Technical Professional Development Needs of Agricultural Education Teachers in the Southeastern United States by Career Pathway

D. Barry Croom, University of Georgia,

Ashley M. Yopp, Florida Department of Education,

Don Edgar, New Mexico State University,

Richie Roberts, Louisiana State University,

Carla Jagger, University of Florida,

Chris Clemons, Auburn University,

Jason McKibben, Auburn University,

O.P. McCubbins, Mississippi State University,

Jill Wagner, Mississippi Department of Education,

PDF Available


Determining the professional development needs of teachers framed through the national career pathways of agricultural education has become imperative for modern classrooms. Participants in this study were from six Southeastern U.S. states. Most were female educators, with the largest group having teaching experience between 11-20 years. Participants indicated their professional development needs regarding technical content in the seven agricultural education career pathways. Based on the findings, the researchers concluded that participants needed professional development in plant science, followed closely by animal systems. The least beneficial area for professional development was power, structural and technical systems, and food products and processing systems. No differences existed between male and female teachers regarding their technical professional development needs except within the power, structural, and technical pathway. Teachers with less than 10 years of teaching experience reported a greater need for professional development in animal science than their more experienced counterparts. Finally, participants in rural school systems were more likely to desire professional development on natural resources.

Introduction and Review of Literature

Teachers with a high level of content knowledge are better equipped to help their students succeed academically and can be more effective as educators (National Research Council, 2010). The content knowledge held by teachers has been shown to have a statically significant effect on student learning. When content knowledge is of sufficient depth and quality, the impact on student learning has also been positive (Ambrose et al., 2010). As teachers employ high-quality pedagogical strategies, their content knowledge helps students improve knowledge retention and learning transfer (National Research Council, 2010). In agricultural education, teachers need content knowledge of sufficient depth and breadth to meet the current and future demands of the agricultural industry (Solomonson & Roberts, 2022).

Facilitating Understanding

Teachers with quality content knowledge can help students understand the material more deeply and meaningfully. They can explain concepts clearly, provide relevant examples, and confidently answer questions (Driel, 2021; Gess-Newsome et al., 2019). On this point, Harris and Hofer (2011) found that teachers with more content knowledge were more strategic in selecting learning tasks, created more student-oriented learning activities, and were more deliberate in planning lessons. Pursuing this further, Marzano (2017) proposed that teachers with a high level of content knowledge were more capable of helping students detect errors in their reasoning and successfully solve problems in the real world. Teachers often use content knowledge to guide students to examine how new technical content differs from their existing assumptions. This strategy deepens their understanding of key concepts (Dean & Marzano, 2012; Walshaw, 2012). Ambrose (2010) suggested that content knowledge and intellectual proficiency were key drivers in a teacher’s ability to successfully use technical content to facilitate students’ learning in the classroom. 


Adaptability refers to the ability of teachers to modify their teaching strategies to meet the needs of their students. Teachers with content knowledge can be more adaptable in their teaching. They can adjust their teaching strategies and methods to suit the needs of their students and make adjustments when necessary (Bolkan & Goodboy, 2009). Edgar (2012) postulated that the more content knowledge a teacher possesses, the more likely the teacher would employ varying means to teach the content.

Building Credibility

Building credibility as a teacher has become essential to creating a positive and effective learning environment. Teachers with content knowledge are more credible to their students, parents, and colleagues. The rich source of content knowledge that teachers can draw upon in the classroom has become the source of most of this credibility (Forde & McMahon, 2019). They can speak with authority on their subject matter and inspire confidence in their teaching (Bolkan & Goodboy, 2009; Finn et al., 2009).

Effective planning

Teachers with content knowledge can also create more effective lesson plans and assessments and deploy more effective teaching strategies (Orlich et al., 2012; Senthamarai, 2018). For example, they can design activities and assessments that accurately measure student learning and identify the essential concepts students need to learn (Hume et al., 2019). Previous research has suggested that teacher preparation programs must focus more on understanding how teachers acquire technical content knowledge and support their ability to communicate such to their students (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017; Levine, 2008). For this study, technical knowledge referred to the lesson elements designed to provide students with instruction, practice, and review of information regarding the agricultural sciences.

Agricultural Education Teacher Professional Development Systems

Agricultural education teachers who were traditionally certified often receive technical content training during their initial teacher preparation phase. Formal teacher preparation traditionally begins during college coursework (Croom, 2009). During this period, the preservice teachers are inducted into teaching through training and development (Talbert et al., 2022). However, concerns arise about the ability of novice teachers to deliver content-rich lessons (Roberts et al., 2020a, 2020b). Induction follows the competency-building stage, where technical content skill development continues. This phase is where most professional and skill development occurs (Croom, 2009; Fessler & Christensen, 1992).

Professional development usually involves teachers attending professional development sessions based on their perceived technical content deficiencies (Smalley et al., 2019) because teachers sense their need to address technical content deficiencies through continuous professional development (Easterly & Myers, 2019). Despite this desire to develop technical skills, previous research has found a significant gap in agricultural mechanics skill development and other technical agriculture concepts (Easterly & Myers, 2019; Yopp et al., 2020).

Conceptual Framework

Darling-Hammond et al. (2017) proposed that teacher professional development proceeds through seven elements (see Table 1). Effective professional development employs strategies that deepen a teacher’s technical content knowledge. However, this is not enough. Teachers also need sustained professional development activities of sufficient duration that demonstrate how to teach technical content. Darling-Hammond et al. (2017) further proposed that teachers were best served by professional development provided in a social environment, with teachers collaborating and exploring effective instructional models under expert coaches’ guidance. Teachers needed to reflect on their performance to internalize new content knowledge and the strategies for teaching it (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017). This model for professional development begins with developing technical content knowledge (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017). The research team focused on this element of the model because we contended that professional development was grounded in content skill development applied through effective teaching strategies.

Table 1
Elements of Effective Professional Development adapted from Darling-Hammond et al. (2017)

The connection between professional development in the content taught is that both are needed to support effective teaching practices. Teachers who have a strong understanding of the content they are teaching and who have the skills and knowledge needed to teach that content effectively will be better equipped to meet the needs of their students and support their learning (Ambrose et al., 2010; Darling-Hammond et al., 2017). Additionally, ongoing professional development and content training can help teachers stay up-to-date with the latest research-based practices, teaching strategies, and techniques, which can further improve their teaching practices over time (Darling-Hammond et al., 2002).

The agricultural education curriculum covers a range of grade levels and a wide range of technical content. It provides students with knowledge as the content transitions from more basic to advanced skill development through pathway progression. As a result, secondary agricultural education teachers must provide essential knowledge and experiences through advanced instruction in animal science, agricultural engineering, plant and soil science, forestry, natural resources, food processing, and agricultural business management (Talbert et al., 2022). Therefore, secondary students must have the skills to navigate complex problems regarding agriculture, food, and natural resources using good reasoning skills (Figland et al., 2020). Table 2 illustrates the seven areas of agricultural sciences as identified by Advance CTE (2018) and describes the primary learning attribute guiding the learning activities.

Table 2

Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources Career Pathways adapted from Advance CTE (2021)

Purpose and Objectives

This study aimed to investigate the professional development needs of teachers in the Southeast United States regarding the national career pathways for secondary agricultural education. After describing the demographics of teachers who participated in the study, the objectives were to:

  1. Determine the professional development needs of teachers in the Southeastern region of the United States in each of the seven career pathways described by Advance CTE, and
  2. Compare the professional development needs of teachers by gender, years of teaching experience, and community setting.


This descriptive study sought to determine teacher perceptions regarding professional development needs as framed by the seven career pathways in the agricultural education curriculum. We distributed an instrument Yopp et al. (2020) developed to the target population of agricultural science teachers in six Southeastern states. We used each state’s directory of agricultural science teachers provided by state agricultural education authorities to define the target population.

We developed the questionnaire to address each research objective, including demographic questions. We included 54 Likert-scale items based on seven career pathways developed by Advance CTE (2018): Power and Technical Systems (16 items), Plant Systems (8 items), Natural Resources (4 items), Food Products and Processing (7 items), Environmental Service Systems (5 items), Animal Systems (7 items), and Agribusiness Systems (7 items). We asked participants to rate each item based on its perceived benefit level using this scale: 1 = not beneficial to 5 = essential. We entered data into SPSS® version 24.0 to calculate means and standard deviations. We conducted further analysis through t-tests to determine the significance between variables of interest.

A panel of agricultural teachers with expert knowledge of Advance CTE career pathways examined the questionnaire for content and face validity. Using methods proposed by Creswell and Creswell (2017), we pilot-tested the questionnaire with a sample of 14 pre-service agricultural education teachers using the test re-test method. These test measures yielded Cronbach’s alpha coefficients ranging from .83 to .91 (.70 or higher acceptable range). Our post-hoc reliability analysis of the instrument yielded an overall valid measure (α = .86).

Guided by Dillman et al. (2014) tailored design method, researchers administered the instrument to prospective participants via email using each state’s unique agricultural education teacher listserv. The research team sent an initial invitation to participate in the study. We followed this with a second message to engage participants through an opt-in email directing them to a Qualtrics hyperlink specific to their respective instrument by state. Lastly, the researchers sent two follow-up reminder emails to non-respondents over four weeks. Previous instrument implementation (Yopp et al., 2020) yielded Cronbach’s alpha coefficients ranging from .83 to .91 (Creswell & Clark, 2017). Post-hoc analysis of the instrument based on the population of interest revealed an overall α = .81.

Due to the nature of school-based agricultural education (SBAE) and participants’ ability to respond in a timely manner, early and late responders were evaluated to determine whether response differences occurred (Lindner et al., 2001). Analysis revealed no differences (p = .45) in the population of interest. The final response rate gained was 52.24 %. We anticipated this because decreased response rates to web-based instruments have been reported, especially in recent decades, with the influx of messaging in professional environments. Baruch (1999) noted that rates have declined from approximately 65% to 48% when using electronic survey methods. On this issue, Fraze et al. (2003) found that SBAE teachers responded less frequently to electronic surveys, possibly due to overloaded work schedules.


Female participants outnumbered male participants in this study, and most participants were still in their first 10 years of teaching. Most participants received formal training to become teachers through a traditional undergraduate program in agricultural education. Many teachers (n = 107) earned their teacher certification through an alternative certification program. The majority of teachers in this study taught in rural schools. Urban agricultural educators made up the smallest percentage of participants in this study. Table 3 provides a detailed representation of the socio-demographic characteristics of participants.

Table 3
Socio-demographic Characteristics of Participants

Objective One: Professional Development Needs in the Seven Career Pathways

Based on data gathered from SBAE teachers and guided by the career pathway to frame the professional development needs, we found that the essential area was that of Plant Systems (M = 4.17, S.D. = .78) and closely followed by Animal Systems (M = 4.14, S.D. = .98). The career pathway with the least beneficial area for professional development was Power, Structural & Technical Systems (M = 3.26, S.D. = 1.02) with Food Products & Processing Systems (M = 3.46, S.D. = 1.02) having a similar response by respondents. The two lowest career pathways also displayed the most variation of answers, as identified by participants. Table 4 shows the professional development needs of agriculture teachers based on career pathways in agricultural education.

Table 4
Professional Development Needs of Agriculture Education Teachers Based on Career Pathways

Note. 1 indicates a scale used from 1 = Not beneficial to 5 = Essential with 3 = No opinion

Objective Two: Professional Development Needs of Teachers by Gender, Years of Teaching Experience, and Community Setting.

The research team collected data on the professional development needs of participants aligned with career pathways and disaggregated based on gender. Two pathway areas had statistically significant differences based on gender. We found significant differences between genders within the Power Technology (p = .000) and Natural Resources (p = .005) pathways. The remaining pathways did not reveal significant differences based on gender. Table 5 displays the needs for professional development in career pathways by gender.

