Documenting Student Impact through Action Research: A Study on the Impact of Teaching SAE in an Experiential Way

Article excerpt

Agricultural educators try new ideas to motivate their students with different approaches. However, how do teachers know if their innovative ideas work? About two years ago, we shared an experiential learning approach to introduce and teach SAE to high school students. The purpose of this follow-up article was to illustrate how we conducted an action research project to determine if the experiential learning approach motivated students to continue their SAE project one year after the learning experience.

Revisiting the Class Project

The experiential learning approach in the article (Hoop & Knobloch, 2002), "Teaching SAE in an Experiential Way," focused on making SAE relevant to students with different backgrounds and motivating students to want to conduct SAE projects. The teaching idea emerged from our discussions about the oxymoron that agricultural educators tend to introduce the student-centered SAE program using teacher-centered approaches and production agriculture examples. Two introductory agriculture courses of 38 first-year agricultural education students struggled to find SAE projects they could do after studying the FFA Student Handbook about SAE's. A class project was designed to give the students a real-life experience of their first SAE project around the six components of the experiential learning cycle (Knobloch, 1999; Martin, 1991).

The students conducted their "first" SAE project by teaching agriculture to elementary students at an agricultural awareness day at a local elementary school. The students decided on agricultural topics to teach and designed activities about each topic. Next, the students were organized into cooperative learning groups and worked in these groups to develop lesson plans from the blank lesson plan template that had been provided to them. The students were responsible for practicing their activity and performing it in front of the class. They developed their own visual aids and brought the supplies that were needed to conduct the activities.

Throughout the project, students revised their lesson plans and filled out their record books that were designed to fit this SAE project. The record book consisted of an enterprise agreement, goals and accomplishments, plan of practices (lesson plans), competencies to be gained, hours worked, expenses for activities, beginning and ending inventory (knowledge and skills possessed before the project vs. knowledge and skills possessed after the project). A detailed description of the process of the introductory unit of SAE that was taught can be found in Hoop and Knobloch's (2002) article.

Action Research Study

Immediately following the project, students reflected on their experiences. Students had a better understanding of SAE and were very excited to get started on one of their own. However, students may have been caught up in the positive experience of the class project, so we decided to do a follow-up action research study to determine if this project had a long-term impact on the students and their SAE programs. About a year later, the same students were asked to reflect on the class SAE project and how it influenced their own SAE projects. The students completed a questionnaire and their responses were coded for each question.

Outcomes of the Class Project

Out of the 38 students that were originally involved in this project, 35 were still enrolled in the Agricultural Education program a year later. The following table shows the responses to five "yes-no" questions on a questionnaire that 26 of students completed.

Of the 19 students that currently had an SAE project, 15 (79%) had agricultural production SAE projects and four (21%) had job placement SAE projects. Several students had more than one SAE, and one student also had a research SAE. Students were also asked to share their opinions on several open-ended questions. The questions and coded responses are as follows according to the frequency of highest to lowest. …