Tap, listen, explore

Ravi Sinha and Adithi Muralidhar


Smartphones and other digital devices are ubiquitous now even in rural areas. This easy access to technology everywhere has opened up new and creative ways to design learning experiences beyond the limits of print media. It has also provided space to introduce topics that don’t receive much attention in the curriculum, though they are immensely important. One activity that has evolved with technology and already has an active community is that of bird-watching. Bird-watchers undertake observations for various reasons — curiosity, research, conservation endeavours or learning. However, the formal environment science curriculum offers little opportunity to raise awareness of such activities among young people within the curriculum.

There are also implementation and structural challenges if one attempts to integrate bird-watching into the curriculum. For instance, the modular period (generally of 30-40 minutes) structure in schools is not suitable for typical bird-watching, which requires one to spend many hours out in the open looking for and observing birds. Moreover, the observations extend over a long period of time, weeks or even months, which again becomes challenging to implement within the classroom setting. An attempt to integrate birdwatching as a module in the EVS curriculum was made through the Vigyan Pratibha Project, which has a dedicated unit on how students can begin their birdwatching journey. Some of the earlier issues of Teacher Plus (see resource list) have carried articles on this project along with suggestions on how teachers and students can include bird watching in their classes. While it may be difficult to integrate bird watching into the curriculum in a short time, interested educators can find several strategies, ideas and apps to initiate their students into bird-watching even while they are learning from home. In this article, we share about one such project which is open-source in nature. We call it “Birds at HBCSE” (https://birds.hbcse.tifr.res.in/), and hope that this will excite teachers, students and interested people to observe the birds in their surroundings, leveraging a new media interface.

About the Birds at HBCSE Project

Taking inspiration from Discover the River project (https://coneixelriu.museudelter.cat/en/birds.php) and using pictures we already had of birds on the HBCSE campus, we created a responsive web page that works across platforms. Users don’t need to login to explore. The site is useful in the following ways—when one places the cursor on the image of a bird, its name is visible and when one taps on the bird image, they get to hear that bird’s call. This interactive resource is meant to help users recognize the birds they spot in their surroundings by listening to their calls and identify them.

Another interesting aspect of the site is that the code is open source. This means a user can extend the project and replace the data with the collection of the birds they spot in their locality, thereby expanding the scope of the project. One could even extend the current functionality or design and tweak it based on their preferences so that the way users interact on the page changes. And of course, this project need not be restricted to just birds, but can also extend to other fauna and flora in creative and interesting ways.

Soon we plan to add more details to the page so that one also has access to interesting facts about the different birds. For example, the variety of calls and sounds a specific species produces. In the education context, we hope this will become a useful resource that practitioners can leverage along with other open resources related to the theme of bird-watching to initiate discussion[2]  with their students.

Acknowledgements: We are thankful to Prof Sugra Chunawala and Prof K. Subramaniam for their encouragement and to Ashish Singh for deployment support. We would also like to thank Dr. Geetanjali Date for her valuable feedback on the draft. We acknowledge the support of the Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India, under Project Identification No. RTI4001.

More resources to explore:

Early Bird (n.d). Interactive posters on birds.[3]  Retrieved from https://www.early-bird.in/interactive/

Merlin Bird Photo ID by Cornell Lab (n.d). Retrieved from https://www.tech.cornell.edu/built/merlin-bird-photo-id/

Muralidhar, A. (2019, February). A fancy for flight. Teacher Plus 17(2), 52-56.

Muralidhar, A. (2019, January). Discover, describe and draw birds: Handouts and resource list for the activity on observing birds. Teacher Plus 17(1), 52-56.

Muralidhar, A. & Krishnan, A. (2018, August). Why study birds? Teacher Plus 16(7), 48-50.

Vigyan Pratibha Bird Unit : https://vigyanpratibha.in/index.php/rediscover-describe-and-draw-birds/

Ravi Sinha and Adithi Muralidhar work at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR, Mumbai. They can be reached at ravis@hbcse.tifr.res.in  and adithi@hbcse.tifr.res.in respectively.

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