The nursery industry is a key segment of U.S. agriculture with an estimated wholesale value of almost $13 billion in 2006 (Jerardo, 2007). In 2006, the 17 largest nursery-producing states in terms of gross sales accounted for 471,106 acres of production and employed 112,672 workers (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007). In 2007, the value of greenhouse and nursery crops in Oregon alone was estimated to be over $1 billion (O'Connor, 2008). To expand or even maintain this key segment of agriculture will require well-trained employees. One source of qualified employees in the nursery industry is students at land grant universities. In the past, many of the horticulture and plant science programs at these institutions have offered a class in nursery management and production. However, availability of qualified faculty, integration of departments, and cutbacks in horticulture programs may have led to a reduction in the number of nursery management and production (NMP) courses being offered in the United States.
Nursery management and production involves an understanding of fundamental principles as well as practical operations. A traditional NMP course includes classroom lectures and observation of actual production systems and operations. Ideally, an NMP course includes field trips to nurseries to view various production systems in situ. The benefit of visual and on-site experiences for enhanced learning is well documented (Brunner, 1961; Krepel and DuVall, 1981; Larkin-Hein and Zollman, 2000). In many cases, however, budget constraints, time limits, transportation logistics, and limited access to qualified nurseries may make scheduling field trips a challenge. Recently, a set of instructional DVDs were produced by horticulture educators for use in teaching greenhouse production courses (Harkess et al., 2007). Each instructional unit in the DVD set focused on one individual greenhouse production business and its operations. In lieu of nursery site visits, it is possible that instructors could use multimedia tools (e.g., DVDs) for instructional purposes. Lin and Fox (1999) showed that videos can be highly motivational compared with more traditional methods of instruction. Although some multimedia materials are available for individual topics in nursery production, they are generally expensive and often contain dated material. For example, American Nurseryman (Chicago) used to offer a two-videotape series produced in 1992 for $100 but does not currently offer any DVDs (American Nurseryman, 2010). San Luis Video Publishing (Los Osos, CA) offers a small number of DVDs on greenhouse management, each ≈30 min long and costing $95 (San Luis Video Publishing, 2010). Insight Media (New York) offers a DVD on container-grown plants. Unfortunately, this DVD on a single topic is from 1990, is only 26 min long, and costs $129 (Insight Media, 2010).
To date, there has not been a survey of horticulture and related departments in the United States to gather information on course content and the current use of field trips and multimedia tools in NMP courses. The current lack of instructional multimedia resources for NMP courses coupled with the availability of technology and the likely ease of incorporating such resources at most universities suggests that there may be a need and/or desire for virtual field trips to supplement current field trips and classroom instruction. Possible shifts in departmental focus (from applied to basic), merging of departments (personal observation), and the number of qualified faculty could affect traditional NMP instructional strategies. Therefore, the objective of this study was to gain information about NMP course content and enrollment, attitudes regarding the use of multimedia resources in the classroom, and opinions about the use of virtual field trips to supplement or replace traditional field trips.
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