Use of the Virtual Forest

Ray Russo rrusso at IUPUI.EDU
Mon Dec 1 12:36:26 EST 1997

Hi David,
	I recently received your post to the Plant Ed list through a friend
of mine and thought I'd take this opportunity to tell you my experience
with the Virtual Forest. As with all good software, the Virtual Forest came
from my own ecology lab experience. The idea actually arose in 1988 when
everyone of my ecology field trips for biology majors was rained out. I
even tried several times to take trips IN SPITE of the rain. However, it is
very hard to concentrate when you're cold and wet and have difficulty
looking up without getting hit in the eye by raindrops. I decided to
developed a virtual field trip  in order to act as a substitute whenever
the weather was uncooperative. I developed "A Trip to a Forest", a
Hypercard program, that allowed students to practice different sampling
techniques and tree identification. As technology progressed, so did my

The Virtual Forest CDROM is based upon Davis Woods, a Central Hardwoods
stand, SE of Muncie, IN that has been sampled frequently over the past 80
years by the School of Forestry at Purdue. It uses QuickTime VR to allow
the user to look around in the forest at 25 different locations. Within
each panoramic scene, the user can click on a "hot" tree to vie a branch of
that tree. Included are an identification key, a caliper to measure DBH,
and a tape measure to measure distances on the ground (necessary for some
sampling techniques). It also allows the user to query a variety of experts
about the central hardwoods (requires sound capability).

I discovered another way to use the simulation, when I found that my
students were very inefficient at identifying trees and made a variety of
mistakes when using quadrat and point-quarter sampling. I now use the CD to
prepare the students for their real field trip or as a stand for comparison
with the stand that we actually visit. I found that students have higher
correct identifications and actually collect more usable data when I have
them practice the sampling techniques (quadrat and point-quarter) in the
computer lab with the Central Hardwoods Virtual Forest. In the computer
lab, it is easy to immediately respond to a student's questions about some
critical identifying characteristic. The repetition that they get in the
lab improves their efficiency when they go to the field.

There are a variety of studies that can be undertaken with the CD. Most are
described under the "teacher' expert. For example, beside a density
analysis with the calculation of density frequency and coverage, one can
develop an size distribution analysis, a species diversity study, a
comparison of different sampling techniques(belt transect, quadrat and
plotless) among others.

The only explanation that I give beforehand is that I repeat what the
introduction says about how to select different points in the forest by
clicking on the canopy and I review how to use the caliper, tapemeasure and
the identification key. The point, cliock and drag interface seems to be
intuitive, even for elementary school students. Mistakes do not cause a
great setback, because so little energy is invested in each sample.

You may be interested in the fact that we are in the process of developing
four more Virtual Forest CDs through the Indiana Dept of Natural Resources.
During the Spring of 1998 we will release the Northern Boreal Virtual
Forest based upon stands in the region of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
and Canoe Area. During 1998, my team will be visiting, southern pine
forests (Tallahassee, Flordia), Rocky Mountain Forests (Whilehall Montana),
and Temperate Rainforest (Forks, Washington). Hopefully these will be
released in early 1999.

Hope this information is helpful in using the CD or encourages others to
try it as an augment to field work.

For more information check out our website at


Dr. Raymond Russo
Professor of Biology
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
723 W. Michigan St.
Indianapolis, IN 46202
rrusso at

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