Tuesday, 11 July 2006 - 8:50 AM

Innovation, Speculation and Disneyfication in Soil Science Education.

Tony Koppi, Univ of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

The goal of education in soil science is to develop the skills and qualities in students that will enable them to think and act as professionals in the field. The challenge for teachers is to identify and apply the best processes to achieve this desired outcome. Teachers have to ask themselves how they themselves learned how to act as professional soil scientists. Invariably the answer includes having been involved in authentic real-world problem solving situations where part of the solution is: hands-on practice; experimentation; trial and error; looking at the problem from different perspectives; and interacting with colleagues. Kicking the problem around for ourselves is how we as professionals learn best. Cohorts of students in higher education usually deal in abstract concepts that are remote from the authentic problem solving practices of the professional. The question then becomes: how do we as teachers bring the learning practices of students in these situations more in line with those of real-world practitioners when their worlds are separated in space and by the time it takes to gain practical experience? The use of educational technology and technologies in general can help bridge this spatial and temporal gap and make the student learning experience as authentic as possible. “Disneyfication” is usually concerned with simulations, e.g.: representing an abstract concept in animated form; and interactive manipulations of representations. The most advanced simulation not yet devised is that depicted in the ‘Holodeck' of Star Trek. The Holodeck allows the participants to be fully immersed in a simulation of any real world to enable seeing, touching, experimentation, discussion with experts – i.e., everything that allows authentic learning. While we work towards this kind of simulation of the real world, we can actually use today's technology to bring the worlds of the student and practitioner together. The presentation will include speculation and demonstration of various innovative technologies that can be applied to giving students authentic learning experiences in the quality and skills of practitioners. The techniques and processes will require corresponding innovation and change in teaching practices in soil science but they could develop a reputation that will be very attractive to future students.

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