Commercial greenhouse producers must understand how plant species and cultivars, the environment (light, temperature, and atmospheric gases), plant culture (irrigation, mineral nutrition, and media), and pests (insects and diseases) affect floriculture crop growth and development (Boodley, 1996; Dole and Wilkins, 2005). Therefore, greenhouse crop production instruction must draw from a wide range of scientific concepts. Applying this broad body of knowledge to successfully solve problems and make decisions to consistently produce high-quality greenhouse crops can be challenging for students.
TCM is a holistic approach to containerized crop production based on integrating data and data collection with critical evaluation (Faust et al., 2000; Gill and Smith-Fiola, 2016). It begins with a regularly monitoring the greenhouse environment, plant growth, media and irrigation water properties, and pest populations and generating quantitative data describing these parameters (Camberato and Lopez, 2011; Currey and Lopez, 2011; Hutchinson et al., 2011; Lopez and Currey, 2011). Producers may then evaluate the effectiveness of previous management decisions comparing new to previously collected data, as well as using the most current conditions to inform how to proceed with production. Regular monitoring and data collection aids producers in making appropriate management decisions to growing uniform, high-quality, and marketable crops. This approach to containerized crop production closely resembles the roles and responsibilities commercial production managers and head and section growers must assume for successful production.
Floriculture crops for the top 15 producing states were most recently valued at $4.37 billion [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2016]. Poinsettias are the second-most valuable potted flowering plant, with a wholesale value of nearly $140 million for the 32 million units produced in 2015 (USDA, 2016). They are also a model for greenhouse crop production instruction due to their photoperiodic flowering response, variation among bract color and growth vigor, and susceptibility to pests, as well as having well-characterized responses to light, temperature, and mineral nutrients. Additionally, the scale and value of poinsettia production has led to the characterization of these production requirements and the publication of well-defined production guidelines (Dole and Wilkins, 2005; Ecke et al., 2004; Larson, 1992; Nau, 2011).
Experiential education is a technique that enhances student learning by immersing students into theory and practices described in the classroom (Kolb, 2015). Furthermore, experiential education has been shown to increase student confidence in their disciplines, assisting them with the transition from the classroom to internships or careers (Peyre et al., 2006; Wagner et al., 2009). Educators can scaffold their instruction as a means to assist students in developing higher-order critical thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Athanassiou et al., 2016). Instructional scaffolding includes: 1) a collaborative interaction between the student and expert, 2) learning that occurs in the learner’s zone of proximal development, and 3) gradual removal of support and guidance [the scaffold (Davis, 2015)].
Faust et al. (2000) reported TCM activities with commercial greenhouse poinsettia producers served as an effective educational tool for graduate students. We hypothesized TCM could be used to provide scaffolded experiential education for enhancing undergraduate student confidence in greenhouse crop production. The objective of our work was to determine if integrating TCM into greenhouse poinsettia production experiences would improve student confidence in their greenhouse plant production skills.
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