Evaluation of CROPVIEW as a Crop Science Teaching Resource for Post-Secondary Educators1

Article excerpt

Abstract

Since less of the American population is involved in agriculture fewer students in university and high school biology courses are familiar with plant species that supply most of the world's food. Crop science concepts such as identification, adaptation characteristics, and current topics related to food production have traditionally been introduced in classroom lectures and reinforced using seed and plant specimens. This study investigated the development and efficacy of the website CROPVIEW as an educational tool in an agriculture curriculum designed for a diverse audience of college students enrolled in undergraduate courses in the College of Agriculture at three different universities. The target population consisted of all undergraduate students in those courses (N= 287). The researchers used a general knowledge instrument to gather data. The study's findings conclude that the website was equally as effective for student learning of agricultural information as traditional teaching methods.

Introduction

Since less of the American population is involved in agriculture, fewer students in university and high school biology courses are familiar with the plants that are responsible for feeding the world. Plants are generally less popular than animals as subjects in secondary school science classrooms, and the focus on understanding plants and their role in the environment has faltered accordingly (Bebbington, 2005; Darley, 1990). In fact, some authors have used the term "plant blindness" to describe the general public misanthropy towards plants (Wandersee and Schussler, 1999). Despite the waning popularity of plants in the science classroom, plant identification is highly important for proper communication across international borders, and naming plants properly is important for understanding them in scientific context (Nesbitt et al., 2010). For those in agricultural education, this paltry background in plant science is the starting point from which crop science education must proceed at the college level.

Bringing crop science students to a basic level of knowledge of plant science and adaptation principles, along with identification of crop plants and seeds has traditionally been the goal of undergraduate lectures in university agricultural programs. Students must grasp these basics before they can understand concepts such as how climate change may impact food production in different parts of the world and for understanding the importance of agriculture to their personal lives in a civic or political context. In addition, an international focus in the agriculture curriculum is needed to prepare students for a globalized market and to understand the impact of agriculture on global events (Bruening and Frick2004).

There are some significant logistical barriers when it comes to teaching crop science topics. For traditional in-class laboratory exposure, plant specimens and seeds must be maintained and can occupy valuable storage and growing spaces, which can be very expensive. Distance education, which is a rapidly-growing aspect of university education can potentially reach more students per instructor and save on educational costs (Nachmais et al., 2000). However, on a per-course basis, developing and implementing a distance education course can cost more than traditional delivery (Sterns et al., 2005). Presenting lecture information in an interesting and effective way that will include student laboratory experiences is especially challenging for distance education. Creating a reusable learning object (RLO) (Wiley, 2000) for crop science education that can be freely accessed and used by multiple institutions and course participants in both live and distance-delivered courses could potentially be more cost effective and more engaging than current instructional approaches.

In previous studies, instructors have used webbased images to teach or enhance plant identification learning with varying degrees of effectiveness. …