Developing an Interactive Multimedia Computer Program for Learning Agronomic Principles
McAndrews, Gina M., Mullen, Russell E., Taylor, Kerry L., Dobill, Dan, Green, Detroy, NACTA Journal
A Computer Interactive Multimedia Program for Learning Enhancement (CIMPLE) was developed to enhance student learning in an introductory agronomy course (Agron 114) at Iowa State University. The program was designed to improve learning tools for off-campus students in the distance version of the course. The CIMPLE program includes learner objectives, subject matter relevance, digitized tutorial video, key concepts of material to be learned, practice learning exercises, sub-unit and chapter self-diagnostic quizzes, and problem-solving scenarios including technical and environmental/ethical problems. During fall semester 2002, CIMPLE was incorporated into the teaching, learning, and assessment processes of the introductory course for resident students. At the end of the semester course, 104 students completed a survey designed to record student use and satisfaction with CIMPLE. Students used five of CIMPLE's eight components on over half of the course's 13 chapters. In response to the statement, "CIMPLE has increased your learning of course material," 93% of the students stated that they either strongly agreed or agreed. During fall semester 2003, CIMPLE was used to teach a distance version of the course to eight students in seven different states and one other country. All six distance students who completed the survey indicated that they liked CIMPLE, found the program easy to use and that CIMPLE helped them learn course material. The practice learning activities, self-assessment, video and practice problem-solving were the components most useful and helpful to distance students. CIMPLE was successfully incorporated into the traditional on campus course, was used to create a distance version of the course and is considered valuable tools for learning to both resident and distance students.
At Iowa State University, Principles in Agronomy is an introductory course that serves as a foundation course for undergraduate students in several agriculture-related majors, including Agronomy, Horticulture, Animal Science, Ag Business, and Ag Education. Generally 300 students annually enroll in this three-credit 16-week Agronomy course (Agron 114). The primary focus of the course is to introduce material that will help students understand the science and strategies underlying crop production and soil management. The course covers a variety of subjects, including plant anatomy, plant classification and identification, plant physiology, climate, soil and soil water, tillage, plant breeding, seed/grain quality, weed, insect and disease management, and crop harvesting and storage. Educational institutions worldwide generally include a similar course as part of their undergraduate agriculture curricula.
Students use different learning styles in their learning process (Kolb, 1981, 1984). In an effort to meet the needs of students with different learning styles, Agron 114 instructors have used a combination of hands-on laboratory materials, video, live plants, greenhouse experiments, class discussions, and demonstrations to teach the subject matter. Despite the combination of material available, some students had trouble grasping certain aspects of the course material as it was presented. For example, students that have had little experience in agriculture have found the course particularly challenging. Over the years, student feedback indicated that they would benefit from more visualization of course material, the use of methods by which they can review material and test themselves, and more individual access to various learning activities and remedial programs.
The use of computer technology to assist students in the learning process is pervasive in higher education. While much attention has been placed on Web-based instruction, the use of computer-based tutorial systems has been shown to effectively help students learn in a natural resource related course (Seiler et al., 2002). In agriculture, computer technology has been used in a broad range of areas, including teaching sustainable agriculture concepts, understanding cropping systems, and developing critical thinking (Graves et al. …