CELT Teaching Spotlight: Grant Thompson

Grant Thomspon

Dr. Grant Thompson, Assistant Professor, Department of Horticulture has spent two years teaching at Iowa State University (See Thompson’s Horticulture page). Recently, Thompson received the Excellence in Excellence in Remote Instruction COVID-19 Exceptional Effort Awards for, “outstanding virtual delivery of HORT 240: Landscape Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines, and for enduring improvements to student accommodations.”

Thompson’s advice for teaching:

For most of my horticulture courses, we focus on hands-on learning outside on-campus as we study different trees, shrubs, and ways to manage them. 

The pandemic and need for remote learning caused me to reconsider my courses and develop means for students to move back and forth from in-person to remote learning on short notice. I thought of this as a continuum of participation depending on the student’s situation: entirely in-person, able to be on-campus but outside of regular class meetings, and students fully remote, including being away from Ames. This change posed a particular challenge for my woody plant identification class that traditionally relies on seeing plants in person and engaging as many senses as possible to recognize each species correctly. 

Fortunately, many options for helping students with remote learning also increased the accessibility of the course for students needing academic accommodations. Modifications to how I presented content resulted in win-wins and will impact long after the pandemic passes. 

  • Short videos are highly accessible. We used a still camera, smartphone video, and a GoPro to capture plants’ imagery in the landscape and our labs on campus. After light editing, we posted videos to Canvas Studio or YouTube that compressed large-high-quality videos to smaller sizes that were easily streamed and viewed on phones, tablets, and computers. Students appreciated being able to watch on-the-go, on campus in front of the plants, or from home, along with the ability to re-watch or slow videos as needed.
  • Auto-captioning for videos is useful for many end-users. Captions generated by Canvas Studio and YouTube aren’t perfect, but editing is available. Regardless, captions can help connect visuals to terminology, assist English language learners, distracted students, and students with auditory challenges. After uploading videos, captioning is a few clicks away.
  • Content in multiple formats gives students choices for how they learn best. In Canvas, we provided still slides of plants, short descriptive videos that focused on significant morphological features, and scans of preserved herbarium specimens. Each format had strengths and weaknesses, but in combination, students could use what they found useful to strengthen their recall and conduct self-assessments.
  • Consider ways to increase engagement asynchronously. We provided maps of our plant walks for students to retrace after class or do outside of class if needed. This resource provided flexibility for students that needed to be socially distant but is useful for students with mobility concerns that could take a self-paced walk or use various parking locations to better access portions of the walks.

These strategies worked for our course and gave students the resources to learn on their terms and at times conducive to their schedules and ability to be present in class. It’s my preference as an instructor to have all students in class and on our plant walks. I have found that given different student circumstances and learning styles, I can meet students where they are and accommodate more students by offering my content in multiple synchronous and asynchronous ways. Ultimately, that helps me achieve my intended goal – to guide students in becoming self-driven learners and understand my courses’ content.

Is there a CELT program, series, event would you recommend?

I found the CELT Teaching Partners Program and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Scholars Program helpful in my development as an educator.

Learn more from the CELT Teaching Partners Program page and the SoTL Scholars program page.