Assessing Learning in Ethnobotany

SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany proposes to serve four program learning outcomes through three course level outcomes. The course serves learning outcomes in general education, the Micronesian studies program, and the Agriculture and Natural Resources program.

GE 3.4 Define and explain scientific concepts, principles, and theories of a field of science. 1. Identify local plants, their reproductive strategies, and morphology.
GE 4.2 Demonstrate knowledge of the cultural issues of a person’s own culture and other cultures.

MSP 2 Demonstrate proficiency in the geographical, historical, and cultural literacy of the Micronesian region.
2. Communicate and describe the cultural use of local plants for healing, as food, as raw materials, and in traditional social contexts.
ANR 2 Demonstrate basic competencies in the management of land resources and food production. 3. Demonstrate basic field work competencies related to management of culturally useful plant resources and foods.


Identify local plants, their reproductive strategies, and morphology.

The twenty-four students in the course engaged in a number of activities in support of this learning outcome. Vegetative morphology was supported by a field identification walks and presentations. Reproductive strategies were also communicated via student presentations. Identification of local plants permeated every outing, field trip, and hike.

Premna obtusifolia variant locally known as oahr

Twenty-four of the twenty-five students attended the field final examination exercise. The single absentee was a student who had stopped attending the class on 07 April, a month prior to the end of the term.

The final examination involved a walk on campus and required the twenty-four students present to identify twenty local plants. This was increase of four plants from previous terms. The students had to identify the plants by Latin binomial, local name, and provide a specific use for the plant.

The students had a list of 73 Latin binomials for plants found on and around the Paies, Palikir, campus to assist with the Latin name identification. Collectively, the twenty-four sudents made 401 correct Latin binomial identifications out of 480 possible identifications for an 84% success rate. This success rate was identical to the year-on-year 84% success rate of spring 2015 for sixteen plants. Fall 2015 the  Latin name identification success rate lifted to 97% for sixteen plants. Student performance on this metric appears to be variable term-on term.

The students made 416 correct local name identifications out of the 480 possible identifications for a success rate of 87%. Identifying plants in their own language is a more difficult task than one might expect. Despite the students being fluent in their first language, they often do not know their local plant names. Fall 2015 the success rate was 97%, spring 2015 the success rate was 96%. Student performance on this metric appears to have fallen.

Overall there is the suggestion of increased weakness on the final examination, however the final was longer and thus more difficult than in prior terms.


Communicate and describe the cultural use of local plants for healing, as food, as raw materials, and in traditional social contexts.

Sweena with the roots of a Morinda citrifolia tree. The scrapings of the yellow root are squeezed to produce a juice that treats stomach ulcers. 

Students engaged in presentations on healing plants, plants as food, plants used for material culture, and wrote two essays during the course of the term on the cultural use of plants. Essays were marked using rubrics provided one the day one calendar and syllabus.

Hellen, Rebseen, and Jeanie presented dapiohka, also known as kehp tuhke, menioak, or moanioak. 

For the twenty plants on the final examination, twenty-four students were collectively able to cite 403 uses for the 480 instances, a success rate of 84%. This represented a drop from 97% fall 2015 and 93% spring 2015.

Outer island Yapese moarupw wrap skirt of banana fiber

Eighteen of the 25 students (72%) turned in the first essay on healing plant usage, a marked improvement from a 54% turn-in rate the previous term. The second essay on the loss of material culture saw a decrease in the submission rate to 58%. The average for the first essay was 72%, the second essay was 67%. Performance was generally weak.

Cherlylinda demonstrate proficiency in cultural skill of thatching


Demonstrate basic field work competencies related to management of culturally useful plant resources and foods.

Students tended to a banana tree collection and engaged in maintaining ethnobotanical plant collections on campus.

Helen and Rebseen demonstrate basic competencies in food production by tending to young bananas

The students worked with bananas from production on the land to the kitchen to the table. The collection also provided a living banana herbarium and assisted in teaching students the diversity of bananas. 

Ground boiled banana dish

Students also tended to ethnobotanically useful plant collections and learned to identify threats to 
food production such as invasive species.

Clidemia hirta

Sweena, Helen, Sunet, Twain, Stewart, and Cherlylinda learning invasive plants in the field

Performance across the past three terms has been highly variable.  This term marked the first term for the use of twenty plants on the final examination. The previous term sixteen plants were on the final examination. The Latin flora list has also grown with each term. Each term the final is more demanding and challenging.

Final examination performance: percent success rate on the three sections of the final

The current form of the final traces back to circa spring 2012 when only twelve plants were on the final examination and the Latin binomial list was also twelve plants. That first term the exercise was essentially a one-on-one matching exercise. Contrast that to this term with twenty plants listed and 73 plants on the Latin binomial list, with students expected to know the local names and uses for 62 of the plants. 

While overall performance was down term-on-term on the final examination, the drop is not as precipitous as the bubble chart above suggests. 

Long term final examination success rates

A longer time frame indicates that the final examination performance is fairly stable over the past few terms. From 2002 to 2005 the course had a course content oriented final examination. From 2005 to 20012 (not shown on the chart above, did not yield percentages) the course ended with a final essay examination. In 2012 the course shifted to using the present format of naming plants and explaining their uses in a field final practical examination. In 2012 there were twelve plants on the final. This was later increased to 16 plants and this term increased again to 20 plants. The downturn might reflect the increased number of plants and the increased number of plants the students are now expected to know. 

Part of this increase in the number of plants is due to the intentional evolution of the campus and environs as a living herbarium. The conversion of the Pohnpei Campus Traditional Plants Garden to an agriculture/food crops focus has led to the development of the Palikir campus as an ethnobotanical garden and living herbarium.


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