Clip art is familiar to many people and is readily available in software programs and on the Web. Clip art images represent easy-to-interpret images and scenes on a broad range of topics. One would assume clip art images are easy to remember. However this is apparently not the case when it comes to plants, as professors Elizabeth E. Schussler and Lynn A Olzak discovered in It’s Not Easy Being Green: Student Recall of Plant and Animal Images.
Schussler & Olzak designed a study around the recall of clip art images in the Microsoft Office PowerPoint program (2003) out of concern for the public’s preference of studying animals over plants (Kinchen (1999) & Wandersee (1986), as cited in Schussler & Olzak, 2008) and the fact that teachers use animal examples in class to teach concepts more than plant examples (Uno (1994), as cited in Schussler & Olzak, 2008). In designing their research, they created two studies — a pilot study to test plant and animal images and a study in which student recall of these images was tested. They hypothesized students would recall more animal images than plant images and that botany students would recall more plant images than psychology students. One hundred thirty-three psychology students participated in the pilot study and 327 psychology and non-major botany students participated in the recall study.
What Schussler & Olzak (2008) found was that all students recalled a higher number of animal images and that botany students did not recall more plant images than psychology students. They also observed that female students recalled a statistically significant higher number of plant images than male students.
Schussler & Olzak (2008) state their results imply the following:
- Students forget information about plants quickly.
- Students do not give plant images the same type of attention they give animal images.
- Student experiences in a one-semester botany class may not be enough to make students more aware of plants.
- The socialization of women in western society may explain why female students recalled more plant images than male students.
Schussler & Olzak (2008) express concern that “student knowledge about, and attitude toward, plants compared with animals may be ingrained (either cognitively or culturally)” and that this presents a serious challenge for botany educators. They suggest teachers find out which plants their students know by name and to use these plants as examples in class. They also recommend teachers use an equal number of plant examples and animal examples in their classrooms to counter student attitudes towards plants and to prove that plants are alive and relevant to our lives. The challenge for educators, according to Schussler & Olzak (2008), is to create experiences that “increase conscious consideration of plants” at a time when the education system is accommodating the public’s preference of studying animals over plants.
Learn how Schussler & Olzak (2008) designed their pilot study and how they administered their recall study by picking up a copy of their paper at your local college library.
Kinchin, I.M. 1999. Investigating secondary-school girls’ preferences for animals or plants: a simple “head-to-head” comparison using two unfamiliar organisms. Journal of Biological Education. 33: 95-99
Schussler, Elizabeth E. and Lynn A Olzak. 2008. It’s not easy being green: student recall of plant and animal images. Journal of Biological Education. 42(3): 112-118
Uno, G.E. 1994. The state of precollege botanical education. The American Biology Teacher. 56: 263-267
Wandersee, J.H. 1986. Plant or animals – which do junior high school students perfer to study? Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 23: 415-426