LAFAYETTE — Imagine walking along St. Mary Boulevard beneath a canopy of oak trees, curious of their age, or crossing McKinley Street only to be covered in miniature pink petals but not actually knowing what kind of tree dropped the petals.
There’s an app for that.
Arborgraphia is the brainchild of Douglas Williams, a professor of instructional technology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and director of the University’s Center for Innovative Learning and Assessment Technologies.
“I grew up in the outdoors, and my children and I always enjoy going around campus,” Williams said.
“There is such a great treasure with the trees around the university, and since I’m in education, I began thinking, ‘What could we provide in regard to technology that could help people learn about the trees on campus?’ It’s an eye-opening experience because the more you play around with the app, you start walking around and find yourself going, ‘Oh wow, there’s another Japanese magnolia.’ ”
The smartphone app offers an interactive map that allows users to identify trees and study the science and history of each plant, such as how a particular group of people, like early Cajuns settling in the area, might have used the leaves or the bark of the tree.
The app also provides specifics, like the plant’s scientific name, special name and leaf type.
“There are several ways you can interact with the content,” he said. “There is general information about the trees, hand-drawn illustrations and, if we have it, pictures, as well. It’s a useful way to learn, in detail, about what grows on our campus.”
Most of the data collected came from UL-Lafayette’s Community Design Workshop, a senior-level studio for architectural students that focuses on urban planning.
It took Williams almost three years to combine his childhood admiration for nature and his experience in education to produce the app.
He recruited Tiffany Gilbert, a sophomore informatics major, to gather GPS data for the 260 trees representing 33 species.
The work “was like an adventure,” she said.
“The app showcases some of the most beautiful trees we have on campus,” she said, “and the app, in itself, is a beautiful representation of the array of different opportunities the university offers.”
The area the app uses is bordered by Johnston Street, East University Avenue, Hebrard Boulevard and East St. Mary Boulevard.
“Campus, especially right now, is ever-changing,” Gilbert said. “With all the construction going on, it’s easy for people to overlook the smaller points of beauty on campus, such as the beautiful blooms the trees put out in spring.”
She said the app also is a great record of the diverse plant life on the campus, one that will grow as the app expands the area it covers.
Senior visual arts major Brittny Giroir provided the hand-drawn and painted images, which are meant to resemble an explorer’s notebook, Williams said.
He said the application should imitate “a great naturalist’s journal, like Charles Darwin — including sketches of things he discovered.”
Giroir said the illustrations give a more appealing and stimulating look than other apps that traditionally use computer-generated images.
“With the subject of Arborgraphia being nature and the environment, it seems only fitting to use illustrations that are physically created,” she said.
Williams said another app associated with Arborgraphia is in the design stage for elementary-aged children and could be ready by spring 2015.
Williams said he used the information available on Arborgraphia to construct scavenger-like adventures for children that incorporate not only the trees but animals and reptiles found in the area.
Children using the app will be able to unlock special feature-like games and virtual collectables, he said.