Table 5
Needs for Professional Development in Career Pathways based on Gender

Note. 1 indicates a scale used from 1 = Not beneficial to 5 = Essential with 3 = No opinion

The research team gathered data on the professional development needs of participants aligned with career pathways and analyzed it based on years of experience. The Animal Systems pathway has significant differences based on experience (p = .005). Although the means reported were similar (4.14 and 4.13), the associated standard deviations were dissimilar (1.07 and 0.86), resulting in statistically significant differences between the groups regarding experience. The remaining pathways did not have substantial differences based on experience level. Table 6 details participants’ professional development needs based on years of teaching experience.

Table 6
Needs for Professional Development in Career Pathways Based on Experience

Note. 1 indicates a scale used from 1 = Not beneficial to 5 = Essential with 3 = No opinion

Participants reported their professional development needs regarding career pathways based on the impact of the community setting. The Natural Resources pathway (p =. 049) indicated significant differences based on the community setting. Table 7 displays the needs for professional development based on the community type.

Table 7
Needs for Professional Development in Career Pathways Based on the Community Type

Note. 1 indicates a scale used from 1 = Not beneficial to 5 = Essential with 3 = No opinion

Conclusions & Implications

This study aimed to investigate the professional development needs of teachers in the national career pathways in agricultural education. The divisions of gender and years of experience do not represent a generalizable representation of each state regarding the professional development needs of agriculture teachers. Participants in this study were from six states in the Southeastern United States. Most respondents were female, with the largest group having teaching experience between 11-20 years. Respondents were experienced and prepared mainly for their teaching career through traditional means.

Participants were asked to indicate their professional development needs regarding technical content in the seven career pathways. Based on the findings, we concluded that professional development was most needed in the specialized content area of plant science, followed closely by animal systems. Meanwhile, we also conclude that the least beneficial areas for professional development were Power, Structural & Technical Systems, and Food Products & Processing Systems. Concerning Power, Structural & Technical Systems, the findings are inconsistent with the results of similar studies (Easterly & Myers, 2019; Smalley et al., 2019) that have reported a significant gap in teacher preparation in this area. However, we conclude from our findings that teachers do not perceive technical training in Power, Structural & Technical Systems to be a significant need.

Further conclusions evoked through this research population werethat no differences exist between male and female teachers regarding their technical in-service training needs, with two exceptions. More males than females found the need for training in natural resources and power and technical systems. Further, teachers with less than 10 years of teaching experience need more training in animal science than their more experienced counterparts. This is consistent with the teacher development model developed by Fessler and Christensen (1992). The only significant difference among respondents for this research objective was that rural teachers rated natural resources training higher than their urban counterparts. We found that teachers in rural schools were more likely to require training on natural resources. This could result from rural teachers’ access to more natural resources and, therefore, more opportunities to teach this content area than a teacher in an urban setting.

Recommendations for Future Research

Based on the conclusions from this study, this study should be replicated in other regions of the United States to gain a clearer picture of the professional development needs of agricultural education teachers. Agriculture operations vary across the United States due to climate, arable land, geography, and access to infrastructure that supports markets and transportation. The teachers in one region may have different professional needs from those in another. This study should be replicated in the future to determine if teacher training needs have changed. The agriculture industry uses human ingenuity and innovation to power new and better methods for producing food, fiber, and natural resources. Consequently, agricultural educators must be well-equipped to educate students using innovative technology.

This study found differences between male and female teachers in power, structural and technical systems, and natural resources. Additional research in this area may help determine why these differences exist. Furthermore, we noted differences between new and experienced teachers concerning animal science. This begs the question as to whether Inservice training needs should be customized based upon the years of experience. Researchers should conduct follow-up studies to determine if this would benefit teachers.


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Does Experiential Learning Improve Student Performance in an Introductory Animal Science Course?

Eric D. Rubenstein, University of Georgia,

Savannah R. White, University of Georgia,

James D. Scott, University of Georgia,

C. Robert Dove, University of Georgia,

T. Dean Pringle, University of Florida,

PDF Available


At postsecondary educational institutions, the learning process has lecture at the focal point of most courses, for-going experience, and hands-on learning for the more efficient lecture-based model of teaching. A consensus exists among educators that motivation and student engagement can be difficult but remain a crucial part of planning and teaching. Hands-on experiences can be used to motivate students and allow them to gain problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the influence experiential learning had on students enrolled in a large lecture introductory animal science course at the University of Georgia. This quasi-experimental study divided the students enrolled in the course into two groups to determine if experiential learning had a positive influence on the students learning. The experiential learning activities were designed to replace a two-hour study session held each week during the semester. Student performance was measured by the scores on the course summative assessments. The first quiz scores were analyzed by group to determine if a difference was found between the groups. There was no significant difference (p = 0.60) found between the two groups on the first quiz. The researchers found that no significant differences were found between the groups of students on questions related to the four content areas. Therefore, the researchers concluded that experiential learning may not have a positive impact on all learning experiences for students. Therefore, more research should examine the utilization of experiential learning in the teaching of introductory content material to college students.

Introduction and Review of Literature

Kolb explained learning as, “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984, p. 41). Within postsecondary educational institutions, lecture is frequently utilized to foster and facilitate learning in the classroom, indicating the lack of direct experience and hands-on learning in favor of the more efficient lecture-based model of teaching. Further, removing experience-based learning leaves a gap in the development of underclass students at a postsecondary level. According to Kolb (1984), a gain in knowledge is the result of transforming information learned from an experience, implying that learning cannot occur through presentation alone; transformation of experience with the material is required for true knowledge acquisition. Healey and Jenkins (2007) implemented experiential learning in geography in higher education. In their article, the authors outlined the strengths that Kolb’s conceptual frame has for postsecondary institutions. Among the strengths was the benefit of implementing experiential learning into an entire degree program but starting with one course or class session can be equally beneficial for students (Healey & Jenkins, 2007). Students come to a classroom with different learning styles and adaptive natures, but Mainemelis et al (2002) notate that both internal factors (e.g., learning styles) and external factors lead to the acquisition of knowledge and formation of intelligence. Mainemelis et al (2002) also postulated that “intelligence is thus the result of the dialectic integration of internal cognitive organization, reflective abstraction, and external adaptation, active involvement in experience” (p. 7). John Dewey (1938) was the first academic to connect education with experience but warns against the concept that not all experiences are education, which was later explained by Kolb (1984) in his experiential learning model. Dewey (1938) acknowledges that students already have experiences in classrooms, but those experiences lack the depth and character to be learning experiences. To better understand the learning experiences of students in a lecture-based college introduction to animal science course, researchers sought to examine the impact that the integration of experiential learning lessons have on student comprehension of basic animal science topics in comparison to traditional lecture.

A consensus exists among educators that motivation and student engagement can be difficult but remain a crucial part of lesson planning and teaching. Hands-on experiences can be used to motivate students, leading to a gain in problem-solving and critical thinking skills, often acquired through experiential learning activities (Rhykerd et al., 2006), as well as improving student achievement (Stor-Hunt, 1996), the necessary skills to succeed (Barron et al., 2017), and attitudes towards learning (Johnson et al., 1997). In examining how experiential learning can be used to motivate students and the development of problem-solving skills, Rhykerd et al (2006) implemented a hands-on contest with crop production and marketing to help students without an agriculture background gain real-life experience that they can apply to their future careers. The researchers created the contest based on pedagogical research centered around the idea that comprehension can be increased through activities applying real-world situations and critical thinking concepts (Rhykerd et al., 2006). Upon analysis, researchers noted these activities and exercises led to a positive impact on student knowledge development (Rhykerd et al., 2006). Furthermore, in examining the impact of hands-on experiences on student achievement in a middle school science course, Stor-Hunt (1996) determined that students involved in hands-on activities more frequently scored relatively higher on science exams. Additionally, not only does the integration of experiential learning impact student achievement and knowledge development, but these experiences also improve student confidence and self-efficacy (Barron et al., 2017). Veterinary students undergoing their final year of coursework were exposed to real-life appointments, in which they were required to discuss diagnosis and treatment with clients. Researchers concluded a significant increase in confidence and communication skills through the integration of these experiences (Barron et al., 2017). As mentioned, prior research indicated that the integration of hands-on learning also improved student attitudes toward learning. Johnson et al. (1997) concluded that including hands-on learning activities in the classroom was effective in developing positive student attitudes toward academic subjects, and increasing these activities can influence student outcomes in agricultural and science education.

While hands-on experiences are often utilized more frequently in laboratory experiences, circumstances exist in which hands-on, experience-based lessons are removed from courses and replaced with more lecture-based instruction. Therefore, it is important to re-evaluate the use and efficacy of experiential learning in comparison to traditional lecture-based instruction. Furthermore, within agricultural education, the importance of integrating experiential learning opportunities for students is ever important. Osborne (1993) elaborated on the distinct change toward science-based methods in agricultural education through agriscience. He stressed the importance of the incorporation of science into the agriculture industry. Osborne (1993) stated, “our job is not to duplicate science instruction offered by science departments. Our job is to teach science differently, focusing on applications of science in all facets of the broad agricultural industry” (p. 3). A shift towards agriscience and using scientific methods and principles in agriculture education requires a focus on active learning through hands-on activities. Additionally, Shoulders and Myers (2013) concluded that guiding students through experiential learning can enhance their learning in lab settings, increase science literacy, and lead to higher-level thinking, even though laboratory settings have been previously associated with only the development of psychomotor skills. However, Shoulders and Myers (2013) determined that most educators were not engaging their students in experiential learning, leading to a lack of development and acquisition of relevant knowledge. Further research within agricultural education and experiential learning indicated that students who had the experiential learning treatment scored higher on domain-specific creativity and practical use of knowledge, but students who did and did not receive the treatment scored similar on analytical knowledge (Baker & Robinson, 2016). Based on the results, Baker and Robinson (2016) suggested incorporating experiential learning and traditional lecture-based instruction, stating, “combination produces successful student intelligence most effectively” (p. 139). Baker and Robinson (2017) continued their research in an experiential learning approach in an agriculture classroom regarding student motivation, to which the researchers determined that instruction type does not alter student motivation and learning style plays a role in motivation. In the recommendations, the researchers re-emphasized the need for varied instruction to reach students in all learning styles, as well as adequate planning and delivery (Baker & Robinson, 2017).

Although research has indicated the use of experiential learning is important for student development and the acquisition of skills and competencies to be successful, a lack of research examining the integration of experiential learning in college agricultural and animal science courses is limited. A level of accountability existed in incorporating experiential learning into college-level courses (Caulfield & Woods, 2013). Studies have shown positive outcomes of experiential learning through internships (Esters & Retallick, 2013), study abroad (Ingraham & Peterson, 2004), and work-study programs (Ambrose & Poklop, 2015). However, few exist surrounding the implementation of experiential lessons into large, introductory science courses in a university setting. Healy and Jenkins (2000) recommended that research in geography education should examine whether post-secondary students in the twenty-first century identify as having a predominant learning style in the incorporation of experiential learning in a university setting. Additionally, Coker et al. (2017) suggested examining the impact of experiential learning in situations where students are randomly assigned to groups of varying information, as an attempt to eliminate any biases of self-selection, student demographics, and other common traits and characteristics. Therefore, this study aimed to bridge the gap in the literature by integrating experiential education lessons into a large introductory animal science course and examining the impacts on student academic achievement on course tests following the experiential education lesson.

