2014 has been a year of fine tuning, expanded use, and more in-depth evaluation of the sustainable agriculture education modules. Discussion documents were created for the newest modules and posted on the website. A description of the modules was posted on the national agricultural educators’ website and responses to this post led to an evaluative partnership with schools in Georgia and Florida among educators who used and evaluated the modules with their classes. Towards the end of the year, a consultation of project partners over the last 4 years was organized and overall project impact was analyzed. After a thorough review of available sustainable agriculture curriculum materials, it was concluded that the modules fit a unique and critical niche in introducing sustainable principles as they do not require teachers to leave the classroom nor do they take a lot of time away from other important curriculum requirements. This project could successfully serve as a model for other states to follow. Project evaluation was accomplished using Google analytics for website traffic and use while overall usefulness and impact was analyzed through an online survey, which was sent out to all agricultural educators across Nebraska to ascertain how the modules were used in their curriculum over the last year.
Meeting the project objectives, we ended up with ten different views of agriculture– ten different examples of what “sustainability” might look like in practice. The ten edited videos covering specific topics of interest to Nebraska students are now available. These topics are:
- Vegetable production and cheese making
- Biodynamic farm system
- Diverse dairy operation
- Crop/animal integration
- Grass-fed beef
- Seed saving
- Future agricultural systems
- Cheesemaking, and
- Grains processing
Then we went beyond what was originally proposed and combined short clips from these prior interviews into broad issue-based topics in another ten video lessons:
- Holistic thinking
- Niche marketing
- Innovation and entrepreneurship
- Insects, weeds, and diseases
- Soil health
- Community ties
- Passion, and
All videos are complemented by a discussion document including background information on the featured farm, the farm’s website, teaching objectives, discussion questions, and an aerial image of the farm’s exact location. The full interviews (30-45 minutes) from each farm are also available for longer, independent assignments. An outline of the full interview is included in the discussion document for easy reference to applicable sections. These were made accessible on the web through both University of Nebraska and the statewide Department of Education web site used by high school educators.
Time magazine recently highlighted the fact that on average, visitors spend less than 15 seconds on any given webpage. This includes webpages hosting video and multimedia material. Applied to the plethera of web-based materials devoted to sustainable agricultural education, this is an unfortunate statistic. When this project was initiated, the hope was to bring much more interest and attention to sustainable agriculture into classrooms. This was accomplished through development of video modules, 5-minutes in length, featuring student conducted interviews of sustainable agriculture practitioners and professionals. Developed alongside, by and for secondary agriculatural education teachers, these modules have been shown to very much beat the statistics highlighted in Time.
According to Google Analytics, for the more than 600 unique users the average time spent on the project website containing the sustainable agricultural modules was more than 5 minutes. The average length of the 20 topical modules is just under 6 minutes. This means that visitors are viewing the modules and engaging in the material beyond watching the video, given an average distribution of the Google analytics data. Even if only staying on the website to watch videos, the modules themselves are working themselves into the curriculum.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Spread across eastern Nebraska, ten different farming operations are featured across the twenty different videos. Each farmer was interviewed by a high school student from a nearby school about what their operation does, how and why they choose to manage it in a certain way, and what makes it sustainable as well as what would make it more sustainable.
Each video is accompanied by a short document including an overview of the operation, teaching objectives, and several questions to foster classroom discussion. Context specific modules were created encompassing the concept of sustainability as defined by social, economic, environmental factors. These additional modules pull information from across the different farmers to illustrate an overarching concept. It is our belief that creating modules exploring these three areas will increase appeal to educators outside of vocational agriculture departments. Business classes could easily incorporate the module on Niche Marketing or Biology classes the module on Soil Health.
Follow this link to access the modules and view the videos: http://passel.unl.edu/communities/sustainableag
The true national value and uniqueness of this project becomes apparent upon a more thorough review of currently available curricula on sustainable agriculture. There are many course materials on sustainable agriculture for students of all ages. However, it is difficult to find a single piece of introductory material that would enhance rather than supplant current curricula. This is due in large part to the significant time required both in preparation and in the classroom of most sustainable agricultural curricula. In contrast, the modules developed in this project require very little time commitment and can be worked on as part of a broader curriculum. Additionally, the project itself provides a template that could be simply and effectively duplicated in other areas. Rather than replace it, these modules expedite the process of student-farmer interactions by encouraging student-conducted interviews and making these available to student peers. From an initial familiarity with local sustainable agriculture practitioners can come increased opportunity for classroom to farm visits, discussion and, likely, growth in the consumers and producers in the sustainable agriculture industry as a whole.
Though the official time period for this project is ending, it is expected that this project will continue to have an impact on educators and students. This project is now featured on the front page of the University of Nebraska Plant and Soil Sciences eLibrary website, which is visited by more than 1 million new users annually. Articles were prepared and submitted for publication in the NCR-SARE FieldNotes newsletter and the journal of agricultural education. Partnerships formed with Georgia and Florida educators will likely be maintained or expanded on. Numerous students, agricultural education teachers, project participants and administrators have grown in their understanding and interest in sustainable agriculture. The surveys and evaluations of the project were completed and showed impact beyond the original scope of short and intermediate term objectives of the project.
More than 40 agricultural education teachers in Nebraska (~30% of all agricultural education teachers in the state) responded to an online survey concerning their use of the modules. Half of these teachers had been teaching for more than 10 years, while half were younger teachers).