), such as SecondLife, which allows educators to create simulated situations focused on a specific problem.
In this particular research at the University of Nebraska, a soil and water environmental case study was created using SecondLife. One group of students used the virtual application to navigate soil and water pollution activity. The other completed the work using the traditional method of paper, pencil and graphs. A pre-study survey showed 33% of the students in the virtual group had a level of experience with some type of computer environment, usually via playing games. However, the results from the experiment itself may be surprising-- with those using the traditional method scoring higher than the students learning via a virtual environment.
Despite the outcome, a post-activity survey indicated students enjoyed the educationally designed virtual experiments and felt it contributed to their overall learning experience. It could just be another step to help reinforce what students of all ages and stages of their careers are hoping to experience in their own personal study of soil.
Read the entire study; including the questions, design and application as first published in the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education by the American Society of Agronomy, here: https://www.agronomy.org/publications/jnrlse/articles/40/1/114