Botany Class Takes Students Outside Classroom


We walk by them every day, but most of us would be hard-pressed to identify, much less scientifically classify, the trees and flowers we see.

Elizabeth Harris calls it “plant blindness.”

“Our goal was to get students outside and actually open their eyes to what’s in their environment,” said Harris, Ph.D., a Biology associate lecturer.

That objective sparked an innovative component of a new class, Principles of Plant Science (BOT 3015), which itself is part of a new Plant Science track for Biology majors. Harris originally envisioned the class with a traditional laboratory, but when those plans fell through, she adapted and developed an active, student-led learning component based on a weekly scavenger hunt. Harris calls it “get outside” assignments because all of them take students beyond the classroom’s four walls.

Each week, students were required to hunt down and take a picture of a specific plant, plant part or a plant habitat. Their quest could take them anywhere from the on-campus Arboretum to the produce section of a grocery store. The photo and associated questions were then submitted for an easy, online quiz grade. While simple in concept, it did require a bit of planning ahead for the students.

“It keeps their brain engaged after they leave class. They had to read the assignment early in the week, plan a good place to go, then coordinate how to get there,” Harris said.

Student feedback was positive.

“This course has made me more vigilant and aware of the plants around me. I found myself walking around campus and noticing plants and being like ‘oh that is a dicot or monocot,’ said Senior Alyssa Alvarez.

Senior Elise de Cuba adds: “I see plant science in a far more holistic manner now.”

Harris considers plant blindness successfully cured — at least for the 90 students in BOT 3015 — and “get outside” assignments a permanent feature of the new class.

“This was a lot of fun for me and the students. I’m excited to see how this develops with future classes,” Harris said.






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