Conceptual Framework

This study was guided by the conceptual framework of experiential learning theory as defined by Kolb (1984), and further elaborated upon by Kolb and Kolb (2005). The process of experiential learning has a perspective that “emphasizes the central role that experience plays in the learning process” (Kolb, 1984, p. 20). Experiential learning is used to solidify the learning experience through four stages as seen in Figure 1: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation (Kolb, 1984). True learning occurs when individuals have the chance to both the experience, as well as the reflection and transformation of the knowledge (Kolb, 1984). Furthermore, Kolb and Kolb (2005) clarify that experiential learning is not a technique taught to students or a mindless reflection on experience, but rather a philosophy of education. The transformation can be seen in classrooms when students are tested on the knowledge created in experiences. Experiences can be created in classrooms through hands-on activities that are coupled with other teaching methods to help students with varied learning styles. To further explain the factors within experiential learning, Kolb (1984) outlines six characteristics of experiential learning. Learning is:

  1. Described best as a process, not an outcome
  2. Continuously grounded in experience
  3. Requires the resolution of internal conflicts with external stimuli
  4. A process of adapting to external stimuli
  5. Interactions between the person and the environment
  6. The process of creating knowledge

            Two characteristics of Kolb and Kolb’s (2005) description of the Experiential Learning Theory are significant for this study, the facets that learning is conceived by the process of creating knowledge and learning results from interactions between the person and their environment. Additionally, Kolb (1984) posits that learning is best described by the process of creating knowledge and is a continuous process grounded in the experiences of the learner. Kolb (1984) states, “the emphasis on the process of learning as opposed to the behavioral outcomes distinguishes experiential learning from the idealist approaches of traditional education” (p. 26). In examining the application of experiential learning theory in collegiate-level courses, Healey and Jenkins (2007) applaud the theory for being easy to well-developed, and understandable and for its generalizability over single classes or entire degree programs. Additionally, agriculture classrooms and laboratories have used experiential learning as a foundational component for numerous years, as educators have continually utilized varied aspects of the theory and many of the applications to educate students.

Figure 1

Kolb’s (1984) Experiential Learning Model

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence experiential learning had on students enrolled in a large lecture introductory animal science course at the University of Georgia.  The National Research Agenda called for research to investigate learning to ensure that graduates are prepared for the 21st-century workforce (Roberts et al., 2016).  This study was guided by the following research objective and hypothesis:

  • Describe the effect of experiential learning activities on student comprehension of content taught in an introductory animal science course.
  • Ho: Students who participated in experiential learning activities will have an equal mean score on the course summative assessments compared to those who did not participate in the experiential learning activities.
  • Ha: Students who participated in experiential learning activities will have a higher mean score on the course summative assessments compared to those who did not participate in experiential learning activities. 

Methods and Procedures

This study was conducted utilizing a quasi-experimental design to ensure that all students in the course were granted the same opportunities and to reduce any effects from this population not being randomized (Campbell & Stanley, 1963). According to Campbell and Stanley (1963), quasi-experimental design studies should utilize a crossover method to ensure that multiple data points are collected from each student in the population. Therefore, the researchers broke the course into four sections and alternated the utilization of experiential learning activities for each of the two groups (Table 1).

Table 1

Experimental Treatments by Group

Content AreaGroupTreatment

Course Description

Within the Department of Animal and Dairy Science at the University of Georgia, all students are required to complete an introductory animal science course. However, the laboratory component of the Introductory to Animal Science course was removed from the course nine years ago to help alleviate teaching overloads and budgetary constraints. Therefore, the introductory animal science course has been taught as a standalone lecture-based course, structured to teach the basic animal science material all students need to comprehend before taking more advanced courses. The faculty who have taught the course have extensive experience in teaching laboratory classes and have attempted to enhance their classroom instruction in this course to provide students with a better learning environment.  The class meets three times a week for a 50-minute lecture and students were offered a once-a-week study session that could last up to two hours.

Study Design

To ensure variability among the two groups, students were randomly assigned to one of the two groups, denoted as either A or B. Group assignment was determined during the beginning of the semester, prior to any instruction of course material. Thus, one experimental treatment was designed for this study, where students were either in a control group or an experiential learning group for each of the content areas. The group that received experiential learning lessons were taught utilizing hands-on lessons twice during the unit. The laboratory activities were designed through the lens of Kolb’s experiential learning model, in which the labs were structured to ensure students were given the opportunity to engage in each stage of the model. Students were provided with varied hands-on activities and review sections during the session, which was scheduled during the specified time block for traditional review. Each of the activities were planned to take 105-minutes, to ensure that there was time for questions and further explanation for students without exceeding the 120-minute class period. Activities were taught by faculty in the Department of Animal and Dairy Science alongside faculty from the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication, with assistance from the teaching assistants for the course, to ensure that students received instruction in a consistent format for fidelity of experimental treatment. Researchers and faculty developed each laboratory activity to correlate with what was being taught in lecture and would be included on the summative assessments. Activities included the deconstruction of a hog carcass in meat science, the dissection and labeling of male and female reproductive tracts in the reproduction unit, examining breed outcomes of puppies and mice during the genetics unit, and the dissection and evaluation of microbial presence in monogastric and ruminant tracts during the digestion unit. In each lab, students were provided the opportunity to first observe each activity demonstrated by the instructors, upon which they then were able to ask questions and build upon what was learned in the lecture. Students were then able to complete the activity in groups, applying the concepts of what was learned in lecture and the demonstration to their own experience and experimentation, completing the cycle of experiential learning. Instructors provided assistance to students throughout the lab as needed, allowing for the opportunity to develop an understanding of the content and apply what was learned to their experiment.

The traditional review session also took place during the 120-minute period, considered to be the control group, in which the students met with the course teaching assistants to review content during a study session. This review was led by student questions to create buy-in from the students attending. To ensure that students were attending the correct session and for fidelity in the treatments, attendance was taken during each meeting to verify the group assignment and ensure that upon data analysis, student grades were sorted appropriately. If, for any circumstance, students missed an experimental treatment, they were removed from the study. Additionally, students were provided the opportunity to remove themselves from the study altogether, and these students were continually offered the opportunity to attend the traditional review session.    

Data Collection and Analysis

Data were collected through four summative course assessments given throughout the semester during specified exam hours, and a final summative exam given at the conclusion of the semester. Exams were created by faculty in the animal science department and were examined prior to each exam to ensure that content was relative to the experiential learning lessons and review sessions that were taught throughout the semester. The exams were also designed to be in correlation with the objectives of the overall course, which were written according to the understand classification within Blooms Taxonomy rather than the analyze or evaluate classifications (Krathwohl, 2002). The exams and objectives were designed in this way to ensure that students in an introductory course were provided with the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to complete advanced classes in their major. The summative assessments were given during designated test sessions that were either two hours in length for a unit exam or three hours in length for the final exam. All assessments presented to students were identical in design and students were asked to indicate whether they were in Group A or B prior to completing the exam. This was done to ensure that there were no external influences on student performance or data analysis. Assessments included a variety of multiple choice, true/false, and short answer questions directly related to the content that was taught during the lecture-based component of the course.

Upon completion of the exams, scores were tabulated and sorted by student and group. Content experts and researchers reviewed each exam for total exam score, as well as the total number of questions that were deemed correct and directly related to what was taught in the course and later reviewed or expanded upon with experiential learning lessons. The total number of content related scores that were deemed correct ranged from 10 to 65 questions, depending on the additional content that was taught during the course, which was anywhere from the additional 90 questions to 35 questions. For the final exam, researchers and content experts separated the exam into content areas, which included 16 nutrition questions, 18 reproduction questions, 16 genetics questions, and 11 meat science questions. After scores were tabulated and entered into spreadsheets, data were then analyzed using SPSS version 25 with an a priori level of .05.  


Prior to the study, quiz scores from the first quiz given in the course were analyzed by group to determine if a difference was found between the groups. There was no significant difference (p = 0.60) found between the two groups on the first quiz. Additionally, as previously stated, due to this being an introductory course, students entered the course with either no prior knowledge or limited knowledge from high school curricula. Therefore, because the quiz scores were determined to have no significant difference, the groups were deemed similar and the study groups were deemed appropriate for this study.

After completion of each exam, and tabulation of scores, researchers examined mean scores for each of the content areas within the summative assessments. Mean scores between the groups varied in regard to the difference between the scores, with the largest difference being between the groups within the reproduction content area. The mean score of the treatment group was 40.33 (SD = 4.21) and the mean score for the control group was 39.33 (SD = 3.55). Table 2 displays the mean scores for content area based upon group assignments.

Table 2

Student Assessments Mean and Standard Deviations for Each Content Area

Content AreaGroupnMean (SD)
ReproductionExperiential3940.33 (4.21)
 Control4239.33 (3.55)
NutritionExperiential4242.43 (4.46)
 Control3943.13 (4.62)
GeneticsExperiential3937.77 (3.67)
 Control4237.17 (3.99)
MeatsExperiential4213.52 (2.71)
 Control3914.05 (2.84)

To further examine the data, an independent sample t-test was run to determine if significant differences existed between the control and experimental groups for each content area. The independent samples t-test showed that no significant differences existed between the control and experimental groups on the four content questions. Further examination was conducted at the question level and found that only four total questions were found to have a significant difference at the .05 level. Table 3 displays the results of the independent samples t-test for each content area.

Table 3

Independent Samples t-test – Mean Scores on Each Content Area Between Groups

Content AreaFtdfp

Upon completion of individual summative assessment analysis, researchers then examined final exam scores. Exam questions were divided into each content area, and then mean questions correct and standard deviation were calculated per group (Table 4).

Table 4

Mean Questions Correct and Standard Deviation for Final Exam

Content AreaGroupnMean (SD)
ReproductionExperiential (A)3912.67 (3.35)
 Control (B)4212.74 (3.12)
NutritionExperiential (B)4212.12 (2.33)
 Control (A)3912.05 (2.53)
GeneticsExperiential (A)3912.82 (1.67)
 Control (B)4212.28 (2.08)
MeatsExperiential (B)428.48 (2.71)
 Control (A)397.95 (2.84)

After examining the overall mean and standard deviation per group by content specific questions deemed correct on the final exam, researchers then analyzed the data, using an independent samples t-test. This was done to determine if there were any significant differences between the two groups, in which the results of this analysis revealed there was no significant differences within any content area (Table 5).

Table 5

Independent Samples t-test – Mean Scores on Each Content Area Between Groups

Content AreaFtdfp


Based on the results of the study, the researchers fail to reject the null hypothesis, as there were no statistically significant differences in assessment scores between the group that received experiential learning activities in the laboratory session and the group that did not. Although the researchers determined there were no statistically significant differences in the teaching methods used for the lecture and review group, and the lecture and experimental group, the nature of the course was to create a baseline of knowledge for students to continue in their degree program where further experiential learning activities were used more frequently.

As noted, faculty within the animal science department at the University of Georgia designed the overall course utilizing lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002), utilizing lecture-based instruction to provide students with the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills to be successful in more complex courses in students’ program of study. However, within the implementation of this study, researchers and faculty integrated hands-on experiential components in the overall design of the course, to provide students the opportunity to develop knowledge at the analysis and evaluation classification (Krathwohl, 2002). While the researchers sought to determine whether or not experiential learning impacted student performance and success (Barron et al., 2017; Stor-Hunt, 1996), the development of skills and knowledge (Rhykerd et al., 2006), and attitudes towards learning animal science content (Johnson et al., 1997), researchers determined that the experiential learning sessions were not implemented appropriately. Because of this, the discrepancies between the exam questions and the knowledge presented in the laboratory sessions should be noted for future studies and additional implementation of experiential learning in an introductory animal science course.

Among the students in the course, whether participation occurred in laboratory sessions or the traditional review session, there was no statistically significant difference in knowledge comprehension between the control and experimental groups. However, there was evidence that a few individual questions may reflect a benefit in hands-on experiences for some content areas, as the results from the nutrition, genetics, and meat science assessments revealed a higher average of questions correct from these activities. Additionally, it is evident that some experiential learning activities provide students with the opportunity to develop more content related knowledge and improve scores on summative assessments. Although researchers noted an increase in student assessment scores, it can be concluded that in this study, experiential learning does not always impact student success and knowledge gain.

