Evaluating Sustainability: Gaining Insights
The Southern Regional Training Workshop, Evaluating Sustainability, was a collaborative effort of six institutions: the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Auburn University, Clemson University, the University of Florida, the University of Kentucky, and South Carolina State University.
The workshop had four main objectives:
1.) Provide participants with an understanding of the multi-faceted nature of sustainability.
2.) Permit participants to use a variety of tools and approaches to evaluate the sustainability of agricultural production systems.
3.) Give participants an opportunity to apply a range of tools in classroom case studies and on-farm studies to determine the utility of these tools in the participants’ own work situations.
4.) Permit participants to exchange experiences and share information with each other.
Five modules were included in the workshop:
2.) Conserving Soil Resources;
3.) Money Matters;
4.) Energy, the hidden input;
5.) Water Quality.
The workshop was designed to bring together a diverse audience and provide an opportunity for the participants to explore their differences and agreements about the goals of sustainability, how we can move toward more sustainable agroecosystems, and how we might progress toward sustainability. The learning/teaching philosophy was based on participatory adult learning.
Acting on the call of many in the sustainable agriculture movement, the course moved beyond both philosophical discussions of "the meaning of sustainability" and beyond "how to" or "recipe" approaches designed to address specific production problems. Rather, it provided a framework for people from diverse walks of life, including environmentalists, farmers, Extension personnel, elected officials, teachers, and others to come together to agree, disagree, and move toward consensus on goals for the sustainability of agriculture.
A hands-on learning approach was emphasized. Many different activities were included during the two and one-half day workshop. These included:
1.) Videos with an interactive component.
2.) Background reading materials.
3.) Classroom exercises.
4.) Small or local group discussions.
5.) Field studies.
6.) Teleconference large group discussions.
This mix of activities was designed to accommodate the many different learning styles of adults and to help participants "close the learning cycle" by moving from affective learning to application to abstract concepts to on-the-job applications.
Results from the pre- and post-tests of knowledge and attitudes and from the process evaluations conducted at the workshop sites indicate that this learning approach was successful. The primary objective of the pre-post test of knowledge and skills was to determine whether participants learned new skills, gained new knowledge or changed their attitudes about sustainability as a result of the workshop. Analysis of test results show that in four of five modules there is a 95 percent probability that learning objectives were met. The same is true for the workshop as a whole. Conserving Soil Resources is the exception. In this case, the probability is only 86 percent that learning objectives were met.
Results from the process evaluations of the workshop are similar. Participants were asked how well each of the four workshop objectives described above were met. They responded on a scale of one (not at all) to four (completely). All participants indicated that workshops objectives were met to some degree.
Lower satisfaction was apparent for objective 2 (tools for evaluating sustainability), where 19 percent indicated that they met this objective only somewhat (score of 2).
Overall, however, almost all participants ranked satisfaction as "3" or "4". For example, 62 and 72 percent, ranked their satisfaction with objectives one (nature of sustainability) and three (classroom and field use of tools) as "almost entirely met" (score of 3). Almost all, 72 percent, indicated a score of four (completely) for objective four (participant exchange).
The cooperators are currently in the process of conducting follow-up evaluations of changed behavior on the part of participants.