Learning through Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Teaching: A Case Study of Faculty Work as Learning in Sustainable Agriculture Education

By Culhane, Jennifer H.; Niewolny, Kim et al. | NACTA Journal, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Learning through Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Teaching: A Case Study of Faculty Work as Learning in Sustainable Agriculture Education


Culhane, Jennifer H., Niewolny, Kim, Clark, Susan, McConnell, Kate, Friedel, Curt, NACTA Journal


Introduction

Background of the Case: Sustainable Agriculture Education

Sustainable agriculture education (SAE) represents an educational approach to agriculture education that addresses many complex social and environmental problems, where educators are blending theory and practice to develop experiential learning environments that view students as the focal point of the process (Parr et al., 2007). High-impact practices identified by Kuh (2010), such as first-year seminars, learning communities, service-learning, undergraduate research and capstone courses and projects, are frequently implemented in SAE programs (Clark et al., 2012; Parr et al., 2007; Parr and Van Horn, 2006). The of SAE programs has experienced remarkable growth in the past two decades (Jacobsen et al., 2012). Not surprisingly, SAE programs vary in content, structure and focus depending on regional needs, administrative support, financial resources and student interests. Educational stakeholders involved in the design of SAE curricula at land grant universities are increasingly seeking to promote community-based dialogue fostered through community-university partnerships (Niewolny et al., 2012). Understanding faculty learning while participating in collaborative and interdisciplinary teaching is critical if we are to understand how agriculture education is best positioned to meet the needs of a changing paradigm in higher education.

Faculty Work as Learning in Sustainable Agriculture Curricula

How faculty consider their teaching as learning is critical in regards to the changes occurring in the academy. For institutions of higher education to fully engage, understanding faculty's learning process as well as the factors and contexts that promote and sustain faculty learning is imperative. This involves the development of a framework in higher education for understanding the schol- arship of teaching and learning as a learning process. This framework emphasizes a triad approach to teaching and learning that integrates experiential learning, interdisciplinarity and community engagement (Clark et al., 2013; Hammer, 2004; Niewolny et al., 2012; Parr and VanHorn, 2006; Parr et al., 2007). The first concept in the triad approach, experiential learning, is an overarching philosophy, epistemology and pedagogy that views experience as central to the process of teaching and learning; it considers experience as an embodied process of learning whereby the learner interacts in both the cognitive and physical sense through reflective practice (Fenwick, 2003). Interdisciplinarity, as the second component of the triad, is viewed as the blending of multiple disciplines inclusive of new knowledge structures and theoretical and methodological approaches (Godemann, 2006, p. 52).

Lattuca (2001) describes collaborative interdisciplinary teaching as a sociocultural practice where faculty gain new teaching strategies and insights, are intellectually stimulated and are more reflective on both their own learning and their students learning (Lattuca, 2001; Thorburn, 1985). Third is the phenomenon of community engagement in higher education. Drawing upon the National Academies of Science (2009), we see an emergence for increasing the scholarship of civic or community engagement, wherein academic knowledge and community service connect, thereby contributing to community well-being. Civic engagement, measures of civic embeddedness, relational ties among institutions, social capital and trust are qualities exemplified by engaged communities (Tolbert et al., 2002). In keeping with Colby et al. (2003), land grant universities (LGU) are to reengaging with their local communities in more meaningful ways by connecting the social with academic goals, knowledge competencies with personal commitment and the university with the larger world. Figure one illustrates the praxis of collaborative, interdisciplinary teaching and learning as embedded within community engaged framework (Figure 1). …

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