Plant identification courses introduce students to numerous plant species and are a significant component of undergraduate horticulture program curricula. In these courses, students are expected to visually recognize many species based on various plant morphological characteristics and depending on the instructor and/or program curricula are required to provide any combination of the following: plant family, genus, specific epithet, common name, and variety/cultivar. Similar to other horticulture plant identification course formats, the Landscape Plants I and II courses (HORT 374 and HORT 375, respectively) at Kansas State University (Manhattan) consist of two 50-min lectures and one 2-h laboratory each week. In the lecture component, students are introduced to plants using PowerPoint (Microsoft, Redmond, WA) to highlight plant identification and cultural characteristics. In the laboratory portion, students physically observe the different plants through instructor-guided walks around campus grounds, gardens, arboreta, greenhouses, the neighboring community, etc.
Technological resources provide valuable opportunities and resources for traditional in-class and distance horticulture plant identification courses to supplement lecture and laboratory information. Computer-assisted learning and supplemental online resources have been shown to enhance and increase student learning (Bing, et al., 2012; Schittek, et al., 2001), although Contreras et al. (2013) found little convincing evidence between study methods using some of these technologies and class performance. Various computer-assisted learning resources include extensive web-based plant databases from public institutions (e.g., Missouri Botanical Garden, 2014; Oregon State University, 2014; University of Connecticut, 2014), software databases (Boufford, 1994; Gilman, 1994), dichotomous keys [e.g., FloraGator (Wilson and Flory, 2012)], interactive quizzes (Campbell et al., 2011), and virtual plant walks (Sabota et al., 1995; Wilson and Danielson, 2005).
Moreover, increasingly available mobile technologies, such as smartphones and tablets, increase student access to information and the ability to study and learn anywhere and anytime their schedules allow. As of Jan. 2014, it is estimated that 83% of young (18–29 years old) and 74% of middle-aged (30–49 years old) adults in the United States own a smartphone, while 42% of all U.S. adults own a tablet in 2014, compared with 4% in 2010 (Pew Research Center, 2014). These mobile technologies use applications (apps), which can supplement traditional paper-based books, notebooks, and notecards to consolidate data and information from various sources into one resource. Increased availability of data via cellular or wireless local area networks (WLAN/Wi-Fi) on college and university campuses coupled with global positioning capabilities of mobile devices allow students to access location-based resources and media for their studies. In 2010, it was estimated that over 80% of U.S. public and private universities, 4-year colleges, and over 65% of community colleges have WLAN/Wi-Fi connected classrooms (Green, 2010).
Students in plant identification laboratories often rely on locations of plant materials to relocate reference specimens covered in the course for study purposes. In the Landscape Plants I and II courses at Kansas State University, the authors developed virtual plant walk maps using the Google Maps web-application (Google, Mountain View, CA) as an additional study tool for students. The virtual plant walk maps provided students with plant specimen locations, plant description data, and visual media. The maps were accessible to all students with data-connected mobile devices or computer access. The objective of this article is to introduce the Google Maps web-application tool and to describe the creation of the maps as a supplemental resource for students.
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