Experiential learning is a beneficial teaching method that uses hands-on experiences to create knowledge and provide all students with the opportunity to develop skills and confidence to succeed in the classroom and beyond (Mainemelis et al., 2002). As previously stated, the results of this study did not indicate significance in student performance between groups, however, it should be noted that the use of experiential learning activities in laboratory sessions alongside lecture provides students with further opportunities to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. Further, the instructors of the course utilized their personal experiences within the animal science field to provide real-world examples for students to imagine the practicality of the content being taught.  Therefore, the researchers conclude that true engaging lecture can be an effective tool in college classes (Estepp et al., 2014). 

Recommendations for Practice and Research

From the results of this study, researchers identified recommendations for future studies, which include replicating the study with modifications to the study design and data collection and replicating the study with modifications to the lessons taught in lab alongside guided directions for teaching assistants and instructors, to minimize the external influences on student knowledge development and skill acquisition. Additionally, researchers recommend future studies examining the performance of students on summative assessments when content and assessments are structured around hands-on learning experiences. Researchers also noted the importance of longitudinal research within the use of experiential learning laboratories on student performance, and recommend that in additional study replication, students enrolled and participate in the introductory course with experiential learning laboratories are observed throughout other animal science courses for performance.

The researchers also determined the need for recommendations for practitioners in college-level animal science courses, including the use of hands-on laboratory sessions to accompany traditional lecture-based instruction and review in introductory courses.


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Investigating Science Efficacy Before and After a Professional Development Program focused on Genetics, Muscle Biology, Microbiology, and Nutrition

Jesse Bower, Fresno State,

Bryan A.  Reiling, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

Nathan W. Conner, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

Christopher T. Stripling, University of Tennessee,

Matthew S. Kreifels, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

Mark A. Balschweid, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

PDF Available


This study investigated teachers’ levels of Personal Science Teaching Efficacy (PSTE) and Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy (STOE) using the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs Instrument (STEBI). The population included 10 teachers completing an Increasing Scientific Literacy through Inquiry-Based Professional Development in Genetics, Muscle Biology, Microbiology, and Nutrition. Assessments were made at two points. First, the participants were assessed by using a pretest followed up by a posttest 12 months later after implementing the new curriculum. The teachers experienced gains during the professional development on both their personal science teaching efficacy and their science teaching outcome expectancy. However, the mean differences were not statistically significant. Results of this study indicate that the Increasing Scientific Literacy through Inquiry-Based Professional Development may be used as a tool to increase PSTE and STOE in agricultural educators and science teachers.

Introduction/Theoretical Framework

In the 2020-2021 school year, the Nebraska student-centered assessment in the area of science indicates that only 50% of high school students meet the science expectation (Nebraska Department of Education, 2022). The lack of science proficiency is not surprising given the statistics from 2017 indicating students’ proficiency gradually decreases between 5th grade, 8th grade, and 11th grade (Nebraska Department of Education, 2017). In 2017, 28% of 5th graders were below proficient, 32% of 8th graders were below proficient, and 39% of 11th graders were below proficient (Nebraska Department of Education, 2017). Proficiency scores indicate that science efficacy needs to be addressed at all grade levels, but specifically at the high school level. Based on research and theory, it is determined that outcome expectancy (OE) and science efficacy (SE) are complementary factors in determining the success of teachers in a science-based classroom. (Stripling & Roberts, 2013)

Teacher self-efficacy relates to progressive teaching behaviors and positive student outcomes. Therefore, the social cognitive theory serves as the theoretical framework for this study. The social cognitive theory identifies the capabilities of humans, and their purposeful intentions, that can and will affect their course of action (Bandura, 1977, 1997). This process is called triadic reciprocal causation and was developed by Albert Bandura (1977, 1997). Triadic reciprocal causation suggests three interrelated factors that mutually impact people: environmental, behavioral, and personal factors (Bandura, 1977, 1997). These three factors determine what a person believes about themselves and aide in their decision-making process (Bandura, 1977, 1997). Triadic reciprocal causation advocates that no one single factor determines a person’s behavior, instead, it is the combination of all three factors (Bandura, 1977, 1997). When determining OE and SE, behavior could be predicted (Bandura, 1997) and efficacy beliefs help dictate motivation (Maehr & Pintrich, 1997; Pintrich & Schunk, 1996). Self-efficacy theory helps outline what motivates a person (Graham & Weiner, 1996), and so, the theory can be applied to any behavioral task and predict what will take place.

In the teacher efficacy belief literature, two dimensions of teacher self-efficacy, including Teaching Efficacy (Outcome Expectancy) and Personal Teaching Efficacy (Self- Efficacy), have been defined and utilized in subsequent studies. Several studies suggest that teacher efficacy beliefs may account for individual differences in teacher effectiveness (Armor et al., 1976; Berman & McLaughlin, 1977; Brookover et al., 1978; Brophy & Evertson, 1981). Student achievement has also been shown to be significantly related to teacher efficacy beliefs (Ashton & Webb, 1983). The measurement of Personal Teaching Efficacy has been used to predict teacher behavior with accuracy (Ashton et al., 1983).

Teachers’ content knowledge affects student learning (Ballou & Podgursky, 1999; Ma, 1999; Podgursky, 2005); therefore, science teachers are expected to be highly qualified in the subject area in which they teach. Not only do teachers need to have a high level of comprehension in the content area, but they also need to display passion and enthusiasm. Additionally, standardized tests, only prove that students can memorize and focus on the content because the performance goals measured only address low levels of learning (Meece et al., 2006).

Teacher self-efficacy has also been connected to beginner agriculture teachers’ pledge to the teaching career (Knobloch & Whittington, 2003). Teaching efficacy is a more specific type of self-efficacy (Stripling & Roberts, 2013; Stripling et al., 2008), and is a teacher’s belief in their competence to facilitate the learning environment and produce desired learning results (Guskey & Passaro, 1994; Soodak & Podell, 1996). Beginning teachers who are more efficacious tend to have a greater obligation to teaching than those who are not as efficacious and consequently are more motivated to remain in the teaching profession (Whittington et al., 2003). In fact, beginner teachers could have an exaggerated sense of self-efficacy because of their student teaching experience (Knobloch, 2006).

This professional development program utilized inquiry-based learning as the main instructional approach. There have been numerous studies that show inquiry-based learning is an effective method for teaching science (Keys & Bryan, 2001). Inquiry-based learning requires students to manage their own learning and their success will be based on their engagement in the lesson through active listening and problem solving. Inquiry-based learning opportunities provide the foundation for students to make observations, pose questions, compare evidence, predict outcomes, and communicate research results (National Research Council, 2000).


The purpose of this study was to determine the teachers’ level of science efficacy in the agricultural education and science classrooms and compare the results as the teachers progressed through the yearlong professional development. The modified science teaching efficacy scale (based on Enochs & Riggs, 1990) consists of both personal science teaching efficacy (PSTE) and science teaching outcome expectancy (STOE).

Objectives include:

  1. Investigate secondary life science teachers’ personal science teaching efficacy (PSTE) within the sciences before and after the Increasing Scientific Literacy through Inquiry-Based Professional Development in Genetics, Muscle Biology, Microbiology, and Nutrition.
  • Investigate secondary life science teachers’ science teaching outcome expectancy (STOE) before and after the Increasing Scientific Literacy through Inquiry-Based Professional Development in Genetics, Muscle Biology, Microbiology, and Nutrition.

Two null hypotheses were used to guide this inquiry:

H01: There is no significant difference in the personal science teaching efficacy (PSTE) of life science teachers before and after the Increasing Scientific Literacy through Inquiry-Based

Professional Development in Genetics, Muscle Biology, Microbiology, and Nutrition treatment.

H02: There is no significant difference in the science teaching outcome expectancy (STOE) of life science teachers before and after the Increasing Scientific Literacy through Inquiry-Based

Professional Development in Genetics, Muscle Biology, Microbiology, and Nutrition treatment.


Professional Development

This professional development (PD) program provided an opportunity for high school agricultural education teachers and science teachers to participate in a 12-month long PD. Applicants were encouraged to join the program with both a science and agriculture teacher from their school. The purpose of this was to bridge the gap between agriculture and science disciplines. After applications were submitted, there were not enough paring entries from all the same schools, so science and agriculture teachers were coupled from different schools (N = 10). For this study, the participants will be referred to as life science teachers. Applicants were recruited in the Spring of 2017. The project was divided into three phases.

Phase I

The PD program began in summer 2017 with a one-day workshop that took place at three different locations throughout Nebraska. The workshop introduced information centered around how students learn, more specifically, experiential learning, short-term and long-term memory, Bloom’s taxonomy, and learning styles. From there, the inquiry-based learning teaching method was introduced. All learning activities that were developed and used in this PD incorporated inquiry-based learning and allowed teachers to experience learning activities as students.

Basic scientific disciplines including biology, chemistry, and mathematics are interrelated in the growth and development of living beings.  For this reason, scientific units of study that focused on the Scientific Principles of Food Animal Systems were developed. The following units were included:

  1. Genetics
  2. Growth & Development / Chemistry of Muscle Biology

3)   Microbiology of Food Safety

4)   Physiology and Chemistry of Nutrition

Each unit provided basic content knowledge, hands-on inquiry-based learning activities, and student reflection instruments.  Content knowledge included educational videos and PowerPoint slides that could be used to introduce high school students to the topic and provided the scientific basis of the topic and related activities. Instructional materials also included a listing of necessary supplies and equipment, ordering information, and easy-to-follow instructions.  For those secondary life science educators that participated in the PD, selected supplies that would not normally be present in a typical high school science laboratory were provided to facilitate the small-group student learning activities. 

Finally, through inquiry-based learning, it is imperative that high school students be asked to reflect upon what they’ve just learned; to evaluate the results and to project how those results might relate to new situations or scenarios (Kolb, 1984).  To facilitate this final component of inquiry-based learning, instruments were developed to encourage high school students to reflect upon what they just learned and how that new knowledge may be applied to different situations in the future. Scientific principles related to genetics, muscle biology, microbiology, and nutrition were used to demonstrate a hands-on, inquiry-based learning pedagogy. 

Phase II

The program continued throughout the 2017-2018 academic year. Conference calls through Zoom, a video conferencing platform, took place in August and December of 2017, and April of 2018. The calls were used to discuss how life science teachers were implementing the prescribed learning activities that focused on genetics, muscle biology, microbiology, and nutrition.

Phase III

Life science teachers were placed in small teams and asked to develop additional inquiry-based learning activities that were presented during the final PD session in June of 2018. Each team was assigned a specific unit (genetics, muscle biology, microbiology, or nutrition) to focus their efforts.  The overall purpose of this activity was to help life science teachers learn how to develop their own inquiry-based learning activities and share their activities with a broader audience.

Data Collection

Quantitative methods were used to determine the change in teachers’ science teaching efficacy by using a modified science teaching efficacy scale (based on Enochs & Riggs, 1990). The instrument used for data collection was created by Enochs and Riggs (1990) to measure the self-efficacy of science teachers, called the Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Instrument (STEBI). Additionally, the data collected for this study was part of a larger data set.

The STEBI consisted of 23 questions scaled from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Terminology was adjusted by researchers to accommodate for high school teachers instead of preservice elementary science teachers. Example questions from Enochs and Riggs (1990) include “I will continually find better ways to teach science,” “The inadequacy of a student’s science background can be overcome by good teaching,” “The low science achievement of some students cannot generally be blamed on their teachers,” and “When a low achieving child progresses in science, it is usually due to extra attention given by the teacher.”

The STEBI (Enochs & Riggs, 1990) is comprised of two scales that measure the constructs personal science teaching efficacy (PSTE) and science teaching outcome expectancy (STOE).

All items use a 5-point rating scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). The following item was modified from Enochs and Riggs (1990) by removing the word elementary: “I understand science concepts well enough to be effective in teaching elementary science.”

