University of Florida students recognize professor’s innovations

Lorenzo Rossi’s students rate his online courses as top-notch because he integrates digital-savvy tools along with personal enthusiasm for plant root biology.

Rossi’s discipline is not new, but scientists realized about 20 years ago that plant roots, and the soils and moisture around roots, determine a tree crop’s ability to bear fruit. Rossi’s supervisor, Ronald D. Cave, director for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Indian River Research and Education Center (UF-IFAS-IRREC), said Rossi is a leader in his field.

“Lorenzo Rossi incorporates the most recent technological advances in the courses he instructs, and in his research, too,” said Cave. “In course evaluations, his students report that they feel they are in the same room with Rossi, although the courses are delivered virtually.”

Recently, officials with the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) honored Rossi with its Innovation in Teaching Award. The award program “recognizes innovation in teaching practices through the eyes of students.” University officials presented the award at UF CALS annual Teaching Enhancement Symposium.

“Dr. Rossi is a dedicated and innovative teacher, who puts student learning at the forefront of his teaching,” said Allen Wysocki, Associate Dean, and Professor for UF/CALS. “Although Dr. Rossi is located in Fort Pierce, he connects with students by blending synchronous and asynchronous delivery of his courses. He is deserving of the CALS Innovation Teaching Award.”

Rossi is an assistant professor of plant root biology at IRREC, located in Fort Pierce. The research facility is in the center of the world’s leading grapefruit production region. Rossi and several other research scientists at IRREC the center study citrus crops and develop best practices for growers to sustain the industry amid a devastating plant disease, citrus greening, that impacts Florida’s most valuable crop. The scientists work collaboratively with researchers from other institutions and with graduate students.

In addition to research on plant roots, Rossi instructs three courses to international students who seek bachelor’s, master’s degrees, and doctorate degrees. The classes are Root and Rhizosphere Ecology, about plant root architecture and the soil and organisms which surround plant roots; Advanced Horticultural Physiology, to both undergraduate and graduate students; and Root Structure and Function, a summer-only short course at which the world’s foremost authorities on plant root science lecture to a group of international graduate students who travel to Florida to attend the weeklong course.

For this semester, Rossi instructs a course online and oversees graduate research programs for four students. One seeks a master’s degree; three work on doctorate degrees in horticulture, with a specialization in fruit trees root studies.

Technical aspects of Rossi’s courses noted for innovation are “green-screen technology,” which contributes the ability of students to see Dr. Rossi as he lectures with “voice-over” throughout the slide modules of each course lecture. To accomplish a telepresence innovation, a small representation of Rossi’s face, lecturing, appears on a corner of each slide. Rossi also employs animations, or movie illustrations, to demonstrate more complex biological functions.

Another aspect of virtual teaching innovation Rossi understands is a social aspect among students. During his most recent Root and Rhizosphere Ecology course, students were from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Each was encouraged to share their interests and career plans.

“Dr. Rossi schedules regular live Zoom sessions so that students can interact synchronously with the instructor, ask questions and feel more connected,” wrote one student on a teaching evaluation.

Rossi sustains instructor-to-student and student-to-student dialog with text and image highlights. He poses questions and encourages students to respond to each other.

Rossi recently was the recipient of a UF/CALS Distance Education Grant for his Root and Rhizosphere Ecology course. The grant will fund more technology advances for the next year.

“I want to add applications students can use to innovate their learning experience,” said Rossi. “For example, VoiceThread will help them to add voice-over to PowerPoint presentations. I want my students to get comfortable when they use innovative tools to learn, and when they present their work to others. “

To learn more about Lorenzo Rossi’s courses or enroll in a degree program, 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


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Posted: September 18, 2020

Category: Agriculture, Horticulture

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