Educating and Training Future Farmers, Researchers and Extension Personnel in Sustainable Agriculture

Final Report for LS10-228

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $245,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Rosalie Koenig
University of Florida
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Project Information


Teaching farms have recently gained popularity, but they are often expensive venues per student credit hour. It is therefore important they are used effectively. This research explored why faculty members use teaching farms, their goals and objectives with regard to the farm, and how they integrate teaching farms into curriculum. Twenty interviews were completed with faculty representing 15 institutions. A combined inductive and deductive approach was used to analyze data. The result was a typology of the roles of teaching farms in achieving educational goals and objectives. Four types of roles emerged, enhancement, competency, exploration, and foundation. Three of the four types reflect one of three models of higher education prevalent in the U.S. Our research suggests a better understanding of educational theory and pedagogy, combined with a firm appreciation of the different models of high education could significantly enhance the quality of the learning experience provided on teaching farms. The team elected to develop teaching materials for use on farms that focus on the exploration role.  The distinct approaches to using teaching farms do call for materials that are appropriate to the overall teaching strategy and an attempt to develop a ‘one size fits all’ set of materials is likely to yield a product that is not very satisfactory for any of the roles.


Project Objectives:

(1) To develop a two-day workshop that provides the project implementation team members with an understanding of their own learning style and its effects on how they teach, how to incorporate experiential learning into curricula, ways of reaching the six teaching goal areas, and how to develop objective-based instruction. Additionally, the members will assess their team member style and learn how this influences the key roles that they can play on the implementation team.

(2) To create and inventory of programs in sustainable agriculture at US universities, determine which ones utilize teaching farms and evaluate the extent to which these programs use experiential learning, teach to multiple educational goal areas and employ objective-based learning.

(3) To develop a model for a multidisciplinary, integrated sustainable agriculture curriculum based on experiential and objective-based learning, using POGIL and other aids for experiential and discovery-based learning that incorporates a teaching farm component for instructors at the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, Clemson University, and the University of Puerto Rico.

(4) Implement curricula at partner institutions.

(5) To disseminate the results of the research and model curricula to other institutions, extension professionals and service providers, including a guide about how to use the materials that provides an overview of the theoretical approaches underlying their development.


The mid-size farm has virtually disappeared in many areas over the past 25 years. The structure of American agriculture today, in most of the nation, is bimodal, with many small farms and a few large operations, both struggling economically. One of the tenets of sustainable agriculture is enhancing the quality of life for farmers by increasing their profitability and ability to operate economically viable operations. Developing the human capacity to operate sustainable small and moderate-sized farms requires experience and knowledge. The Morrill Act of 1862 established land grant institutions which have played a significant role in teaching and training agricultural professionals including farmers. Their primary focus has been teaching both the theories and practices related to the agricultural sciences in an effort to increase food production. Incorporating a teaching farm within the curriculum has been one way of providing students with practical field experience and the opportunity to participate in experiential learning. Experiential learning theory suggests that students learn best when they are in action and engaging in topics relevant to their personal interests and sense of purpose (Parr and Van Horn, 2006). Many land grants across the US are adopting undergraduate sustainable agriculture related majors. Many of these programs have developed a multidisciplinary curriculum that addresses not only agricultural production but the complex societal and environmental challenges of the food system. Educators have designed new courses or altered existing courses to meet the expectations of students entering these programs. Much of the curriculum is focused on experiential learning utilizing a teaching farm.  There has been limited research on designing sustainable agriculture education and no research that we are aware of that has measured the effectiveness of these programs in teaching students about sustainable agriculture production. We are interested in developing a typology of how teaching farms are used in higher education in the US. We will incorporate what we learn from these studies to develop teaching modules which encourage higher-order thinking skills, basic academic success skills, discipline-specific knowledge and skills, liberal arts and academic values, work and career preparation, and personal development.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Pablo Morales-Pagan
  • T. Grady Roberts
  • Michelle Schroeder-Moreno
  • Marilyn Swisher
  • Geoff Zehnder


Materials and methods:

Objective (1) To develop a two-day workshop that provides the project implementation team members with an understanding of their own learning style and its effects on how they teach, how to incorporate experiential learning into curricula, ways of reaching the six teaching goal areas, and how to develop objective-based instruction. Additionally, the members will assess their team member style and learn how this influences the key roles that they can play on the implementation team.


Drs. Grady and Swisher will develop a two-day workshop at UF to engage grant project partners in an informative training to develop a common approach to curricula development based on learning styles, experiential learning, objective based teaching (tied to cognitive level), and teaching goal areas (tied to cognitive level).  Each participate will complete the Kolb Learning Style Inventory to discover their own learning styles. Each participant will bring materials from the sustainable agriculture courses that they teach to the workshop. They will explore how their own preferred learning styles are reflected in their teaching and will assess the degree to which their teaching is behavioral objective-based. Team members will then complete the teaching goals inventory (Angelo & Cross, 1993, p. 20-22). Partners will work in teams to assess ways to incorporate all four aspects of the learning cycle into their teaching, teach to the six teaching goal areas, and develop behavioral objectives to guide the instruction process.


Many project teams fail to function effectively. Recent research shows that teamwork is a process and that management of the interactions between individuals on teams, called team emotional intelligence, is a key to successful team functioning (McCallin & Bamford, 2007; Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee, 2002; Garcia-Prieto, Bellard & Schneider, 2003). Four dimensions directly contribute to team effectiveness: team potency, team identification, shared mental models and team meta-cognitions. This is particularly true for interdisciplinary teams (Milward & Ramsay, 1998; Milward & Jeffries, 2001). There are four team member styles and individuals with different styles contribute to team effectiveness in different ways and at different stages in the team’s task.


Since this project depends on multi-institutional partners working together as a team, we believe that understanding each member’s style will help in its successful implementation and completion. During this initial meeting each team member will evaluate his/her team member style and identify the key phases in the project where his/her contribution is especially critical. We will assign specific roles based on team member assessment and each individual’s area of expertise. We will also develop a detailed time line to ensure that each person knows their roles and responsibilities.



Objective (2) To create and inventory of programs in sustainable agriculture at US universities, determine which ones utilize teaching farms and evaluate the extent to which these programs use experiential learning, teach to multiple educational goal areas and employ objective-based learning.


With close guidance from UF project team members (Drs Koenig, Swisher and Roberts), a graduate student will create an inventory of sustainable agriculture, agroecology, organic agriculture, alternative cropping systems, and food systems majors and programs at 1890 and 1862 and 1991 land grant and other institutions of higher education in the US. Several lists of these programs are available, including the Organic Farming Research Foundation’s “State of the States” report, University of California Santa Cruz’s publication “Colleges and Universities with Sustainable Agriculture Courses and Programs,” the ATTRA website list under education opportunities, and the USDA’s “Educational and training opportunities in Sustainable Agriculture.” The UF project team will use information from these reports as well as internet searches to create the inventory.


Based on a set of criteria, the UF team will determine whether or not each sustainable agriculture course instructor incorporates a teaching farm as part of their instruction. We will use the program description on the internet to determine if a farm is used. If a farm is not mentioned, or if the program information is insufficient to determine if a farm is used, the graduate student will contact the institution by e-mail or phone to determine whether or not they incorporate a teaching farm.


The graduate student will contact each institution and ask for a copy of representative course syllabi and teaching materials. We will score each curriculum/course with regard to the degree to which it (1) incorporates experiential learning and (2) objective-based learning. We will create these indices, using standard social methodologies for creating a pool of items. Each team member will contribute items to an initial pool. Items that are mentioned by 70% or more of the members will be retained and tested for internal consistency and reliability using Cronbach’s alpha to eliminate non-reliable measures. A second test for discriminatory power will be used to delete items that fail to distinguish between responses. The remaining items will constitute the index. We will score each set of materials/syllabi with this index. For example, an item in the index might be “Written learning objectives for field exercises.” An individual syllabus could score from 0 (no written objectives) to 4 (written objectives for at least 75% of field exercises). We will then select a sample of programs for a follow-up telephone interview. This will be a maximum variation sample of the ten highest and lowest scoring respondents. We will conduct a semi-structured interview that probes instructor teaching philosophy and pedagogy, the degree to which instructors recognize that students have different learning styles, the cognitive level the instructor tries to reach, why instructors use specific teaching methods, how the instructors incorporate the learning farm into their teaching, and the barriers that exist for adopting other teaching methods. The sustainable agriculture program that scores highest on the index and provides insightful information in the interview will be incorporated into the design of the educational modules in Objective 3.  The project team will convene their next meeting at this institution to provide members the opportunity to learn more about the curricula and program.


