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How can we turn the problem around?

Beverly Brown bjbrown at naz.edu
Mon Mar 6 10:18:55 EST 2000

Lee - This is a great idea!  In addition to the e-mail I sent previously, I
also get students out into the field as much as possible.  One piece I added
was a significant chunk on ethnobotany - which also gets into aspects of
drug industry.  I would like to include more self-designed student
experiments and would love to hear ideas along these lines.


Lee Hadden wrote:

> Finally---- we're getting back to some plant-ed matters that matter!!
> I've been teaching college students for 25 years [30+ if you add in TA
> experience, which is when I got turned on to teaching].  I've been
> teaching our Plant Biology course here for 18 years and have had, more
> recently, much the same experience as others are sharing.
> I hated "Botany" when I had it as a college sophomore.  Of course that
> was back in the dark ages when bacteria, blue-greens and other algae,
> and fungi, and some protozoans were all lumped together as plants and
> covered in that Botany course in college [Muhlenberg College].  Life
> cycles ad infinitum, detailed phylogeny, fossil names and relationships
> to extant plants, detailed anatomy, tissue development, and memorizing
> microscopic detail from more slides than I could keep up with,  etc.
> turned off the basic interest I had in plants stemming from childhood.
> But in my Senior year, and with the same prof, the Advanced Botany
> course I took started to turn all that around.   Lots of field work,
> reasonable taxonomy taught effectively, and interesting selected topics
> got us below the survey level and into details we could focus upon and
> master [as opposed to cramming and memorizing just to get through the
> next test].  It was the encouragement of that professor, and one other,
> that moved me to apply to and attend graduate school [in vertebrate
> ecology or limnology I thought].  A Plant Physiology course followed by
> a [Plant] Physiological Ecology course captured my attention and I was
> hooked on plants for life [the study of them that is!].  Working with
> live plants, field work, being immersed in one discipline, and the
> impact of stimulating, challenging, and encouraging professors made the
> difference.
> All of this to say that from my personal experience as a student and my
> observations of students I teach, the first encounter with Plant
> Biology, no matter how well taught [and that's not a given
> unfortunately] is not instantly  [or ever] appealing to students in
> general, pre-med, etc. students in particular.    It's hard to overcome
> 18 years of plant neglect in one college course experience and to appeal
> to the "when will I ever need to know that [in med school]"
> mentality.    But I try.
> I am encouraged by the fact that almost every year, one or more students
> will say something like, "This wasn't as boring as I thought it would
> be!"  And some have gotten turned on to plants [one even went into a
> master's degree program in plant biology!].  The high point was a letter
> I got last semester from a student who wrote to thank me for pointing
> him [unknown to me] in the direction of pharmacology and to let me know
> that he will get his Pharm. D. degree this May.  He said that if it
> weren't for the Medical Botany / Ethnobotany portion of our course, he
> would never have thought about it. The medical aspects intrigued him and
> he looked into pharmacology and the rest is history.
> Most students have little awareness of and very little appreciation for
> things botanical.  Public schools virtually ignore it [incoming Biology
> major ignorance re Plants is incredible], and what they have gleaned
> over the years is so fragmentary and unfocused as to be useless.  So,
> I would like to propose a real plant-ed challenge.
> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
> Can we compile a list of topics and experiences that would constitute a
> reasonably common  basis for a contemporary Plant Biology or Botany
> course?
> What should the undergraduate biology major encounter in an introductory
> botany course?  Or in any other plant course? What knowledge base and
> competencies should they have?  [And maybe what should non majors
> encounter for institutions that offer one?]
> I have looked at many botany syllabi on-line and see a lot of
> similarities and occasionally some interesting unusual features.  I've
> tried to incorporate the best of the courses I took myself [re content
> and methodologies], and definitely avoid the overly and unnecessarily
> tedious aspects or turn them into tolerable if not interesting,
> components.  I ignore some things in order to go into more depth with
> others, and give the students as much hands on, field, and live specimen
> experience as possible, along with emphasizing and putting in context,
> relative to their career and educational goals, the significance of
> plants.  [ It always amazes me that pre-meds, etc., will challenge
> having to take a Plant Biology course as a pre-med Biology major -- ours
> is required.  Where do they think pharmaceuticals directly or indirectly
> come from?  And will they never see a patient with symptoms caused by
> eating toxic plants or plant parts?  And what about the
> nutritional/biochemical applications and current "botanicals"  trend?]
> What do you colleagues expect and do, and what results do you get?  What
> ought to be fundamental in lecture and lab?  What topics and
> methodologies work and make the course or components of the course come
> alive?  What texts and lab manuals have you found effective?  What
> problems do you still have that we all could troubleshoot?  What  can we
> offer to entering plant biology faculty? What can we suggest that will
> get "experienced" teachers out of ruts or out-of-date syllabi?   How do
> we incorporate the exciting cutting edge biotechnology so that it's not
> ignored, and perhaps might turn some students on, without neglecting
> traditionally fundamental topics?
> It seems to me from my observations of this on-line group, that we have
> a tremendous resource in our own experiences and insights.  Can we not
> develop a model botany course or at least a  core for such a course?
> I'd love to get my Plant Biology syllabus in high gear and move faster
> into the new botanical millennium.  But I need assistance rather that
> operating in a virtual vacuum [I'm the only plant faculty member here;
> also department chair; also full-time single parent.  Can't you hear my
> violin wailing which I made myself and sometimes show botany students
> who see no use to wood other than to burn!?? Actually it's a fiddle to
> them--violins are too long-hair, high brow].  What about a clearing
> house for our syllabi and a group to make them available online or via
> mail?  Or drafting a composite syllabus?  Or designing a checklist of
> topics anyone could respond to so that topics included/excluded from an
> intro course could be submitted and compiled?
> Any thoughts?  I appreciate your insights and assistance as always.  And
> if you see any value to any of this, I'd be willing to edit and post a
> topics checklist for any one to respond to, and then compile responses.
> It would make a good spring/summer project with possible significant
> returns in the classroom.
> Lee Hadden
> Professor and Chair,
> Department of Biology
> Wingate University
> Wingate, NC  28174
>                                                  Jon-- is this the type
> of ending you preferred to a vcard?
> hadden at wingate.edu
> http://www.wingate.edu
> 704-233-8238
> ---


Beverly J. Brown, Ph.D.                Phone:  716-389-2555
Nazareth College of Rochester       Fax:      716-586-2452
Biology Department                      E-mail: bjbrown at naz.edu
4245 East Avenue
Rochester, NY 14618-3790


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