Acknowledging the traditional owners upon whose ancestral lands each of the University of Sydney campuses stand.
Walking around the campus grounds of the University of Sydney, most people are struck by the architecture. Impressed though I am with the buildings hewn from sandstone, my attention is drawn to the vegetation. I am intrigued that the diversity of photosynthetic organisms that I see everywhere is not recognised by everyone else.
Apparently, this is due to a phenomenon called plant blindness. To humans, plants don’t appear to move much, if at all, and our attention is grabbed more by animals than by plants. But that aside, how do most people fail to see and acknowledge the organisms that provide us with our oxygen, our food, our medicines, our clothes and our shelter? Our cultural and ceremonial connections, our ethnobotany, are fascinating. As humans migrate around the planet they take their plants with them. Human curiosity and our obsession with collecting the exotic have resulted in plants moving across their biogeographical boundaries and we are skilled in manipulating gene lines by selecting for traits we find desirable or palatable.
My work in the higher education sector is primarily concerned with teaching botany to science undergraduates. Unless students can learn how to see plants, there is little chance of developing botanical literacy,. Connecting our students to our unique Australian flora in real-time with real living botanical specimens is essential if we are to have botanically-literate graduates who are equipped for their future careers to address food security and the sustainability of our ecosystems. For teaching Botany and associated subjects (ecology, ethnobotany), the technology can be enormously useful to provided maps so students can navigate their way to botanical specimens and to make observations first hand. Virtual reality offers little when part of the learning experience is to crush a leaf and smell the oils that are released, or to recognised the plasticity of form within a given a Family.
Where m-Learning solutions have their value is in expanding the learning spaces to anywhere, anytime and by including anyone. In the university context, this includes both students and staff. An analysis of the CampusFlora user metrics tells me that international ‘virtual’ visitors are learning about our extraordinary biodiversity and unique Australian flora. This pleases me enormously. Having spent the past few years focused on developing an mLearning plant map to offer botanical narratives, it has become clear that people are interested in ethnobotanical narratives and our team (CampusFlora) is currently exploring ways to use “plants + mLearning’ to 1) teach the Sydney Aboriginal language, and 2) to encourage members of the campus community to take short 10 min walks around our grounds, a practice which has been linked to improved creativity.