Can app connect kids with nature? Researchers seek volunteers to find out

Thursday, March 22, 2018

NatureCollections field test
iSchool doctoral student Saba Kawas works with a University Prep student during a field test of the NatureCollections app.

University of Washington researchers have spent months developing NatureCollections, an app they hope will spark kids to connect with the outdoors. Now they’re ready to put it to the test.

The research team, led by Assistant Professor Katie Davis of the Information School, is recruiting volunteers to help answer its central question: Can a mobile app connect kids with nature?

In recent months, the researchers worked with KidsTeam UW to involve children in the design of the app, and later conducted field tests at University Prep in Seattle to try out the app’s design and gauge how children use its features. The test at UPrep showed promising signs in the ways children interacted with their surroundings while using the app, said Saba Kawas, a second-year Ph.D. student at the iSchool.

“They were looking closely for where the flowers are, what type of flowers they are, what type of plant,” she said. “It’s interesting how the app helped focus their attention around nature.” She noted that researchers are still analyzing the data, so it’s too soon to draw any conclusions from the initial field study.

The next phase in the app’s development is a three-week experiment involving 30 or more kids ages 7-13, who will be given phones loaded with the app. The app will track how often kids use it and where they go. Parents will be asked to fill out a diary and compare their children’s experience with the outdoors before and after the study. The study will take place later this spring, and Kawas said participants will be compensated for their time (the precise compensation is yet to be determined).

The NatureCollections team also includes Professor Joshua Lawler and doctoral student Sarah Chase, both from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. After this experiment, the researchers hope to be closer to answering their question of whether technology can help kids appreciate nature, rather than just luring them to park themselves in front of screens.

“Long-term, our hope is their connectedness to nature and their attitudes toward the environment will change,” Kawas said.

Learn more at the NatureCollections website. If you are interested in participating in the study or would like more information, complete the sign-up form at this link by April 30.