Reshaping SAE to Provide Experiential Learning in the 1990's

Article excerpt

(Originally Published in The Agricultural Education Magazine, May 1990, Volume 62)

The past decade has been a time of reform and rethinking. The Communist world began massive restructuring, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and people throughout the world became concerned about issues that heretofore had not been of concern - destruction of the ozone layer, the "Greenhouse" effect, and bio-technology. A crusade to improve education gained momentum during the decade, gaining national attention with the publication of a report called A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). The report was critical of American education and made numerous recommendations to improve the educational system and process. By the end of the decade the much revered SAT was undergoing revision. In the future the SAT will include an essay, different types of questions, and about 20% of the math questions would not be in the traditional multiple choice format (Toch, 1989).

Likewise, the 1980's was a period of study, refinement, and change in agricultural education. In 1985, the National Academy of Sciences initiated a study of agricultural education in secondary schools which culminated with the publication of Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education (National Research Council, 1988). Partially as a result of this study, many states renovated or are in the process of renovating the agricultural curriculum in public schools. Leaders within the profession called for further reform, and names of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and supervised occupational experience (SOE) program were changed.

When reform is undertaken, the fundamental "truths" within a discipline emerge and usually become central in the restructuring effect. This was certainly the case with respect to SOE. Some of these fundamental "truths" that emerged from the National Council study were that all students should participate in worthwhile SOEs while enrolled in agricultural education. Additionally, a broader range of SOEs should be encouraged, and emphasis should be placed on experience and entrepreneurship, not only on the occupation. The importance of experiential learning was emphasized not only in SOE but in the total curriculum.

Experiential Learning is More Than SAE

Experiential learning is interwoven into the very fabric of agricultural education. The basic problem solving teaching model used in agricultural education includes preparation, presentation, application and evaluation. According to this instructional model, once a subject has been taught, the material learned should be applied. Application may occur in the classroom, agricultural mechanics laboratory, greenhouse, or with a homework assignment. Following a unit on marketing, teachers might have their students apply what was learned by selecting a commodity of interest and develop a marketing strategy or role play the process of selling agricultural products.

One of the major methods used to provide experiential learning is SAE. The name change from SOE to SAE was significant, and provided the basis for further defining what supervised experience should be and could be. SAE not only involves occupational experiences but also includes non-occupational agricultural awareness and exploratory experiences. SAE is defined as all of the agricultural, both occupational and non-occupational, activities of educational value conducted by students outside of the class setting where students apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that have been learned in the instructional program and where supervision is provided by parents, employers, teachers, and others. SAE is the principle way students "learn by doing" in agricultural education. This article deals with some of the ways SAE can be expanded to provide additional experiential learning activities for students.

Why Experiential Learning

The value of experiential learning in agricultural education has long been recognized as an important part of the educational process. …