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.

Using Case Studies to Teach Plant Pathology

Melissa Riley
Clemson University
Clemson, South Carolina

In the past, students in the introductory plant pathology course at Clemson University were asked to observe and make drawings of specimens, and possibly to isolate pathogens from infected tissue samples.  Students were often uninvolved and uninterested in the information being presented.  They also took little responsibility for learning and understanding the material being presented.  In addition, they did not prepare for laboratories and would only study laboratory material the night before exams.  The overall student learning experience often was dismal, and a change was needed.  Approximately five years ago, the laboratory activities in the course were switched to a case study format.  This switch involved a change in the way instructors and students interacted.  Results from this switch included better student understanding of the procedures conducted during laboratories and how the procedures/materials could be important to them in the future

What are case studies and how do you use them?

Much of our learning comes from active experiences, and case studies essentially represent experiences.  Many of you can remember a story described by a professor in his/her class in the past and how he/she approached the problem of the story and how it was resolved.  The story made an impression on you at the time and you still remember it.  In some cases when you originally heard the story you could see yourself in a similar position in the future.  This is the type of experience that can serve as the basis of a case study for your class.  Students are more likely to remember stories than they are to remember a presentation of facts and figures.  If the students can see themselves in the situation, it makes the case more relevant to them.  An example of a case and teaching notes is located on the following website:  (case) (teaching notes)

In this example case a student goes home for the weekend and his mother wants to know what is wrong with her roses and what she can do about it.  Many students can see themselves in this situation because they have often had friends and relatives ask them to diagnose problems with their plants.  Several activities and questions are associated with this case.  Some of the questions are related to students’ observations of symptoms and signs on real diseased plant specimens.  This provides an opportunity for students to observe samples and learn how to make spore mounts from diseased tissue.  The instructor provides instructions on the use of microscopes and preparation of spore mounts; this activity could be the first laboratory session for the course.  To complete the laboratory activity students must investigate possible diseases of roses, as well as the possible measures that can be used for disease management.   They find this information in resources provided by the instructor, which are selected because they may be helpful to the students in the future.

To make cases seems more personal, they are written using names of students in the class.  Sometimes the instructor can even get students to read the material just to see if their names are in the case for that week.  The instructor should also relate cases to the specific concerns of students, which makes them take a greater interest in the case and the activities.  Sometimes I receive friendly complaints from students because they have not been in a case during the semester and others comment jovially about the situations their friends got into as characters in the cases.

For each case the instructor should include a few resources that could be useful to answer questions and determine the importance of various components of the case. This prevents students from getting frustrated or feeling lost while trying to answer questions associated with the case.  An extensive list of resources should not be included because students will not look up more than a couple of the resources.  Resources also should be readily accessible by students.  When using internet resources, care should be taken that web sites are still valid before the case is given to students.  In this regard, it may be beneficial to spend a few minutes with students at the beginning of a semester talking about the various resources that are available. 

What are the responsibilities of the students and the instructor?

Students are responsible for answering all of the questions associated with the case prior to attending the next laboratory session. A discussion of the questions is conducted at the beginning of the next lab session. At most, the instructor acts as a facilitator for this discussion.  The instructor does not answer the questions.  The instructor may assist in the understanding of a difficult concept by providing clarification or may ask for additional information from students.  It is sometimes difficult to get all students involved in the discussion; the instructor may become involved to ensure that all students participate.  Students are allowed to add material to the answers they submit for evaluation, but they must have made an attempt to answer all questions prior to coming to the laboratory.  To differentiate between material done before the discussion and that added during the discussion, students are asked to utilize a different color of ink or pencil/pen from that originally used to answer the questions.

Advantages of using case studies

I have found that when using case studies students are more involved in learning material throughout the semester, and they are not just cramming the night before a laboratory exam.  I give oral exams in the laboratory, and find that students are better able to see the importance of material that has been covered and how it relates to various situations.  They also are able to apply the information and knowledge to different situations.

Date: 22nd May, 2006
email: mbriley@CLEMSON.EDU

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