sealPurdue News


July 1995

Purdue environmental education goes global

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- What began as a worthwhile way to occupy some promising Indiana high school interns at Purdue University's Department of Agricultural Engineering has helped take computer-based environmental education across the planet.

The first release of 30 multimedia programs on compact disk sold out within six months. Of 600 copies, 200 went overseas for use by United States embassies in host country schools. The second edition is due out July 1 with 20 new interactive programs dealing with home water conservation, wetland field guides, pesticide storage and risk assessment.

The project began in 1985 when three agricultural engineering professors saw a need for computer-based environmental instruction and thought it would be an interesting project for a group of high-school student interns.

"I'm told one was translated into Chinese and Arabic," said Don Jones, who with his colleagues Bernard Engel and Mack Strickland led teams of high school students, undergraduates and graduate students in the melding of environmental expertise and computerized information delivery systems. Jones said it is the variety of subject areas on the disk that appeals to people.

A year ago the U.S. Information Agency distributed 200 of the CD's to principal cities around the world. Originally USIA had reservations about sending out such technical material. But when the agency distributed earlier copies of some of the programs on computer diskettes, foreign users responded with letters of praise.

"We sent a first round of some of the programs on diskette to over 200 of our offices worldwide," said Wendy Beaver, a senior policy officer at USIA. "And we got feedback from Bangkok to Rio de Janeiro telling us how useful these programs are."

The programs use text, graphics, digitized photos, and an interactive question-and-answer format to convey information. Most were designed for teaching in high school and college. However, junior high school teachers already use some with students, and government agencies use others to train new employees, Engel said.

"When we started this, there weren't any comparable software programs," he said, "and we still haven't seen any others geared toward agriculture and rural areas."

The programs can help plan a water-efficient landscape, reduce the risk of getting lead in drinking water, design a septic system and find the best location for a well. Six of the programs come in both English and Spanish. And all fit on one CD-ROM disk.

What makes the programs unique are the layers of information a student can access as needed. Unfamiliar words can be selected to provide an expanded definition. If an unknown plant is mentioned, two clicks of the mouse can bring up its picture. One manure management program for livestock operations lets producers enter their own information to create customized plans.

Recent research done in Engel's laboratory shows that people learn as well from these hypermedia computer programs as they do from the printed text and worksheets they replace. Engel and graduate student Karla Embleton brought in more than 50 people, including environmental experts and novices, described a fictional situation, and asked them to assess the risks to the environment both through worksheets and through the computer programs.

"We found that novices using the computer tools consistently could perform at the level of experts," Engel said. "They said using worksheets was not as easy, and they didn't do as well with them."

Much of the information used to construct the programs came either from the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service and government agency publications, or from research done by Engel, Jones and Strickland. Engel researches soil and water conservation, as well as rural environmental issues such as soil erosion and movement of nutrients and pesticides. Jones works with livestock waste handling and management issues, as well as septic systems and rural wastewater disposal. Strickland studies pesticide handling and works extensively with computer-assisted instruction. All three professors use computers for decision-making, information transfer and education.

Most of the programs are designed for an IBM-compatible 386+PC with VGA+ graphics, 540+Kilobytes of available RAM and a mouse. Two of the programs require SVGA graphics and Microsoft Windows.

Besides the Purdue-developed programs, the CD has four PC-based water quality models developed or supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service Blackland Research Center, the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, and the USDA Soil Conservation Service at Temple, Texas.

The CD will sell for about $25 and will be available in July. To reserve a copy, write to Farm Building Plan Service, Purdue University, 1146 Agricultural Engineering Building, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1146, or call (765) 494-1172 or fax to (765) 496-1115.

Sources: Bernard Engel (765) 494-1198; Internet
Don Jones (765) 494-1178; Internet,

Writer: Rebecca Goetz, (765) 494-0461,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Black-and-white photo of Bernard Elgel with a compact disk are available from Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096. To receive this news release via e-mail, send a message that says "send punews 9506ep1" to Purdue News Service also maintains a searchable data base of faculty experts and posts news releases on a web server at and a gopher server at The web site also offers selected downloadable photographs.

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