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.

The Virtual Plant Pathology Faculty: Developing an Australasian Plant Pathology Curriculum

John Irwin and Sue McKell
CRC for Tropical Plant Protection, University of Queensland
David Guest
Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural resources, University of Sydney

The field of Plant Pathology is concerned with the study, diagnosis and management of plant diseases. Accordingly, Plant Pathology is vitally important to the continued well-being and future success of Australian and New Zealand agriculture. Australia’s crop industries alone are worth over $20 billion in gross value of production, representing the nation’s most important agricultural asset. Plant diseases threaten the well-being of any plant industry, and disaster can strike quickly through the introduction of exotic pathogens. Despite this, Plant Pathology courses throughout Australasian universities have traditionally been positioned as specialist courses with small (and decreasing) student enrolments relative to other scientific fields. Maintaining training capability in this area is critical to ensuring that Australia and New Zealand have the capacity to deal with on-going and future threats to the plant industries.

At the same time as Australia and New Zealand have seen an increase in interest in plant industry issues such as biosecurity and genetic modification, we have witnessed a steady reduction in the number of courses offered in Plant Pathology and related plant health disciplines like Entomology. The downsizing of education and training opportunities in these fields has largely been a function of the trend towards rationalising university courses with smaller enrolments, a trend that is unlikely to be reversed at any time in the near future. The education paradigm that has worked in the past is unlikely to serve us well in the foreseeable future.

One option is to develop a formal Plant Pathology curriculum. Developing a formal curriculum will also help to bring the field of Plant Pathology in to line with training in other professional fields, such as medicine, commerce and engineering (to name just a few), that benefit from this approach through providing skills accreditation to graduates. An Australasian Curriculum will attempt to ensure that university-level education in Plant Pathology continues to be delivered in Australia and New Zealand and will meet the needs of the plant industries by providing professional outcomes for its graduates long into the future.

An Australasian Plant Pathology Curriculum has as its central aim the promotion of education opportunities and employment prospects for students of Plant Pathology, and meeting industry’s needs for Plant Pathology expertise into the future. The following outcomes are essential if an Australasian Plant Pathology Curriculum is to deliver significant benefits:

  • Agreed core undergraduate and postgraduate curricula to constitute a specialisation, major or professional accreditation in Plant Pathology;
  • Remote delivery of core Plant Pathology curricula;
  • Alignment of core Plant Pathology curricula with national research priorities;
  • Alignment of core Plant Pathology curricula with professional graduate outcomes;
  • Formation of cooperative teaching groups for the development of core courses;
  • Development of an efficient and effective model to administer a cross-institutional Australasian Plant Pathology Curriculum.
  • Maintaining a core capacity in Plant Pathology training adequate to service industry and other end-user needs.
Meetings of Australasian Plant Pathology Educators

A meeting of Plant Pathology educators was held in September 2005 at the 13th Australasian Plant Pathology Society Conference in Geelong. At this meeting the CRC-TPP offered to convene a workshop to investigate options for Plant Pathology teaching into the future, and this workshop was held in Brisbane in February 2006. Twenty-five participants from universities, industry and regulatory authorities attended this workshop, including Professor John Andrews, President of the American Phytopathological Society.

The purpose of the two-day workshop in Brisbane was to explore the possibility of establishing an Australasian Plant Pathology Curriculum. The specific goals of the workshop were to:

  • Provide an overview of existing courses;
  • Offer industry perspectives (view of two end-user models);
  • Develop possible models for cross-institutional courses;
  • Identify possible courses to be offered and their coordination;
  • Identify possible processes for course development;
  • Identify resources required;
  • Identify possible funding sources; and
  • Allocate responsibilities.

The meeting opened with an outline of the threats posed to the nexus between teaching and research by the fragmentation of Plant Pathology expertise. While a number of institutions offer some undergraduate training in Plant Pathology as a component of generalist degrees, not all teachers are active Plant Pathology researchers. The inverse situation for those who are Plant Pathology researchers is that there are fewer dedicated Plant Pathology courses being offered by universities.  As a result, hands-on practical laboratory and field experience with plant diseases is often very limited. This requirement is also very expensive and is often vulnerable when institutes face funding cuts. These issues were identified as key challenges to maintaining comprehensive training in Plant Pathology and maintaining our research capacity in an environment of diminishing resources.

