For the past four years Plant-ed has served the international community of plant biology educators as an electronic forum for exchanging information related to teaching courses on plants. Plant-ed is a BIOSCI Newsgroup currently housed at both the Stanford University Library and the Daresbury Laboratory, Warrington, UK. It was initiated in the fall of 1994 as a prototype Newsgroup available only by e-mail, and in June of 1995, after a favorable vote, it became an full fledged newsgroup distributed by USENET News. Users can subscribe to the e-mail version (see below) or read and post messages through USENET newsreader software, or through the web. The Newsgroup's charter is reproduced below.
The types of questions posted to the Newsgroup have been so diverse that a few examples here would not do them justice. On numerous occasions, reading someone else's question has made me realize that I have had the same question but never the need to find the answer. My classes have been improved by simply watching the messages on Plant-ed! Readers of the newsgroup may reply publicly or privately, but public conversations are preferred and can become quite interesting. Every week I am reminded of the thoughtfulness and helpfulness of Plant-ed users both from the public replies and from the compilations of replies sent back to the group. There are truly a lot of kind-hearted soles out there willing to take the time to answer questions. The importance of this feedback cannot be underestimated, especially at smaller institutions where expertise is not often down the hall. Thanks!
The number of Plant-ed users is hard to determine since anyone can read and post messages without subscribing. The number of e-mail subscribers has stabilized at about 300 and they reside in at least 16 different countries. The number of messages per month has been about 100 for the last 3 years. At about 3 messages per day it isn't an overwhelming burden to keep up with, yet one is reminded of its presence often enough to know one is connected to a large group of generous colleagues.
Unlike private listservers, unmoderated BIOSCI Newsgroups are open to junk mail postings (spams) and at times this can be annoying. Replying to a spam rarely has its desired effect and causes subscribers to have to delete not only the spam but also the reply, so replying isn't encouraged. Deleting spams quickly is currently the best option. BIOSCI has experimented with electronic filtering systems but they all, have drawbacks. Another option is to pass every message through a moderator but this requires some effort on the part of the moderator and the spontaneity of conversation is lost. In June of 1997 Plant-ed voted to have a moderator, but the BIOSCI administrators decided to delay the change. The rate of spams subsequently declined so Plant-ed is currently not being moderated.
All past messages (over 4000) sent to Plant-ed since its inception are archived in a searchable database at the URL: http://www.bio.net/hypermail/PLANT-EDUCATION/. It may be worthwhile checking there to see if a topic has been discussed in the past but it certainly isn't required. If you are currently a reader or subscriber, thanks for helping to make plant-ed a successful newsgroup for the past four years! If you are not currently a user and would like to find out more about it and the other 103 BIOSCI Newsgroups, connect to http://www.bio.net/ where you can find links to sponsors, answers to FAQS, archives of all of the BIOSCI Newsgroups, and information about subscribing and unsubscribing.
To subscribe to Plant-ed (if you are in the Americas or the Pacific Rim) send the message "subscribe plant-ed" to the address: email@example.com. A subject is not necessary. If you are in Europe, Africa or Central Asia, please read the instructions on how to subscribe at http://www.bio.net/BIOSCI/docs.html. Some may find it more convenient to use USENET newsreaders to access Plant-ed messages. Messages are distributed under the name: bionet.plants.education. Contact your local computing support office for more information on newsreaders.
To use Plant-ed send your message to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a short but descriptive subject since many potential readers will choose whether or not to read a message based only on its subject. At the end of each message please include your name and ways you can be contacted. Subscribers automatically receive all messages sent to plant-ed. When replying to a message please keep the subject the same so browsers can easily follow threads. Unlike some listservers, replies to BIOSCI messages go only to the original sender. Therefore, please carbon copy or forward your reply to Plant-ed for everyone to read. For specific questions feel free to contact me, Jon Monroe, at email@example.com or Susan Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again for making the past four years a plant-educational experience!
The purpose of the Plant-ed newsgroup is to provide a means for communication among instructors, lab preparators, and graduate assistants who teach courses in any aspect of plant biology at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
This newsgroup provides:
Subscribers are welcome. Contributions within the functions outlined above are encouraged.
Yes, there is a literature of plant science education! All of us are well aware of the literature of our research area in plant science starting with the American Journal of Botany but we may be unaware of the existence of the pedagogical literature or have too little time to maintain bibliographic lists of it.
David Hershey recently compiled an excellent list of this literature which he shared through the Plant-ed listserv in the Bionet group (see article elsewhere in this issue by Jon Monroe). Hershey's compilation was preceded by a paragraph urging teachers to watch for scientific errors in this kind of literature and also challenging professional botanists to write articles for these journals. The Education Committee "seconds" that suggestion! We thank David Hershey for giving us permission to reprint his communication in an abridged version:
Most of the plant education literature is found in a handful of journals, none devoted exclusively to plant science teaching. To give a quick overview, I will list some 1998-99 plant articles in several of these journals. Other journals not in the list that also publish plant articles are "School Science Review" (from England), "Science Scope" (National Science Teacher's Association [NSTA] journal for middle school teachers), "Carolina Tips" (newsletter from Carolina Biological Supply Co. promoting their products), and "Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education" (for college teachers and extension workers in agronomy and soil science from American Society of Agronomy, the only journal mentioned here with page charges).
Recent plant science education articles:
Again, the Education Committee thanks Hershey for compiling this list and giving us permission to reprint it.