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 (14 female, 6 male) 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.

Scaevola taccada, remek on Pohnpei

Eighteen of the twenty students attended the field final examination exercise. Two students reported encountering transportation problems for the final examination. The final examination occurred late in the day, at 4:20 P.M., and the students alleged that they were unable to find transport from Kolonia at that time.

One student started the final examination but did not complete the final examination. The student was an international student unfamiliar with plants and in particular unfamiliar with the plants of Micronesia. Although other international students have taken the course, the final examination, and succeeded, this particular student had done well enough during the term that the final examination was not going to substantively affect their grade. The student seemed unprepared for the final examination and submitted at the start of the examination without work done.

The final examination involved a walk on campus and required the remaining 17 students present to identify twenty local plants. 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 75 Latin binomials for plants found on and around the Paies, Palikir, campus to assist with the Latin name identification. This represented an increase of two plants over the prior term. Ocimum tenuiflorum and Scaevola taccada were the new additions.

Collectively, the 17 sudents made 279 correct Latin binomial identifications out of 340 possible identifications for an 82% success rate. This success rate was statistically identical to the 84% spring 2016, and the 84% success rate 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 327 correct local name identifications out of the 340 possible identifications for a success rate of 96%. In the spring of 2016 this rate fell to 87%, this term the success rate returned to previously seen success rates. Fall 2015 the success rate was 97%, spring 2015 the success rate was 96%.

Performance across the past four terms has remained above 80% on all three areas of the final examination: Latin binomials, local names, and local uses.  This term marked the second term for the use of twenty plants on the final examination. In prior terms 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.


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


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.


For the twenty plants on the final examination, the seventeen students were collectively able to cite 331 uses for the 340 instances, a success rate of 97%, which represented a return rates seen in the past. Spring 2016 the success rate on this material fell to 84%, however fall 2015 the success rate was identical to this term at 97%. The prior spring, spring 2015, the success rate was 93%.


Fourteen of the twenty students (70%) turned in the first essay on healing plants and integrative medicine. This was comparable to the 72% submission rate of spring 2016, and remain improved from the 54% turn-in rate for fall 2015. Performance on the first essay was strong with a 94% average. Spring 2016 the average was lower at 72%.

The second essay on the loss of material culture saw an identical 70% submission rate. Of the six students who did not turn in the material culture essay, three also did not submit the healing plants essay. This represented an increase from the submission rate for the very weak spring 2016 submission rate of 58%. The average on the material culture essay was 79%, weaker than the performance on the healing plants essay, but stronger than the 67% average on the material culture essay of spring 2016.


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.


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. 

Pounded boiled bananas

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

Clidemia hirta

April, Natasha, and Georgene surrounded by Ischaemum polystachyum

Performance on the final examination across multiple terms

Long term final examination success rates

A longer time frame indicates that the final examination performance is fairly stable over the past four years. 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. Spring 2016 this increased to 20 plants. In the fall of 2016 the twenty plant format was retained. 

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.

A separate affective domain assessment article looked at what most contributed to a student's learning, what obstacles impeded their learning, whether they interacted with the textbook, and questions of favored and disfavored activities in the course. The survey suggested ways in which the course might be improved. The expansion of the number of plants in the campus collection and the parallel increase in the number of plants on the final examination suggest improving the flora in the current locally produced textbook. That work is planned to be ongoing in 2017 and will eventually lead to a revised edition of the textbook.

* The current course outline dates to circa 2007. In 2011 the college undertook reformatting all outlines at the college, but instructors were instructed to not change content at that time. That meant that the outline approved in 2012 was still the outline designed in 2007. In the wake of a decision to include the course as a required course in the two-year Agriculture and Natural Resources program, revised outline was prepared and submitted after 2012. As the outline document saw changes in the format specifications, the outline was appropriately modified. The reformatted outline was again submitted for consideration in the fall of 2016. The proposed outline has yet to be considered by the appropriate bodies. There has no been no change in the core student learning outcomes, the change is rather an addition of outcomes in light of the inclusion in the ANR requirements.


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