Impact of Student Background Characteristics on Performance in an Introductory Forage Crops Management Course1

By Mousel, Eric M.; Moser, Lowell E. et al. | NACTA Journal, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Impact of Student Background Characteristics on Performance in an Introductory Forage Crops Management Course1


Mousel, Eric M., Moser, Lowell E., Schacht, Walter H., NACTA Journal


Abstract

Traditional student performance indicators such as age, gender, and socioeconomic status are important to understanding how students' background characteristics impact success at the collegiate level. However, student success in courses related to agriculture sciences and/or natural resource sciences may be related to both traditional and non-traditional performance indicators, including background in agriculture. The objective of this study was to determine the impact of academic major, class rank, gender, rural or urban background, and agricultural field experience on performance in an undergraduate level introductory forage crop management course. The study was conducted over five semesters from 2002-2004 at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Juniors and seniors scored 5% higher (P<0.1) than sophomores and 15% higher (P<0.1) than freshmen in both the lecture and laboratory sections of the course. Students majoring in Mechanized Systems Management and Agricultural Economics had a 5% and 7% lower (P<0.1) score, respectively, in the lecture and laboratory sections of the class. Students from a rural background with field experience in agriculture had 10% higher (P<0.1) scores in lecture than did students with no field experience in agriculture. Developing prerequisite coursework to familiarize inexperienced students with basic agricultural production systems may help improve overall performance in these introductory courses.

Introduction

Understanding the impact student background has on performance in college is a key topic for improving teaching methods and educational curricula. Most studies emphasize age, gender, socioeconomic status, past studies, aptitude, and high school performance as predictors of course performance (Seigfried 1979, Heath 1989, Tay 1994, Lage and Traglia 1996, and Dynan and Rouse 1997). However, in agricultural and natural resource education, performance may be better predicted by using other student background characteristics as performance indicators (Cole and Fanno 1999, Wildman and Torres 2002). In addition to personal characteristics, students of agriculture and natural resources that lived on a farm or ranch may have a perceived advantage over students that lived in an urban setting in courses related to these topics (Greene and Byler 2004). Similarly, students that may not have been raised in a rural setting, but spent considerable time working on a grandparent's or other relative's farm or ranch may have an edge over students with no practical farm or ranch experience in agriculture production-related courses.

Demographics of enrollment in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Nebraska are changing from students with a rural background to an increasing number of students from an urban background (Diechert 2004). This change may render some current introductory curricula as too advanced for students from urban backgrounds with no concept of agricultural production systems (Dyer et al. 1999). Understanding what impact a student's background has on their performance in agricultural production courses may be important for future academic planning and restructuring of academic curriculum in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to meet the needs of students with little understanding of agricultural systems. The objective of this study was to determine the relative impact and the importance of having a rural background or practical field experience in agriculture on performance in an introductory forage crops and range management course.

Methods

Course Description

The prerequisite coursework for AGRO/RNGE 240, Forage Crops and Range Management course at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln is a course in introductory plant science or a course in general biology. The Forage Crops and Range Management course is divided into a lecture section and three laboratory sections ranging in size from 10 to 20 students in each of two semesters per year. …

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