Virginia Tech Honors and Awards

University Awards

2001 XCaliber Team Award

John Seiler, Jeffrey Kirwan, John Peterson

Their new interactive multi-media CD tutorial for the identification of woody plants and trees and their FORSite Education Program on the web have earned John Seiler, Jeffrey Kirwan, and John Peterson, all of the College of Natural Resources, the 2001 XCaliber Award for excellence in teaching with technology and innovative approaches.

The Center for Innovation in Learning has been giving this award each year since 1997 as part of Virginia Tech's efforts to recognize outstanding contributions of faculty and staff members who are integrating technology in teaching. The award commends the three men for their efforts to focus on student-oriented outcomes as active, more self-directed learning. Seiler is a professor of forestry, and the College of Natural Resources recently named him the Shelton H. Short Jr. professor of forestry. Kirwan is Extension specialist for 4-H youth, and Peterson is a research associate, lead programmer for the software, and webmaster.

Seiler, the past recipient of many teaching awards, and Peterson have already won numerous awards for their tree CD, which was released by Virginia Tech's licensee, Kendall/Hunt. Woody Plants in North America is a two-CD set split into angiosperms (hardwoods) and gymnosperms (softwoods), covering both native and ornamental woody plants found across North America. The software was developed over a six-year period in cooperation with tree-identification experts at Oregon State University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Georgia. "We believe the CD is likely the single largest collection of color photographs for native woody plants found in North America," Seiler said.

Tested on college students in controlled studies and shown to significantly increase identification skills, the tree CD includes a morphology section that illustrates common terms used to describe twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit, bark, and form of woody plants. The main body of the tutorial contains over 9,500 pictures and full text descriptions of all plant parts for 470 species of woody plants.

Numerous photographs are annotated to highlight the most critical distinguishing features. Each feature of similar species can also be compared side by side with the most distinguishing features highlighted. Range maps, summary descriptions, and site information are also given for each species. A quiz section allows users to evaluate their progress in identification.

One-page, printable fact sheets for all species in the program contain a text description plus several color photographs showing key features. Fact sheets are also linked directly to the USDA "Silvics of North America."

FORSite provides large amounts of information and interactive exercises on trees and forests. Students can learn everything from the basics of forestry equipment to measuring trees and how forest ecosystems work. Elements of this web site are being used by 4-H members across the U.S. who participate in the web site National 4-H Forestry Judging Program. Kirwan was recognized for excellence by the Association of Natural Resources Extension Professionals at their biennial meeting in 2000.

Seiler has won the Society of American Foresters' Carl Alwin Schenck Award for excellence in forestry education. His nationally acclaimed "Woody Plants in North America CD" was featured prominently in the forestry industry's premier research publication, Journal of Forestry, December issue, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and a host of other publications.

The XCaliber Award cites Seiler, Kirwan, and Peterson for their efforts in producing electronic textbooks and educational sites for forestry instruction. "The comprehensive set of tutorials and web pages that has emerged from your database of electronic images of native woody plants in North America is impressive," the Selection Committee said. "These resources are all the more important since they are accessible to a range of learners, from undergraduate students to middle-school students and teachers."

The selection committee applauded their "goals and the results of your considerable labor. The design and development effort is laudable. Your readiness to revise materials and continuously update your web pages in light of student comment and evaluation is commendable."