Learning in the modern world is much more than just about your ABC’s.  You need to understand the potential opportunity with D’s and E’s.  Training volunteers is a key part of the work of Observatree and it has been very interesting to see how this has evolved over the life of the project. Early on, it was soon realised that not everyone was available from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and that learning resources should be available to everyone at all times.  Providing teaching resources on the project website allows individuals access when convenient to them but also helps review and refresh their knowledge.

Our first foray in this area was the introduction of webinars that provided a live seminar (together with recorded podcast) available on the web. Participants could dial in or listen online and hear the relevant expert talk about plant health and pests and diseases of concern; with a question and answer session at the end.  These webinars are available to watch anytime within our website resources.

With a view to further improving learning opportunities for volunteers and visitors to the website we launched a program of digital learning – referred to by some as electronic learning, hence the D and E of learning, not just the ABC’s.  

Working with educational experts at Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BCGI) we developed two series of digital learning packages to support you in your work. The first series includes four separate modules:

  • An introduction to recording the location of a tree (12.21 mins)
  • Recording the location of a tree (19.31 mins)
  • Methods and Technologies (15.49 mins)
  • Returning to a tree (13.56 mins)

Each module is between 12 to 20 minutes long and contains a voiced over presentation enriched with short video clips demonstrating techniques you need to use as part of your job.

We are now in the process of producing a second series of modules.  These will help you develop your skills in recognising and recording signs of poor tree condition and symptoms of pests and diseases as used in Tree Alert (the online tree health reporting tool). As with everything we do in Observatree, these modules are done in collaboration between volunteers, Plant and Tree Health Inspectors and regional scientists from our partner organisations.  I have been involved in overseeing this work but credit must go to educational experts at BGCI, David Crossley (expert filmmaker at Fera Science) and the numerous people who have willingly given up their time to be included in filming as actors or narrators.

Creating digital learning has been great fun and has turned up some surprising skills in the performing arts that perhaps you would not expect from such outdoor folk! My two favourite moments would be the thought of volunteer Paddy Robertson sat in his child’s tee pee recording his voice-over (as this provided the best acoustic clarity).  The second story would be the ever helpful volunteers, Tony Burgoyne and Sue Quick, tramping around the Yorkshire Arboretum filming key sections on finding and returning to a tree. Sadly the budget would not run to a Director’s chair or a clapperboard but I’m sure the words ‘cut, that’s a wrap’ were used at least once!  We may not win a BAFTA, but these resources really will help you in your work so enjoy the moment and see if you can hear the squeak of my chair as I fidget during my narration, as sadly my children are now too old for a tee pee!