Laura Deeter, Professor of Horticulture Technologies, Named Canvas Educator of the Year

Dr. Laura Deeter at InstructureCon 2019

Dr. Laura Deeter, Professor of Horticulture Technologies at Ohio State ATI, has been named the 2019 Canvas Educator of the Year - Professor. The Educator of the Year Awards recognize "exceptional educators who are positively impacting the lives of K-20 students". Educators were judged on the following criteria: 

  • ​How does this educator redefine traditional learning activities to prepare students for college and career? 
  • How does this educator’s classroom experience improve student outcomes for at-risk populations? 
  • How does this educator impact student engagement, curiosity, and/or achievement? 

This year, Dr. Deeter gamified her course Plant Identification (HORTTEC 2110T) and gave students a unique and exciting learning experience. In gamifying her course, student engagement with the course and with CarmenCanvas skyrocketed.

Q: What course do you teach? Tell us about it.

I teach a LOT of courses including Plant Identification, Landscape Design, and Ecology (to name a few). But the course that I gamified was Plant Identification (HORTTEC 2110T). This is a class in identifying by scientific and common name all kinds of plants: annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, evergreens, and houseplants. All of the plants’ characteristics are all discussed, such as height, flowering color, flowering time, fall color, cultural needs (sun vs shade etc), major disease issues, native/exotic etc. So there are a LOT of facts to basically memorize about each plant.

Q: How did you gamify your course?

Valerie Childress, our Instructional Designer up here gave me the original idea to try to do this. She thought it might help the students engage in the course more. So I did some research and thought I would give it a try as well. This is a plant course, so I picked the old school video game/app ‘Plants vs Zombies’, which seemed thematically appropriate. I reworked everything in Carmen to be thematic, but the biggest part of the ‘game’, from the student perspective, was the L.E.A.F. Points (League of Extraordinary Action Foliage) the students could earn to allow them to purchase ‘helper plants’ to give them bonuses. For example, in the game, there is a squash plant, and he’s rather inexpensive to purchase, so I made him 500 L.E.A.F Points (this could be earned in about 5-10 minutes). A student who purchased this plant, could turn it back in later and it would count as one discussion posting. I had 4 different levels of ‘helper plants’, each doing different things. Some allowed a student to skip a midterm question, others allowed them to not worry about spelling on a quiz, others would have the Zombie Master (me) giving them hints on a quiz. The most expensive one was 100,000 points and was a take home exam. No one student could earn that many (the most was about 80,000), so they were forced to work together to get their points!

Q: What was the motivation behind gamifying your course?

Plant ID is a memorization course. It’s basically like memorizing your times tables as a kid. And as a society, we don’t memorize much anymore; the phone does it all for us. So it’s a skill that most people aren’t really used to doing. I wanted to do something that seemed fun, increased engagement with the course, increase engagement with Carmen, and with plants. The ultimate goal was to improve student grades, or at a minimum help them have more fun, and perhaps alleviate a bit of test anxiety as there were things they could do to help them out with that.

Q: Explain how you and your course shaped student engagement and success.

In the past, students have said to me “Man, I wish I knew about all the stuff you put on Carmen before the end of the semester”. It seemed that no amount of my talking about it had them using it. In 2017 (with no gamification), Carmen views were an average or 330. In 2018, with gamification, their average views was 2428. Average participation in 2017 was 5, in 2018 it was 27. So it did drive them to Carmen to look at things. In an informal survey, all students reported they liked the game and they came to Carmen more often to participate in the game.

Q: How did the structure of this course prepare your students for the future (other college courses and/or career)?

I’m hoping it helped them learn plants better. All of my students are in horticulture in one way or another and knowing your plants is a big part of that. But more importantly, I hope it showed them that plants, while perhaps not as flashy as animals, are all around us, in books, movies, video games, and our landscapes.


Post-InstructureCon Update

Q: What was the biggest takeaway you took from your experience at InstructureCon?

Oh man…

I went to every session where gamification was the topic, so one of the top things for me was seeing the creativity of folks trying to inspire learning through play. One of the speakers said “the content is the same, but how they navigate the content is up to the students” and that really stuck with me and will inform my Ecology class this fall.

My other, almost equally important, takeaway was a quote from one of the other speakers, Brittany Wagner, who is the team academic advisor from the Netflix show Last Chance U. I don’t remember her exact words, so I’m going to paraphrase it here: Education needs to be more like Coke and less like Kodak. Kodak (the company) isn't the first thing that comes up on a Google search. Coke gave us the drink. And when we decided we didn't want to be fat, they gave us Diet Coke. And when we decided we didn't want to die of cancer, they gave us Coke Zero. And when we didn't want pop at all, they took tap water, bottled it, called it Dasani and charged us $5 for it. And when we tired of regular water, they added fruity flavors. And they are all 10 of the top searches for Coke on Google. Education needs to respond to changes like that and not continue to do things the way they have always been done, or we will find ourselves going the way of Kodak.

Everyone has inspired me to try to do better — to think about teaching more creatively and less conservatively, and to not take the easy way out and always lecture just because it’s easy.