The UF project team will synthesize the results of this research into an article that contains a national assessment of sustainable agriculture programs at institutions of higher learning with recommendations for the best available model and submit to a peer review journal. The UF project team will also disseminate results by presenting at several conferences.

Objective (3) To develop a model for a multidisciplinary, integrated sustainable agriculture curriculum based on experiential and objective-based learning, using POGIL and other aids for experiential and discovery-based learning that incorporates a teaching farm component for instructors at the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, Clemson University, and the University of Puerto Rico.


The development of a new model curriculum will begin in Year 2 of the proposed project by convening project partners at a meeting at the institution that demonstrates the best practices in integrating teaching farms in sustainable agriculture curricula (identified in Objective 2). At this meeting, partners will engage in a visioning process to create an outline for at least eight new multi-disciplinary sustainable agriculture educational modules that use the teaching farm as a high-level learning experience.  


We will adapt the teaching goals inventory (Angelo and Cross, 1993) to examine the degree to which individual instructors address the six critical teaching goals for institutions of higher education so that it can be used by students to assess their learning goals. Prior to the meeting, each team member will administer the adapted inventory to a group of students currently enrolled in their sustainable agriculture teaching programs. Active learning requires that the teacher incorporate the learner’s goals. For example, instructors commonly focus on reaching their teaching goals, but often fail to understand how their students’ learning goals complement or differ from the instructor’s goals. These dissimilarities interfere with the learning process. We will share the results of these assessments with our project partners and discuss how to ensure that the modules that we develop incorporate the learning goals of our students.


The project team will base the modules on a balanced mix of best available practices as identified in Objective 2, existing curricula and prevalent pedagogy. The modules will be designed to complete the learning cycle and incorporate the six teaching goal areas (Dewey, 1938; Kolb, 1984; Roberts, 2006; Angelo and Cross, 1993) as students are guided through the material. Modules will focus on the pillars of sustainable agriculture as defined in the 1990 the Farm Bill as: Sustainable Food and Fiber Production, Environmental Stewardship, Economic Viability of Farm Operations, and Enhanced Quality of Life. Partners will determine learning outcomes and behavioral objectives for each module as well as thematic units, subject matter, activities and lessons. Partners will discuss how a teaching farm will be integrated into each module. Partners will also discuss how to create curriculum, activities, internships and educational exchanges that integrate students at partnering institutions with each other.


Development of superior learning materials for sustainable agriculture programs takes a considerable investment in each instructor’s time and resources. A National Science Foundation funded project, Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) provides a proven structure to design curriculum based on prevalent learning theories. Applying POGIL methodology creates a research-based learning environment where students are actively engaged in mastering course content and in developing essential skills by working in self-managed teams on guided inquiry activities. In addition to learning, understanding, and applying new concepts, curriculum designed using the POGIL framework guides students to also develop important process skills in the areas of information processing, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, communication, management, and assessment (Hanson, 2006). As the only agriculture instructor in a room of chemistry instructors, Dr. Koenig attended a formal training about implementation of POGIL and began to apply this framework with initial success in her courses.  We plan to design our modules utilizing the POGIL framework which has proven to be an effective way of applying pedagogical theory into the classroom.


In addition to input from all partners, through focus groups, the UF project team will seek input from students in agricultural programs and a diverse group of potential future employers including agricultural businesses, institutional service providers, regulatory agencies, and producers through focus groups. The UF project team will develop the sustainable agriculture educational modules based on the results of the visioning process at the meeting of project partners, the focus groups, subsequent conference calls, assistance from our SARE State Model program's advisory boards, and the research conducted in Objective 2.  


This process will ensure that our educational modules are comprehensive and address principles and concepts important to a diverse group of stakeholders involved in sustainable agriculture.   Each module will include thematic units with ready-to-implement lessons that state learning and behavioral objectives, background information, experiential activities, team activities, worksheets, questions for further inquiry, essay questions and exams and other forms of learning assessment.


In addition to partner institutions, the UF project team will send a draft of the new sustainable agriculture educational modules to farmers, researchers and extension professionals for an initial review. After revising based on the reviews, Dr. Koenig will test the new sustainable agriculture educational modules in one of her courses at UF before implementing in courses at partnering universities. Objective (4) Implement curricula at partner institutions


Each project team member engaged in teaching a course(s) in sustainable agriculture will determine how to incorporate the modules into their curricula. We anticipate that each instructor would utilize all of the modules among the courses they teach at their institution. The modules will be evaluated by both the instructors and students. Classroom assessment that relies solely on traditional tests is not adequate for experiential learning. We will develop a menu of assessment techniques that are appropriate for experiential learning and higher cognitive skills and for each of the six teaching goal areas, based on the work of Angelo & Cross (1993).


We will use multiple assessment techniques to evaluate student learning and proficiency, including tests. These techniques selected will be based on the learning objectives for each module, the instructors’ teaching goals, and the students’ learning goals. We will use these techniques in a pre- and post-test modality and use standard parametric and non-parametric paired tests to evaluate change in performance and knowledge. We will examine student scores on the assessments in terms of cognitive level reached and gain in knowledge and skills by quartile, anticipating that at least 50% of students will reach fourth quartile scores. We will develop an index to evaluate student self-efficacy with regard to their ability to apply what they have learned to the work setting. Self-efficacy is essentially a measure of an individual’s confidence in his/her ability to apply knowledge and skills and to overcome barriers to achieve desired outcomes.

Objective (5) To disseminate the results of the research and model curricula to other institutions, extension professionals and service providers, including a guide about how to use the materials that provides an overview of the theoretical approaches underlying their development.

The modules will be revised after the project team has evaluated their effectiveness using assessments described in the evaluation section of the proposal. After making final revisions of the modules, the UF project team will disseminate the modules and a guide about how to use the materials that provides an overview of the theoretical approaches underlying the module’s development to other institutions via various media including an EDIS publication with downloadable modules, internet links, published articles, conferences and hands-on trainings. The modules will also be modified and used by extension personnel to train farmers in sustainable agriculture production. The project team will conduct hands-on workshops and presentations at major grower conferences in the Southern Region including the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) conference, Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference and the Florida Small Farm Conference.

Research results and discussion:

In addition to developing teaching materials that can be used on teach farms, a major contribution of our work was to create a model, a typology in this case that reflects the key characteristics, particularly the differences, in how professors use teaching farms to enhance learning about sustainable agriculture (Northcutt and McCoy 2004). The ultimate aim of this research went beyond understanding the role of the farm for individual professors in individual courses. Rather, we wanted to understand the way teaching farms are being used by professors in terms of their overall mission as educators. What are professors trying to accomplish when they incorporate a teaching farm into their classes? How do they think the farm will help them achieve their overall educational aims for their students? What do they think the farm adds to the student’s educational experience that will make the overall educational experience more meaningful and lasting for the student? The final stage in our analysis was to create a model or models of how faculty members at four-year universities perceive the role of teaching farms in achieving their goals and objectives as professors. We needed a model or models of these broader uses of the teaching farm in order to be able to create educational materials for professors that would meet their needs and help them make the best use of teaching farms as a pedagogical resource. Identifying the professors’ broad goals for the teaching farms was critical to developing objective-based learning materials.

 While we originally anticipated that a single model might emerge from our analysis of teaching farms, the analysis revealed four distinctly different roles for the teaching farm as a component in an overall instructional strategy and approach. This is not a typology based on the physical attributes of teaching farms (the kinds of infrastructure, crops, etc.), but rather a typology of four distinct approaches of faculty members who use teaching farms to achieve overall educational goals and objectives. In fact, any specific physical farm – the infrastructure – could play different roles for faculty members who have different overall teaching goals and objectives. The three conceptual frames that emerged in the second step in our analysis provided the structure for identifying the key characteristics of each of the four ideal types.  The four types are described below.

Enhancement Role. In this role, the teaching farm provides complementary activities to a primarily classroom-based course. Faculty members typically want to reach application level types of learning objectives on the farm, but the role adapts well to a wide range of learning outcomes. Examples of specific learning outcomes include introducing students to agriculture, giving them an appreciation of what is involved in farming, or allowing students to apply a concept or idea learned in the classroom. Activities emphasize building on or extending the concepts and ideas from the classroom. Examples are demonstrations, short projects or tasks, and observations. Activities can typically be completed in a short time frame, many in a single class period. They are discrete, rather than extended projects. The time spent on the farm is largely limited to class time and instructors may describe the use of the farm as ‘farm visits.’ Assessment techniques are not elaborate and may be based primarily or even exclusively on compliance with required activities. Teachers often see the role of the farm as a way to more fully engage students in the course: get them outside, eliminate distractions (e.g. texting) and other activities that often occur in the classroom. The teaching farm is also used to ‘equalize’ students, to allow ‘non-academics’ or ‘students with learning disabilities’ to succeed. Levels of institutional and faculty support are not critical for this role because the faculty make use of what facilities are available opportunistically. They rely on what is available or ‘make do’ with what they have. Accessibility can be a major constraint for this role since time on the farm is typically during the school day. Moving the farm off-campus seriously limits its utility in this role. Many faculty members say their course would be different without the teaching farm, but they do not use the farm as the core of the learning experience. Achieving course objectives does not depend on the farm.

Competency Role. The teaching farm in the competency role serves fundamentally as a replica of an operating farm. Learning outcomes focus on technical competencies needed for employment in production agriculture. Professors use the teaching farm as a critical component in the curriculum, often requiring lengthy and intensive effort on the part of students. Full two-semester course sequences, requirements for students to complete activities and projects on their own time, and designation of the course(s) as the students’ capstone experience are common. Emphasis on the application cognitive level is pronounced. Professors typically stress ‘hands on experience,’ learning about all aspects of farming including farm management, and giving students a chance to apply what they learn about in the classroom. Professors also stress professional skills like communication, responsibility, and time management as desired course outcomes. Class projects that incorporate farm, crop, or business plans may be part of the course, and a wide variety of farming practices are incorporated, in some cases involving livestock and crop production systems. While group projects are the norm, faculty members stress that every member of the group must become proficient in each skill or competency. Group venues for activities are a common way of teaching professional responsibilities and roles. Analytic abilities are a secondary emphasis, with a strong focus on identifying problems and the potential solutions to them. A typical example would be that a group of students must diagnose a problem, find information about how to solve the problem, and then decide which of several potential solutions they would apply. Professors often emphasize keeping a journal of observations and presentations as components of the learning activities. Assessment also stresses the ‘practical’ or ‘applied’ emphasis in this role. For example, some professors use peer evaluation by group members and evaluation by faculty and non-faculty members of group projects in addition to the traditional individual professor evaluation of student performance, stressing assessment to determine how ‘realistic’ or ‘practical’ the plans are. Faculty and institutional commitment is critical for the competency role. To function as ‘replicas’ of operating farms, the teaching farm needs to reflect the kinds of enterprises, equipment, and conditions that students can expect to encounter after graduation. Marketing components like an on-campus CSA or farmers’ market, for example, may be important for students to learn about marketing. The need for fiscal, human and physical infrastructure is high and one problem for these farms is the high cost per student for the educational experience.

Exploration Role. In this role, the teaching farm is a critical component in allowing students to explore complex concepts dealing with the social, economic and environmental aspects of agriculture. Desired student learning outcomes focus on higher cognitive skills like analysis, evaluation and, in some cases, creating. Faculty members want students to be able to identify problems and pose potential solutions for them as in the case of the competency role, but the importance of discovery learning is much greater. Faculty will stress the importance of learning from the consequences of decisions or learning from mistakes, often encouraging students to test alternative solutions and evaluate the outcomes from each. Assessment also tends to be comprehensive. Peer, group, and self-evaluation are commonly important components of assessment. Assessment also often involves reaction papers in which students use what they learn on the farm to reflect upon and discuss complex topics or issues. Group activities are the core of the learning experience on the farm. Unlike the competency role, group projects tend to be developed and planned by the students, not by the professor. Group projects often include an experimental or inquiry component and the end product includes reflection upon the learning experience. Learning about group processes is itself a learning objective in many cases, going beyond shared responsibility to goals that deal with management of the group or team experience. Students will typically organize their own projects, including the non-class time that they must spend to complete the activities. Activities are often designed to integrate what students learn in the classroom, including concepts, processes and skills. Farms used in this role are much more apt to explore the social components of agriculture. Service learning experiences are not uncommon as components in this type. For example, students host field days or trainings on the farm or work with schools in ‘school to farm’ visits. Faculty members frequently mentioned using all of the students’ senses (auditory, kinesthetic, visual) in the learning activities. Overall, their objective is to provide an intellectually stimulating learning experience in which the student gains mastery of both skills and competencies and higher level critical thinking skills. Faculty and institutional support for these farms are critical because the cost per student for the learning experience is high. In addition, outside support may also be critical because student projects may involve service learning components. The need to involve faculty members from multiple disciplines and to have the facilities that provide for the range of projects and activities needed to achieve course goals drives costs in this role.

