Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
CHAPTER 19 Toward Integrative Thinking: A Teaching Challenge Richard A. Herrett Roy G. Arnold, Rapporteur A recent National Research Council (NRC) committee noted in the study Educating the Next Generation of Agricultural Scientists (Na- tional Research Council, 1988) that there is an appalling lack of reliable data on educating agricultural scientists. They relied on the collective wisdom of the committee to fill that data gap. I have discussed the issue with several of my colleagues in industry, how- ever, and have woven their thoughts into this discussion. The NRC committee also noted several factors that influenced their thinking and that are equally important to this discussion: · the rapid changes in several sciences critical to agriculture, such as human nutrition, forestry, and food and fiber processing; · the future uncertainty of public- and private-sector investments in agricultural sciences and technological development; · the economic adjustments, social and demographic changes, and institutional reforms; and · the lack of information on how current educational policy and programs affect the quantitative dimensions of doctoral scientists. These variables are still at work today and influence to varying degrees the considerations discussed here. I approach this discussion from the vantage point that industry is the marketplace and that academic institutions provide a product to fit into that market. I do not mean to infer a process such as serving hamburgers at McDonald's, nor do I wish to suggest that 1 am minimizing the many other vital aspects of the university, such 158
TOWARD INTEGRATIVE THINKING: A TEACHING CHALLENGE as research and extension. Industrial research and development is not done in a perfect world, and there are characteristics of indus- try that set it apart from the governmental and the academic worlds. These characteristics must be recognized. I will examine some trends that are taking place and that should be considered as one defines the product for this marketplace. I will also examine some of the major changes taking place in our industry agriculture that influence the kind of product we need. Finally, I will examine what I perceive that these trends and changes tell us in the way of the challenges facing educational institutions today. An examination of some of the circumstances that have influ- enced my thinking may be helpful as I attempt to paint my views. My degrees, both undergraduate (Rutgers) and graduate (University of Minnesota)' were obtained from more or less traditional land- grant universities. In both universities there was a college of agriculture and a main campus. The latter was, in the estimation of some, where the real education took place, and there was a major delineation between the two facilities. indeed, even within each of the institutions there were incredible walls and a sense of isolation between various departments. There was very little evidence of any exchange of ideas or people. My entire professional career has been spent in the industrial world, even during an initial period at the Boyce Thompson Insti- tute (BT1), where 1 was a Union Carbide industrial research scientist working in an academic environment. Although I had the good fortune of studying under professors such as E. C. Stakman, P. D. Coyer, J. J. Christensen, and others, it was at BTI when the interna- tional dimensions of plant biochemistry and the opportunity to par- ticipate in seminars, workshops, and symposia took on an entirely new dimension in which it was possible to integrate one's own training with other disciplines and to begin to sense the powerful potential of modern science. This was especially so in the post- Sputnik era, which witnessed a tremendous expansion of scientific endeavor with relatively easy access to funding. It was indeed a glorious time to be a new doctoral scientist. It was too good to last, of course, and it was there that I had my first exposure to the notion of flexibility. Union Carbide decided to relocate from BTI "to focus their research," and from that point onward "industrial research" became an identifiable activity. I should note that there was a strong academic bias against industrial re- search as part of a protective, supportive mechanism to retain the best graduates within the university system. Undoubtedly, that bias was related partly to the unusual demand for scientists at that time and partly to the nature of industrial research. 159
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE Characteristics of Industrial Research The following are some of the obvious characteristics of research in a very generalized industrial setting. Indeed, each industry and each company within each industry will operate differently, which will affect these characterizations. · short-term profit horizons, usually within lo years, but some- times within one or two quarters; · little energy directed toward new knowledge, which is usually accidental if it is discovered and is generally difficult to develop; ~ susceptibility to economic dislocations; · continuous process of refocusing and restating objectives; · small or narrow discipline base; and · integration of several disciplines. Trends in Industry In addition to the more or less generalized characteristics of industrial