interactive keys and others

Una Smith una.smith at ATT.NET
Mon Mar 13 13:31:13 CST 2006

Donna I. Ford-Werntz wrote, about her students' trials with an
interactive plant key:
>                                                            They really
>liked it and made better identifications with less guidance than using the
>printed state Flora.  In general, with only 5 or 6 selections, aided by the
>analyze (best choices) feature, they had the options narrowed from >2000
>taxa to about a dozen.  I was amazed at how well it worked at overcoming
>the "what family is this" hurdle.

I had a similar experience, running a workshop with 24 students
at a state botanical society meeting.  Most were hobby botanists.
We played "imagine you work in a herbarium, and someone brings
you *this* to identify."  Each plant was something very easy for
a trained botanist to identify, being weird and hence memorable.
The students made very fast progress toward identifications, up
to the point where they ran out of characters.  Meaning, things
about the plant that they could describe.  Their highest barrier
was their small technical vocabulary.  But, using an interactive
key with illustrations of the characters, they made good progress
there too.  Their procedure was basically this:  1, pick a best
character;  2, look at the character illustrations to learn what
it is, and decide if you can make out the character in your plant;
3, if so, use the character, else pick another best character.

Some students used another common strategy:  pure guessing.  For
these students, recovering from their inevitable wild errors was
easy using the interactive key (INTKEY):  they just deleted the
guess.  No need to re-do any of their thoughtful choices.  Also,
they caught on immediately how to make intelligent guesses using
INTKEY, excluding any states that they knew for sure don't match.

That was a really fun workshop!

        Una Smith
        New Mexico

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