Additionally, Enochs & Riggs (1990) stated reliability analysis produced Cronbach’s alpha coefficients of .90 for PSTE and .76 for STOE. Post-hoc reliabilities for PSTE and STOE were .799 and .732, respectively. These measures of internal-consistency are acceptable given the nature of the constructs and present reliabilities on comparable measures (Ary et al., 2014).

Data Analysis

Data were analyzed using IBM SPSS version 20. Descriptive statistics (i.e., frequencies, percentages, and means) were used to describe the science teaching efficacy data. Additionally, based on Haynes and Stripling (2014) and Dossett et al. (2019), low, moderate, and high self-efficacy was defined as 1.00 to 2.33, 2.34 to 3.67, and 3.68 to 5, respectively. Data was summarized using descriptive statistics (i.e., frequencies, percentages, and means). Paired samples t-tests were utilized to determine if a significant difference existed in science teaching efficacy and outcome expectancy (OE).

The STEBI contains 23 items in the survey and 13 are designed to address science teachers’ level of belief that they can teach science (Personal Science Teaching Efficacy or PSTE) and 10 assess the respondents’ belief that their teaching will have a positive effect on the students they are teaching (Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy or STOE). Paired t-tests were run on the pre and post survey scores for the PD. The PSTE and STOE section, scores were analyzed separately. Therefore, all analyses of group mean differences were done as two tailed tests.


The first and second objectives were to investigate the level of PSTE/STOE of the professional development participants before and after the PD. During the first phase of the study teachers reported before the PD, they had a mean personal science teaching efficacy (PSTE) score of 3.83 (SD = .27) and an outcome expectancy (OE) of 3.35 (SD = 0.48). The second phase conducted after the 12-month PD teachers reported an increase in both areas with a mean PSTE of 3.95 (SD = 0.33) and an OE of 3.47 (SD = 0.47).

Means and analysis results for the surveys are presented in Table 1 and Table 2. Analysis of surveys from the PD indicated no significant pre/post shifts on PSTE or STOE scores, however there were small actual mean differences.

Table 1

Personal Science Teaching Efficacy Scores 

Note. 1.00 to 2.33 = low efficacy, 2.34 to 3.67 = moderate efficacy, 3.68 to 5 = high efficacy.

Table 2

Science Teaching Outcome Expectancy Scores 

Note. 1.00 to 2.33 = low efficacy, 2.34 to 3.67 = moderate efficacy, 3.68 to 5 = high efficacy.

The mean differences between the pre and post teaching efficacy scores for PSTE and STOE are in Table 3. Analysis revealed a .11-point increase in PSTE, a .13-point increase in the STOE. However, the mean differences were not statistically significant. Thus, the null hypotheses were not rejected.

Table 3

Summary of Paired Samples t tests

 Mean differenceSDSEtp
PSTE posttest – pretest.
STOE posttest – pretest.


The purpose of administering the modified STEBI (based on Enochs & Riggs, 1990) was to investigate teachers’ level of science efficacy in the agricultural education and science classrooms and compare the results as the teachers progressed through the professional development.Personal science teaching efficacy (PSTE) slightly increased from pre and posttest and science teacher outcome expectancy (STOE) also changed during the PD.

Analysis revealed a .11-point increase in PSTE, and a .13-point increase in STOE. However, the mean differences were not statistically significant. Thus, the null hypotheses were not rejected. Results of this study indicate that the Increasing Scientific Literacy through Inquiry-Based Professional Development program may be used as a tool to increase PSTE and STOE in life science teachers. Professional development opportunities focused on teaching science through inquiry-based learning could be a way to increase science efficacy (SE) and outcome expectancy (OE) over time. If professional development workshops could continually increase SE and OE, the SE and OE could be used to help determine teacher success in a science-based classroom, thus aligning with Stripling and Roberts’ (2013) assertion that OE and SE can be used to determine teacher success. Teacher educators should purposefully design teacher professional development programs to allow teachers to practice their science teaching skills, thus providing an opportunity for the teacher to increase their SE and OE. To align with Kolb (1984), the professional development should be designed to have purposeful reflection activities that allows the teachers to critically examine their ability and confidence when teaching science concepts.

We found life science teachers in this study to be moderately efficacious in their ability to teach science concepts before and after the conclusion of the PD. However, 20% of the life science teachers in this study moved from moderate to high efficacy with PSTE. According to Bandura (1997), self-efficacy influences behavior. Thus, theoretically, being highly efficacious in PSTE should positively impact the teaching of contextualized science in school-based agricultural education and science programs; on the other hand, being moderately efficacious may negatively impact the teaching of contextualized science. Additionally, educating life science teachers in technical science content aligns with Ballou and Podgursky, 1999, Ma, 1999, and Podgursky, 2005 assertion that teachers content knowledge impacts student learning. Therefore, we recommend the continuation of professional development programming that aims to increase technical content knowledge. Providing in-depth technical content knowledge should allow the teachers to increase their confidence because they will have a better understanding of the technical content and will feel more comfortable teaching the technical content in the classroom. It is important to note that the small sample size limits the generalizability of the findings.

Future research should be conducted to determine why approximately an equal number of teachers are moderately or highly efficacious in PSTE and determine if moderate self-efficacy negatively impacts the teaching of contextualized science. In regard to science teaching outcome expectancy, a majority of the life science teachers were moderately efficacious in STOE. Theoretically, being moderately efficacious in STOE may negatively impact the teaching of contextualized science. The said research will also aid the planning of professional development for agricultural education and science teachers and can be used to guide experiences offered in agricultural and science teacher education programs.


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Implications of Pandemic Responses for Extension Education and Outreach

Samuel Quinney, Clemson Extension,
Grace Greene, Clemson University,
Christopher J. Eck, Oklahoma State University,
K. Dale Layfield, Clemson University,
Thomas Dobbins, Clemson University,

PDF Available


As part of daily tasks of Cooperative Extension, agents handle public issues by offering programming by approved methods to inform the public. Within the context of this study, a mixed-methods approach was established to determine the factors impacting behaviors associated with Clemson Extension, programming efforts, and roles during the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding the attitudes and perceptions of Extension educators and key stakeholders (i.e., advisory committee members), researchers, faculty, and Extension educators can be better prepared to face future challenging while continuing to meet the public demand. This exploratory, mixed methods inquiry investigated the perceptions of current Clemson Extension agents across South Carolina and Extension advisory committee members related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and Extensions response. To meet the needs of this mixed methods approach, qualitative interviews were conducted with Extension agents and a survey questionnaire was utilized to collect pertinent data from Extension advisory committee members. Through this study, strengths and challenges for South Carolina Cooperative Extension Agents during the COVID-19 pandemic were learned, providing a framework in the event of similar challenges in the future. Adaptability is key moving forward for Extension, as it allows Extension agents to meet the needs in their communities, serve their primary stakeholder groups, and improve overall perceptions of what they offer. Extension professionals should consider the findings as a starting point to evaluate the current state of Extension programming and how to best move forward to address pertinent agricultural issues.

Introduction/Theoretical Framework

“The pace of innovation in the agriculture-related, health, and human sciences demands that knowledge rapidly reaches the people who depend on it for their livelihoods” (USDA-NIFA, 2021, para. 1). Specifically, the Clemson Cooperative Extension (2021) service aims to “improve the quality of life of all South Carolinians by providing unbiased, research-based information through an array of public outreach programs in youth development; agribusiness; agriculture; food, nutrition and health; and natural resources” (para. 1). The normal day to day operations of Clemson Extension was brought to a halt on March 18th, 2020, after the World Health Organization (2020) declared the Novel Coronavirus or COVID-19, a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.

As part of daily tasks of Cooperative Extension, agents handle public issues by offering programming by approved methods to inform the public (Dale & Hahn, 1994; Patton & Blaine, 2001). Most issues originate as private concerns and become public when outside agencies become involved and widespread support or opposition is gained. This is often related to an identifiable problem, whereas others may arise from misinformation or inaccurate perceptions (Patton & Blaine, 2001). These contentious issues often create situations in which public input and education can be keys to solving the problem; however, due to the highly charged nature of such issues, many leaders tend to avoid them (Jolley, 2007; Patton & Blaine, 2001; Rittel & Webber, 1973). Clemson extension has always made it a priority to provide relevant programming to address these public issues.

During today’s societal changes of the COVID 19 Pandemic, agricultural communities have faced challenges. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) (2021), the total number of cash receipts by commodity has remained steady, with some commodities increasing between the years 2020 and 2021. Animals and animal products increased just under $8.6 billion, and crops increased just over $11.8 billion via cash receipts reported by the USDA-ERS (2021). Some of these increases in consumer purchases have come through governmental policies, which increased American agriculture commodity purchases from foreign countries under the US and China trade deal. China will purchase and import $40 billion dollars’ worth of American agriculture products including meat goods (McCarthy, 2020), others came from a decrease in store availability, though no nationwide shortages have been reported (USDA, 2021). Though the total cash receipts have improved nationally, local agriculture producers face a distinct set of issues. Such issues include a misinformed public, slaughterhouse backups, and a lack of land availability. However, the agricultural cash receipts have yet to be reported for South Carolina according to the USDA-ERS (2021).

Clemson Extension was not alone, as schools, businesses and government agencies across the U.S. adapted to limit in-person contact (CDC, 2020). Extension agents had to cancel some scheduled programming and events and shift what they could to virtual platforms, such as Zoom, which has been identified as easy-to-use and engaging (Robinson & Poling, 2017). With the pandemic catching most off-guard, little account was taken into the perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs of Clemson Extension agents and advisory groups. To frame the evaluation of these concerns, the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991) was implemented (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Ajzen’s (1991) Theory of Planned Behavior Model

The theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991) “provides a useful conceptual framework for dealing with the complexities of human social behavior” (p. 206), as it provides a frame to outline the predictability of an individual’s future plans and behaviors (Ajzen, 1991). The theory of planned behavior has further been implemented (Murphrey et al., 2016) to evaluate one’s perceptions and/or intentions related to formal and informal training (i.e., Extension programming). Within the context of this study, a mixed-methods approach was established to determine the factors (i.e., attitude toward the behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control) impacting behaviors associated with Clemson Extension. Specifically, programming efforts (i.e., attitudes), roles (i.e., norms), issues (i.e., attitude and perceived control), and solutions (i.e., intentions) were addressed to establish best practices learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding the attitudes and perceptions of Extension educators and key stakeholders (i.e., advisory committee members) allows researchers, faculty, and Extension educators to be better prepared to face future challenges while continuing to meet the current public demand.

Purpose and Research Objectives

During today’s societal changes, Clemson Extension has expanded its role to provide education to the public through virtual and other non-contact options. Therefore, this study aimed to determine the perceptions of Clemson Extension agents and the prevalent issues faced within the agriculture community in the South Carolina by interviewing Extension agents and surveying Clemson Extension advisory committee members. Four research questions were developed to guide this study:

  1. Describe the current perceptions of Clemson Extension agents amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Identify the greatest issues facing agriculture in South Carolina according to advisory committee members during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  3. Determine current and potential solutions from Clemson Extension to address the issues faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Create a list of preferred programs and program delivery methods for future Extension programming.


This exploratory, mixed methods inquiry investigated the perceptions of current Clemson Extension agents across South Carolina (N = 154) and Extension advisory committee members (N = 64) related to the COVID-19 pandemic and Extensions response. To meet the needs of this mixed methods approach, qualitative interviews were conducted with Extension agents (n = 6) and a survey questionnaire was utilized to collect pertinent data from Extension advisory committee members.

Qualitative Inquiry Procedures

As with most qualitative inquiries, this study sought to provide rich information from the Extension agents as they adapt with the changing dynamics of the pandemic. A purposive sampling strategy was implemented to reach data saturation amongst the variety of agents across the state. This sampling method included soliciting participation from agents from all five regions and 10 program teams, resulting in interviews with six agents representing five program teams and all five regions spanning 15 counties, as some agents work in multiple counties. For proper tracking of data, each participating agent was provided a pseudo name that is outlined in Table 1.

