UBC Forestry Brings Plant Identification to Life Through Video Series

Patrick Culbert
Patrick Culbert

Not all online learning university tools have been developed or further enhanced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UBC Forestry professor Dr Patrick Culbert recently published a paper exploring his experience developing an extensive plant ecology and identification narrated video series on YouTube. Although the release of the paper coincides with the need to teach online, the project’s origins evolved four years ago.

In 2016 when he first came to the university, Patrick says he was inspired to undertake the plant identification project as he was hearing from ecology students they were struggling with learning a vital forest science skill – the ability to identify plants in the field.

“Plant identification is not something typically taught in high school,” explains Patrick. “And for those students coming from other parts of the world, it’s even more challenging to identify plants they may never have seen before.”

By the summer of 2017 and with funding from UBC’s Teaching & Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF), Patrick and his crew were getting up close and personal with coastal British Columbia’s understory plants. Investing countless filming hours in the field, they later moved the project to UBC Studios where they produced 53 easy-to-understand plant characteristic short videos that were released with a companion website and online dynamic quizzing for the purpose of supplementing forestry field instruction.

Patrick said he wanted the videos to be publicly accessible and used as a supplemental educational resource for many years to come. To date the channel has received more than 48,000 views from students and non-students across the world.

Plant Identification Closeup

“From looking at the spikes in views, we can see there was definitely an increase in traffic right before a plant ID quiz, but certainly the majority of the views are people other than students.”

Although he stresses the videos and related online tools cannot replace in-person field instruction, Patrick emphasizes video in-the-field learning has some notable advantages.

“For one, even though it is two-dimensional, video allows for the viewer to get a feel for the three-dimensional arrangement and structure of a plant. Still images can’t do that.”

Patrick further points out the videos have been well received by students who have indicated they appreciate being able to pause and rewind the videos, the enhanced captions and their personalized style.

“Learning and teaching at home can be pretty isolating. Hearing a familiar voice online seems to go over well.”

Check out the videos on Patrick’s YouTube Channel, Coastal Plants of BC – UBC Forestry.
To see the initiative, visit The Coastal Plants UBC Blog.

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