Incorporating Student Centered Learning Techniques into an Introductory Plant Identification Course

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Introductory plant materials courses have traditionally been taught utilizing the lecture method. A plant identification course was adapted to include several Student Centered Learning techniques including: having students assist in syllabus development, assignment development and assessment, development of a student and instructor "code of conduct", and the use of students as teachers. Students also participated in the creation of study materials for exams, writing exam questions, group projects and discussions. Although initial reaction was apprehension, all students eventually responded well to the changes. Attendance was excellent through the entire quarter and student participation was greatly increased. Students report learning more, enjoying the class more and feeling a greater sense of responsibility toward the class, which increased their intrinsic motivation to succeed. It was difficult to give up control of many aspects of the course and the inclusion of these techniques vastly increased the amount of time spent on daily preparation as well as assessment; however, the overall level of participation and satisfaction reported made it worth the time and effort.


College courses have traditionally been taught utilizing the lecture method (Lorenzen, 2002). The lecture method is highly efficient for large courses or when presenting background information to students. However, instructors around the country noted from the earliest of times that students weren't learning when only exposed to the lecture method and began to ponder the value of the lecture in higher education (Davis, 1886). When sitting in a lecture, the students report feeling bored, having trouble focusing on the material, and staying attentive over time. These students are not engaged in the highest forms of cognition: synthesizing, analyzing and evaluating (Johnson et al 1991).

Active learning allows the student to move from the role of note taker to participant in the learning process. Activities such as group work, discussion, role-playing, and hands-on projects are all components of the active learning classroom. These activities allow the students control over their learning and force them to take more responsibility in the classroom, not only for their behavior, but for their own learning as well. In 1984 the National Institute of Education drafted a report entitled Involvement in Learning: Realizing the Potential of American Higher Education. One of the basic recommendations by the group was to encourage faculty to include more active learning techniques into their classrooms. "Faculty should make greater uses of active modes of teaching and require that students take greater responsibility for their learning" (p. 27).

Plant identification courses are often traditionally taught with the lecture format. There is a large quantity of information to be disseminated and this style is very efficient. Lectures are also useful when the material is introductory and students do not have the necessary background to hold a discussion or participate in a more student-centered style. Large class size will also tend to increase the use of the lecture. New plants are often introduced with slides showing the plant through various stages during the growing season. This is advantageous because students can at least be exposed to how the plant will change during the growing season, which is something they would not get to fully appreciate during a ten-week quarter. Slides also allow various cultivars and varieties not available in the gardens to be shown. This allows the students to be exposed to the latest trends in cultivars.

At The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI), Herbaceous Plant Materials (Horticulture Technologies T245) has been taught for many years in this manner. Lecture, slides and a limited amount of containerized plants have been utilized with varying degrees of success. …