Thursday, November 16, 2006 - 9:00 AM

GIS in the Field: Teaching Soil-Landscape Interrelationships Using Rugged Tablet PCs.

Darrell G. Schulze, Raymond R. Struthers, Phillip R. Owens, and George E. Van Scoyoc. Purdue Univ, 914 W State St, West Lafayette, IN 47907

Soils occur in the field in predictable, repeatable patterns, the result of five major soil forming factors that can vary over length scales ranging from a few meters to tens or hundreds of kilometers. Teaching students how to recognize spatial differences in soils and landscapes, and how to draw inferences from them, is a significant instructional challenge. It is easy to see and conceptualize differences that occur over only a few meters within a field, but this becomes more difficult as distances increase to several kilometers. The right visual (a particular map or sequence of maps), presented at the right time (while students are in the field) makes complex relationships clear and easy to remember. Paper maps are the obvious solution, but they have major limitations, including the difficulty of quickly locating one’s position. Last fall we began using rugged Tablet PCs in our Soil Classification, Genesis, and Survey course. The Tablet PCs are equipped with ArcGIS software and various digital maps of our study areas. Location is indicated by GPS at all times, and it is easy to jump between different maps quickly. The equipment is robust enough to hold up under the dirty and sometimes wet conditions in the field. Students have responded enthusiastically and said that the Tablet PCs were useful learning tools that allowed them to better see the relationships between soils and landforms. The Tablet PCs have also had a significant impact on the quality and effectiveness of our teaching. We have learned new things about the soils and landscapes of Indiana that were not apparent to us before, and we are now able to teach these subtle and complex relationships more effectively than ever.