research, there are certain trends taking place in industry that also influence the nature of the marketplace: · consolidation for example, in the past 20 years, the agrochemical business has gone from 36 to less than 12 major research and development-driven companies; · new start-ups-entrepreneurial enterprises are often based on a new discovery or technology; · integration of several disciplines for example, biotechnology, which is multidisciplinary; · new dimensions for example, biotechnology, which includes ethics, strategic planning, economics, and communications; · increasing costs and regulations; · increased environmental awareness (costs); and · expanded multinational dimensions personnel, markets, and regulation. These trends also have an impact on the marketplace and the type of product emerging from the university system. Growing Environmental Awareness Another example of the changes taking place is the growing awareness of the environment and the implications of this aware- ness not only on agriculture but also on the general public. This 160
TOWARD INTEGRATIVE THINKING: A TEACHING CHALLENGE awareness clearly must be an integral part of the product emerging from the system. increased environmental awareness is seen in education and politics as well as production agriculture. Whereas schools were formerly called colleges of agriculture, today they are known as colleges of agriculture and natural resources, among other names. The logo Farm Bill shows environmental awareness at an increased level over that in the 1985 Farm Bill, and production agriculture has gone from being chemically intensive to being knowl- edge intensive. For production agriculture, the change has been evolutionary end not revolutionary. The latterimplies chaos. in the political arena there was concern that agriculture was part of the problem and needed to lee controlled. Unresolved issues such as groundwater contamination, food safety, and sustainability all ad- dress those concerns. There can be little doubt, however, that farmers are ardent environmentalists. Farmers recognize the essen- tiality of sustainability as being integral to their economic survival and will therefore fight to extremes to preserve their land or en- hance it for their children. The question becomes one of public perception fueled by the absence of understanding of what agricul- ture really is all about. Challenges to Academic Institutions These trends in industry and changes in environmental aware- ness and perception present challenges to the academic institu- tions. AS I see it, these challenges can be drawn up into three categories: science, thought process, and communications. Science There are increasing demands for ever more specific knowledge and more sophisticated techniques. This is not surprising given the explosive growth in scientific knowledge and increased complexi- ties in instrumentation. Science has become big business, which seems to place increasing demands on discipline-based training. ironically, perhaps, there is also a need to focus on the big picture. This is brought about by demands that include the cultural, ethical, and economic implications of the impact of the science. Society no longer merely accepts the notion that all new technology is good and therefore good for people. Scientists must be trained to inte- grate their discoveries into the big picture. This clearly implies that there must be an integration of information from a variety of sources, and one trained in a disciplinary style simply cannot respond to this challenge. Indeed, the focused disciplinary approach does not produce a product that is well equipped for the industrial market. 161
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE Thought Process There is little question that we can train people to assimilate factual knowledge simply by repeating it over and over again. The challenge, however, is to provide people with the ability and the skills to integrate and synthesize disparate pieces of knowledge that lead to the formulation of new conclusions from that knowl- edge. it is no longer adequate to learn the methodology of map- ping genes and establish a picture of the human genome by using three-letter base pairs without an understanding and awareness of humans, human evolution, and human society. we simply cannot reduce the process to one of numbers. This challenges the educa- tional system to go beyond sheer memorization to become skillful in the thought process. Communications There is an increasing knowledge base as the amount of infor- mation grows. This challenge mandates an ability tO simplify and communicate complex ideas to an untrained but, by and large, intelligent public. Conclusion Although there are no hard numbers to cite, there seems little question that our industry~griculture is undergoing massive changes, changes that affect every aspect of that industry and, perhaps most significantly, the educational component. These changes place a premium on flexibility, or the ability to adapt to change. This is certainly true within industry, which has witnessed unprecedented consolidation and restructuring, especially over the past decade. The advent of biotechnology may be one of the most significant events of recent times, not only because of the new opportunities it creates but because of the potential impact on training, because