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Virtual Forest Initiative Modules Piloted at Columbia University

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July 9, 2009. Undergraduate students in Professor Kevin Griffin’s spring course The Life System, learned to see the forest for the trees using the Tree Respiration Tool, one of three new modules recently released by the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) as part of the Virtual Forest Initiative.

The modules, which also include the Forest Sampling Simulation and the Sampling Design & Optimization Tool, use climate and tree data collected from Black Rock Forest, located 50 miles north of New York City in the Hudson Highlands. The sampling modules help students learn how to design and perform an accurate ecological inventory, thus revealing the overall species composition of a forest.

Over the past year, CCNMTL, in collaboration with Columbia University professors Kevin Griffin and Matthew Palmer and Barnard College Professor Hilary Callahan, developed and piloted three modules that help students master the scientific understanding of key concepts taught in their respective courses. Students in Dr. Callahan’s Plant Evolution and Diversity laboratory course piloted the Forest Sampling Simulation module for a comparative forest sampling exercise. Dr. Griffin’s students experimented with environmental factors in the Tree Respiration Tool, and Dr. Palmer’s students tested their understanding of sampling design using the Sampling Design & Optimization Tool.

“The Tree Respiration Tool allowed me focus on teaching the concepts rather than struggling with data manipulation,” said Griffin, “and the students spent time thinking about the output rather than becoming frustrated with the process. These tools gave them flexibility to explore multiple scenarios and simulations, which, in turn, led to interesting class discussions about the physiology of plant respiration from the scale of leaves to ecosystems.” 

The creation of the modules represents phase one of the multi-year Virtual Forest Initiative project. The larger Initiative, which includes the creation of a growing data repository by the Columbia University Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, will provide a technological framework that supports and enhances research, education, and community resources at Black Rock Forest.

Related links:
web link Visit the Virtual Forest Initiative website
web link Read more about the Virtual Forest Initiative project at CCNMTL

Related news:
May-16-2014: Video: Virtual Forest Tools Enhance Science Learning and Research
May-02-2013: With Virtual Forest Initiative, NYC Students Become Citizen Scientists
Mar-05-2013: Connecting NYC Students to the Forest, Virtual and Real
Mar-02-2011: Toyota Foundation Grant Enhances Science at Harlem HS
Aug-05-2010: Virtual Forest Initiative Featured at the Ecological Society of America Meeting
Mar-11-2010: Barnard Students Engage with New Virtual Forest Module
Jan-14-2009: CCNMTL Develops Educational Materials and Technologies for the Virtual Forest Initiative