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.

Enhanced Learning through Role-Playing

Gail Schumann
Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This paper is based on a teaching note published in The Plant Health Instructor in the APSnet Education Center ( in 2002 and is offered as an opportunity for discussion among instructors (3). The transition from the classroom to the workplace is not always easy for students. Role-playing of workplace situations allows students to practice applying their new knowledge before they have to face the real world. Role-playing enhances learning in several important ways (1). Students practice public speaking in a more relaxed format than that of a formal classroom presentation. In addition, role-playing gives students an opportunity to respond to unanticipated questions or situations. Effective scenarios require students to integrate learning from various courses as well as from their work experiences. The discussions can demonstrate that there are various solutions to a particular problem (2). Role-playing classes employ active learning and should engage all of the students in each session. When the instructor also takes on a role, students can become the “experts.”

Example course description

I developed a role-playing course at the University of Massachusetts for turfgrass management students who had already completed their required plant pathology course. The course was designed to enhance their learning about turfgrass diseases. The course was offered for one credit and met once a week to fit easily into established curricula and student schedules. Class size must be limited to give each student several opportunities to lead the discussion.

It is standard practice for golf course superintendents to appear before “greens committees” to explain problems, so this was the most commonly used scenario. One student took the role of the superintendent, and another student played the greens committee chair. The remaining students and instructor served as members of the greens committee and could participate in the questioning. The superintendent explained why a particular disease was occurring and what management practices were planned. The chair could then question the superintendent and challenge the proposals on the basis of cost, interference with play, and so forth. To participate appropriately, all students had to review their disease knowledge and try to anticipate what challenges might arise.

Because the students knew each other from previous classes, the debates could be lively. I encouraged discussion by joining in the role-playing as either a particularly demanding or especially ignorant member of the greens committee. Golf course superintendents must be able to communicate diplomatically with both types of people. Depending on the topic to be debated, different roles can be assigned. For example, students may play the roles of a lawn care manager talking to an irate homeowner who has a number of nosy neighbors (the remaining students), or a superintendent may meet with a sales representative to determine if a new fungicide or biological control product should be purchased. Two to three debate topics can be scheduled in a 50-minute class period. Near the end of the semester, the entire class participated in a fictional public hearing between superintendents who favor and county commissioners who oppose the use of pesticides on golf courses; half of the students were assigned to each side.


Role-playing allows students to prepare some of the information they plan to present, but also forces them to answer questions or discuss topics that they may not have anticipated. Many of the debates lead to interesting discussions about practices observed during work experiences or questions from previous coursework. The real world aspects of the course can be enhanced by inviting working professionals, such as a golf course superintendent or a United States Golf Association agronomist, to participate in a class. Students gained confidence in their knowledge of turfgrass diseases and their ability to apply it in situations that they may face in the workplace. Student reviews consistently stated that the course was very useful for work preparation.

Other applications

Although the course described above was designed for turfgrass students, there are other scenarios that would be good preparation for plant pathology students with other commodity interests. For example:

Diagnostic lab scientist and Farmer/grower

Garden store employee/ Customer

Farm advisor/ Farmer

Pesticide sales representative/Farmer


As all instructors know, it takes practice to feel comfortable explaining technical subjects, especially to people with little technical background. The opportunity to do this outside the workplace is important preparation for future challenges. Although this kind of exercise can be done as part of a standard plant pathology course, there are some advantages to making a stand-alone course. If the role-playing follows a standard course, students have the opportunity to review the material in a different context. Also, students need repeated opportunities to become comfortable speaking in front of the group and answering spontaneous, technical questions. They might begin with note cards and sweaty hands, but the goal is for them to learn to listen to the questions and formulate appropriate answers with ease. It was gratifying to see how quickly they could develop these skills. I found that a course that focuses on workplace role-playing can reinforce learning in an enjoyable and interesting format without excessive time and effort on the part of the instructor.

  1. Butler, J.E. 1989. Science learning and drama processes. Science Education 73:569-579.
  2. Cronin-Jones, L. 2000. Science scenarios: Using role-playing to make science more meaningful. The Science Teacher 67(4):48-52.
  3. Schumann, G.L. 2002. Enhanced Learning through Role-Playing. The Plant Health Instructor. DOI: 10.1094/PHI-T-2002-0225-02

Date: 22nd May, 2006

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