Montana State Universitywgrey@montana.edu and email@example.comAccepted for publication 15 October 2001.
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 Reviewed 2009.
Many, if not most, of the students we have in our introductory plant pathology classes have had no experience with plant diseases, either personally, or presented to them in classes. As a way of trying to get them to have a feel for the current importance of plant diseases, to increase their plant disease vocabulary, and to improve their communication skills, we have utilized the following scheme.
Very early in the semester, the students are told that they are to go to the public media to find any article that involves plant disease. Hopefully this article would be on a crop or plant of interest to them, but this is not critical. For those students who have difficulty finding anything, we usually have a collection of journals we can supply to the student, such as Western Fruit Grower or Successful Farming. By having the first report due fairly early in the semester, it gives the instructor the chance to interact with the student on a one-to-one basis.
The article they read is to be copied and presented to the instructor along with a 2-4 page typewritten synopsis they prepare that gives the details of the disease they have read about. To develop this write-up, they are encouraged to go to the library and utilize their skills in digesting the print media to find out more about their chosen disease. This serves to get them better acquainted with the literature available to them that gives information about plant diseases.
One thing to be aware of, however, is that some students will try to utilize their computer skills to get around the challenge of writing something original by doing a "cut and paste" paper where they take sections of material from the world wide web and move them into "their" paper. This can be discouraged by making students aware of the fact that you can check them out very easily by going to the web sites that students commonly access.
We have students do this exercise twice in a semester. Their grammatical skills are challenged since we grade the writing as well as the scientific content. Overall, we feel that this exercise serves to generate interest in the students, so they will be more inclined to pay attention to lectures and other written information presented during the course. It also serves to reinforce that good communication skills are necessary for any successful student.