Nature and Technology, an Unlikely Pair

The Fall 2016 issue of The Kent State Magazine (p. 13) revealed a new app, ParkApps, that allows visitors at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Cleveland MetroPark to interact with their cell phone to enhance their outdoor experience. “Using the phone’s GPS settings, the app buzzes to life as visitors move through the parks, pointing out historic sites, geologic formations and even explaining the eerie drone of the cicadas that emerged in northeast Ohio this summer after a 17-year slumber.”

While some people question the place of technology in nature, professor Richard Ferdig points out that, “At a zoo, you can use placards to point out what visitors should notice, but when you’re out in creation, that’s not practical.… This is a way to engage people with their surroundings, without putting a sign on every shrub or animal.”

Ferdig and his team at the Research Center for Educational Technology at the School of Lifespan Development, received the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning initiative grant of $952,000 to collaborate with the two parks and create the free ParkApps for the iPhone. (Android version to follow soon.)  The app also provides maps and conservation content designed to call attention to the parks’ natural assets and can be used as a tool for citizen science, allowing nature lovers to take part in data collection—for instance, to help keep tabs on the coyote population in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

For ParkApps, Ferdig was one of the winners of KSU’s 2016 Outstanding Research and Scholarship Award.Every year, the 2.5 million visitors to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park pose more than 110,000 questions and requests to the park’s rangers, and hopefully this app will spread the education even further.

To learn more about the app and download it, click here.

Submitted by Lorraine McCarty

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