Trees are the largest organisms students usually encounter in their daily lives.
However, most are unaware of the critical roles trees play in their local
environments. As critical components of green infrastructure, trees improve air
quality, mitigate storm-water runoff, and provide food and habitat for other
organisms. Using the cross-platform and open-source software Bioimages
Collection Manager (BCM), we created an online interactive arboretum guide
for a university campus arboretum. Faculty, students, and visitors can scan tree
tags with their mobile devices and access biological metadata, participate in
self-guided tree tours, and learn about the ecology and ethnobotany of
individual tree species. Importantly, this approach may be replicated for other
campuses, school yards, and additional green spaces.
Key Words: biology education; ecological literacy; arboreta; mobile technology;
green infrastructure; experiential learning.
The majority of U.S. citizens live in urban areas (U.S. Census Bureau,
2010). In addition to degrading and diminishing natural habitats (Marzluff, 2001),
urban areas may also isolate people from natural systems, increase the separation they feel
from natural environments, and reduce the
quality and quantity of human interactions
with nature (Turner et al., 2004; Lin et al.,
2014). Although individual knowledge of
our natural surroundings is decreasing (Atran
et al., 2004), direct experience with natural
environments ( i.e., largely natural and without design or planning) and seminatural
environments ( i.e., areas that have been modified but still retain
many natural features) has been widely noted as an important factor affecting individual ecological knowledge levels (Eaton, 1998;
Preston & Griffiths, 2004; Pilgrim et al., 2007; Cooper, 2008; Wagner,
2008; Parker, 2009).
Importantly, national support for improving ecological knowledge levels among K–16 students is found in both the Next Generation
Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and the Vision and Change
report (AAAS, 2011). Although the literature offers clear evidence that
experience with natural and seminatural areas has a positive impact on
ecological literacy, urban areas offer limited opportunities for residents
to interact with nature. However, urban areas do have green spaces
that provide opportunities for people to interact with local natural
and seminatural environments. Trees are a critical component of these
green spaces and are the largest organisms that most individuals
encounter on a daily basis. However, many are unaware of the important role of trees in their local environments (Camacho-Cervantes
et al., 2014). Trees improve air quality, mitigate storm-water runoff,
and provide food and habitat for other organisms (Nowak et al.,
2006; Gómez-Baggethun & Barton, 2013). Yet urban trees and the
green spaces they inhabit are underutilized as educational tools, and
few resources exist that specifically aim to increase ecological literacy.
By utilizing BCM to develop an interactive online arboretum guide,
our goal is to teach students about the natural
world using local urban green spaces.
Arboreta for Campuses &
To increase ecological literacy, many communities and campuses have developed arboreta to
enhance understanding and appreciation of trees.
Biology teachers often use campus arboreta as a
source for material to help students study plant morphology or to
teach students about tree identification (Levy & McDowell, 2004).
Common features of arboreta include passive elements such as
Trees are the largest
encounter daily, but
most are unaware of
the critical roles
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 80, No. 8, pp. 572–576, ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. © 2018 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2018.80.8.572.
FEATURE ARTICLE Meeting the Giants in Our Midst:
Developing an Interactive Online
Arboretum Guide to Promote
• PATRICK PHOEBUS, MICHAEL L.
RUTLEDGE, KIM C. SADLER