"Tom Volk's Fungi," a website for learning about mycology

Tom Volk

Department of Biology, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
La Crosse WI 54601 USA

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I found this big mushroom in VermontGreetings from Wisconsin! I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, UW- La Crosse has "only" about 9000 students, but we have nearly 1000 Biology and Microbiology Majors.

I have taught many courses in my career at UW-La Crosse and at UW-Madison. I currently teach courses on General Mycology, Plant-Microbe Interactions, and Medical Mycology, as well as parts of Plant Biology. (I can just hear those of you at research institutions running from the room screaming as you count the number of courses). In my courses, I have presented all the lectures as well as preparing and teaching the laboratory sections. The general mycology course is comprehensive, covering all groups of fungi and those organisms that were once considered fungi (such as the slime molds and water molds). Medical Mycology covers those fungi (mostly deuteromycetes) that are pathogenic on humans and other animals. One course of particular interest to plant pathologists is Plant-Microbe Interactions, a course that is team-taught by six of us, including a mycologist, a plant anatomist, a plant pathologist, a plant geneticist, a bacterial geneticist and a general bacteriologist.

Over the years I have also developed some significant technological teaching innovations for my courses. Beginning in 1993, I have scanned over 5000 of my own fungi pictures and slides into the computer, and with these I have done all of my lecturing using a computer projection system, using PowerPoint and other software programs. I have not shown a 2X2 slide in my classes since 1997. It's SO much easier (once things are set up) to use a computer for teaching. For one thing, problems with finding slides and re-filing slides are gone.

After first teaching mycology with a computer in 1994, I wanted to take advantage of this emerging computer technology and make my scanned photos available to others. In 1995 I created and now maintain an internet World Wide Web page http://www.wisc.edu/botany/fungi/volkmyco.html that contains links to my Images for Teaching Mycology, 1000+ downloadable images of fungi from all taxonomic groups. My main page is downloaded 8000-13,000 times per month by people from all over the world, with more than 95,000 hits in the past year and more than 225,000 in the past 5 years. (These are December 2000 statistics and are likely to have increased quite a bit since I submitted this page, likely now over a quarter million).  With an email I received in January 2000 from Antarctica, I have now received email from *all seven* continents where my web page has been viewed.

The most popular feature of my web pages is the "Fungus of the Month" (--there are now more than four years worth of fungi of the month). I have an extensive Introduction to the Kingdom Fungi. I also have a page for teachers and professors on ways to use the internet, especially my pages, for teaching about fungi. On that teachers page I have an internet exercise that involves students visiting my page and answering questions about the fungus of the month for their birthday month. The students love this assignment and seem to take "ownership" of their very own birthday fungus.

My aim in producing this website is to move fungi into the consciousness of students and the general public. For that reason I try to mix serious science with humor. My pages are aimed at all levels of expertise in mycology, from beginner to expert. My page is used by students of all ages, from grade school to high school to college to postgraduate, as well as amateur mycologists. I have featured fungi from a variety of taxonomic groups, from microscopic to macroscopic, from plant pathogens to human pathogens to saprophytes to mutualists. I try to have something for everyone on my pages. There are fun things on just about every page, including Fungi that are necessary for a merry Christmas , Fungal Diseases that must be overcome to have a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner and Smuts on the Internet. Updating the page every month gives people a reason to return, even if just to see the new fungus of the month.

Some Awards:

  • My "Fungi that are necessary for a merry Christmas" page was the featured web site in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec 19, 1997.
  • My entire site was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education March 1998.
  • Named as one of the 500 "Best of the Web" in "The Web" magazine, Feb. 1998.
  • Science Magazine "Cool Images" site February 5, 1999.

The philosophy behind my web page is that science need not be a dry and boring subject. Science can be fun! I've been accused of being a "gee-whiz" mycologist, but I take that as a compliment. Any "hook" I can use to get students and other people interested in fungi is a valuable teaching tool. Please visit Tom Volk's Fungi and give me your feedback. Have fun! Thanks!


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