The Force of NaturesPace

Skunk cabbage, woodchuck, duckweed. Do you know your plants and animals growing and roaming around the PLV Campus? Dyson Biology and Health Sciences Professor Josh Schwartz, PhD, is giving you the scoop on NaturesPace, a project he’s working on to help you identify them with a quick scan of a QR code.

Written by Josh Schwartz, PhD

We are exceptionally fortunate to have a Pleasantville Campus that is rich in both plant and animal diversity. However it is likely that only a few of us can identify more than a small number of the different species that populate the campus or explain aspects of their biology and natural history. Recently we (Josh Schwartz, PhD, of the Department of Biology and Health Sciences and Martina Blackwood, PhD, Staff Director of IT) received Thinkfinity Awards to create a mobile-device accessible online database meant to provide such information. Together with student assistants, we have created web pages devoted to individual species of animals and plants. Each page provides photographs of a species helpful in identification, information on habitat, distribution, physical characteristics, and interesting facts as well as findings from scientific research. A list of references is also provided. Access to pages is through QR or “Quick Response” codes posted on signposts on campus located near particular species. Thus individuals with iPads, smart phones with a QR reader App, or Android-based devices can expeditiously access data by simply reading the QR code with their device. Species pages and additional information are also accessible via the project’s homepage at http://webpage.pace.edu/naturespace.

We have created a Twitter account (@naturespace2012) so that students and faculty members can share information, via “tweets” on species sightings or plants flowering on campus. Twitter also will allow users to pose questions that could be subsequently answered by students, faculty or environmental center personnel.

NaturesPace is a work in progress and over time we hope to have signposts with QR codes linking to at least 100 species. On the website we also include examples of and links to literature and visual art of students and faculty that have a natural theme. For instance, NaturesPace will have a link to a spring 2013 issue of VOX, the student online literary magazine at Pace, which is focused on nature. Future embellishments may include species keys, audio descriptions, more audio clips of frog calls and bird songs, and links to relevant literature. Other anticipated upgrades will enable users to obtain information about particular natural areas on campus using GPS coordinates or be guided by a web-based docent on a nature tour of the Pleasantville Campus.

The augmentation of the species database is meant to involve biology, environmental studies, education and computer science students. But all students, staff and faculty at our school are welcome to help out in this way and also contribute nature-related examples of their creative work. Our hope is, therefore, that the system’s development and use will improve interaction and collaboration among students and faculty in different disciplines. We envision a continually evolving system that will grow with future advances in technology and scientific knowledge about the organisms on campus. It is our sincere hope that, in this age of dramatic declines in the biodiversity of our planet, the use and development of NaturesPace will greatly improve knowledge and appreciation of our natural world while fostering an increase in curiosity among our technology-passionate and savvy students.

If you are interested in learning more about NaturesPace, Josh Schwartz will be giving a brief presentation on April 25 at 1:30 p.m. in the Environmental Center.