UMass Amherst students…. complete your Biological Science GenED online and take a big step toward graduation!

December 26 – January 18, 2020

NOTE: if you are registered for the class, you will get access one week before the official start date. This is to allow you to “check it out” but it also gives you an extra week to complete the course material.

4 Credits (satisfies the Biological Sciences BS-GenED for UMass Amherst students)

This is a class on the science of plant growth, using world food production, our favorite foods and backyard gardening as the framework for study whenever possible. We will look at what plants are made of (plant anatomy), how they interact with other plants and animals (ecology), how the environment affects plants (plant physiology), and where they came from over time (evolution). Most importantly, we will think together about our relationship with plants in order to better understand our place in the world.


The “text” for our class is The Botany of Desire

This class is offered in January (4 weeks), both Summer (6 week) terms through UMass Online and on campus (14 weeks) during the Fall semester. There are PowerPoint lessons and videos, exams, quizzes covering the Botany of Desire text, required journal posts, as well as online discussions. You are invited to do this class at your own pace any time of the day.

Instructor: John M. Gerber, Professor
Office: 17 Stockbridge Hall; Univ. of Massachusetts
Contact: or 413-545-5301 (emergencies)
Web Page:

Format: This class is a lecture format including a PowerPoint with notes, a related video, and most units include an optional reading in the textbook Botany for Gardeners. You will also read Botany of Desire and take quizzes on the four main chapters of this engaging book. You may take the quizzes at your own pace up to 3 times.

Technology: According to UMass Online, in order to take this course you must:

  • have access to a personal computer (Mac or Windows)
  • be familiar with basic computer skills
  • be connected to the internet
  • have an e-mail program and account
  • have at least a 56 kbps modem
  • have a Java capable browser (Netscape or Internet Explorer)

NOTE: If you have any problems with technology, please contact the UMass Online Tech Support office for help.

Required Textbook: Pollan, M. 2002. Botany of Desire: a Plant’s Eye View of the World. This book is often available at the local library and may be purchased new or used from on-line booksellers. The chapters will also be available free to download in pdf format on the class web page.

Suggested Textbook: Capon, Brian (any edition) Botany for Gardeners. Timber Press, Portland, OR. This book is available from online booksellers. The older edition is just fine and can be purchased on line very cheaply. Here are the pages from the text.

Grading: There are four unit exams and exam questions will come from PowerPoints, videos, as well as the required text (Botany of Desire). No test questions come exclusively from the suggested text, Botany for Gardeners, unless the material was also introduced in the PowerPoints or videos. Test questions may also be from the discussion topics.

There are 4 quizzes covering the 4 main chapters of Botany of Desire (required text). You may buy the text or read the chapters on Blackboard. The total of the 4 quizzes will add up to 100 points and equal one unit exam.

There are four required journal posts covering anything from gardening to sustainable living. The total of the four posts will add up to 100 points and equal one unit exam. Journal posts are scheduled. Late posts will lose one point for each day late.

In addition, there are Discussion topics posted on a regular basis. You will earn 4 points (summer and winter) or 2 points (during the fall semester) for each post. The total discussion points will equal 100 and count the same as one exam.

Grades will be given using these ranges:

A = 95-100
A- = 90-94
B+ =87-89
B = 83-86
B- = 80-82
C+ = 77-79
C = 73-76
C- = 70-72
D+ = 67-69
D = 63-66
F <62

Academic Honesty

No form of cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or facilitating of dishonesty will be condoned in the University community. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to:

  • Cheating – intentional use or attempted use of trickery, artifice, deception, breach of confidence, fraud and/or misrepresentation of one’s academic work
  • Fabrication – intentional and unauthorized falsification and/or invention of any information or citation in any academic exercise
  • Plagiarism – knowingly representing the words or ideas of another as one’s own work in any academic exercise. This includes submitting without citation, in whole or in part, prewritten term papers of another or the research of another, including but not limited to commercial vendors who sell or distribute such materials
  • Facilitating dishonesty – knowingly helping or attempting to help another commit an act of academic dishonesty, including substituting for another in an examination, or allowing others to represent as their own one’s papers, reports, or academic works

Sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the course instructor as soon as possible. Formal definitions of academic dishonesty, examples of various forms of dishonesty, and the procedures which faculty must follow to penalize dishonesty are contained in the Academic Honesty Policy.


This class fulfills requirements for all three of the online programs offered by the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture in Sustainable Food and Farming: