Heather Karsten: Using "The Future of Food" in 2016
which will be offered as "Food and the Environment" in the future at Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
About this CourseIntroductory course for students in many programs. The new course will be offered initially in Geography.
This is a new introductory course about agriculture and food systems, the challenges and some potential strategies for enhancing sustainability. The course introduces food systems, human nutrition, types of food supply systems, environmental factors that shape agricultural systems, some major agroecosystem components and practices for managing them, and a framework for assessing food system resilience to climate change. I co-taught the pilot course with Steven Vanek, who was the primary instructor. I led the three modules I authored (Crops, Soils and a Systems approach to Soil Quality, and Pests and Integrated Pest Management), attended every class meeting and contributed when appropriate. I also provided students with some assistance on the capstone project, particularly in the last few weeks.
This was my first experience teaching a "flipped class." Students were responsible for reading the course pages online and completing a weekly quiz and formative assignment before class, allowing us to identify what was difficult for students in the first part of the module. In the once-a-week class meeting, we reviewed difficult material, and introduced themes of the second part of the module as well as the summative assessment. During the second half of each class, students analyzed and interpreted data in a summative assignment with classmates.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterialsWe piloted the course in spring 2016 as a blended course with one 75-minute class meeting a week.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
We taught all of the modules in a 15 week piloted course, but in a slightly different order and form. Since then, based on student feedback, our observations and reflection, our course author team slightly modified and revised the course.
AssessmentsThe Crops Module formative assessment activity asks students to use a online NASS geo-spatial map of US crops and land use, as well as soils, topography, and climate maps to interpret why the production of the top two crops dominates in two different states. In the piloted class, students tended to rely heavily on their understanding of the climate of a region, and did not consider the topography and soil. Therefore, I added links to maps of soil topography, soil descriptions, and climate information, and ask students to use these resources to describe the two states they selected prior to asking them to explain why two crops dominate in those locations.
The Crops Module summative assessment asks students to view the FAO list of the top world food commodities and classify the crops of top 15 FAO world food commodities, analyze which four have increased the most in production since 2000 and to interpret what might explain the increase in their production. To allow students more time to interpret the data, I recommend providing students with the completed calculations of the top 15 FAO commodities in a spreadsheet that shows students how the percent change is calculated. This spreadsheet is included with the instructor assessment tools, and instructors should update it to reflect changes in future years.
The Soils and a Systems approach to Soil Quality formative assessment asks students to read about indicators of soil health, and then discuss practices that can promote soil health. There is an embedded reading in the formative assessment about soil organic matter and why it is important. In the revised formative assessment, students are asked to discuss why organic matter is important and how it affects multiple soil functions.
The summative assessment asks students to analyze and interpret soil and crop data from a 12 year cropping systems experiment. In the summative assessment, some students overlooked the significance of annual versus perennial cropping history to explain differences in soil properties. Prompting students to consider the annual and perennial plant life-cycle, and how plant above and below ground biomass allocation differs among these types of crops helped students consider which crops have more potential to reduce soil erosion and return organic matter to the soil.
In Pests and Integrated Pest Management (IPM), the formative assessment requires students to interpret an economic threshold table and make decisions to manage a major alfalfa pest. Interpreting the economic threshold table can be challenging. If students complete this activity in class, they can discuss the activity and the instructor can provide some assistance. The summative assessment asks students to analyze and critique herbicide resistance crop technologies to manage herbicide resistant weeds. I recommend discussing some of the issues with the class to help students consider multiple aspects of transgenic crop pest technologies. See the grading key for more information.
OutcomesThe course goals were to introduce students to agriculture and food systems, and for students to understand the challenges and some opportunities to enhance food system sustainability. The goals of the three modules I wrote and taught were to introduce students to the science of crop plants, soil quality and management, and crop pests and pest management. In addition, students were to understand agroecological drivers (ex. climate, soil, human socio-economic drivers) and dynamics, and how this knowledge can aid in designing informed sustainable crop, soil and pest management practices.
How students performed:
Overall, students achieved an introductory understanding of food system and agricultural drivers and dynamics. Students with some prior coursework or experience with the course topics, and those who completed more of the course reading and activities attained a better understanding of agricultural and food systems dynamics. We have reduced the amount of course material in the revised course. Meeting more than once a week would also help students pace their learning, and provide more time for students to discuss the material, and work on the formative assessment with their classmates and input from the instructor.