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Tailoring online ag courses to students’ progress

USDA grant is designed to “meeting students where they are.”

College was a long time ago for some of us, but we still remember that course where we didn’t understand some critical concept, and the professor plunged on ahead without us because he had much more material to cover before the end of the semester.

The online courses Dr. John Ricketts, a professor at Tennessee State University, is developing under a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant are designed to avoid that problem by “meeting students where they are.”

Ricketts, professor of agricultural leadership. Education and communications at TSU, outlined what the courses are aimed at doing to help underserved students prepare for careers in agriculture in a presentation to the Memphis, Tenn., Agricultural Club. The club has been holding Zoom meetings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I’m going to show you what we’re trying to put in place,” said Ricketts. “We wanted learning that focused on the whole child approach. The whole child is what Ag and Extension does, right? We meet students where they are – we focus on their learning style.:

Ricketts said he and TSU professors working with him on the grant believe in what's called differentiated instruction.

“We focus on their learning style,” he said. “Every student is at a different stage, and we try to meet them where they are and move them along. We wanted it to be based on standards, and we wanted them to stay on schedule. So that's what we attempted to do.”

He displayed a slide listing the course objectives. “We're developing eight courses, and these courses are done in a very particular way. We're making sure these courses are available for dual enrollment so high schools and colleges can use them. Then we're doing research to document the impact of this work.”

Program leaders are developing courses for every pathway in the National Council of Agricultural Education’s content standards. The eight courses will provide students with an introduction to every discipline in agriculture.

“Another part that's really important here is our course-sharing platform and the activities column that I highlighted and I’ll explain that to you. Here’s our standards, and these are also our courses,” he said, displaying a listing: Agribusiness, Animal Science, Biotech, Environmental Science, Natural Resources, Food Products and Processing, Plant Science and “the power class which we're calling ag engineering.”

The 2018 farm bill had priority areas for agriculture, and Ricketts presented s slide depicting how the courses align with those priorities.

“A lot of times when you write a grant you just work on one priority area,” he said. “Oftentimes there's not a lot of funding in ag education compared to food science, for instance. When there is it's more of a shotgun approach than rifle approach. So our project addresses all the farm bill priority areas.”


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