Dr Elizabeth Farnsworth has told us about the New England Wild Flower Society’s announcement of the first stage of Go Botany, the Society’s exciting, new open source website that teaches botany and plant identification, is now online.
She writes “Imagine a field guide at your fingertips that can help you learn about the native and naturalized plants of New England! Maybe you’re a teacher looking for new ways to interest your ninth-graders in learning about the natural world or a plant enthusiast looking to meet and share new finds with a community of neighbors with similar interests. Whether you’re a botanical beginner or an expert with this free Go Botany web tool, you can now identify 1,200 of the most common native and naturalized plants of New England. But there is much more to come.
With a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation and other generous donations, we are building a suite of many learning tools. Our flexible, user-friendly interactive key will enable you to identify species based on whichever portions of the plant – leaves, flowers, winter buds, bark, etc. – you are able to observe at any given time of the year. Using truly innovative technology, this dynamic key asks you the questions about your plant that most efficiently help you hone in on your species, based on the questions you have already answered. Our Simple Key will help you identify 1,200 of the more common New England plants. If you prefer to use a more traditional dichotomous key, later in 2012 Go Botany will feature an innovative, clickable key that is easier to navigate than a conventional field guide – no more flipping pages! Also coming in 2012, is the Full Key, which covers more than 3,500 plant species, including subspecies and varieties. We are also developing an online, collaborative portal called PlantShare, where you can join a community of plant enthusiasts and create and share checklists and photographs of species you have seen. Have a question? Here’s your chance to ask a botanist. Our research botanist and assistants will be available to answer all your questions.
Go Botany is fun and friendly. Jargon is kept to a minimum, but all botanical terms are linked to a pop-up glossary. Drawings illustrate all the characteristics in the key. Once you identify your plant, you can see a wealth of information about it, including gorgeous color photographs, maps of its geographic range, diagnostic characteristics, and memorable facts. The Go Botany design is optimized for both desktop and tablet computers, so you can use it anywhere you have a web connection.
Why the web? New England Wild Flower Society recognizes that the future of science education relies, in part, on using new technologies effectively to convey information, excite curiosity, point learners to related resources, and enable them to use portable devices to identify species in the field. At the same time, we know technology must go hand-in-hand with mentoring and human interactions that introduce new concepts and reinforce learning in a memorable and meaningful way. The web is a vast repository of useful data and images of plants, but you cannot experience the excitement and fascination of observing plants in the wild by surfing the web. Thus, we want to combine the rich information available on the web with interactive data-sharing and networking tools to make botanizing an active, participatory process. Botany isn’t just for plant geeks anymore!
Go Botany can be tailored to any locality or region with a documented list of plants. Thus, we are working with three institutional partners – Montshire Museum of Science (Vermont), Chewonki Foundation (Maine), and the Peabody Museum of Natural History (Connecticut) – to develop online floras for their unique settings. The Montshire Museum will feature a guide to plants of their Woodland Trail, as well as a colorful, interactive kiosk called “Hemlock Holmes” that challenges kids to identify mystery plants. Students attending the Semester School at the Chewonki Foundation will use Go Botany to document the flora of Chewonki Neck and several Maine islands. The Peabody Museum of Natural History will engage urban students in identifying plants at their new West Campus in New Haven, CT. These organizations attract a diversity of audiences, and we are developing Go Botany with lots of built-in flexibility to appeal to a range of users. To introduce Go Botany and encourage its widespread use in both the classroom and the field, we will conduct dozens of teacher-training workshops throughout the region and at national meetings in 2012-13. Teachers will be able to share the many ways they have used Go Botany, posting their curricula and modules in the Resources section of the website.
Why stop at New England? Go Botany is a model that can be exported nationally to any institution that seeks to develop an interactive flora and educational website tailored to their region. Thus, for example, we are collaborating with scientists at the Smithsonian Institution, who will use our software to develop an interactive key to the orchids of North America! Many organizations, from universities to land trusts, are expressing interest in adapting the innovative Go Botany software to their local floras. We are also hosting a session on next-generation field guides at the Ecological Society of America national meetings this summer, bringing together other high-profile innovators of web technology such as eBird, DiscoverLife, BugGuide, and LeafSnap.
The Go Botany project is the product of many hands working hard over the past two years, including the computing firm Jazkarta (Boston, MA), smart programmers from as far away as Newfoundland and Los Angeles, seven botanical data specialists, four image collectors, a creative design team at Fresh Tilled Soil (Waltham, MA), a talented User-experience designer (Matt Belge, VisionLogic), and many Society staff members and interns who have starred in helpful videos, photographed plants, and beta-tested the web application. The whole project is being objectively assessed by the Lesley University Program Evaluation Research Group, which is making sure we reach our goals of enhancing botanical education. We’re grateful to the many photographers who have kindly donated plant images and many other collaborators and advisors; we’ll be looking for your input and suggestions, too!”
Ready? Set? Go to: http://www.newenglandwild.org/gobotany
The mission of New England Wild Flower Society is to conserve and promote the region’s native plants to ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes. Founded in 1900, the Society is the nation’s oldest plant conservation organization and a recognized leader in native plant conservation, horticulture, and education. The Society’s headquarters, Garden in the Woods, is a renowned native plant botanic garden in Framingham, Massachusetts, that attracts visitors from all over the world. From this base, 35 staff and more than 1,000 volunteers work throughout New England to monitor and protect rare and endangered plants, collect and preserve seeds to ensure biological diversity, detect and control invasive species, conduct research, and offer a range of educational programs. The Society also operates a native plant nursery at Nasami Farm in western Massachusetts, which grows plants for retail customers and for landscaping and restoration projects, and has eight sanctuaries in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont that are open to the public.