Foundation Role. In the foundation role, the teaching farm serves as the organizing or focal point for a holistic educational approach that focuses on giving the student a foundation for his/her life career and personal development. The role of the farm is not particularly necessary to teach students ‘about agriculture or farming,’ or ‘how to run a farm.’ Rather, the farm becomes the professor’s venue for personal and professional development for students. The learning outcomes deal as much with the student’s ability to make life and career choices and develop his/her intellectual abilities as to learn specific techniques or skills. The activities are varied, but tend to focus on learning experiences that will encourage students to explore a wide array of ideas and concepts and how s/he can apply those in his/her own life. Group activities are common, but the outcomes in the foundation role include students bonding with their peers, developing a sense of their own life goals, and exploring how to use what they learn to address larger social concerns. Faculty members use the teaching farm to break down barriers between themselves and their students and between students. Projects are common, but students have the freedom to explore a very broad array of issues and topics in the projects. Assessment focuses strongly on what the individual gains from the process, both in terms of knowledge and experience. Reflection papers, group discussions, and peer reflection are strong components in assessment. The faculty member serves as a guide and mentor in the learning process. Faculty and institutional support are important, but not critical for this role. Facilities are not as critical as time with the student and the students’ ability to interact with each other, with faculty members, and with individuals and organizations outside the university.



            The four types of roles in which teaching farms are used in post-secondary education provide insight into the diverse learning experiences professors try to create by utilizing a farm in their curriculum. Farms can be critical components of a course or can serve to supplement concepts and ideas presented in a traditional classroom setting. Many of the faculty members interviewed demonstrate how teaching farms can enhance student learning and assist professors in facilitating learning experiences that encourage higher cognitive abilities. However, the degree to which professors take advantage of the farm as a teaching tool that promotes creativity and problem solving largely depends on professors’ understanding of pedagogical methods. All of the faculty members interviewed said that they do try to incorporate the experiential learning model into their courses using the teaching farm, but their understanding of the theory of experiential learning varied. Most faculty reduced experiential learning to fairly limited cognitive goals, giving the students the opportunity to “apply what they hear in the class room” or gain “hands-on experience.” This account of experiential learning theory is incomplete and over-emphasizes the Concrete Experience components in the learning process. It also misidentifies this component essentially equating concrete experience to simple repetition of a skill or idea. Concrete experience in Kolb’s view involves higher cognitive skills, such as problem solving. This view of experiential learning is quite pronounced among faculty using the teaching farm in a competency role. Professors using the farm in the exploration or foundation roles were more likely to incorporate all four of the learning processes into their courses whether or not they were able to clearly articulate the theory of experiential learning.

            Faculty also use the farm to accomplish other teaching goals. For example, the teaching farm was often seen as a way to meet the needs of diverse learners. Many faculty felt the teaching farm created learning opportunities that were appealing for students who may not enjoy traditional classroom learning, preferred “learning by doing”, or were more kinesthetic learners. This belief reflects an outdated understanding of modern pedagogy and the ability to use learning theory to design learning objectives and course activities. Experiential learning and most other theoretically based learning models suggest learners need to participate in multiple learning processes and that although students may have a preferred learning style completion of the learning cycle is critical for higher level comprehension and cognitive skill development (Kolb 2005).

