Hannah Scherer: Teaching A Growing Concern in Ecological Agriculture at Virginia Tech
About this course
An introductory course for majors and non-majors.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 3.4MB Aug4 14)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
My course is taught by a team of faculty who each contribute their disciplinary expertise to the topic. Typical modes of instruction for this course include lecture, facilitated discussion/ debate, and field trips; the majority of the disciplinary content is delivered in a traditional lecture format. I taught the entire InTeGrate Growing Concern Module during my first semester as a member of the teaching team. The InTeGrate materials allowed me to model high-quality student-centered learning for my colleagues. They were excited to see this type of teaching in action and its impact on student engagement and learning has inspired further collaboration to redesign other portions of the course.
Overall, the entire module worked very well in my course! The concepts flowed from one unit to the next and the idea of sustainability of soil as a natural resource was reinforced throughout. The major challenge I encountered was that the structure of the module was very different than the rest of the class (lecture/ lab), so it was an adjustment for students to engage in new ways. To help with this, I kept organized and gave them reminders about what was expected of them before, during, and after class.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate MaterialsThis module helped my students appreciate that soil is a resource that needs to be conserved. While students in my course had some prior knowledge about agricultural systems that helped them contextualize the material from the beginning, many had not considered soils in much detail and it was exciting to see them engage with this topic. The summative assessment provided them with an opportunity to practice communicating what they learned to a lay audience; this is something that they will likely do in the future.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
I taught all six units consecutively over a two week period in my course (1 unit in each of 4 50-minute lecture periods and 2 units in a 2.5-hour lab period with a break in between). Instruction began during the second week of the 15-week semester following an introductory week where we covered the basic principles of ecology and how they relate to traditional forms of agriculture. Module materials were supplemented by a field trip to multiple soil pits the following week. The soils concepts in the module provided a foundation for the rest of the course as we considered additional components of agricultural systems.
I used all of the formative and summative assessments for each unit to keep track of how students were responding to the materials, determine their progress towards learning goals, and provide them the opportunity to reflect on the material outside of class time. Students did very well with these and appreciated how they related to the in-class activities. It is important to decide up front how you will give credit for formative assessments and communicate this to the students to encourage completion of these ungraded assignments. I chose to give students participation points for bringing completed prework assignments to class on time and this worked well. I also used the Module Summative Assessment (Unit 6) in its entirety and this was very well received by students as a creative alternative to an exam.
My primary goal in using this module was to help students in my course appreciate soil as a natural resource of vital importance to agricultural systems. It was important to me to accomplish this using engaging, student-centered pedagogy and the module materials definitely helped me achieve this. Student performance on the summative assessment demonstrated that they have a fairly sophisticated understanding of soil sustainability and were able to communicate this to a lay audience in a creative way.