An online approach to plants
2 SEPTEMBER 2008
When nature didn't match the academic sessions for students of botany and ecology at CSU, one academic looked for a solution and came up with an innovative teaching method.
When nature didn’t match the academic sessions for students of botany and ecology at Charles Sturt University (CSU), one academic looked for a solution and came up with an innovative teaching method.
It is hoped the websites, designed by Dr Geoff Burrows from the CSU School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences, will be used by CSU students as well as anyone with an interest in plants, including farmers, gardeners, and bush regenerators.
Hosted as part of the CSU Virtual Herbarium, the sites feature multiple scanned images of fresh material for each plant characteristic. An e-learning application known as ToolBook compliments the site by allowing interactive tests on the plant tutorials for users.
“I noticed that many students were struggling with certain important botanical concepts, such as whether leaves were simple or compound and whether ovaries were superior or inferior,” said Dr Burrows.
“I was sure that part of the problem was simply shortages of plant material. For much of the year in Wagga Wagga and indeed many other parts of the world, it is difficult to provide students with a good variety of material to illustrate the variation in plant structure.
“In the University’s Autumn session, many plants such as bulbs have died back and others such as annuals have died. In CSU’s Spring session many plants flower for only a short time.”
Dr Burrows also saw the advantages in the online tutorials for students to undertake some preparatory exercises before coming to weekly practical classes or residential schools.
While time consuming for Dr Burrows to prepare, he could see that the sites would be much more informative for students than the single image or drawing provided in books.
The web pages are used in several subjects and by students in the generic science, teaching, agriculture, environmental, horticulture, veterinary and wine science degrees. They are also being accessed by botanists around the world.
“I haven’t seen anything like these sites on the Internet,” Dr Burrows concluded.
The gynoecium web page was recently selected as the Editor’s Choice feature in the latest edition of the Plant Science Bulletin of the American Botanical Society. An editorial in the Australian Plant Scientists Newsletter described the leaf website as ‘excellent and innovative’.