"Plant blindness" is a cognitive condition in which individuals fail to see or notice the plants in their own environment, often resulting in an inability to recognize the importance of plants in the environment and in everyday activities. In today's world, plant blindness is in a perpetual cycle: children who are not taught about plants become adults with incomplete knowledge about the environment and natural resources. In addition, these children remain unaware of various careers paths relating to plants and plant sciences. One way to address this lack of awareness about the environment and natural resources is by providing more hands-on experiences that allow students to connect with plants and understand their importance in the world. This research proposal will bring together thirteen leading plant scientists to share information and ideas about current and potential botanical experiences. Together, these scientists will design a series of botanical experiences that can be implemented at various universities and botanical institutions as a way to better educate future citizens on the importance of plants in human affairs. Special consideration will be given to including information on how plants are involved in a majority of careers. This original network will continue to grow and to connect botany-focused educators, further broadening the research network working to develop and promote best practices in botany-based science education.

Undergraduate STEM students are usually not attuned to the intricacies of plant life, nor the dynamic role plants play in ecosystem function and human society, a phenomenon termed "plant blindness". Left unchecked, plant blindness has real world consequences, including impediment of effective plant conservation measures due to lack of public support, resource allocations, or ill-advised policies. Semester-long botany courses can help alleviate plant blindness, however, students are less likely to choose such a course if they do not perceive their career choices to be somewhat related to plants. Additionally, botany education has been on the decline in the past decades, both in terms of number of faculty members and universities offering these courses. As a result, there is a need to offer effective botanical experiences to engage students outside of a botany course and to alleviate plant blindness regardless of students' career trajectories. One proposed solution is to integrate more hands-on botanical experiences into introductory courses, but what an ideal botanical experience looks like and what students should be expected to take away from these experiences remains unknown. These questions, and more, will be examined when thirteen leading plant scientists convene at a workshop focused on alleviating plant blindness and increasing botanical literacy among undergraduate students. Specifically, workshop participants will discuss and define exactly what a botanical experience should include through collaborative sharing of knowledge and best practices related to botanical experiences currently taking place at their home institution. This original network will continue to grow and to connect botany-focused educators, further broadening the research network working to develop and promote best practices in botany-based science education.

This project is being jointly funded by the Directorate for Biological Sciences, Division of Biological Infrastructure, and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources, Division of Undergraduate Education as part of their efforts to address the challenges posed in Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action (http://visionandchange/finalreport/).

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Sophie George
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Florida International University
United States
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