Daily Egyptian

Codes on trees tutor students

A QR scanner code hangs on a tree along the path through Thompson Woods. The codes are being put up by a group of graduate students in the forestry program so that other students can scan the code and find information about that specific tree. Associate professor of forestry Jon Schoonover hopes to have the QR codes on 135 different species of trees throughout Thompson Woods.ALEXA ROGALS

A QR scanner code hangs on a tree along the path through Thompson Woods. The codes are being put up by a group of graduate students in the forestry program so that other students can scan the code and find information about that specific tree. Associate professor of forestry Jon Schoonover hopes to have the QR codes on 135 different species of trees throughout Thompson Woods.ALEXA ROGALS

By Elizabeth zinchuk

Trees and technology do not usually mix, but one professor is changing that to redefine learning.

Jon Schoonover, associate professor of forestry, and a group of graduate students have placed Quick Response codes on trees on campus, specifically around Campus Lake and Thompson Woods, with help from the Center for Teaching Excellence.

The QR codes lead scanners to a website called “Tree Trainer” that will show a viewer a picture of the tree, fruit, buds, leaves, and bark as well as inform the viewer the common name, family name, genus, and species. On the website’s homepage a complete, portable version of the program can then be downloaded on a PC or Mac operating system.


The QR code application, Schoonover said, is unique and is less limited than some apps that have similar functions.

“To my knowledge this is the first website that is linked to actual tree specimens in the field,” Schoonover said.

Other apps, which can be purchased, Schoonover said, focus on identifying characteristics of the plants but do not lead the user to locations where they can see the plant in person.

The QR codes are a tool for students in Forestry 202, a tree identification lab. Schoonover said that over 135 trees, shrubs, and vines are introduced over the fall semester.

“Forestry 202 has the reputation of being a challenging course that is required in the department of forestry,” Schoonover said. “It’s basically a 24/7 tree ID tutor for the course.”

Joshua Nickelson, a graduate student in forestry from Salisbury, is a teacher’s assistant in Forestry 202 who has helped construct the QR tags, identify the trees to tag and gather photos for the website. Nickelson said he thinks the application is benefiting the students.

“To my knowledge, tree identification is the most commonly dropped course in the College of Agricultural Sciences,” Nickelson said. “It is difficult and very time consuming.”

Nickelson said the QR codes could draw attention to the Forestry Department and Center for Teaching Excellence’s efforts to help student’s learn in different but efficient ways.

“This application is designed to be a full-time tutor to students helping with both Latin spelling and identification tips,” Nickelson said.

Although Schoonover said he came up with the program with Forestry 202 in mind, he said any student with an interest in learning trees can participate and access is free and available for anyone with a QR code scanner on their phone or tablet.

“Recently I had a plant biology student stop by to talk about the program and I have witnessed multiple individuals scanning the codes who were not in Forestry 202,” Schoonover said.

At first, Schoonover said his idea was to develop a smartphone application that could be used a study tool in the class. Through working with the Center for Teaching Excellence staff, he said it was then decided to utilize the tablets freshmen were given as well as use something that didn’t require WiFi or a data package, which is where the QR codes came in. This allows students to download the application prior to using it and can be used on tablets as well as smartphones.

Schoonover said so far, user statistics have shown that the website application is constantly in use by students with peak times occurring on nights before quizzes and that multiple students have told him it has been very helpful.

“Each specimen is introduced during a given week in class and the QR code gives the students an opportunity to view multiple examples of the trees on campus,” Schoonover said. “It gives students the opportunity to touch, smell and see the tree in person as many times as they need so they can learn how do identify it.”

The Tree Trainer website is being improved through an interactive map that is continually being updated with all the locations of the tagged trees with QR codes, Schoonover said. Nickelson said the website, map and codes have been a great help to students.

“While the QR codes and interactive map that will soon be associated with them are not quite running at full speed, the associated website has proven to be a key study tool for students in this course,” Nickelson said. “Upon completion this application will be an amazing resource not only for forestry students but for anyone interested in dendrology on campus.”

In addition to the map, the Tree Trainer website offers a quiz option for students to test their knowledge on the correct spelling of the common name and Latin nomenclature, Schoonover said. He said the use of this technology has resulted in the dying down of traditional ways of studying for the Forestry 202 course, such as using flashcards.

“Historically, students created flash cards to study the common and Latin names. Since the launch of the website I have seen the number of flash card users diminish,” Schoonover said.

Jeff Garner, a photographer for the Center of Teaching Excellence that aided in the Tree Trainer website and application, said the Center of Teaching Excellence set up a grant for instructors who had difficulties with communicating certain course information to their students or classes with a slightly higher rate of failure.

Garner said the instructors would come and communicate the issues they were having, and they would pair up with instructional designers who would go over the course and highlight certain areas they could help out with.

Karla Berry, the director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, said requests for proposals were sent to the entire faculty about redesigning a course. Forestry 202 was one of the two courses selected.

“It was about using technology to enhance learning in a class that had a high failure rate,” Berry said.

Garner said Schoonover had an idea right at the start, which was a great help, and that he and the Center for Teaching Excellence brainstormed ways to improve on the idea.

“We took the idea and went further and evolved it,” Garner said.

The technology involved in the application, Garner said, is helping the learning process for students, especially when the material is more complicated.

“When you have complex information that you need to relay to the student, that information can get lost during that communication,” Garner said. “So when you find something interactive like this it helps students get involved.”

Garner said using technology helps instructors redefine concepts that, they know student struggle with.

“It’s the same information, we are just approaching it in a different manner,” Garner said. “It’s our job to help to instructors help their students.”

The students aren’t the only ones learning from the Tree Trainer application, Garner said.

“It was a learning experience for us because we never worked with QR codes,” Garner said. “I hope to help more instructors and learn new things through that.”

Garner said he thinks the website has been successful and is still going through some development.

Schoonover said that the QR code application is constantly improving based on suggestions from students. Plans to have audio podcasts linked to the QR codes giving an audio description of the plant specimen are in the works, he said.


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