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M. Puhek1, M. Perše1, A. Šorgo2

1Sinergise, Laboratory for Geographical Information Systems, Ltd. (SLOVENIA)
2University of Maribor, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (SLOVENIA)
In recent years the environmental issues and the ecology has gained in importance. Students are being taught about the nature preservation, biodiversity, natural balance and natural values. Not only the contents, but also the methodologies of teaching are changing, to train students in critically thinking, creating points of view, dealing with problems and understanding the conflicts of changed lifestyle and social, economic and technological development. Instead of dull theory, problem based and inquiry orientated teaching with the support of the usage of ICT are put in the foreground.

With the help of ICT, students would be able to learn about the environment and the impacts of people on the nature in the virtual environment without any limitations. As it was shown in the former studies, despite that students do not see ICT as the substitution for the nature, they see it as a useful supporting tool to the field work, which could also help to protect the nature. Because the work is done virtually, they cannot make another pressure on endangered organisms, they can visit unreachable places, train hypothesis on simulations for various real occasions etc. In this proposal study the virtual field trip is presented, which was developed for environmental education in elementary schools. The exercises on the virtual field trip were developed to train students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes towards protecting the nature. Because the virtual trail was developed on the existing path on the protected area, the virtual exercises were also needed to be neutral for the environment. The idea could be later expanded to a different location, which are in more need to be protected or are even unreachable for students from Slovenia.
Virtual field trip was tested in the autumn 2011, where students were also questioned about importance of preserving nature, the ICT as a tool in environmental education, the protected areas etc. The main aim of the questioning in this proposal study was to search for the influences that ICT could contribute to the environmental education in the elementary school. The main research questions to answer were: a) if students could learn about and feel the protected environment even when working on the computers; and b) if there are any differences in the awareness of protection of the nature between the groups of students, which were working on computers to those, which were on the actual field trip.
Descriptive statistics were used to point out frequencies of the Likert scale-type instrument, which showed that students believe that ICT alienate them from the nature (sum=1396), but at the same time it could help in its protection (sum=1216). Regarding the willingness to protect the nature and the perception of the usefulness of doing so the linear regression showed as statistical significant method of work (p<0.01), school (p<0.01), sex (p<0.03) and the amount of free time, spend in front of the computer (p<0.01). Additionally, the nonparametric test (Mann-Whitney) was performed on students’ method of work, which showed two answers as statistical significant: 1) “With picking the plants, I don't harm the nature” (p<0.03, r=0.11); 2) “Protecting the nature is boring and useless” (p<0.04, r=0.10). In both cases after the virtual field trip students achieved higher mean rank that showed them as more aware of the nature preservation.