            The extent to which the six teaching goal areas proposed by Angelo and Cross are accomplished through teaching farms also varies depending on the professor’s overall course objectives and approach to using the farm. Strong emphasis was placed on career and work preparation when course learning objectives focused primarily on preparing students to work on a farm. However, other professors made it a priority to incorporate other liberal arts disciplines into the curriculum and provide students an experience on the farm that would contribute to their personal development. Focus on these goal areas was more common in courses using the teaching farm in its foundation role. Courses using the teaching farm in the exploration role often focused on teaching students discipline-specific knowledge and skills and basic academic success skills to help them succeed in their academic and professional careers.

The emergence of four distinct roles for teaching farms was a critical factor in the development and implementation of a project in which four institutions collaborated in the development of teaching materials for use on teaching farms. It immediately became apparent to the project team that no single set of materials could adequately serve the needs of all faculty members using teaching farms. Materials appropriate for a competency role would, for example, typically focus on lower level cognitive skill development than those for a foundation role. While the content would certainly overlap to some degree, the differences in the professor’s broad educational objectives could lead to different emphases in content or other teaching goal areas. The professor using the competency role would typically be more interested in presenting material constituting well known and broadly accepted concepts while a professor using an exploration role would be more likely to want a more comprehensive presentation of concepts, including concepts open to debate or yet to be broadly accepted by practitioners. Exercises for the competency role would focus more on development of basic operational skills while those for an exploration role would emphasize analyzing and solving problems that require intellectual skills like assessing scientific evidence. Of the four types, the enhancement role appears the most likely to be able to use a wide mix of materials because professors make infrequent use of the farms, do so for a variety of reasons, and do not rely on the farm as a key element in course design.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We have submitted and have provided revisions to the journal Environmental Education of a publication entitled "Education for Sustainable Agriculture: Why Teaching Farms"

The project team particpated in a panel discussion session entitled "Using teaching farms tohelp students develop critical thinking skills in sustainable agriculture" organized by the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association conference in Raleigh NC (August 2014) 

Sustainable Agriculture Modules will be published through IFAS/UF communications and available to instructors



Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The team elected to base the material learning objectives, content, and instructional design on the exploration role. This does not mean that the materials can never be used by a faculty person who uses a farm in one of the other roles. For example, a professor who uses the farm in a foundation role might well find some of the activities and learning objectives in the materials developed in this project very useful and appropriate for some aspects of a course. Nonetheless, the distinct approaches to using teaching farms do call for materials that are appropriate to the overall teaching strategy and an attempt to develop a ‘one size fits all’ set of materials is likely to yield a product that is not very satisfactory for any of the roles.

There are some important implications of the decision for materials design. For example, the team decided that the materials should focus on activities and learning objectives that require or will make the most use of the relatively costly farm. The critical importance of institutional support for professors who want to use the farm in the exploration role, driven by the high cost per student credit hour generated, drove this decision. The exploration role requires a significant investment in infrastructure, including equipment for field demonstrations and experiments, and because the infrastructure must be maintained year-round whether or not a course is being taught. Labor demand can also be high to plant experiments or develop plots for exercises like sampling for weeds or insect pests.

The exploration role also encouraged us to create activities that lead to the development of analytic and evaluative cognitive skills. The importance of intellectual stimulation and engaging the students’ senses in their totality led to this focus for our materials. An activity about irrigation in the exploration role, for example, could require students to evaluate the efficiency of three or four alternatives or to examine irrigation efficiency on different soil types. An exercise with irrigation in the competency role might focus on skills like establishing an irrigation schedule or ask students to calculate water use, but would not typically focus on the higher cognitive skill of evaluation.

Specific course or curriculum objectives grow out of an institution’s or an individual faculty member’s model of what post-secondary education is – what it should accomplish for students and, ultimately, for society as a whole. The curriculum development project of which this research is a part grew out of a concern, expressed by the National Academies of Science and other key institutions, that contemporary agricultural education does not prepare students adequately to meet challenges that they are likely to face in the contemporary world (National Research Council 2009). These challenges will require innovation, creativity, problem solving capabilities, an ability to understand and appreciate diverse peoples and ideas, and a deep understanding of basic scientific concepts and principles of scientific discovery.


Areas needing additional study

Further testing of the teaching materials by instructors at institutions that use teaching farms could help improve the outputs of this project.  We expect that faculty members will adapt the materials for their particular teaching needs and course objectives.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.