Visiting scholar wants to engage teachers

Udaysankar Nair and Divya Senan

UAH's Dr. Udaysankar Nair, left, worked with Dr. Divya Senan from Sree Narayana Training College in Kerala to develop Public Environmental Education and Research App (PEERA) curriculum.


A Raman fellow from India who spent the spring semester at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) hopes to engage student teachers at her university in a program that teaches students how to use smart phones to collect scientific data.

Dr. Divya Senan, from Sree Narayana Training College in Kerala, worked with UAH's Dr. Udaysankar Nair to develop curriculum for the Public Environmental Education and Research App (PEERA). PEERA uses smart phone cameras to create photo databases that can be used to document environmental problems and track land use changes.

"We're trying to use the smart phone app in education," Dr. Senan said. "Students can go out into their communities and from their experiences find these changes in their environment."

Because smart phones are still somewhat rare among middle and high school students in many parts of India, Dr. Senan will use the new curriculum at her teacher's college in India. In the U.S., where smart phones are more common, the plan is to use PEERA in middle school and high school classrooms.

"We will be using technology the students are familiar with – their phones – to provide hands on education in several topics at the same time, including global information systems, environmental management, computer science and working with data," said Dr. Nair. "At the same time, there is the potential that these students can also capture useful scientific data."

Dr. Nair is organizing a classroom trial run with PEERA at Sparkman Middle School for later this month.

"The student is placed in the role of an inquirer," said Dr. Senan. "We're also looking at similar apps for things like tracking diseases. Sometimes the only way you can do that is to do a survey, and in many places there is no government agency doing that. We might be able to get the kids to do it.

"We want kids to be more than passive recipients of knowledge, to be generators of knowledge."



Phillip Gentry