Finding a Map for Non-Formal Agricultural Literacy Activities

Article excerpt

Have you heard the expression "if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there?" We know the importance of having course objectives and lesson plans, but non-formal activities, such as displays and field trips, are often designed without a clear map outlining goals and objectives. An activity is conducted, but without ever clearly pinpointing what the desired educational goal is, or how to get there.

In conducting the 'Mylo's Animal Barn', an agricultural literacy barn that is held at the Dodge County Fair in Nebraska, I have been guilty of failing to plan for the educational goals. At times, my motto was "if I have it, they will learn". The majority of the educational materials that were distributed ended up in trash cans without ever being read. The milk shakes for the milk mustaches melted, as the activity took place during a slow time at the fair. The by-products display was nice, but few people stopped to look at it. The list goes on. Where was my "road" map? I have now begun to pay more attention to the educational aspects of the experience.

Who is going?

Visitors to Mylo's Animal Barn, vary greatly in age, from infants to senior citizens. The experience and agricultural knowledge of the audience also varies greatly. John H. Falk (in Eberbach, 1997) suggests that a learning experience must focus on a specific target audience, while considering all within the audience range.

You need to provide an experience that will be satisfying to the lowest common denominator, typically children. You're missing the boat in a family experience, however, if you merely speak to the lowest common denominator. What ultimately makes it a satisfying intergenerational experience is if there are layers of information and experience that are as satisfying to adults as they are to children (Falk, as cited in Eberbach, 1997, p. 7).

Where are we going?

After you have decided who is going, the next step in planning any trip is determining where you are and where you want to go. The same is true here. A needs assessment should identify the gaps between the learners' current and desired proficiencies as perceived by the learner and others; that is, it should help define the "what is" and "what should be" (Galbraith, 1990). Determine what the audience currently knows, and what you want them to know.

For example, theme days for Mylo's Animal Barn are based on the agricultural commodities grown in Dodge County. The goal of the barn was to increase the agricultural literacy of people primarily living within Dodge County. Therefore, the desired proficiencies primarily focus on alfalfa, corn, soybeans, beef, and swine. Additionally, the objective is to expand the knowledge base, therefore activities related to international agriculture, non-conventional livestock, and entomology are included.

How will I get there?

The itinerary, or instructional package, should consist of educational goals, activities, needed materials and resources, and evaluation methods. The contact time and audience must be taken into consideration when designing the learning experience. The contact time in Mylo's Animal Barn, for example, varies greatly, from simply walking through the barn - in route to another destination - to spending several minutes or several hours in the barn.

Selecting and setting educational objectives should draw heavily from a needs assessment; however, other sources can contribute to the process. A learning objective is the intended or desired outcome and proficiency level that the learner should obtain as a result of participating in the educational experience. Learning objectives may focus on knowledge, skill, or attitude enhancement or a combination of the three to reach the desired outcomes (Galbraith, 1990). It is necessary to develop specific learning objectives to ensure that agricultural literacy remains the focus of non-formal agricultural literacy activities. …