We released Oregon State University’s first official iPhone application recently. Three of us worked on the application for many months and also helped define the licensing requirements that would allow us to release this application via the Apple Standard licensing type. This basically allows anyone to download the application using iTunes. It was a wild (and mostly enjoyable) ride with several twists and turns. First, a little about the application:

The OSU Campus Tree Tour iPhone/iPad application is the first official iPhone application released by Oregon State University. The application uses photos, GPS, maps, and research-based tree information to learn about the different trees on and around campus while “on the go.” The iPhone application provides information about tree leaf type, tree bloom, whether a tree is native to Oregon, and a page number reference to the OSU Extension Trees to Know handbook.

The application uses a place-based approach to learning and is extensible. This is important as we plan on adding more themed tree tours as the weather improves here on campus. Here’s a link to the iTunes description and download. We look forward to your input.

I would be remiss in not mentioning some of the key players in the app development. Nick Piatt did a wonderful job as our lead programmer, Aaron Senecal provided graphical support and Dave King, our Associate Provost really provided the initial vision for an iPhone application and provided us with the resources and backing we needed to see the project through. Jos Accapadi from Central Web Services partnered with us to define licensing and a path to sustain the application. David Baker from University Advancement also partnered with licensing efforts and marketing. Shayne Huddleston from CWS also deserves mention for his assistance with Red Mine and software archival process. Lastly, Pat Breen, Professor Emeritus in Horticulture was our subject matter expert and kept the project enjoyable.

Hope you’ll download the app!

Treasure maps, letterboxing, scavenger hunts and geocaching all leverage environmental markers to guide a participant from one location to another. Just as geocaching enhanced earlier forms of interpretive tours or location-based hunts to a wider audience, smart phones are pushing the potential of place-based learning into uncharted territory.


Some of the recent examples of this are most apparent with augmented reality. Utilizing the smart phone’s camera, GPS and real-time connection to a database allow any number of possibilities for a user to walk, point, and interpret. Much of the initial apps in this space have been tied to marketing, but educational examples are emerging.


Here are a few examples that highlight location-specific interpretation of pests, soil, and grass.

Cooperative Extension has a unique foothold in this domain as its organizational typology (county-based offices) and locale-specific topics lend themselves to this combination of technology and instructional approach. Learning is simply too broad (and too important) and technology has become too powerful for education to be constrained within traditional containers. Sugata Matra’s recent TED talk about building Internet-ready PCs into the walls of poor neighborhoods in India might be the extreme version of “kids grow knowledge” while in their neighborhood, but other organizations in New York that are looking more closely at place-based learning echo this need for in situ learning. Katie Salem at Quest to Learn drives this notion home, “We have to move beyond this notion of school as a container for learning,” adding that kids pass through many different learning contexts every day.

Here at Oregon State University, we recently finished a place-based tree tour iPhone application and many of these instructional issues helped us define our design and development process. I’ll share more about this in the next post. In the meantime, do you have some other examples of place-based learning?