Each participant presented their views on the way forward for teaching Plant Pathology in Australasia. The group agreed to a set of principles to articulate the APPC’s goal to enhance Australasian Plant Pathology education and training, and identified a postgraduate coursework program as the best mechanism to achieve that goal. A decentralised, consortium-based model of coursework postgraduate training emerged as the most effective strategy to increase Plant Pathology capacity in Australia and New Zealand by building on existing university resources and strengths in Plant Pathology. The modular structure would also facilitate skills upgrades for plant health professionals, non-specialists and para-professionals.

A draft list of courses to support this Masters program (and, with it, Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma programs, as well as short courses in Plant Pathology) was also developed at the workshop. This curriculum identifies core knowledge and skill areas required by Plant Pathology professionals. The issue of how laboratory skills could be taught within a remote learning model presents a key challenge to the APPC, and suggestions for managing this issue include offering intensive lab-based training at centralised locations on a rotating basis, and adopting other innovative strategies for flexible delivery.

Core Outcomes

The workshop was successful in its goal to shape an initiative that will help to maintain and
enhance Plant Pathology capacity and capability in Australasia. The workshop participants agreed to the following outcomes and actions:

  1. Principles underpinning the Australasian Plant Pathology Curriculum:
    • Australasia needs to maintain and enhance a comprehensive education and training capacity in Plant Pathology; and
    • The most effective way to achieve this is to develop an agreed set of stand-alone courses that build to a coursework postgraduate qualification.
  1. The Australasian Plant Pathology Curriculum will develop a coursework Masters program (incorporating a Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma and stand-alone courses) in Plant Pathology.
  2. The APPC will be delivered using a flexible delivery model through a consortium of Australasian universities.
  3. The APPC’s success will rely on support from Australasian universities, state governments and industry, with principle funding for the initiative being sought at the national level.
Actions Resulting from the Workshop
  1. Prepare and distribute a report on the APPC workshop (mid-March 2006; contact: Sue McKell;
  2. Identify possible funding sources/channels and investigate application deadlines for relevant funding rounds (February 2006; contact: Sue McKell;
  3. Conduct a comprehensive audit of current Australasian tertiary offerings in Plant Pathology (March 2006; contact: Gavin Ash;
  4. Seek additional funding from the CRC for Tropical Plant Protection to support the APPC's continued development towards securing funding (March 2006; contact: John Irwin;
  5. Develop the Masters curriculum in Plant Pathology, identifying current capacity and deficiencies highlighted by the audit (mid April 2006; contact Gavin Ash;
  6. Interested academics (whether or not they attended the workshop) are encouraged to seek in-principle support from their universities to support the APPC initiative by the end of April 2006.
  7. Prepare a strategic (and business) plan, incorporating in-principle support from universities, to be used in applications for funding (to be distributed by mid-May 2006; contact: John Irwin;
  8. Prepare a paper for submission to the International Society for Plant Pathology's upcoming Web-based Symposium on Plant Pathology Teaching (May-June 2006; contact: David Guest;
  9. Submit the strategic (business) plan to potential funding sources (June 2006; contact: John Irwin
In-principle Support from Universities

The APPC is now seeking in-principle support from Australian and New Zealand universities to be involved with the Australasian Plant Pathology Curriculum initiative. Those universities that choose to become involved in the APPC consortium stand to benefit as the only tertiary institutions in Australasia (and possibly internationally) able to offer comprehensive training in Plant Pathology, a field at the epicentre of continued growth in global plant industries. The viability of the consortium model is one that has already been proven in other disciplines, and is perhaps the only way forward for delivering scientifically and economically important programs that cannot currently be sustained under current per capita university funding systems. The success of this initiative will rely on the support and involvement of Australasian universities and, with that, on the support and involvement of academics in Plant Pathology. Early participation in the APPC will ensure maximum involvement in shaping the initiative. Academics interested in being involved in this initiative are encouraged to seek support from their relevant head, and questions relating to the initiative should be directed to Professor John Irwin on +61(0)7 3365 2790 or email Non-binding letters of in-principle support from School or Faculty Heads will be included as part of the APPC’s Business Plan in future funding applications.

Date: 29th May, 2006

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