STOCKSCH 172 – Plants in Our World

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  September 5 – December 12, 2017

Instructor: Vahram Elagöz

Contact: velagoz@cns.umass.edu or vamig1966@gmail.com

Course Description: This is a 4 credit Gen Ed course with BS & G designations. Throughout the course the participants will study the often intricate relationship between plants and people. Students will become familiar with basic concepts in plant biology such as the fundamental properties of life; food chains and food webs; and plants as producers, humans as consumers. The class will explore society’s historical connection to plants and how plants have made an impact on civilizations. The course will also look at environment problems, and current trends and policies that affect food supply and security, alternative food sources and farming techniques. Case studies will be used to show how scientific methods and theories can be applied to problems of global concern while critically evaluating the shortcomings of current ways of understanding these issues.

Student Learning Objectives:

  • Emphasize the importance of plants and how they shape human societies in everyday
  • Increase students’ awareness and understanding of diverse cultures, societies, and regions within the context of contemporary global challenges (g. current debates on global issues; plants and human health; green revolutions of the past and present; biopiracy and genetic property rights; plant ecology; and gardening philosophies from the Orient and the Occident).
  • Increase familiarity with plants, strengthened with science-based knowledge and supported by readings focusing on plants as sources of food and economically important commercial products (g. the global food crisis, the war on drugs, deforestation and species extinction).
  • Support the theoretical with the practical through discussions, documentaries and movie clips that will allow the students to connect the theoretical with broader social and scientific issues.

Textbook: There is no required textbook. Lecture notes, including supporting reading material, supplemental notes, and other information will be regularly provided during the course of the semester.

Required reading: A History of the World in 6 Glasses. Tom Standage. Walker Publishing Company, May 2006, currently (as of March 21, 2017) available for about $7. Note that this book may become available in an eBook format through the U Mass library.

Tentative Course Outline:

Week 1 Introduction
Plant Structure – From Cells to Tissues to Organs (Fundamentals)
Week 2 Plant Structure – Vegetative Organs
Food from Plants – Root, Stem, and Leaf Crops
Week 3 Plant Structure – Reproductive Organs
Food from Plants – Fruits and Nuts
Week 4 Food from Plants – Cereals and Legumes
Introduction to Plant Physiology
Deadline for students to provide instructor with term paper topics
Week 5 Origins of Agriculture
Breeding for Food
Major Crop Diseases
Deadline for instructor to approve student term paper topics
Week 6 Global Food Crises: Causes and Consequences
Alternatives: Foods and Ways
Week 7 Human Nutrition and Health – Introduction
Human Nutrition and Health – Nutrients and Dietary Guidelines
Week 8 Human Nutrition and Health – Medicinal Plants
Human Nutrition and Health – Drugs, Poisons, Allergies
Week 9 Plant Ecology – Diversity of Plant Life
Plant Ecology – Major Biomes of North America
Week 10 Commercial Products Derived from Plants – Spices, Herbs, Perfumes
Commercial Products Derived from Plants – Materials
Week 11 Commercial Products Derived from Plants – Stimulating Beverages
Week 12 Commercial Products Derived from Plants – Beverages from Fungi
Week 13 Ornamental Plants: Qualities, Uses and Types
Gardening Philosophies from East and West
Week 14 Term papers due, Tuesday December 12

Course Structure: On a weekly basis students will be provided with new Course Material. Each Friday a new Learning Module for the following week will be released, each consisting of Lecture, Discussion, Assignment, Quiz, and Supplemental Material Folders. While Lectures (PowerPoint Presentations in PDF format) will remain available until the end of the semester, Weekly Discussions, Assignments and Quizzes will have limited availability. Active student participation is, therefore, strongly recommended. Assignments, Quizzes, and Discussions will be released each Friday and remain open until the following Friday. Assignments, Discussion Forums, and Quizzes are accessible from within the Learning Modules. A mid-week reminder will prompt students who have yet to take part in the discussions to do so. Although all required work will come with clear instructions on how to complete/ submit within a given deadline, it is the student’s responsibility to submit the required work in a timely manner.

