Agroecology Analysis of Farming Systems: A Summer Course

2002 Annual Report for LNC01-196

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2001: $18,303.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:

Agroecology Analysis of Farming Systems: A Summer Course

Summary

This project has supported development and execution of an innovative, field-based “immersion” course that serves as a “prototype” for educators who seek to foster greater understanding of agro-ecosystems analysis and sustainability.  The course has brought together 28 students, 10 faculty, and resources from eight institutions of higher learning. Students developed appropriate, multiple indicators of sustainability and then utilized their indicators of sustainability to critically analyze the sustainability of nine different farming systems.  Students reported a very high level of satisfaction in the course and would recommend the course to another person (4.71 out of 5 on a Likert-type scale).

Objectives/Performance Targets

  1. Train 54 students from several institutions, both land-grant and private, from the Midwest and other regions.
  2. Increase students’ understanding by presenting Midwestern landscapes and their utilization by humans, in the context of history, landscape, and culture.
  3. Increase in students’ understanding that farms are a part of an agroecosystem.
  4. Students become more aware of farming systems that are different from the norm in their region.
  5. Students develop appropriate, multiple indicators of sustainability.
  6. To require students to critically analyze several different farming systems, utilizing their indicators of sustainability.
  7. Development of students’ ability to work in groups.
  8. Students take a more active role in their responsibility for learning.
  9. Instructors from other institutions become more aware of interactive learning activities within Agroecology and agricultural production.

Accomplishments/Milestones

Immersion of students in a weeklong summer course.
2001: 14 students: Six from the University of Minnesota, four from the University of Nebraska, four from Iowa State University.  
2002: 14 students: five from the University of Minnesota, one from the University  of Nebraska, five from  Iowa State University, two from the University  of Wisconsin, one from Penn State University.

Increase students’ understanding by presenting Midwestern landscapes and their utilization by humans, in the context of history, landscape, and culture. 2001 guest speakers: Ms. Maria Pearson, Native American Indian, member of Iowa Gov. Vilsake’s advisory committee; Soil genesis lecture and field trip by Dr. Lee Burras, Associate Professor of Environmental Soil Science at Iowa State; Prairie ecology lecture and field trip by Dr. Robb DeHaan, Professor of Agriculture, Dordt College.  2002 guest speakers: Soil genesis lecture and field trip by Dr. Lee Burras, Associate Professor of Environmental Soil Science at Iowa State; Prairie ecology lecture and field trip by Dr. Robb DeHaan, Professor of Agriculture, Dordt College.

Students observe differences among the farms and geographical locations. 2001: Nine farms (grain with ridge-till; grain with precision ag. technology; large, in-barn dairy, organic grain and beef grazing;  all forage, grazing, NZ-style milking parlor dairy; pasture farrowing; grazing bison), four geographical locations (Blood Run, Steele prairie, Loess Hills, and Blue Mounds State Park).  2002: Nine farms (grain with ridge-till; grain with precision ag technology; large, in-barn dairy, organic grain and beef grazing;  all forage, grazing, NZ-style milking parlor dairy; pasture farrowing; vegetable market garden), two geographical locations (Petersen prairie, Steele prairie).

Students developed indictors of sustainability, before visiting the farms. Students assess farms for productivity, economic returns, environmental impacts, and social dimensions. Students gave oral presentations at the end of the week and submitted written reports three weeks after the course ended.

Groups were not dysfunctional, students spend time in group discussion and reflection, and students relied on fellow classmates when they had difficulty understanding the material. Group oral and written presentations were excellent.

Students asked questions, discussed, and reflected on the sustainability of the farms. In 2002, students were required to complete a Learner document. Students returning the survey said they enjoyed (4.35 out of scale of 5.00) having the course instructors as co-learners as opposed to lecturers.

Invited instructors from other institutions:  2001: Dr. Paul Porter, The University of Minnesota; Dr. Suzanne Morse, College of the Atlantic.  2002: Dr. Paul Porter, The University  of Minnesota; Dr. Bill Bland, The University  of Wisconsin.;  Dr. Heather Karsten, Penn State University;  Dr. Cathy Perillo, Washington State University.

Instructors who have participated in the summer field course will develop a similar course in their geographical region.  2002: Dr. Cathy Perillo has organized a similar field course for summer 2003 in south-east and central Washington, with faculty cooperators from Washington State University, the University of Idaho, and the College of South Idaho.

Dissemination of information:
Salvador, R.J., G.M. McAndrews, M.H. Wiedenhoeft, J. King, and C. Francis. 2001. Participatory learning in agroecosystem evaluation. Ecospheres Conference Proceedings. Lincoln, Nebraska, June. One-hour oral presentation.

Wiedenhoeft, M., R. Salvador, S. Simmons, P. Porter, C. Francis, J. King, R. DeHaan.  Opportunities for experiential learning in today’s agricultural university. National NACTA meetings, 19-21 June, Lincoln, Nebraska. Two-hour workshop

Francis, C. L., J.W. King, M. Wiedenhoeft, G. McAndrews, R. Salvador, and S. Simmons. Agroecosystems analysis: Active learning in an experiential short course. International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) International Conference, August, Victoria BC. Poster presentation

Wiedenhoeft, M., C. Francis, S. Simmons, P. Porter, R. DeHaan, and S. Pogranichniy. Agroecosystems Analysis Summer Field Course. Training tomorrow’s trainer, a conference for students of sustainable agriculture, 25-27 October 2002, Madison, Wisconsin.  Poster presentation

Pogranichniy, S.L., M.H. Wiedenhoeft, C.A. Francis, S.R. Simmons, P.M. Porter, R., DeHaan. 2002. Field course in Agroecology: comparative analyses of Midwest farms. In 2002 Agronomy abstracts.  ASA, Madison, Wisconsin.   Poster presentation.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Impact and Contributions/Outcomes:

STUDENT RESPONSES TO A FOLLOW-UP SURVEY

A follow-up survey was conducted via e-mail during October 2002. Students from the classes of 2001 and 2002 were sent a 14-item survey including 13 items for rating with a Likert-type scale (below) and one open-ended question. In addition, students were asked to provide comments on each item. Seventeen students out of 27 responded for a 63% response rate.
        Mean
Item       Response
1.  The course met my expectations. 4.47
2.  The course helped develop my definition of agroecosystems. 3.71
3.  I learn better in a group project environment. 3.65
4.  There was good diversity among the farms visited. 4.47
5.  I learn better in an experiential (“hands-on”) course than in a lecture course. 4.47
6.  There was sufficient balance between technical details and “big picture” issues. 3.76
7.  I relied on fellow students to help me when I had difficulty understanding
technical information. 3.88
8.  I enjoyed interacting with the course instructors as co-learners as opposed to experts. 4.35
9.  I was able to share my knowledge and understanding in certain areas with fellow students.
       4.71
10.  After taking this course, I feel more confident in my ability to determine the sustainability of different agricultural practices. 3.82
11.  The course changed my views about learning. 3.71
12.  This course has caused me to evaluate my personal interests and career options. 3.82
13.  I would recommend this class to another person. 4.71

Scale: 1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3=neutral, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree

Collaborators:

Lee Burras

Associate Professor of Environmental Soil Science
Iowa State Univ.
Charles Francis

Professor of Agronomy
Univ. of Nebraska
Ricardo Salvador

Associate Professor of Agronomy
Iowa State Univ.
Steve Simmons

Professor of Agronomy
Univ. of Minnesota
Robb DeHaan

Associate Professor of Agriculture
Dordt College