We have seen how experiences in informal botany education can improve the plant recognition skills in children. Today we take a look at how plants fare in the minds of college students.
In Botanical Knowledge of a Group of College Students in South Carolina USA, Gail E. Wagner evaluates student knowledge of crop plants, trees, flowers, weeds, vines and grasses.
Wagner’s sample population consisted of thirty-one 18-22 year-old college students. Sixteen interviewers helped Wagner conduct this study. Each interviewed two students. The students who were interviewed were selected by the interviewers themselves. Both the interviewers and the interviewees were undergraduate students at the University of South Carolina. The interviewers were enrolled in an ethnobotany course.
During this study, students were asked to create a list of plants for each of the categories mentioned earlier. Wagner (2008) marked entries as being “correct”, “wrong”, or “inappropriate”. Incorrect entries were plants listed in the wrong categories or were listed using general terms. Entries marked “inappropriate” were entries that were placed in the correct category, but did not meet other criteria outlined by the interviewers (such as plants growing outside of South Carolina) (Wagner, 2008).
Student responses were entered into a software program used for consensus analysis (see Wagner’s paper for details). Data analysis revealed:
- Students were more familiar with crops, trees and garden flowers than vines, weeds and grasses.
- 77% of students could identify local crops correctly
- 50% of students could list at least one wildflower or weed correctly (“dandelion” was listed most often)
- 35% of students could not list a grass. One of the students surveyed remarked, “I didn’t know there were different kinds of grasses” (Wagner, 2008)
- 19% of students could not list a vine
- 4% of students could not list a wildflower or weed
Wagner (2008) found that students could provide the most detailed plant lists for categories with which they were most familiar. She explains she is not surprised by students’ ability to correctly identify more crops, trees and wildflowers given the well-established fact that children in industrialized countries interact with plants less frequently, are exposed to many non-native plant species through urbanized landscaping, and “that most local flora is viewed from the window of a vehicle” (Wagner, 2008).
Gail E. Wagner’s paper is much more than an analysis of botanical knowledge. It provides interesting insights into sources of knowledge and how people categorize information. Wagner (2008) provides an interesting discussion about “direct”, “indirect” and “vicarious” knowledge. Citing research about how children experience nature, she explains that indirect knowledge comes from direct interaction with plants, that indirect knowledge comes from guided interactions (such as what can be found at botanical gardens), and that vicarious knowledge is the kind of knowledge one might acquire while surfing the Web or watching television.
To learn more about these topics and Wagner’s thoughts about designing studies to evaluate botanical knowledge, download a copy of her article by clicking on the link below. The article is free to download. The journal Ethnobotany Research and Applications is published online. Its contents are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
- Cooper, Chanda L. 2008. Botanical knowledge of a group of South Carolina elementary school students. Ethnobotany Research and Applications. 6: 121-127. Web.
[accessed 28 September 2012]
- Wagner, Gail E. 2008. Botanical knowledge of a group of college students in South Carolina, U.S.A. Ethnobotany Research and Applications. 6: 443-458. Web.
[accessed 19 October 2012]