Table 1

Clemson Extension Agents Who Participated in the Study (n = 6)

Pseudo Name Sex Region Program Team 
Shawn Male Region 4 Horticulture 
Abigail Female Region 1 4-H Youth Development 
Violet Female Region 5 Livestock & Forages 
Leonard Male Region 3 Forestry & Wildlife 
Keith Male Region 4 Agronomic Crops 
Taylor Male Region 2 Horticulture 

To address the overarching research objective of the qualitative inquiry, a flexible interview protocol was established spanning four topic areas, including: 1) Accessibility and program impacts; 2) Responding in a time of crisis; 3) Remote instruction and distance education; and 4) Economic and communication concerns early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Each topic area included probing questions to help facilitate conversation, helping to uncover the specific paradigm being studied. Glesne (2016) identifies the specific paradigm or reality being evaluated within this study as an ontology, as the study aimed to discover and individuals’ beliefs associated with their current reality, further connecting to the theory base (Ajzen, 1991) as we try to uncover future intentions. The interview protocol was checked for face and content validity (Salkind, 2012) by two faculty members with teaching and research experience in Extension education and research methodology. All six interviews were conducted by an undergraduate student minoring in Extension education following the interview protocol for consistency. Additionally, a fieldwork notebook was compiled by the interviewer to document the interview experiences through observation notes, interview notes, and reflexive thoughts (Glesne, 2016).

The interviews were conducted using Zoom due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and University regulations. The interviews were recorded and transcribed using features embedded in the Zoom platform, which were then compared against one another for accuracy. In addition to the interview recordings and transcriptions, interviewer notes were used for triangulation of data. To further increase the trustworthiness of the study, the research team followed the recommendations of Privitera (2017) to establish credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability within the study. Creditability was addressed through coding member checks across the research team to reduce bias (Creswell & Poth, 2018) along with triangulation of data and saturation of emerging categories (Privitera, 2020). To enhance transferability the researchers described the participants (including pseudonyms), detailed the interview and data analysis process, and highlighted the perspectives of the participants. Procedural explanations and data triangulation furthered the dependability of the research (Creswell & Poth, 2018; Privitera, 2020), and a reflexivity statement was included to describe any inherent biases associated with then phenomenon (Privitera, 2020).

Confirmability refers to the objectivity of the findings and the ability to interpret the narrative of the experience of participants to determine the essence of the phenomena instead of the researcher’s bias (Creswell & Poth, 2018; Privitera, 2020). A reflexivity statement describes the researchers previous understanding of the phenom

To analyze the interview transcripts through a qualitative lens, this study implemented the constant comparative method (Glasser & Strauss, 1967), which permits the data to speak for itself, allowing themes to emerge. The first round of coding used open-coding sources, allowing themes to emerge through the process (Creswell & Poth, 2018). Axial coding was followed for second-round coding, where the relationships between open codes resulted in overarching categories (Creswell & Poth, 2018; Glasser & Strauss, 1967). Round three of coding was selective coding, where the researchers determined the core variables from the qualitative interviews.

The purposive sampling provides a limiting factor as only six Clemson Extension agents were interviewed for the purpose of this study. Therefore, the findings of this study are limited to the views of the participants and not necessarily that of all agents in the state, but the findings of the study can be used to inform practice, guide future research, and potentially offer state-wide implementations based on needs. The research team recommends caution when looking to generalize the data, although the data has transferable qualities if the readers deem the population and situations identified as germane to their inquiry.

Within a qualitative inquiry, Palaganas et al. (2017) recommends for researchers to acknowledge any inherent bias and reveal their identify to offer reflexivity. The research team consisted of two faculty members in agricultural education at Clemson, a current Extension educator, and an undergraduate student pursuing a minor in extension education. The faculty members have more than 30 years of experience combined in agricultural and extension education. We recognize our bias toward Extension because of our faculty roles and have attempted to harness that bias through a consistent interview protocol, interviewer, and extensive field notes.

Survey Research Procedures

This non-experimental descriptive survey research component aimed to reach Clemson Extension advisory committee members (N = 64) in Abbeville, Anderson, Greenville, Oconee, and Pickens counties in South Carolina. The counties selected to participate in the survey were selected for their vast differences, including suburban, rural agriculture/homesteads, small towns, and large cities. The populations of the participating counties were Greenville – 507,003; Anderson – 198,064; Pickens – 124,029; Oconee – 77,528, and Abbeville – 24,627 (United States Census Bureau, 2021).

The questions addressed in this study were designed to assess how the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service adapted during the COVID 19 pandemic. Survey questions were divided into three categories, 1) Agricultural issues, 2) Extension programming, and 3) Participant demographics. The agricultural issues category elicited open ended responses to determine the greatest issues facing agriculture and what Clemson Extension is and can do to help the issues. The second category aimed to determine the preferred program delivery methods and primary program teams of interest. The researcher-developed survey was reviewed for face and content validity by Agricultural Education faculty and Clemson Extension professionals.

Of the 64 advisory members who received the survey via email, 27 responded, resulting in a 42.2% response rate. Participants were 55.6% male and 44.4% female and ranged in age from 29 to 73 years old, with agricultural involvement varying from pre-production/production agriculture to agricultural consumers (see Table 2) across the five counties. Data was analyzed using SPSS Version 27 to address the proposed research questions.

Table 2

Personal and Professional Demographics of Extension Advisory Committee Members in South Carolina (n = 27).

Demographics   f %
Gender Male 15 55.6
  Female 12 44.4
  Prefer not to respond 0 0.0
Age 21 to 30 1 3.7
  31 to 40 5 18.5
  41 to 50 3 11.1
  51 to 60 8 29.6
  61 to 70 4 14.8
  70 or older 6 22.2
  Did not respond 0 0.0
 Current Role in Agriculture Pre-Production  7.4 
 Did not respond 1 3.7


Research Question 1: Describe the current perceptions of Clemson Extension agents amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The emerging codes, themes, and categories were used to explain the perceptions of Clemson Extension agents related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Four overarching categories emerged from the findings.

Category 1: Extension is Adaptable

 Keith stated, “we’re used to getting things thrown in our lap, everybody in the world or everybody in the country says, you have any questions call your county extension agent,” which reinforced this concept. When considering the COVID-19 pandemic, Keith went on to say, “as far as agronomy agents and a lot of the horticulture agents, we’ve never quit visiting farmers, when they call, we go.” The changes caused by the pandemic looked different across the state, depending on the needs of community, which was encompassed through the thoughts of Extension professionals “adapting every single day and the pandemic just made it a big step, as opposed to little steps. We just had to figure out a way to continue to do what we’re already doing, just in a different format” (Leonard). Other interviews built upon these same lines of thought to demonstrate the overall adaptability of Clemson Extension.

Category 2: Need for Training and Resources

The greatest need indicated across the interviews was specific training and resources to help Extension professionals and constituents navigate the pandemic. Keith simply stated that “everybody’s been putting out fires and handling their own problems … and I think some help and some guidance with all our delivery programs would be great.” Abigail further identified “a big chunk of people who are probably [her] age and younger and then a couple of older ones who … are more traditional, who need some help.” The participants identified specific training needs for agents across the state related to Zoom, virtual programming, and mental health of both adults and youth, “because as the times change, new stuff comes up.” Additional resources were also discussed by participants as many Extension professionals “live out in the middle of nowhere and Internet does not come to [their] house” (Shawn), requiring them to work of a limited data hot spot, when the data is gone, they are without internet. Participants also expressed a need for computers “that can handle Zoom,” so they can utilize Zoom features and provide essential programming to constituents. The final resource need is for the community members Extension professionals aim to reach, as many farmers and ranchers struggle to engage using technology, which Leonard explained that “it’s not necessarily that they can’t do it, a lot of them just don’t have the ability. Your rural areas just don’t have computers.”

Category 3: Community Perceptions

Perceptions of the communities Extension professionals serve was expressed by Violet as, “we’ve been at this so long, I wonder about our relevance… I’m still making farm visits, but a lot of people think we’re closed.” Similarly, Taylor struggled “going from what we normally do and being the face of the public and the face of the university to everything [moving] online, was tough. The biggest struggle was getting over the hill of convincing yourself that this is the way it’s going to be and then having to convince clientele that this is the way it’s going to be for a little while.” The change in delivery was difficult for all involved and many are concerned with the impact of the pandemic on the relationship between the Extension professional and the clientele moving forward. Which, Violet expressed as her “greatest concern, is how to bring those people back and have them trust us again and know that we’re still working, we’re still here and we still deserve to be paid, that sort of thing. I’ve heard all those things so that’s probably what I’m worried about the most.”

Category 4: Reluctancy to New Methods

Violet explained that “certainly the Zoom capabilities are good, but there’s been some reluctance to use them from our older crowd, and, unfortunately most farmers are 65 and older.” She went on to express the hardships as “it’s been a little bit hard to pull them [older farmers] in and get them to really feel connected. They like our meetings for the information side of it, but also the community feel, and I think you do lose a little bit of that with the virtual sense or virtual realm.” In contrast, Taylor found a positive side to the new methods as “we’re reaching a lot more people, especially on our side of the team that probably wouldn’t normally come to a meeting because they can just jump on a computer now.” But he also went on to explain the reluctance as “a majority of our clientele is older, the Zoom thing is tough for them, the technology piece is tough… We picked up a lot of clients… but we probably have some frustrated clients because of it.”

Research Question 2: Identify the greatest issues facing agriculture in South Carolina according to advisory committee members during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The second research question focused on determining the greatest issue(s) currently facing the agricultural industry in South Carolina. Of the 27 respondents, two primary issues arose, the cost/lack of agricultural inputs and outputs, and the need for local produce and meat products. Table 3 outlines underlying issues that make up those broader categories.

Table 3

Greatest Issues Facing South Carolina Agriculture (n = 27)

CategorySpecific Issues
Cost/Lack of Agricultural Inputs and OutputsLand, Seed, Feed, Fertilizer, Chemicals; Slaughter Facilities
 Increased Cost due to Urban Sprawl; Market Fluctuations
Need for Local Produce and Meat productsCOVID Restrictions; Farmers Market and Open-Air Markets Closed

Research Question 3: Determine current and potential solutions from Clemson Extension to address the issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The third research question addressed the current and potential solutions Clemson Extension is currently providing or could provide to address issues in agriculture. Table 4 outlines the current solutions being offered, although 14.8% of respondents felt that nothing was currently available. The two current solutions include agricultural education and agricultural land loss prevention. Specifically, agricultural education represents the Making It Grow programming offered through South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV), information provided by the Home Garden Information Center (HGIC), 4-H youth development programming, and Extension programs/Education. The second solution to currently assist agriculturalists is the agricultural land loss prevention program focused on agricultural land easements offered through the USDA-NRCS office.

Table 4

Solutions Available for Current Agricultural Issues (n = 27)

Current SolutionsSpecific Program/Offering
Agricultural EducationMaking it Grow
 4-H Youth Programming
 Extension Programs/Education
Agricultural Land Loss PreventionAgricultural Land Easements-NRCS

In addition to current programs, respondents’ ideas for potential solutions were of interest to the research team. Respondents identified two categories of solutions, the first being to publicize Extension programs and services better, so the public have a better understanding of what Extension does and what is being offered. The second solution was an increase in agricultural education, specifically targeting small farms and farming for-profit programs, additionally youth education opportunities, along with specific education programming highlighting the historical importance of agricultural land and keeping that land in agricultural production. Much of this was connected to 56% of respondents identifying COVID-19 as having a specific impact on agriculture in the state. Specifically, one of the greatest concerns was the impact of virtual programming during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many individuals did not have access to virtual programming due to lack of technology or internet. A potential option that was presented was being sure to offer recorded (asynchronous) programming options versus the live (synchronous) options currently available.

Research Question 4: Create a list of preferred programs and program delivery methods for future Extension programming.

