Real-World Learning Projects Improve Students' Knowledge Retention: A Comparative Study in Equine Science

By White, L. M.; Smith, K. et al. | NACTA Journal, June 2017 | Go to article overview

Real-World Learning Projects Improve Students' Knowledge Retention: A Comparative Study in Equine Science


White, L. M., Smith, K., Rath, L., NACTA Journal


Introduction

Introductory science classes are focused on teaching background information or "base knowledge" that students will need in their major. Learning base knowledge can be tedious if students don't see the application or usefulness of the material to early on. Lacking the motivation to master the required information, they may eventually struggle in more advanced courses. Improving student understanding and retention of knowledge is the ultimate goal for all teachers.

Recommendations for 21st century curriculum emphasize student learning, as well as being able to recall and apply base knowledge to upper level course topics (Bransford et al., 2000; Patterson et al., 2001). Traditionally, students are expected to learn material through lecture and reading assignments where the instructor demonstrates application of the principles, and Anally students are assessed on their knowledge and application ability during exams (Prince and Felder 2006). However, research indicates that traditional lecture and testing may not be the most efficient way to ensure students retain information (Anderson and Lawton, 2014). The traditional method does little to connect base knowledge to the real-world, and therefore may discourage learning (Albanese and Mitchell, 1993; Norman and Schmidt 1992; Weiss, 2003). On the other hand, students benefit from and are excited by the opportunity to utilize their base knowledge in a realworld setting (Knemeyer and Murphy, 2002; Ruhanen et al., 2013).

In an attempt to excite students and improve their conceptual understanding of introductory material, a RWLP was designed to help them connect basic equine science knowledge to common horse management challenges for horse owners, by creating educational bulletins (EB) for the horse owners. We compared undergraduate student retention of base knowledge presented in a traditionally taught introductory equine science class when reinforced by completing a RWLP. Additionally, we sought to determine student perception of the RWLP as a learning tool.

Materials and Methods

All procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board of New Mexico State University. We obtained instructor and student permission to administer the instruments to incoming freshman (n=52) enrolled in an introductory equine science class at New Mexico State University in Fall 2015. Students worked independently to create a one or two-page educational bulletin (EB) for each of eight main topics taught during the semester long course. These basic horse management and science topics were identified by the instructor as the most important concepts to learn in an introductory horse science class. The topics included: horse identification, behavior, health, nutrition, activities, hoof care, parasite/ disease, and reproduction. Students were free to pick the specific area their EB would describe from those eight main topics. Instructions for the EB were as follows: Each student will prepare 8 bulletins in PDF format suitable for publication and distribution that can be used as a tool for educating horse enthusiasts about a topic covered in class. The bulletin should be easy to read and understand, contain important take home messages about the topic, have quality and relevant graphics, consist of 1 or 2 regular (8M> by 11) sheet(s) of paper, and contain verbiage that is concise, pertinent, and to the point. The flyer should be flat, not brochure style. Students were provided with a grading rubric to facilitate preparations of their bulletins (Figure 1).

Base Knowledge Retention

Students were tested over the eight main topics in three regular course exams during the semester. At the end of the semester, students took two quizzes: the regular course exam quiz (REQ) and the educational bulletin quiz (EBQ). The REQ quiz consisted of 16 multiple choice and short answer questions. Two questions covered material from each of the eight main topics (16 questions total), all questions on the REQ originated from the regular course exams (RE) and were the same for every student. …

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