A Cooperative Poultry Research Project to Enhance Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Research Skills
Downs, K. M., Mehlhorn, J. E., NACTA Journal
Three broiler nutrition research studies were designed and implemented over three semesters to evaluate the influence of student-directed research on enhancing critical thinking and problem-solving abilities in undergraduate students in an animal nutrition and feeding course. Student research teams were randomly assigned to dietary treatments and responsible for animal husbandry, data collection, and statistical analysis. The objective of the project was to determine if early feed restriction of broiler chickens influenced live performance, growth compensation, and carcass yield. Each student research team was required to calculate performance and carcass parameters for statistical analysis and develop a research manuscript. Through completion of the research project, students were required to apply principles of animal feeding to broiler management, analyze the results of the study for determination of pertinent trends, synthesize conclusions from the resulting data, and evaluate the implications of innovative feeding regimes for broiler production. Based on the results of this project, the incorporation of a comprehensive research study into an undergraduate animal sciences course strengthened critical thinking, problem-solving, and team building abilities in students and taught animal research techniques.
Development of critical thinking skills is tantamount to the complete undergraduate educational experience and vital for preparing students for career success. For this purpose, college instructors have developed a wide array of innovative instructional techniques, such as cooperative learning team projects, problem-solving exercises, and critical thinking programs, to enhance students' educational experiences, increase student motivation, and better prepare individuals for successful careers in the agricultural sector (Christy et al., 2000; Kesler, 1998; Miller and Polito, 1999; Murano and Knight, 1999). Among these, endeavors in cooperative learning can be valuable approaches to innovative instruction. Although many educators choose more traditional approaches (e.g., lecture), the benefits of cooperative learning have been clearly established (Bruening, 1990; Caprio, 1993).
Animal agricultural sector employers are committed to hiring graduates with superior communication, leadership, and technical skills (Pardue, 1997). Increasingly, however, animal industries (e.g., poultry industry), due to insufficient numbers of technically trained graduates with strong communication and problem-solving abilities, are hiring candidates with less technical expertise, but possessing intangible employable skills (i.e., interpersonal communication, problem solving, critical thinking, and team work competencies). In a recent review, the poultry industry reported an estimated annual shortfall of 125 graduates with poultry science backgrounds (Brake and Pardue, 1998). These positions are being filled with non-traditional (i.e., non-poultry science) graduates who exhibit strong leadership, problem-solving, and communication skills. Meeker (1999) reported on a comprehensive assessment of animal agricultural industries and their need to fill managerial positions, finding that with the changing face of contemporary animal agriculture comes the need for educational institutions to produce graduates with the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and practice team building. However, graduates of undergraduate agricultural programs often lack the necessary skills to develop this systematic approach to problem-solving. More innovative methods of instruction which embrace problem-solving must be developed and implemented in the college classroom. Use of research techniques in the undergraduate classroom can be an effective tool to enhance problem solving abilities and move the learner to higher cognitive levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Anderson and Sosniak, 1994). By its nature, research is a problem-solving entity. …