AMES, Iowa – An unusual year led to unforeseen changes in the way Master Gardener training was delivered from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Due to the social distancing requirements of COVID-19, training was held virtually across the state from August through November.
This year, 26 counties offered online training to nearly 300 trainees. Iowa State has offered Master Gardener training since 1979 and has engaged more than 14,000 people in learning about plants and insects to become a Master Gardener volunteer.
ISU Extension and Outreach county staff hosted 10 virtual sessions via Zoom to participating trainees.
The goal of the virtual sessions was to build comradery and engage in team building from afar, learn about Master Gardener volunteer projects and local resources in the community like prairies and review horticultural concepts.
Before Zoom sessions, trainees were assigned to complete lecture videos and read chapters from the Resource Guide for Iowa Master Gardeners on each topic.
Four live webinars were offered on topics that included plant pathology, entomology, botany and animal ecology. These videos are now on the Master Gardener YouTube page for the public to view.
Katelyn Brinkerhoff, horticulture educator for ISU Extension and Outreach in Woodbury County, used tools such as FlipGrid, field trip assignments and Kahoot to engage participants in learning. Woodbury County had a record-breaking 23 trainees.
“We did a lot of field trips where the trainees were to go out on a hike and send pictures or videos,” said Brinkerhoff. “It was an awesome year for virtual training and a lot of people are already looking forward to next year’s training and asking if it’s going to be virtual. The trainees still got to build connections with each other and it pushed them in a whole new way.”
Polk County engaged 38 Master Gardener trainees in learning. Trainees were connected to mentor volunteers, were assigned to visit Polk Master Gardener volunteer gardens and got extra how-to videos to drive home learning.
“Going virtual allowed us to have a fairly normal class size and we tried to essentially replicate some of the really important aspects of master gardener training” said Kalsa Parker Browning, natural resources program coordinator for ISU Extension and Outreach in Polk County. “We got people out in the field and were able to get them to connect with other folks in the class, via Zoom.”
The educational components (book, workbook, videos, noon lectures, class presentations and class meetings) provided a foundational knowledge that participants can share in volunteer opportunities. The coordinators gave numerous examples of work being done by other master gardeners.
“Presenting this course virtually was not anyone's preferred method, but it was the only way I could have participated. I had wanted to take the course for 10 years,” said one participant.
Original photo: Master gardener training.