Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Demographics of an Undergraduate Animal Sciences Course and the Influence of Gender and Major on Course Performance

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Demographics of an Undergraduate Animal Sciences Course and the Influence of Gender and Major on Course Performance

Article excerpt

Abstract

Over a period of three 10 week quarters, students enrolled in an introductory animal sciences course were evaluated with the objectives of identifying demographic variables of the student population and their relation to performance, factors associated with enrollment, and interest areas in animal sciences. The findings showed that the majority of participants were female and classified as animal sciences majors. Veterinary medicine was a career objective of 59% of the students, while less than 5% indicated an interest in pursuing a career engaged in food animal production. Companion animals (dogs and cats) represented the species interest of nearly 50% of the students, followed by equine at 24%. Food producing animals (cattle, goats, poultry, sheep, and swine) represented the primary interests of only 20% of students; however, 43% indicated that cattle was the most beneficial species learned and reported lack of prior knowledge (27%) as a primary reason for the selection. Students perceived nutrition as the most valuable discipline learned, followed by reproduction and behavior. There were no differences in overall course performance between male and female students or animal sciences and non-agriculture majors; however, the mean cumulative course grade was lower for agriculture majors excluding animal sciences (P < 0.05).

Introduction

While the number of students enrolling in animal sciences departments remains strong, the demography of the student population continues to evolve (Buchanan, 2008). Traditional roles of animal sciences departments in preparing graduates for careers in production agriculture are being replaced by more fundamental missions to educate students for diverse careers in the sciences (Kauffman, 1992). An increasing number of animal sciences students are urban, female, and declare career interests that are dominated by the veterinary profession (Edwards, 1986; Mollett and Leslie, 1986; and Reiling et al., 2003). Furthermore, increased diversity in animal species and scientific discipline interests accompany changes in the student population. Greater percentages of students in animal sciences have interests in companion animals and behavior, topics that were nonexistent in early curricula of animal sciences departments, but are now routinely taught (Buchanan, 2008).

In order for an academic program in animal sciences to remain successful, it must be relevant in a changing society and address the interests and needs of its students. To this end, educators must be knowledgeable of their audience. The overall aim of this study was to characterize students enrolled in an introductory animal sciences course at a land grant university, with the objectives of identifying demographic variables of the student population and their relation to performance, as wells as factors associated with enrollment including student motives for entering the course and career objectives. In addition, student interest areas in animal sciences were documented.

Methods

The cohorts for this study were students enrolled in Introductory Animal Sciences at The Ohio State University between fall 2007 and fall 2008. This 10 week course consisted of four 48-minute lectures and one of three 108-minute laboratory sessions each week. Introductory Animal Sciences is a course that utilizes a biological systems based approach to equip a broad range of students with the knowledge and critical thinking skills required to address questions concerning the maintenance, reproduction, and performance of domestic animals utilized for human benefit. The course embodies fundamental concepts in areas of genetics, reproduction, nutrition, behavior, and biotechnology; and students are introduced to the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underscore the function of biological systems and how knowledge in this area is applicable toward advancement of domestic animals. The focus is on traditional agricultural species including: cattle, sheep, swine, poultry, and horses; as well as nontraditional species including: llamas, alpacas, and aquatics. …

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