Internet Usage in Agricultural Economics Instruction
Dahlgran, Roger A., NACTA Journal
According to the popular press, the Internet has fostered a revolution in educational technology. This paper examines the extent of the revolution in agricultural economics instruction. A web crawler is used to locate and categorize online course materials. Forty-five percent of the agricultural economics courses sampled had a website but only 23 percent of the courses sampled used a website to convey course content. Most of the materials found are traditional course documents transmitted over the Internet. These materials substitute directly for "traditional" teaching materials. Economic production analysis indicates that if a new input directly substitutes for an existing input, and if the new and existing inputs cost roughly the same and are a small portion of the total cost of the output, then output will be largely unaffected by the choice of the new versus the old input. By this argument, current online agricultural economics course materials will not greatly increase learning. Internet applications that offer promise are those that do not directly substitute for existing materials or those that significantly reduce the student's cost of learning a concept. These applications were not found. Hence, the educational revolution has had limited impact in agricultural economics.
The popular press subscribes to the notion that a revolution in educational technology is well underway. The roots of this revolution are discussed in a 1995 Wall Street Journal report that cites the potential for new technologies such as multimedia, local area networks, and the Internet to revolutionize education in all arenas including K-12, colleges and universities, and corporate training (Bulkeley, 1995). The reported benefits offered by these technologies include improved retention, reduced boredom, and lower costs of education. Also cited are less tangible benefits that include higher student achievement, improved attitudes and self-esteem, and enhanced quality of student-teacher relationships. On March 12, 2001, The Wall Street Journal featured a special section devoted to e-education. The section caption reads, "The Web is transforming education - what we learn, how we learn, where we learn." One featured article reported on the success of online instruction at the University of Minnesota, Crookston, a campus that has specialized in technology-integrated courses (Ramstad, 2001). A second featured article reports on instructional technology's unfulfilled expectations suggesting "online classes can be tough to find, hard to sign up for - and a bore once you get there." (Hamilton, 2001).
This paper investigates the state of online instruction in agricultural economics. Because agricultural economists have a tradition of instructional computing, it seems plausible that the Internet would be used in innovative ways. Also, some agricultural economics departments offer distance education for specific curricula, so it seems plausible that the techniques used in these curricula might be applied to on-campus courses. Alternatively, the use of the Internet in agricultural economics instruction may not be widespread because new teaching techniques are slowly adopted in economics. In reporting on a national survey on teaching undergraduate economics, Becker (1997, p. 1348) states, "In contrast with other disciplines that have moved to a broad teaching repertoire, economics continues to be taught by the lecture method in all undergraduate courses." A similar conclusion is reported in Becker and Watts (1996) that " ... as a group, college economics teachers rarely use innovative teaching techniques." These findings are especially surprising in light of an economics instruction literature survey that finds the effective use of various teaching techniques including (a) classroom games, simulations and laboratories, (b) economic experiments, (c) writing assignments, (d) assignments based on economics in literature and drama, (e) analysis of the Nobel lectures, (f) analyses of popular and business press readings, (g) case studies, and (h) cooperative learning exercises (Becker and Watts, 1995). …