Researchers from Cranfield University and the Open University are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Soil-Net – a free, online soil science resource for school pupils and teachers – which has been used by over one and a half million people in over 200 countries and territories worldwide. A paper detailing the impact of the educational resource has also been published in the journal Soil Science.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) funded the development and launch of Soil-Net as an innovative soil education resource to support school curricula. Soil is one of our three major natural resources; however, compared to water and air it has historically been under-represented in the school curriculum in the UK.
Dr Stephen Hallett, Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute, said: “We advise politicians and policy makers on the importance of soil for understanding environmental systems and stewardship. However, it is arguably even more important to raise awareness among our increasingly urbanised youth. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that there may be as few as 60 harvests worth of topsoil remaining and so the success of Soil-Net is fantastic and will hopefully lead to a more sustainable, protected soil future.”
Dr Hallett, along with Dr Sally Caird from The Open University, analysed data on the adoption, use and impact of Soil-Net between 2006 and 2016. The analysis showed strong student learning through the interactive quizzes, and the user ratings and qualitative feedback from primary and secondary school students, teachers and parents showed positive satisfaction ratings.
The website has been trialled in several schools to ensure the relevance of the materials. Mr Campbell, Headteacher at Firs Lower School in Ampthill, said: “Soil-Net offers a fantastic environmental teaching resource, all the better for being free. We have used parts of the website in our lessons successfully, and incorporated some of the many activity sheets into our teaching. Overall, I can commend Soil-Net as an excellent resource for other teachers and schools wishing to find out more curriculum-linked information about soil and environmental issues.”
Ian Brown, Executive Officer of the British Society of Soil Science, which is based at Cranfield University, said; “Soil is not just essential for feeding a growing global population, it also provides us with fibres and textiles, supports biodiversity of plant and animal life, filters our water, regulates our water cycle, recycles organic materials, retains carbon, and even preserves archaeological records. Soil really is a wonder and this educational resource is vitally important, which is why we have supported this venture from the outset. The best soils take thousands of years to develop so we must act now to preserve what we have left.”
The website allows students and their teachers to comment on the resource: “This is a wonderful site. Excellent background knowledge for teachers and I love and use the resources. Thank you”
Another user went on to say: “At last, a really great website on soils. You have done a first rate job here. Feel free to take it to A Level .... cation exchange and difficult soil processes!!”
More work is needed to develop the website resources for the next generation of students, taking advantage of new technologies, such as the tablet computers now widely used in classrooms. The latest innovative pedagogies and ICTs will ensure the applicability and sustainability of the resources. For more information visit www.soil-net.com
Read for the Open University press release.
Notes for editors
Cranfield Environment and Agrifood
For the past 50 years, Cranfield has been contributing to enhancing natural capital and ensuring that global food systems are more resilient for the future. We are recognised worldwide by industry, government and academe for our research and teaching in plants, soil, water and air.
We believe that environmental problems can be alleviated through technological innovation and risk management.
We are working with the UK government on two multi-million pound agricultural technology centres – Agri-EPI (The Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre) and CHAP (Centre for Crop Health and Protection).
Our education, research and consultancy is enhanced by our world-class facilities including the National Reference Centre for Soils, which houses the largest collection of its kind in Europe and is recognised as the UK’s definitive source of national soils information, and our big data visualisation suite, which has tools to analyse big data collections including environmental resources from 280 countries/territories worldwide.
About Cranfield University
Cranfield is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.