Finally, a Term Paper on a course-related topic of choice will be due during the last week of class. Please check out the above tentative course outline for important deadlines.

Grading criteria:

  • Weekly Quizzes (25 %)
  • Weekly Assignments (25 %)
  • Weekly Discussions (25%)
  • Term Paper (25%)

Weekly Quizzes are based on lecture material and additional notes only and will be made up of 20 easy to answer questions (e.g. True/False, Multiple Choice Question, Short Response, Fill in the Blanks). Weekly Assignments are based on the lecture material as well as a subject of interest suggested by the instructor whereupon students will submit a written one-page document before a set deadline. Weekly Discussions, on a topic assigned by the instructor, are the most stimulating part of the course, and will give students as well as the instructor the opportunity to exchange ideas/ opinions and interact with each other. It is expected that students actively participate in discussions, starting with an original, thoughtful discussion thread followed by at least one or two thoughtful posts as a response to posted comments. Students are expected to show a willingness to engage with their fellow students. In addition, each student has to submit a written final Term Paper on a course-related topic of choice no later than during the last week of class. The student’s performance throughout the semester will be assessed based on these assignments and quizzes.

Grade determination:

A   = (93-100)  A- = (90-92)      B+ = (87-89)     B    = (83-86)    B- = (80-82)

C+ = (77-79)   C  = (73-76)     C- = (70-72) D+ = (67-69)     D  = (60-66)      F or IF = (59 or below)

Late Work:

  1. Assignments submitted after the due date is listed as “late.”
    • Assignments are listed as “late” until the cut-off-date.
  2. Assignments cannot be submitted after the cut-off
    • Assignments are listed as “missed” after the cut-off

Academic Honesty: Understanding the Academic Honesty policy is VERY important.

Ombuds Office and Academic Honesty Office

http://www.umass.edu/ombuds/

Students are expected to read and abide by guidelines for academic honesty detailed in the Undergraduate Rights and Responsibilities.

Accommodation Policy Statement:

Disability Services

http://www.umass.edu/disability/students

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to providing an equal educational opportunity for all students. If you have a documented physical, psychological, or learning disability on file with Disability Services (DS) that requires an accommodation, please notify me within the first two weeks of the semester so that we may make appropriate arrangements.

Technical Support:

The 24/7 Help Desk is available to students using Blackboard for their online courses at UMass Amherst through Continuing & Professional Education. If you are experiencing technical issues with the system, please contact them directly.

Contact information is located:

  1. On the Blackboard Learn login page under “Need Technical Support?”
  2. Within the “Help Desk Information” module within Blackboard

Library Services and Support:

http://www.library.umass.edu/ for available services, library locations, databases & collections and more.

For additional support about the usage of web resources for assignments please contact the instructor as well as the U Mass Library Services. Students are strongly encouraged to contact Madeleine Charney, one of the Research Services Librarians at mcharney@library.umass.edu for further inquiries.

Netiquette (Online Course Expectations):

Style: I strongly encourage to separate academic language from slang for official communication. It is required that written material to be graded (e.g. written assignments) has formal sentence structure: no abbreviations or emoticons. Usage of caps in informal correspondence such as “I HAVE A QUESTION” may be regarded as yelling and thus discouraged whereas professionalism, positive attitude, proper and courteous language is expected.

Contacting the Instructor: I strongly advise and expect that the Mail Tool on Blackboard is used for standard communication. It is my aim and goal to respond to student inquiries within 24 hours during the weekdays, if on weekends the following Monday morning. Except for emergencies phone calls are discouraged. Phone numbers as well as personal email information may be provided with in exceptional cases.


This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program.   To register for upcoming classes, see UMass Online.  Most classes cost $472/credit.  If you would like to register for the Certificate program, you may apply here.

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