it demands an integration of disciplines and skills that transcends the past tendencies to become compartmentalized. The changes in the constituent relationship from an industry based on chemical inputs to a knowledge-intensive industry one that is perceived as the solution to the nations environmental concerns will place ex- tensive demands on communications skills. The future success of Americats number one industry agriculture will depend on the extent to which the academic community is successful in meeting these challenges. When Theodore L. Hullar, chairman of the Board on Agriculture, considered the current problems facing agriculture, he highlighted the challenges of issues such as national and global public educa- tion about agriculture and the appropriate training of the next gen 162
TOWARD INTEGRATIVE THINKING: A TEACHING CHALLENGE oration of international agricultural scientists. I submit that our very survival as the worlds leading producer of high-quality food and fiber in an increasingly competitive, rapidly changing international market depends on our ability to meet this teaching challenge. Reference National Research Council. 1988. Educating the Next Generation of Agri- cultural Scientists. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. RAPPORTEUR'S SUMMARY The discussion following the presentation by Richard A. Herrett focused on some successful teaching approaches to the develop- ment of integrative thinking. Challenges and constraints were also identified. Participants shared the following as being successful teaching approaches for the development of students" integrative thinking skills: · freshman-level issues course in which students work with sev- eral different paradigms; · introductory general education courses; · small discussion groups involving students with widely dispar- ate interests and perspectives; · the broadest possible diversity in courses by including stu- dents with various backgrounds and majors; · coupling of cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural courses that students take in pairs, with opportunities for group discussion of contrasting perspectives; · capstone courses in each major; a senior core course for students of all majors, focusing on the views of "adopted thinkers" on specific topics or issues; · industry visitations and executive in the classroom-type pro- grams for real-world exposure; · internships, with advance preparation, monitoring, and follow- up reporting and discussion; · mathematical models, which are integrative in and of them- selves; · decision-case approaches, by which the teacher lists a set of assumptions and calls upon the students to respond to those as- sumptions; · goal-setting exercises; · writing assignments; · emphasis on listening skills (active listening); 163
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE · integration of subject matter around a common focal point, such as the environment and food safety; and · careful development and analysis of course objectives requir- ing thinking skills, including consideration of appropriate final ex- amination questions to assess the attainment of each objective. Several challenges and constraints to the development of inte- grative thinking skills among students were identified. These in- cluded the following ideas and statements from participants in the discussion: · problems in understanding what we mean by integrative think- ing; Herrett's observations regarding different approaches to think- ing in universities and industry are indicative of the problems of common definition and understanding; · most of us are from "cells" (i.e.> disciplines) that are becoming more specialized; · disciplines were created by us, and we're comfortable with them; · we are unable to achieve integrative thinking in students un- less we display it in the classroom and are rewarded for doing so; · we tend to focus on science, while many of our students are more oriented to agribusiness; · most college faculty have had no formal preparation for teach- ing, but they are expected to be innovative; we have not been taught nor have we observed effective approaches to teaching inte- grative thinking skills; and · large student numbers present a particular challenge for many of the integrative thinking approaches to teaching. From the discussion in this group, it is clear that a greater invest- ment in faculty development for teaching is needed. Faculty need to have opportunities to learn new concepts, develop new tech- niques and skills, and think about and plan their teaching approaches. Development of integrative thinking skills in students will require both faculty initiative and investment in faculty development. The challenge is how to prepare students for a 40-year or more occupation involving seven or eight career changes. Many of our graduates' future jobs have not been defined at this time. Our focus should be on preparing students for life, not a first job. Integrative thinking should be part of that preparation. Finally, it is important to note that we have not produced large numbers of failures. Most graduates of colleges of agriculture are quite successful, flexible, and adaptable. They seem to keep learn- ing and growing throughout their careers. We can do better, of course, but let us not forget that we are not doing too badly at present. 164