The final objective aimed to establish the preferred program delivery methods for future extension programming, along with current and future program interests. Table 6 outlines the preferred information delivery method of respondents.

Table 6

Preferred Information Delivery Method (n = 27)

Delivery Methodf%
Office Visits622.2
No Preference622.2
Farm Visits13.7
Text Updates13.7
Fact Sheets13.7
Postal Mail13.7
Social Media13.7

In addition, 55.6% of participants said they would be willing to participate in future virtual programming if offered, while 22.2% of participants said they would not participate, and the remaining 22.2% were unsure. To further understand programmatic interests, participants were asked to identify which of the Clemson Extension Program teams had provided the most information during the pandemic, Table 7 outlines their responses.

Table 7

Programmatic Teams Offering the Most Programming During COVID 19

Program Teamf%
Forestry and Wildlife414.8
Agricultural Education311.1
Food Systems and Safety27.4
Livestock and Forages13.7
Rural Health and Nutrition13.7

Although 4-H was reported as the program team providing the most programming during the pandemic, participants expressed the most interest in more programming from the forestry and wildlife team (33.3%), followed by the agricultural education and livestock and forages teams, both with 26% of the respondents interested. The agribusiness team (22.2%) and the horticulture team (18.5%) rounded out the top five. The remaining program areas had less than 14% of participants interested.

Conclusions, Implications, and Recommendations

Through this study, strengths and challenges for South Carolina Cooperative Extension Agents during the COVID-19 pandemic were learned, providing a framework in the event of similar challenges in the future. As identified in the category one finding, “Extension is Adaptable,” discussed how agents continued to meet their constituent’s needs, but through use of many creative means. a benefit that will aide Cooperative Extension Agents is the ability to adapt quickly. This ability to adapt would support those aspects in the category two findings which identified a need for training/in-service of Cooperative Extension Agents and their constituents. Category three, “Community Perceptions,” is reflective of the anxiety and uncertainty that was commonly experienced during the pandemic. Shifts in time and locations of workplace during the pandemic created a variety of uninformed interpretations of staff labor and confusion among the clientele base. Category four, “Reluctancy to New Methods” was commonly thought to be a challenge, but during the pandemic, it became widely know that there are gaps in technological competencies. Altough Extension agents had negative perceptions about certain components of their ability to provide appropriate education and outreach to constituent groups, their overall intentions were positive leading to actionable behaviors (Ajzen, 1991) that made an impact in their communities and states.

According to the advisory committee members in this study, there are two primary issues (i.e., attitudes; Ajzen, 1991) facing agriculture (i.e., cost or lack of agricultural inputs and outputs and the need for local produce and meat products) in South Carolina. The first issue can be contributed to the availability of land due to urban sprawl as well as all input costs having significantly increased in spring 2021. Additionally, slaughter facilities have been waitlisted for the last year due to high demand for American meat products. The area of concern can be considered together with the first due to slaughterhouses being backed up, local meat producers are unable to get their product finished out and packed for sale. Open air markets and farmers have been under the mercy of local and federal government’s restrictions, which have limited or cancelled all opportunities for local produce to be made available (L. Keasler, personal communication, 2021). Although these issues are of concern, Extension has the opportunity to address some of them by providing timely and accurate information to those who need it most. This allows the agents to control what they can through communication, reducing the negative perception and informing stakeholders if the subjective norms (Ajzen, 1991) currently impacting agricultural production.

Extension can work with local producers to ensure that they are in contact with their local and state representatives to be made aware of the issues that American agriculturalists are facing in today’s environment. Extension can also provide more agricultural education to the general consumer to assist our agricultural producers in informing the community what issues they face to maintain their livelihood. Some things cannot be controlled, such as market fluctuations and processing facilities operation. However, agents can make public representatives aware of the issues, asking them to push these issues in front of our elected legislative bodies to enact change through governmental policies. According to Anderson and Salkehatchie counties Cattlemen’s Association members and meat producers (personal communication, January 12, 2021), the availability of funds to build more USDA certified handling facilities would increase the speed at which products can be made available to markets, as well as increase jobs in areas where these facilities are housed. Perhaps, inputs such as fertilizers and herbicides can be regulated by government to avoid price gouging when they are needed the most, making the big companies richer and the hard-working farmers pockets tighter to continue to make a living in production agriculture.

Local fruit and vegetable producers face a slightly different issue in that they are at the mercy of local, state, and federal mandates, only operating at full capacity when they are told it is safe to do so (L. Keasler, personal communication, 2021). Similarly, Extension is subject to these same mercies, although we have seemed to reach a new normal, the findings of this study can be beneficial for Clemson Extension and similar Extension agencies in other states.

The implications support the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991), as agents recognized that they could adapt to meet the needs of their constituents during time of many unknowns and countless challenges demonstrates how favorable attitudes and intentions result in adaptable behaviors. These behaviors include the awareness of need for additional training and to seek resources to meet needs. Paradoxically, the resistance of many constituents to accept alternative programming methods presented opposing behaviors from the agents, creating additional challenges. Regardless, adaptability is key moving forward for Extension, as it allows Extension agents to meet the needs in their communities, serve their primary stakeholder groups, and improve overall perceptions of what they offer. Although it should be noted that many of the factors impacting Extension during the COVID-19 pandemic were outside of the Extension agents’ control, ultimately impacting the perceived behavioral control the agents had on situations (Ajzen, 1991).

Considering recommendations for Extension professionals, a need exists to better publicize programs and services offered from the county offices to increase awareness and community participation. This can be done through local news organizations such as newspapers, radio stations, social media, and news channels. Although the pandemic has provided its share of challenges, the increased availability for virtual programming has some benefits, such as being able to reach a broader audience across the state who previously never participated in Extension programming. Moving forward it is recommended that Extension consider ways to offer programming in-person and virtually to continue to expand the diversity of people being reach for programming. Perhaps, with a collaborative effort Clemson Extension could make a greater impact on the future of agriculture across the state, as agriculture makes an impact on everyone’s daily life. Extension professionals should consider the findings as a starting point to evaluate the current state of Extension programming and how to best move forward to address pertinent agricultural issues.

Realizing the conclusions and implications addressed in this study, it is recommended that Cooperative Extension Services consider the following actions:

  1. Initiate an assessment of State Cooperative Extension Service staff to develop a comprehensive guide on best management practices in the event of future events of the magnitude experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic;
  2. Develop a series of in-service offerings on communications tools for delivery of online programming, provided at different skills levels;
  3. Coordinate with agencies that provide professional development in awareness of mental health issues and recommended practices and resources available, and
  4. Establish a review team of IT experts for the Cooperative Extension Service that will develop a standard protocol to assure that technologies (laptops, scanners, etc.) needed for online delivery and required Internet access will be available for staff to successfully complete their programming remotely as needed.


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Everyday People in Agriculture: Our Voices, Our Concerns, Our Issues

Chastity Warren

Dr. Chastity Warren English, Professor of Agriscience Education at North Carolina A&T State University, presented the 2023 Distinguished Lecture at the Southern Region Conference of the American Association for Agricultural Education in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Dr. Warren English’s talk focused on the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belong in agricultural education and allied sectors while also highlighting her lived experiences in the discipline. She also illuminated the concerns of her students in an 1890 Land-grant University context. This article is a philosophical work based on her distinguished lecture…

Read More

A Philosophical Perspective Revisiting Teaching “In” and “About” Agriculture

Blake C. Colclasure, Doane University,

Brianna Shanholtzer, STEMscopes,

Andrew C. Thoron, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College,

R. Kirby Barrick, University of Florida,

PDF Available


School-based agricultural education (SBAE) has evolved considerably in the last century. This philosophical perspective examines the history of formal agricultural education in the United States and explores how early contributions to agricultural education shaped the structure of modern SBAE. The divergent roles of agricultural education to: 1) provide a qualified agricultural workforce for the 21st century, and 2) educate students about agriculture, are discussed. Furthermore, a conceptual framework for the structure of K-12 agricultural education is proposed, which attempts to provide a solution to gaps in agricultural career readiness and agricultural literacy.

Keywords:agricultural education, agricultural literacy, agriculture workforce, career and technical education


The modern agricultural industry in the United States looks far different from the farming operations that provided the country with food, fiber, and natural resources during the early 20th century (Conkin, 2009). Today’s agricultural industry has become more complex and globally interconnected (Ajibola, 2019; Ding & Qian, 2016). Trends in technological advancements have led to increased efficiency and strive to meet demands of a growing global population, while agricultural production has been confronted with social, political, and environmental challenges (National Research Council [NRC], 2009a). The new era of a technological advanced and industrialized agricultural landscape offers solutions to global food shortages, but must continue to take critical steps to be more sustainable and environmentally sensitive (Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO], 2015; FAO, 2017).

The transformational shift in agriculture production has redefined the once blue-collar American farmer. The next generation of agriculturalists require an advanced skillset beyond a general knowledge in agriculture. Twenty-first century “farmers” need to be interdisciplinary problem solvers and critical thinkers who can work collaboratively with diverse groups of people (NRC, 2009a). Furthermore, the new era of agriculture requires workers who are able to apply science and technology to confront challenges that are not yet known (Little, 2019). There has been no other time in history when the requirements of the agricultural worker have been more complex nor the supply of qualified agricultural workers so low (Whittaker & Williams, 2016). The pipeline of qualified agricultural workers appears be corroding and the changing agricultural landscape requires a new definition for the agricultural worker. Consequently, how we prepare the future agricultural workforce may require a new approach (NRC, 2009b).

To add to these challenges, as the agricultural industry battles the shortage of qualified workers (Whittaker & Williams, 2016), the industry is also being confronted with a society that lacks a connection to agriculture (Kover & Ball, 2013). A 2011 national survey conducted by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) found that 72% of consumers indicated they know nothing or very little about farming or ranching (2011). A similar national-level survey sent one-year later indicated that more than one in four consumers are confused about the food they purchase and that young adults (i.e., 18- to 29-year-olds) are more confused about food purchases compared to other age groups (USFRA, 2012). However, the survey also revealed that nearly 60% of consumers desire to know more about how food is grown and raised and that lower-income households are particularly likely to say they want to know more but indicate not having the time or money to do so (USFRA, 2012).

Formal and informal educational programs designed to enrich students’ understanding of food and food systems have had a long history in America’s K-12 public education (Salin, 2018). However, these programs have waxed and waned along with shifts in educational theory and funding. Furthermore, socioeconomic gaps in educational opportunities remain. Due to the public’s expanding knowledge gap in agriculture (Kover & Ball, 2013) and growing concern about food production, formal school-based agricultural education (SBAE) needs to be well positioned to teach all students about agriculture in order for them to become informed consumers of agricultural goods and who possess a basic understanding of where food comes from and how it is produced.


This philosophical paper explores the role and structure of SBAE in the United States to confront both the need for a modern agricultural workforce and an agriculturally-literate society. The historical development of agricultural education that has led to divergent pathways is discussed: teaching about agriculture and teaching in agriculture. A 21st century model for the structure of SBAE is proposed which attempts to conceptualize agricultural education as a solution to combat two existing gaps: (1) agricultural career readiness; and, (2) agricultural literacy.

Summary of SBAE Structural Development in the United States

The first account of agriculture being formally taught in the United States occurred in Georgia in 1733 when three men were hired to instruct individuals how to produce raw silk (Moore & Gaspard, 1987). Since then, vocational education, and specifically agricultural education, has been evolving. The first major push for vocational education occurred in the early 20th century when the nation’s growing industrial and agricultural societies called for a more practical education beyond liberal arts (Moore & Gaspard, 1987). Hallmark legislative actions, such as the 1862 and 1890 Morrill Acts along with the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act, provided the foundation for formal education in agriculture and mechanical arts across the United States (Barrick, 1989). The passage of the Morrill Act of 1862 supplied each state with funding to establish colleges for higher education in agriculture and mechanical arts, which placed importance on the need for public vocational education in higher education (Moore & Gaspard, 1987).  

