How does the use of digital photography affect student observation skills and data collection during outdoor field studies?

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Montana State University - Bozeman, Graduate School


The purpose of this project was to determine if adding digital photography as a tool for collecting data during outdoor field study would increase student engagement and also improve the quality of the data students brought back to the classroom. Too often my students would come in from the field with data that focused on surface or irrelevant features. They were unable to use their data to make connections to the ecology concepts we were learning in the classroom. During the non-treatment phase of the study, students recorded all of their data through drawings and written observations. While at their plots, students inventoried the vegetation present and also took specific measurements such as tree circumference, canopy cover and invasive plant cover. Before taking the cameras out to the field, students practiced with the macro settings to take close up pictures of vegetation brought into the classroom. During the treatment phase, students took digital cameras out to their new plots to inventory and measure plants. Student engagement data was measured using a self-assessment questionnaire, outside observer behavior checklist and teacher field journal. Although interest and engagement were high for most students during the entire study, students who were not initially engaged in the field study activities reported higher engagement levels when cameras were used. The outside observer and teacher journal data supported this finding. The quality of student data was measured using both the student self-assessment questionnaire and drawing or photo rubrics. Rubric scores increased when students used photographs, rather than drawings, to write observations. Students felt they had more to write about when looking at their pictures as compared to their drawings. Interestingly, students reported they wrote less while at their plots when they had the camera, relying on their pictures to tell the story of their plot. Using photos only slightly increased students' ability to positively identify their plants. Pictures lacked those complex features that would enable students to easily work their way through a basic key. To increase the complexity of observations, additional content knowledge about plant structure and ecology is needed.




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