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High Quality Designation for Root Biology Science Course

Enthusiasm and expertise for groundbreaking science earned a High Quality designation for an online course taught by a University of Florida professor.

Lorenzo Rossi, assistant professor of Plant Root Biology at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC) in Fort Pierce, is a research scientist whose course, Root and Rhizosphere Ecology, has been recognized by UF’s Center for Teaching Excellence.

“Plant root biology has emerged as an exciting field in agricultural research only within the last 20 years,” said Ronald D. Cave, director for IRREC. “We expect plant root biology will advance food crop production in many ways, and Dr. Rossi’s expertise and passion are at the center of Florida’s research on the topic. His work will influence many students and production practices phenomenally.”

Root architecture is the spatial configuration of a plant, its root system, and the many microsystems that surround plant roots. Every plant features a unique root system regarding its species and the soil composition in which it grows. Other aspects of plant root architecture involve nutrients, microorganisms, and living insects or nematodes near the plant roots.

Innovators with the university’s Center for Teaching Excellence assist professors with electronic teaching platforms to enhance the learning experience with new technologies for remote learning. In addition, the center evaluates the delivery of online courses and strives for excellence. Current online offerings were peer-reviewed for innovation, course content quality, and delivery, said Cave.

When Rossi’s peers evaluated the root science course, they noted his students consistently remarked on Rossi’s enthusiasm for the topic. The course material is new and important – groundbreaking scientific knowledge applicable to a wide range of plant and soil sciences.

Technical aspects of the course were recognized. For example, “green-screen technology” contributes to the ability of students to see Dr. Rossi as he lectures with “voice-over” throughout the slide modules of each course lecture. To accomplish the visual lecture, a small representation of Rossi’s face, lecturing, appears on the bottom right corner of each slide. Animations illustrate more complex scientific theories, and Rossi is actively present during discussions and zoom meetings with students. He highlights text or images and responds to student questions.

“The green-screen technology gives us tools to increase an instructors’ presence in online learning,” said Rossi. “The students feel more connected to a professor and they feel they are part of the class.” Several students who made evaluations for Rossi’s course mentioned the course’s value in their academic work.

Content of the course covers plant root biology, a current topic in agricultural research expected to revolutionize food production.

“The idea that plant root systems may be improved is novel,” said Rossi. “Agriculture began 2,000 years ago, and only within the last 20 years have scientists realized that plant root architecture impacts crops. Before, their concerns were only for the part of trees and plants above the ground.”

Rossi said root scientists now know that the optimal spatial configuration of the root system can help uptake nutrients and water, which is beneficial to fruit crop trees. Another point Rossi makes is that improved root systems will allow fruit production for developing nations where soils are inadequate to grow crops.

“With root system architecture improvements, we can change that,” said Rossi.

“Root and rhizosphere ecology is a growing and very important topic,” wrote a recent former student in an anonymous course evaluation. “I am amazed to see how much technology is available to study roots and how much is yet to be studied.”

The award-winning course, Root and Rhizosphere Ecology, is offered for the fall semester 2020, in its online format for UF registered students. Registration is now underway; the course will begin Aug. 31. Prospective students may access the course syllabus at this link. To register for the course, visit the following UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences website page. Specific questions about the course may be directed to Dr. Rossi by email at: l.rossi@ufl.edu

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