Skip to main content


Virtually bringing students closer to nature

Students in OSU Ecampus crop science classes can access a virtual greenhouse and explore a 3D environment and discover distinguishing factors that can be used to identify specific plants.

Agricultural sciences instructor’s idea for a 3D greenhouse enhances online learning experience

By Jenna Jarvis
May 9, 2018

Oregon State Ecampus students are experts at adapting to their environment. They turn coffee shops into classrooms and living rooms into lecture halls. But for students taking crop science classes online, they needed a more lifelike way to learn about plants from a distance.

And now they’re getting their hands “dirty” by digging into a variety of crops in a 3D virtual greenhouse.

Alyssa DuVal, an instructor in the Department of Crop and Soil Science, knows firsthand how important it is to find ways for online learners to better engage with course content. While pursuing her bachelor’s degree on campus at Oregon State, she took some courses online.

Her experience in Ecampus classes allowed her to take note of the ways she could improve the learning experience when the time came for her to be an instructor. That time is now.

“I wanted to figure out a way they could get the same experience they would have here on campus with going into the greenhouse, identifying plants and getting to feel all of these identifying characteristics.”

In an effort to bring her students closer to nature, Alyssa worked with the Ecampus multimedia team to create the virtual greenhouse. The team designed it based on photos they took of the physical greenhouse students can visit on OSU’s Corvallis campus. The exact layout of the plants and how they are spaced on the benches is essentially identical in both greenhouses.

“When I was trying to think of activities for the Ecampus students to participate in in this course, I wanted to figure out a way they could get the same experience they would have here on campus with going into the greenhouse, identifying plants and getting to feel all of these identifying characteristics,” Alyssa says.

Oregon State University crop and soil science instructor Alyssa DuVal

Having taken some Ecampus classes when she was a student, instructor Alyssa DuVal knows the benefits of a more interactive learning environment for online students.

The virtual greenhouse is a study tool that allows students to “walk inside” and explore a 3D environment. On the benches inside the greenhouse, they’ll find different plants they can click on to learn more information and watch short videos of crop and soil science instructor Thomas Chastain discussing distinguishing factors that can be used to identify specific plants.

Ecampus students aren’t the only ones who have seen a benefit from the virtual greenhouse. Alyssa has also received positive feedback from her on-campus students about the usefulness of the online environment.

“My students in the face-to-face class are able to utilize these references and activities we’ve created for the Ecampus version as a supplemental resource they can access outside of the normal lecture period,” she says.

Alyssa’s vision has not only opened the virtual door to the greenhouse, but also to a new way of learning.

“What I’d really like for individuals to take away from this message is to not limit themselves to a certain technology, to be able to think outside of the box and bring innovation into whatever you need in order to deliver for your course,” she says.


Jenna Jarvis is a student marketing writer for Oregon State Ecampus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *