PERSPECTIVES Spring 2000: Teaching in the 21st Century
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Teaching in the 21st Century

hen Bryce Lane, Undergraduate Coordinator for the Horticultural Science Department, talks about teaching for the 21st century, listeners expect to hear about the benefits of computers, Power Point and time-enhanced learning. They often are disappointed.

Photo by Herman Lankford

Lane, who has received numerous honors for teaching, believes new technologies can enrich teaching. But he also believes that the same criteria that characterized good teaching in the 20th century will continue to be important for creating a stimulating learning environment for university students of the 21st century.

"My twist is that I donít think the challenges of the new century will be that different from today," he said. "The challenge is to create a positive environment for learning within a college course."

Lane has been teaching horticultural science at N.C. State since 1981; before that he taught as a graduate student at Ohio State University. In horticultural science, he teaches courses on the principles of horticulture, home horticulture, plant identification, interior plantscapes, garden center operations and perspectives in horticulture.

His commitment to teaching has earned him the N.C. State University Outstanding Teacher Award three times, along with induction into the N.C. State Academy of Outstanding Teachers. He also has received the Alumni Distinguished Professor Award, N.C. Stateís highest teaching award; the N.C. State Agricultural Institute Club Outstanding Faculty Member Award; and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award.

In addition to his N.C. State teaching honors, Lane has been recognized for his teaching by regional and national organizations. Among those honors, he received the Outstanding Undergraduate Educator Award from the American Society for Horticultural Science and the Ensminger-Interstate Distinguished Teacher Award from the National Association of Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture.

In a seminar delivered last fall, Lane encouraged faculty to first look for factors that discourage learning in a classroom. Are students anxious or bored? Do they feel the instructor doesnít care about them or the subject matter?

Lane senses that students who donít know anyone in a new class are not as receptive to learning as he would like. So at the first of the semester, Lane involves students in his Principles of Horticulture class in exercises to get them talking to each other. Each person in a group has a job ó recording information, discussing or reporting to the class. Once students get to know their classmates, the energy level in the class begins to rise.

"I look at a classroom as a community, and students are the citizens in that community. And they have certain responsibilities as citizens," he said.

Boredom is another factor that can come between students and learning, Lane said. Last semester, he was challenged on the issue when his 18-year-old daughter, Sarah, an N.C. State freshman majoring in horticulture, was a student in his class.

She cautioned him against starting his Power Point presentation in the dark at the beginning of the 8 a.m. class. Lane altered the class to include 30 minutes of chalkboard talk or a demonstration before beginning the visual presentation.

As undergraduate coordinator in his department, Lane sometimes hears students complain that their teachers donít care. "How can we create a positive environment if we put teachers in the classroom who demonstrate a lack of care for teaching, for students and for their discipline?" he said. "That gets to the heart of a lot of issues ó what kind of people are we recruiting for teaching?"

Photo by Herman Lankford

ane says the ability to spin a yarn is important to good teaching. "If you have someone who can tell a story, people will stop and listen," he said.

Getting to know students and developing a rapport with them is important, he added. Know what students are majoring in, what other classes they are taking and why they enrolled in your class, he said. He asks his students to wear name tags in class so he can call on them by name. And he says students appreciate good organization, clarity and enthusiasm for subject matter from their teachers, he said.

Lane urges instructors to "romance" their students about the subject matter. When faculty are enthusiastic, that enthusiasm is contagious to students. He takes a number of approaches to "romance" students into the study of horticulture.

He shows his class slides of some of the oldest and tallest trees to get them excited about studying tree tissues. His classes may act out a play, participate in demonstrations or take their shoes off and use brand names of shoes to demonstrate the difference between genus and species. They take field trips, propagate plants and listen as Lane reads to them.

He does use Power Point in class and believes that technology will provide more and more tools for use in the classroom. And he finds creative ways to introduce his classes to interesting Web sites related to horticulture. But he says instructors should be "appropriate tool users" and not come to rely on computers and Power Point presentations as a crutch. "New tools can become an end, rather than a means," he says. "My favorite tool is still a piece of chalk."

Lane learned this lesson well when he asked students to submit four assignments by email one semester. When the first round of emails began rolling in from 65 students, Lane was overwhelmed.

The experience reminded him that in an age when so much infor-mation is available with the click of a mouse, it is important for teachers to be focused. "What separates a text from teaching is that teachers are distillers of knowledge," he said.

Assessing the learning environment is important to help teachers keep their classes dynamic and interesting. Lane asks his students to identify the most important thing they have learned. He will borrow studentsí notes to see whatís there and whatís missing. And heíll engage students in conversations to find out how itís going.

Lane feels it is the universityís responsibility to continue a tradition of strong undergraduate teaching, a lesson he feels even more strongly about now that he is a parent of an N.C. State student. "As a parent,
Iíd like N.C. State to provide the very best on-campus education that it can.

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