The Plant Detectives

Australian Award for University Teaching - Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning

The next generation of plant science graduates will need creativity backed by high quality knowledge and investigative skills if they are to tackle the challenges of food production and biodiversity management in the face of climate change. For the past decade, Plants: Genes to Environment (BIOL2121) has been the key course introducing plant science to undergraduates at the Australian National University (ANU). Its research-led approach gives students an excellent theoretical and practical understanding of the integral links between genes, cells, whole plants and the environment.

Features of the course include interactive teaching by research-active staff and innovations such as the inquiry-based identification of plant mutants (Plant Detectives), engaging approaches to assessment, and the appointment of Peer Mentors. These elements combine to instill enthusiasm, experience and confidence into our students as emerging scientists, illustrated by the increasing proportion of those students subsequently enrolling in Honours programs. We motivate and inspire students to learn not only by putting the tools into their hands, but also by helping them develop the problem-solving curiosity, questioning and resourcefulness that one needs to be an effective researcher.

The Plant Detectives team was led by Associate Professor Adrienne Nicotra, with Dr Ulrike Mathesius, Dr Gonzalo Estavillo and Dr Beth Beckmann. The Team received a 2011 Australian Award for University Teaching - Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning.