National Academies Press: OpenBook

Agriculture and the Undergraduate (1992)

Chapter: 23 Changing the Image of Agriculture Through Curriculum Innovation

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Suggested Citation:"23 Changing the Image of Agriculture Through Curriculum Innovation." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 199
Suggested Citation:"23 Changing the Image of Agriculture Through Curriculum Innovation." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 200
Suggested Citation:"23 Changing the Image of Agriculture Through Curriculum Innovation." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 201
Suggested Citation:"23 Changing the Image of Agriculture Through Curriculum Innovation." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 202
Suggested Citation:"23 Changing the Image of Agriculture Through Curriculum Innovation." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 203

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CHAPTER 23 Changing the Image of Agriculture Through Curriculum Innovation Jo Handelsman Jerry A. Cherry, Rapporteur The last decade was an exciting time to be part of the agricul- tural community, which developed technological innovations of un- paralleled drama. In the 1980s we witnessed events as unprec- edented as the construction of the first tranegenic animal, the use of remote-sensing systems for soil mapping, and the field testing of the first genetically engineered plant. This was also the decade of a new awareness and protectiveness toward our environment. From this awareness grew a new land ethic that began to align environ- mentalism with agricultural production. We replaced the vision of the soil as a growth medium for high-yielding corn with a regard for soil as a cherished resource and an integral part of our delicate landscape. It was a decade of renewal and discovery. Despite these rich, attractive images and ideas that are the real- ity of agriculture in the late twentieth century, agriculture as a field of study is dogged by conservative, dusty, and dull images. It is regarded as a field of old-fashioned science and traditional technol- ogy practiced with wanton disregard for the environment. Sadly, students in our universities are more likely to associate agriculture with pictures of dark-suited, austere, nineteenth-century professors and one-horse plows than with casually dressed, twentieth-century molecular biologists and computer terminals. Even rarer in stu- dents' minds is an image of sophisticated teams of farmers, envi- ronmentalists, and agricultural scientists developing farming strate- gies that are friendly to the environment. The misconceptions about modern agricultural science must be due in part to the image that we in agriculture project. We are, and should be, proud of our rich history and our tremendous successes, but we must not pro 199

AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE mote our past to the exclusion of the fulfilling future that is unfold- ing. I am often struck by the contrast between displays in the lobbies of buildings on the University of Wisconsin campus. The agricul- tural production departments often display rusty farm equipment and sepia-toned photographs of a bygone era. in contrast, the ba- sic science departments dazzle visitors with shiny high-tech equip- ment or advertisements about study programs and recent research discoveries. Similarly, milestones in production departments are often marked with historical reviews paying homage to the past, while our neighbors in the basic sciences hold scientific symposia that honor their histories by teaching students how the past contrib- uted to their current greatness. it is no wonder that our enrollments are dropping even as those in our sister departments in the life sciences are holding steady. The content and pedagogy in many of our courses suggest that agricultures projected image is indicative of a deeper problem. 1 believe that the need for change is surpassed only by the opportu- nity for change. We can, and must, treasure and teach about our past, but we must not stop there. We must show our students how our past has contributed to the present and the future, which is rich with potential for change and improvement. By so doing, we will project our strengths, improve our image, and attract students to our courses. Of greater importance, our courses will be current, substantive, and interesting. Students who find their way to these courses will be rewarded with a rich, intellectually fulfilling experi- ence. I propose four challenges that, if they are met, will help to dispel the image of agricultural studies as insular and outdated. Meeting these challenges will potentially attract to courses in agri- culture students from diverse social backgrounds and academic disciplines. We have the opportunity to attract students with the high-energy atmosphere that exists in agriculture today and to send those students to their chosen professions with a knowledge of agriculture's rich history and its challenging future. If we educate a larger audience in agricultural courses during the 4 years of univer- sity education, then we will generate a society that is more edu- cated in the science and issues of agriculture. I suggest that we challenge ourselves to find ways to (1) develop basic science courses that use examples from the agricultural sci- ences, (2) develop courses that explore the interface between soci- ety and agriculture, (3) develop nontraditional pedagogy that results in the active involvement of diverse perspectives, and (4) promote diversity among our teachers and students. Our challenges are as follows. First, we need to find mechanisms to teach basic science courses that use examples from the agricultural sciences. Some of the most illustrative applications of basic science come from agricul 200

CHANGING THE IMAGE OF AGRICULTURE sure. Well-chosen examples will provide students with vivid, lasting images of how the basic science they have studied has been ap- plied to problems of agricultural importance. The students will also appreciate the intimacy of the link between agriculture and main- stream basic science. If we place agricultural science in a broad scientific context, we are more likely to attract a wide spectrum of students. This approach was tried in the Plant Pathology Department at the University of Wisconsin. We replaced a traditional course in bacte- rial pathogens of plants with a course that deals with the basic principles of host-parasite interactions and critical analysis of scien- tific papers by using examples from the plant pathology literature. After the approach changed, enrollment in the course tripled. More- over, students were drawn from a greater range of departments, including those in basic biology, such as molecular biology and biochemistry. Second, we must challenge ourselves to explore the interface between agriculture and other disciplines. By discovering the con- nections, we may find new insights into our own science and its societal context, and we may develop courses that attract students from a tremendous range of disciplines. Agriculture has always had a vast impact on economic development, societal structure, human relations, and demography. Today, society is faced with daunting choices about agriculture, and individuals are faced daily with personal choices that affect or are affected by agriculture. Courses that explore these impacts will contribute to developing an awareness of how agriculture shaped our history and how it affects our daily lives and decisions. Numerous examples of courses that examine the interface of plant pathology and society are cropping up in universities across the country. These are popular with students majoring in history, environmental studies, journalism, economics, and education, be- cause students are personally motivated by the relevance and time- liness of the topics to learn the science. Third, I challenge us to be more creative in our choices of peda- gogy. We must construct courses that actively involve students in the process of learning and teach them to synthesize information and solve problems. This is not only sound educationally but will also project the image of a field that is full of debate and delibera- tion and one that is open to new ideas. I suggest three pedagogical approaches that stimulate student involvement. The first is the use of constructive conflict. This in- volves deliberately generating two sides to an issue and drawing the students into debate by requiring them to adopt a point of view and defend it. For this approach to be most successful, it is critical to demonstrate explicitly to the students the value of evaluating multiple points of view in learning to appreciate the complexity of a 201

AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE concept or issue. The second approach is the use of cooperative learning techniques, which require that the students work together noncompetitively toward a common goal. This approach is particu- larly useful for problem-solving exercises or for achieving consen- sus. Lastly, a pedagogical philosophy that is too broad to discuss fully in this context is feminist teaching. Briefly, the feminist ap- proach is to develop a nonhierarchical classroom structure in which each member is an equal, respected contributor. In the feminist classroom, mutual respect is required and reinforced, providing an environment that is ideal for promoting creativity since it is condu- cive to taking intellectual risks. It can also be less threatening than the traditional classroom and therefore is an excellent environment for teaching analytical skills, since criticism is delivered and per- ceived as helpful and not personally threatening and disagreement is perceived as valuable and stimulating. Collectively, these and many other pedagogical tools can contribute to the construction of stimulating, dynamic learning atmospheres. Fourth, we must attract a more diverse student body to dispel the image of insularity. I believe that pedagogy is the most impor- tant tool to do so, but there must be others. Agriculture's image will change if teachers of agriculture are perceived as soliciting, and even demanding, alternative viewpoints. Finally, classrooms that respect, value, and include the contributions of the students will be more likely to attract women and minorities, who often express a sense of alienation, exclusion, and disenfranchisement in the traditional classroom. 1 challenge us to find ways to interest women and minorities in agricultural science, to attract them to our courses, and to provide them with the positive environment, neces- sary stimulation, and sufficient feedback so that they feel that they are valued members of our educational community. RAPPORTEUR'S SUMMARY Jo Handeleman presented several challenges regarding curricu- lum innovation and the integration of agriculture-related courses into university curricula. The subsequent discussion emphasized the barriers and resistance to integrating agriscience into university curricula. One participant expressed the belief that agriculture is best mar- keted as a basic science. Some participants felt that basic science fosters an exciting and challenging career image, while traditional discipline- and production-related courses project a comparatively mundane image. There was considerable discussion concerning the development of courses in colleges of agriculture that empha- size the basic sciences, with the objective of attracting students from outside colleges of agriculture and the cross-listing of courses 202

CHAbJGJNG THE IMAGE OF AGRICULTURE in the agricultural sciences with the courses offered in basic sci- ence departments. Although basic science departments frequently object to and fail to accept such courses, several successful ex- amples were provided. Somewhat surprisingly, there was a gen- eral consensus that faculty who teach the traditional agricultural sciences could offer greater resistance to such courses than faculty in basic science departments; several participants indicated that they had experienced greater resistance to innovation within de- partments and colleges than they had external resistance. There was also general agreement that colleges of agriculture lack ag- gressiveness in developing innovative courses and pursuing inno- vative teaching techniques. Motivational factors were considered to be a barrier to curricu- lum revision. Effective revision can be handicapped by lack of incentives and rewards; certainly, the development of new courses is time-consuming and detracts from research efforts. Moreover, new courses sometimes fail to be implemented because of univer- sity bureaucracies. Cumbersome committee structures were criti- cized for being resistant to change. Problems with traditionalism and territorialism within departments and colleges were discussed. Some participants held the opinion that traditional departmental structures should be discontinued. Internal and external perceptions of colleges of agriculture were considered an impediment to effective curriculum revision. It was emphasized that the role of colleges of agriculture differs at differ- ent institutions, but colleges of agriculture tend to project a poor image in comparison with the images of some other colleges within a university system. Both faculty and students were criticized for contributing to this problem. lt was recognized that faculty and students within most colleges of agriculture tend to have compara- tively traditional and conservative philosophies. There was general agreement that colleges of agriculture would benefit immeasurably from increased diversity. Colleges of agriculture tend to suffer from insufficient representa- tion of women, minorities, and others with diverse social and cul- tural backgrounds. Every effort to promote diversity within our system was encouraged. In summary, the discussion group believed that it is feasible and proper to integrate agriscience and business into university cur- ricula. Although external impediments to such innovation will fre- quently be encountered, internal resistance can be the greatest impediment. 203

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This book presents efforts to chart the comprehensive changes needed to meet the challenges of undergraduate professional education in agriculture. The United States needs to invest in the future--in human capital and the scientific knowledge base--to revitalize one of its leading industries, the agricultural, food, and environmental system. That objective can be met by educating all students about agriculture as well as by educating others specifically for careers in agriculture.

Agriculture and the Undergraduate includes perspectives on rewarding excellence in teaching and formulating curricula to reflect cultural diversity, the environment, ecology, agribusiness and business, humanities and the social sciences, and the economic and global contexts of agriculture.

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