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Plant Sciences Teachers Focus on Students during COVID-19 Remote Teaching

Like most college and university teachers in the U.S., North Dakota State University instructors had less than two weeks to begin teaching the second half of their spring classes completely online. As many of the Department of Plant Sciences instructors transitioned online, their experiences had a similar theme, which is to focus on the well-being of the students they teach.
Plant Sciences Teachers Focus on Students during COVID-19 Remote Teaching

Greta Gramig teaching remotely: “All the action takes place at my kitchen table, which is pretty boring.”

April 23, 2020

Like most college and university teachers in the U.S., North Dakota State University instructors had less than two weeks to begin teaching the second half of their spring classes completely online. As many of the Department of Plant Sciences instructors transitioned online, their experiences had a similar theme, which is to focus on the well-being of the students they teach.

Some, like Genetics (PLSC 315) instructor Juan Osorno and Weed Biology and Ecology (PLSC 433/633) instructor Greta Gramig, were already utilizing some online tools in their teaching routines. Each has adapted to fully online teaching, but admit it isn’t ideal. Osorno says, “I’m just trying to do the best I can with the tools available and the best possible attitude.” He says that with the large number of students in his class, he worries about those who “fall through the cracks.” Gramig also says that her class is based heavily on in-class participation and that she has adjusted and “tried to keep things simple and flexible. This is a hard time for everyone – no need to make it harder.”

Anuradha Vegi, who is teaching Cereal and Food Fermentation (CFS 472/672), talks about how committed her students are, saying, “Our students are the heroes in the academic institution in this ‘when will it end’ situation. I want to say a thank you to the students who have made some extra adjustments to learn the best way they could via remote learning and we as teachers are playing only a small part of it all! Proud to be a Bison!”

Susie Thompson co-teaches Plant Sciences Graduate Seminar (PLSC790) with Kirk Howatt. She has used some online tools in the past but says, “I’ve learned a lot, made mistakes and have had internet connection issues during seminar classes when many people are online at high use times. We had to have one student present their seminar a second time after sound troubles during the first try, and [the second time] it worked like a charm!” 

Thompson also said that a graduate student waiting to take his turn working in the laboratory because only one person is allowed in at a time during social distancing, stopped by her office door and told her, “It is fun to actually see and speak to a person.”

Barb Laschkewitsch teaches Floral Design (PLSC 177), which is a completely hands-on class. Laschkewitsch also maintains the NDSU Horticulture Research and Demonstration Gardens and is at work daily in campus greenhouses to prepare plants for the summer of 2020. She says, “I’m well and fortunate to still come to work. Funny how these plants can’t grow themselves!”

Laschkewitsch had not utilized any online learning tools previously and says that she has quickly learned YuJa (a video management and lecture capture system) and how to use her laptop computer to record lectures and floral design videos. She says, “Seriously, I’ve had this laptop for over 5 years and never thought about the fact that it had a camera and I could record videos with it.” She also said that most of her lessons have gone well but at one point “correcting everything that was wrong was taking too much time and I got a bit impatient and frustrated with the steep learning curve I had already scaled!”

Discussions amongst teachers as the semester closes illustrate that the challenges are not over. Teachers worry about summer orientation and advising, especially if everything is done virtually. They worry about students who haven’t checked in to current classes through the online Blackboard system since spring break, and they worry about how students will register for the fall semester.

Students are the lifeblood of NDSU and the Department of Plant Sciences. Teachers in the department know this and care deeply for these students. They are trying diligently to make sure each student does well during the COVID-19 pandemic using any tools that work. As one professor said, “Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” The teachers in the Department of Plant Sciences are dedicated to their students and are striving to give them the best learning environment they can from a distance in these difficult times.

Author: Karen Hertsgaard, 701-231-5384, 
Editor: Kamie Beeson, 701-231-7123, 

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