Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Evolution of a Liberal Education Course Linking Agriculture, the Arts, and Society

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Evolution of a Liberal Education Course Linking Agriculture, the Arts, and Society

Article excerpt

Abstract

A course in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech was developed to meet the goals of the Creativity and Aesthetic Experience area of the required undergraduate liberal education curriculum. "Agriculture, the Arts and Society" began as a small course designed to improve the perception of the arts among agricultural majors. A one-credit, pass-fail freshman-level course, it was accepted into the liberal education curriculum in 2001. Enrollment in the course currently averages about 120 students per semester, with approximately one half of the students being non-agricultural majors. In addition, about 50% of students in the course are classified as juniors and seniors. Over time, appreciation of agriculture has been stressed more, along with an emphasis on the university's goals of graduating life-long learners who can think critically and creatively, and promoting diversity in the university community. Student perceptions of instruction for the course have generally been very good. They also rated appreciation of the subject matter and discipline field as slightly greater than average (2.23 on a scale of 1-less than average to 3greater than average), which gives an indication that the course is meeting its primary goal of raising awareness of these topics.

Introduction

One of the most important aspects of a college education is exposure of students to a variety of disciplines and ways of knowing, including aspects of culture they may be unfamiliar with. To that end and consistent with changes in curricula across many universities (Boyer and Levine, 1981; Levine and Nidifier, 1997), Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) established a set of liberal education or core curriculum requirements to help all undergraduates achieve a broad base of knowledge and a universal set of transferable skills. The current Curriculum for Liberal Education (CLE) consists of seven areas: 1) Writing and Discourse; 2) Ideas, Cultural Traditions, and Values; 3) Society and Human Behavior; 4) Scientific Reasoning and Discovery; 5) Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning; 6) Creative and Aesthetic Experience; and 7) Critical Issues in a Global Context. Over the past 30 years, a series of campus-wide task forces and committees worked diligently to shape the CLE into a coherent set of courses that meets the overall and individual area educational goals and is congruent with the university's mission and vision as a comprehensive Research One Land Grant university. Because of the university's desire to gather broad-based support for this curricular endeavor, task force and committee members were drawn from across all colleges. In addition, a decision in the early 1990's opened the CLE to courses outside the traditional College of Arts and Sciences. Consequently, several new and existing courses in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are now available for students to meet one or more of their CLE requirements.

The curricular goals for students enrolled in a Creativity and Aesthetic Experience course are to: 1) participate in cultural events and activities on campus, in both popular and classical arts; 2) understand how the artists or designers who produce these events and works have shaped their ideas; 3) examine intuitive and metaphorical thought processes and their relationship to the human imagination and other intellectual abilities; 4) explore the interaction of art and society, including the contributions of diverse groups to cultural life, such as women and members of minority groups; 5) study selected classic works of fine and applied arts; 6) participate in interpretive discussions, lectures, and demonstrations led by artists, designers, architects, musicians, and/or performers; and 7) explore connections between the arts and other forms of design and creativity.

A cultural link between agriculture and the arts is imbedded in the philosophy of agrarianism. …

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