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Soil-Net: Development and Impact of Innovative, Open, Online Soil Science Educational Resources

Hallett, Stephen H.1; Caird, Sally P.2

doi: 10.1097/SS.0000000000000208

ABSTRACT Despite recognition of soil as a major global natural resource and longstanding policy recognition of its importance for understanding environmental systems and stewardship in a rapidly urbanizing world, soil science has been underrepresented in teaching National Curriculum in UK schools. Alongside concerns about declining student participation in science education, a key challenge is how to effectively engage students and address inadequacies in soil education. A UK government–funded initiative led to Soil-Net, an innovative, open, online soil educational Web site resource to support school curricula. Following a decade of online availability, this article analyzes Web site data on the adoption, use, and impact of Soil-Net 2006–2016. First, data analysis based on geoidentification of more than a million and a half users revealed patterns of adoption and usage by territory. Although originally targeted in the United Kingdom, Soil-Net is now being used worldwide in 223 countries and territories. Second, analysis of student scores on soil science knowledge quizzes available to be used alongside school education and curricula assessments provided evidence of student learning supported by Soil-Net resources. Third, analysis based on user ratings and qualitative feedback revealed good satisfaction ratings by primary and secondary school students, teachers, and parents. Usage data analysis offers an initial evaluation of Soil-Net, although further research is required to evaluate support for curricula and student learning. Next steps include development of Web site resources using innovative pedagogies to ensure applicability and sustainability and research to further evaluate how Soil-Net is used in schools and its contribution to soil science teaching and learning.

Supplemental digital content is available in the text.

1School of Water, Energy and Environment, Cranfield University, Bedford, United Kingdom.

2School of Engineering and Innovation, The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom.

Address for correspondence: Dr. Stephen H. Hallett, School of Water, Energy and Environment, Cranfield University, Bedford, United Kingdom MK43 0AL. E-mail:

Soil-Net was launched following project SP0552, supported by the UK Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Financial Disclosures/Conflicts of Interest: None reported.

Supplemental digital contents are available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (

Received April 23, 2017.

Accepted for publication June 23, 2017.

Copyright © 2017 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.