OSU Master Garden

Becoming a Master Gardener Part 2: Studies Begin

This mini-series of articles is intended to give the reader information about the process I am going through to become an Ohio State University Master Garden Volunteer. While programs will likely vary from state to state, I hope reading about the process as I go through it, will give others the confidence to join the MGV program where they live.

I’m six weeks into studying the coursework of Ohio State University’s Master Gardener Volunteer Program. After being interviewed and background checked in November, and notified of acceptance into the program in December, the coursework began in January. I paid the fee that covers the cost of training and picked up my training manual at my local Extension office.

The dead of winter is the perfect time to begin this kind of a course. Gardens are blanketed with deep snow and the gardener has nothing else to do but dream of the seasons to come. Due to Covid, this year’s MGV training is taking place online. In addition to online coursework, a weekly class meeting is held via Zoom which allows trainees a chance to discuss the modules and ask any questions we might have. It is the first time the program has been taught this way.

For me, the online set up is ideal. I would have found it difficult to attend in-person classes especially in mid-January when the weather in Northeast Ohio can be brutally cold and snowy. My Parkinson’s Disease also makes me reluctant to drive after dark or to attend evening activities. Other students seem to appreciate the Zoom set-up as well. Cutting out the driving time to and from class — for me this would have amounted to an additional 30 minutes each way — has been great for everyone.

The downside of the online format is that it is more difficult to get to know our classmates. The weekly Zoom meeting combines students from three counties. I’m not quite sure who the other students are from my own county. There don’t seem to be many. I don’t know if this means that there aren’t many students from my county or if the students from my county are just not attending the Zoom meetings, which are not mandatory. Or perhaps they attend but I just don’t know who they are or recognize them as students from my county. One of the students put together an unofficial Facebook group which has been slow to get started but is now beginning to gain more interest. It’s a nice way to meet and chat with others. I also hope that when we reach the field trip portion of the class, we will get to know each other better.

I jumped into the MGV program without really understanding what was going to be involved. For me, studying to be a MGV has felt like a return to my college days. Trainees follow a study schedule or syllabus. In general, we are scheduled to study two chapters each week. Each chapter ends with a quiz.

Having studied Botany and Biology in college, much of what we are learning feels like a refresher course to me. But even those who have never studied Botany will find that the MGV program is designed for the layman. The program wants its participants to succeed and offers as much help as one might need. Each trainee is matched with an experienced mentor that is available to answer questions and provide encouragement. It appears that for some, the material has been a bit overwhelming. Everything presented in the modules, however, is practical information that a Master Gardener should know. For those unfamiliar with college level coursework, this type of training is a new experience. A few hours of study, however, is all it will take to make trainees comfortable with each module/chapter and capable of passing the quiz.

The most difficult material — that involving the science of gardening — was loaded into the first few weeks of the course which made those earliest weeks a bit unnerving for everyone. I don’t think this could be helped. Understanding the basics of Botany and the structure and chemistry of the plant world were essential to understanding the hows and whys of the chapters that followed. Now with much of the science behind me, I find the latest modules to be less intense and more fun to read and explore.

Because this class experience is being taught online, nothing can stop students from taking their quiz with their book open in front of them. But this defeats the purpose of the quiz. The quiz is designed to tell the student what they have and, even more important, what they have not learned. Looking up each quiz answer defeats that purpose.

Each quiz can be retaken up to 3 times. On my first attempt, I take the quiz, blindly so to speak, with my book closed. The questions I miss tell me which sections I need to go back and study more. That way, on my second attempt, I can usually answer all of the quiz questions correctly.

Anyone who plants a Marigold or a Cucumber vine can be called a gardener. To be distinguished as a “Master Gardener” should mean something more. It isn’t supposed to be a “given.” Becoming a MGV requires making a commitment. It’s important to study the material and learn what is being presented so that the Master Gardener has the specialized knowledge needed to help others in their community. But while the program requires time and effort, it’s also meant to be a fun process and I look forward to seeing what comes next!

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