Welcome to the 2006 International Society for Plant Pathology Teaching Symposium Archive

On-line from May 15th to June 4th, 2006


About the Symposium

This ISPP symposium was an opportunity for plant pathology teachers, no matter where they were in the world, to share their ideas, tips and techniques.

Each week as indicated, the papers listed were made available for viewing and discussion. Also a weekly forum was opened on the topics indicated. At the end of each week, discussion closed and a new set of papers and a new forum went live.

The symposium is now closed but will remain at this address as an archive for the foreseeable future. You are welcome to read the papers and the (now read-only) discussion. Please be aware that URLS listed in the papers or discussion were current at the time of the symposium, but these may, over time, become broken. However, an email to the author or contributor should point you to any updates.

Official Time Zone

Dates and times during the Symposium were in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The time and date stamped next to a contribution in the paper discussions or forums is in GMT.

Enriching Classes Using the News Media

Gail Schumann
Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Grey and Mathre (1) suggested the use of media articles related to plant pathology to increase student appreciation for the importance of plant diseases, to improve their communication skills, and to practice vocabulary related to plant pathology.  I have applied this idea in a core biology course at Marquette University that uses plant pathology and agriculture to illustrate important aspects of general biology. This university has no agriculture program, so students are primarily from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Communication, and Business.

The course is scheduled to meet in two 75-minute sessions. Rather than lecture for the entire time, short lectures are interspersed with group discussions, simple hands-on laboratory exercises, and presentations by the students. Students choose their topics subject to approval by the instructor. Each student presents once during the semester. They sign up for a presentation day during the first week of classes. The assignment consists of a 5-10 minute presentation to the class as well as a written report. Presentations do not begin until the third or fourth week of the semester so students have some background and time to prepare. We had 2-3 presentations per lecture period with a class of about 50 students. After trying this several times, certain aspects of the exercise have made it more effective both for the individual student and for the class as a whole.

Resources for reports

It is important to provide appropriate resources for students. In this assignment, students are given a choice of presenting on a specific plant disease that has not been discussed in detail in the class (“disease of the week”) or a topic related to plant pathology (“media report”).  Good resource sites are the APSnet Feature Articles (, the International Society for Infectious diseases (, the US Phytosanitary Alert System (, and Science News Magazine ( The APSnet Education Center ( disease lessons can be understood even by students with little background in plant pathology. As the semester progressed, I watched for appropriate articles and brought copies to class. I would describe the subject in a sentence or two and offer it to anyone who wanted it. Science articles from local newspapers, the news sections of the journals Science or Nature, and articles from other publications related to plant pathology, agriculture, biodiversity, global warming, and current health issues were used.

Requirements that enhance the exercise
Certain requirements of the assignment made it more effective. They included:

For media reports:

  1. Briefly summarize the content for the class.
  2. Explain how the subject relates to the course and why this particular subject was of interest to you- and why it should be of interest to students in this class.

[Comment: This requirement resulted in some very interesting comments from the students.]

  1. Analyze the report for bias and accuracy. Do not assume that because someone is a “scientist” that they are unbiased. An unbiased article may take a side on an issue, but will include a fair appraisal of both sides of the issue.

[Comment: In the past, students would write that someone was a scientist and therefore
unbiased. One student reported on a local version of an article on the use of sauerkraut for
avian flu that originated with the Associated Press. He found the original AP article online and
detected some bias in the local version which was promoting local sauerkraut producers.]

  1. List questions and concerns that you have related to the information.

[Comment: This last requirement was particularly successful because it made students think
about what was missing in the information or what they wanted to understand better. They
were quite good at detecting missing relevant information.]

For disease reports:
Explain why the disease was of interest to you and why it should be of interest to students in this class. Try to determine:

  1. the significance of the disease
  2. the type of pathogen, its name, and some details about its biology
  3. what kinds of plants are affected
  4. where the disease is a problem
  5. what can be done to manage or prevent the disease.

List any questions that come to mind as you try to find information about the disease.


Students were given the following assessment guidelines so they would be sure to include all required sections:

Presentation to class: clarity, accuracy, reason for interest
10 pts.
Written summary:
5 pts.
  Appropriate information source
5 pts.

Accurate information about subject
(includes grammar, spelling)

5 pts.
  Questions listed that were not answered by source
5 pts.
  Analysis of accuracy and/or bias of information 
5 pts.
30 pts.


This exercise benefits both the individual student and the class as a whole. Students heard, at least briefly, about many topics that were not included in the standard course content. The students chose topics that they thought were interesting, and the presentations were short summaries, so the listeners learned a lot in a few minutes. Individual students were quite surprised that there were science articles in various print and online media that were actually interesting to them, that they could understand, and that they could evaluate for accuracy and bias. Many were surprised to find inaccuracies in media reports and that they could identify them. One student reported on the Nobel Prize in 2005 for proving that the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, is the causal agent of stomach ulcers. Barry Marshall had actually consumed a quantity of this bacterium to prove pathogenicity and fulfill Koch’s postulates (a topic in the course). In his presentation, the student explained that he had to know what such a person looked like, so he used the Internet to find a photograph of Dr. Marshall that he passed around the class. To this student, a scientist had become a real person whose life he could imagine. 

  1. Grey, W. E., and D. E. Mathre. 2001. Plant Diseases in the News. The Plant Health Instructor. DOI: 10.1094/PHI-T-2001-1025-02.

Date: 15th May, 2006

Discuss this paper
Image by Veronica Edmonds
2001 Instructional Technology Symposium Archive
ISPP Teaching Committee
Massey University, New Zealand is pleased to provide server resources to host the on-line ISPP 2006 Teaching Symposium.