New tools for gardening classes

Horticulture and garden design lecturers at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) have been exploring innovative ways of teaching practical units during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Since the national lockdown was announced in March, face-to-face teaching has been suspended and tutors have had to investigate different methods of delivering courses.  

This has included using PowerPoint for recorded classes and Teams to hold virtual classes, as well as the use of OneNote which allows teachers to share private documents with individual students via Student Notebooks and students to work together in a collaborative space.  

With many practical units in the landscape and horticulture courses scheduled for the summer term when the weather is better, lecturers on the Edinburgh campus have had to be creative about how to deliver these classes remotely.  

Lecturer Simon Garnett has created an unusual amendment for the Constructing Hard Landscape Features module he teaches to second year Garden Design and Horticulture students. 

While students usually work in teams to construct hard landscape features on the campus, Simon has instead asked them to guide him in the construction of a wooden screen for his heating oil tank which he is undertaking in his garden within lockdown guidelines. 

He said: “I thought about various ways students could still ‘contribute’ to the construction of a feature, as the learning outcomes require.  

“They are sending me risk assessments and instructions, based on classes we completed before lockdown. In return, I am sending them drawings and videos of my progress to keep them engaged and provide them with a step-by-step record of how the construction is completed. 

“It is a really interesting project and it allows us to keep up a regular dialogue.” 

Meanwhile his colleague Opal Rowe has sent out boxes of materials to first year Horticulture and Horticulture with Plantsmanship students so they can complete their Plant Trials unit.  

Opal said: “The prospect of all the students missing out on the practical skills of setting up a trial, monitoring it and gathering data was quite sad, so I sent out packages to each student so they could still continue their studies at home. Each box contains all the materials required to set up a sweet pea germination trial and gain the valuable experience of running a research project.” 

Ruth Vichos, who teaches Crop Production Practices to second year students, has been sharing weekly videos and photos of the crops they planted before lockdown so they can discuss issues around their care. 

She said: “The students normally have to grow a selection of edible and non-edible crops from propagation through to harvest, keeping a diary as they go. Obviously, they cannot do that now, so I have been taking videos and photos for them and they then have to provide me with instructions on what to do for the following week.”   

Garden Design students, who were due to exhibit a garden in College Street as part of the cancelled Gardening Scotland show, will instead build a scaled-down version on campus.  

Plants are being delivered to the campus, and they are holding virtual classes on Teams to discuss an amended and reduced planting plan which can be built to a schedule allowing for social distancing. 

Lecturer Matt Jessop said: “We would like to have the garden built for the end of May to coincide with when Gardening Scotland should have been held, but we are pretty flexible in that respect. We know the goalposts are moving all the time.” 

To find out more about studying Horticulture and Garden Design at SRUC, visit: sruc.ac.uk

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