The 1917 Smith-Hughes Act directly impacted public vocational education at the secondary level by providing federal funding for vocational programs. The Federal Government believed that vocational education was essential to the nation’s welfare and established the act to allow states to develop a system to design and deliver vocational education (Federal Board for Vocational Education, 1917). The resources provided by the Smith-Hughes Act inspired swift changes in secondary vocational education and established state boards of vocational education. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 had many rules for the allocation of federal funding. One rule in particular stated that “if a high school student was taught one class by a teacher paid in full or in part from federal vocational funds, that same student could receive no more than fifty percent academic instruction” (Prentice Hall Documents Library, 1998, para 8). As a result, the Federal Vocational Board divided the time of students enrolled in vocational education into three segments, 50 percent in shop work, 25 percent in closely related subjects, and 25 percent in academic course work. The division of student enrollment became known as the 50-25-25 rule (Hayward & Benson, 1993). The Smith-Hughes Act and the 50-25-25 rule guided agricultural education towards a more vocational approach, which emphasized agricultural trade skills and the preparation of students to become farmers (NRC, 1988).

For the next half century, vocational education remained nearly the same. Vocational education emphasized job-specific skills, nearly eliminating theoretical content, and became increasingly segregated by subject matter (e.g., agriculture, industrial arts, home economics). As vocational careers began to evolve with technical changes, students lacked the skills needed in the new workplace and were not effectively trained to adapt to the changing environment. The need for a new paradigm in agricultural education was evident, yet the practice of teaching in SBAE remained stagnant, resulting in declining student enrollment and poor student career preparation.

As a result of declining enrollment in agricultural education in the 1980s, and subsequently a larger population becoming further removed from agriculture, the National Research Council sought to identify a new paradigm for agricultural education programs. The 1988 NRC publication, Understanding Agriculture – New Directions for Education, provided recommendations to broaden the scope of agricultural education as an effort to foster a renewed urgency for a society familiar with the workings of agriculture. In Understanding Agriculture – New Directions for Education, the NRC defined the term agricultural literacy as an “understanding of the food and fiber system [that] includes its history and current economics, social, and environmental significance to all Americans” (NRC, 1988, p. 8). The NRC (1988) claimed that the focus of agricultural education must change, stating that agricultural education is more than vocational agriculture. The NRC also recommended that students should receive education about agricultural from kindergarten through twelfth grade, suggesting the integration of agricultural content into existing core courses. Lastly, the NRC claimed that vocational education in agriculture must be continuously adapting to stay current with the evolving field of agriculture. The new paradigm of SBAE established that agricultural education must be comprehensive in coverage, scientific in method, and practical in impact and focus (NRC, 1988). 

Agricultural Education Today

Among the Career and Technical Education (CTE) disciplines established in the United States during the formative years of school-based vocational training, agricultural education has fared considerably well compared to the rest of its counterparts. The number of programs in industrial arts, technology education, and home economics have waned (Lynch, 1996; Volk, 1993) while enrollment in SBAE increased, recruiting an increasingly diverse student population (Brown & Kelsey, 2013; Warner & Washburn, 2009). Like other programs in CTE, SBAE continues to face a shortage of qualified teachers, expressing concern for the sustainability and growth of agricultural education across the country (Boone & Boone, 2009; Eck & Edwards, 2019; Kantrovich, 2010; Moser & McKim, 2020; Myers et al., 2005).

The complete agricultural education program is represented by the three-circle model, consisting of classroom instruction, Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE), and FFA (Phipps et al., 2008). Each of the three components seen within the model continues to play an integral part of agricultural education across the United States today, despite individual programs reporting varying emphasis on each component (Shoulders & Toland, 2017).

Classroom Instruction

The three-circle model suggests that contextual learning should take place in a laboratory or classroom setting. SBAE has experienced a strong history of experiential learning, stemming from vocational preparation through hands-on and problem-based learning (Parr & Edwards, 2004). Modern instruction in SBAE has become blended in both vocational and academic pursuits. Although active learning strategies have been central to the vision of SBAE, it has been documented that instruction using active learning is currently used far less by teachers than what is recommended (Colclasure et al., 2022; Smith et al., 2015). The emphasis of hands-on learning and skill-based learning in SBAE has provided an opportunity to make science topics applicable and relevant to students, all the while reinforcing academic content (Despain et al., 2016; Phipps et al., 2008). The integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education into agricultural curriculum has become central in modern SBAE (Roberts et al., 2016). Furthermore, the integration of science and math-based learning objectives and learning activities that require higher levels of cognition have shown to increase student learning (Parr et al., 2006; Spindler, 2015).

Student acquisition of content knowledge and skills remain the critical component of education programs. In an era of standard-based testing, measures of student content knowledge are used to provide accountability of student learning. It has been suggested that learning objectives across all disciplines be tied to federal and state learning standards and linked to assessment (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005). For modern SBAE, The National Council for Agricultural Education (NCAE, 2015) developed national learning standards for agricultural education, promoting eight educational pathways that include: (1) Agribusiness Systems; (2) Animal Systems; (3) Biotechnology Systems; (4) Environmental Service Systems; (5) Food Products and Processing; (6) Natural Resource Systems; (7) Plant Systems; and (8) Power, Structural and Technical Systems (The Council, 2015). Many states have also created their own agricultural learning standards and have developed industry certifications for students completing course pathways and passing industry certification exams (Florida Department of Education, 2022; Street et al., 2021). The goal of industry certification is to produce highly qualified graduates who are career ready for specific entry-level positions. Industry certifications have established a more concrete link between industry needs and the content that is taught in some SBAE programs.


The SAE provides students planned, sequential agricultural instruction that applies classroom topics to student-invested applications that students can understand (Phipps et al., 2008). Through the completion of an SAE, students can gain knowledge in workplace skills, explore different careers in the agricultural industry, and conduct projects that make learning meaningful, inspiring future learning. Despite positive outcomes of the SAE component, many SBAE programs fall short in successfully incorporating SAE programs, which creates a clear deviation from the three-circle model (Lewis et al., 2012a).

Unfortunately, a continuous trend in declining levels of SAE participation has been documented (Lewis et al., 2012b). Despite declining trends in the use of SAE, teachers have generally supported the concept of SAE programs (Osborne, 1988; Retallick, 2010). According to Retallick (2010), the most emergent cause of low student SAE enrollment is teacher difficulty in implementing SAE programs. This phenomenon is not new. Foster (1986) identified factors associated with why SAE programs are not implemented that include: lack of teacher time; lack of facilities (e.g. land labs); lack of student desire; and student demands from other school activities. Adding to these factors, student demographics in SBAE have changed considerably, causing perceived opportunities for quality SAEs to decline (Phipps et al., 2008). A lack of comprehensive preservice teacher training in SAE implementation may also contribute to declining SAEs. In a study on perceived teacher self-efficacy, Wolf (2011) found that novice teachers had lower self-efficacy scores for SAE domains compared to domains for both classroom instruction and FFA. Rubenstein et al. (2016), found that engaged teachers were a primary indicator of students developing and implementing successful SAE programs. Programs that fully embrace the SAE as part of the three-circle model typically require every student to conduct an SAE (Rubenstein & Thoron, 2015) and have strong administrative support (Rayfield & Wilson, 2009).


The remaining component of the three-circle model is student participation in FFA. FFA provides students with opportunities for personal growth, career exploration, and leadership at local, state, and national levels. Recent FFA membership has become more diverse, consisting of student membership from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which account for a record number of over 850,000 student members (National FFA Organization, 2022). FFA members are provided with opportunities to apply what they have learned in the classroom through competitions that mimic real-world agricultural and career skills. FFA provides students these opportunities through Career Development Events (CDEs). CDEs not only test students’ knowledge about agriculture but also provide students with opportunities to showcase their experience and skills in agriculture (Lundry et al., 2015).

K-8 Agricultural Education

While a foundational level or introductory agriculture course promoting agricultural literacy continues to be a staple in most secondary SBAE programs, middle school agricultural education programs have emerged in some states throughout the country. Although the purpose of SBAE at the middle school level continues to be refined, some states have created guides for middle school agricultural education programs that include basic agricultural literacy and opportunities for students’ agricultural career exploration (Odubanjo, 2018). Further efforts to promote agricultural literacy in public education is evident. In 1981, the USDA established the Agriculture in the Classroom campaign, creating educational programs for K-12 students across the country to learn about agriculture. The Agriculture in the Classroom campaign established agricultural learning standards for K-12 public education that range from basic agricultural knowledge to specific knowledge of the agricultural industry (Spielmaker & Leising, 2013). The Agriculture in the Classroom campaign continues to promote agricultural literacy for K-12 students today.

Preparing an Agriculturally-Literate Society: Teaching “About” Agriculture

The cohesive design and delivery of SBAE across the country has become splintered by varying ideologies of the purpose of agricultural education. The creation of national and state learning standards and industry certification programs that are linked to career-specific pathways have attempted to re-align SBAE to vocational approaches of education. Concurrently, SBAE has seen a large push for increased agricultural literacy and curriculum integration (e.g., STEM) in the last decade, further expanding the mission of agricultural education beyond career readiness. The purpose of agricultural education seems to be split between preparing an agriculturally-literate society and preparing students for careers in agriculture.

The importance of agricultural literacy has been well-noted in the literature. Pope (1990) expressed that agricultural literacy is fundamental to a society that lacks direct connection to production agriculture, so that well informed individuals can make educated decision regarding agriculture. Igo and Frick (1999) claimed that an agriculturally-literate society is needed if the agricultural industry in the United States is to remain successful. Furthermore, Kovar and Ball (2013) suggested that agricultural literacy is imperative to maintain a sustainable and viable agricultural system that is capable to feed a growing global population.

Preparing a Workforce in Modern Agriculture: Teaching “In” Agriculture

CTE has provided a necessary link between workforce readiness, commercial industry, and public education (McNamara, 2009). SBAE, as part of the umbrella of CTE programming, has had an early history rooted within the sole purpose of preparing students for vocational careers within production agriculture (NRC, 1988). Curricula within vocational programs were designed to meet the needs of industry-related employers. From the 1920s to the mid-1980s, curriculum within SBAE was designed with the purpose to train students to become farmers (NRC, 1988). As production agriculture changed over time, SBAE curricula partially developed to reflect such changes, teaching industrial methods of technical agriculture.

Despite efforts across CTE programs to establish a career-ready workforce, a recent trend indicating deficiencies of the number of graduating students who have the knowledge and skills required by industry has led to a nation-wide skills gap (Whittaker & Williams, 2016). Evidence of the skills gap has sparked a recent return to the investment of CTE programs in the United States (Stringfield & Stone, 2017). Governing agencies within CTE have promoted the use of career pathways and industry certifications within secondary education to advance students’ acquisition of skills and successful transition from high school into the workplace (Stringfield & Stone, 2017). In an analysis of U.S. job growth after the Great Recession of 2008, Carnevale et al. (2013) found that the new jobs created after the recession look far different than the jobs that were lost.

Implications for School-based Agricultural Education

The question if agricultural education curricula should be focused in or about agriculture has been debated over the last several decades. Proponents who support either side of the debate have identified valid arguments and have advocated for the advancement of agricultural educational to align with their belief of the purpose of agricultural education. It is hard to disagree with the notion that agricultural education should provide students with a foundational understanding of the production of food, fiber, and natural resources. Increasing the agricultural literacy of our society has never been of greater importance, as today’s youth have become more disconnected from the farm (USDA, 2014; Vallera & Bodzin, 2016). However, if the primary goal of agricultural education lies within improving students’ agricultural literacy, we must question if we are drifting too far from the historical roots of agricultural education, where the initial purpose was to prepare the next generation of agricultural workers. If SBAE becomes too centered in teaching about agriculture, we must ask ourselves if we are still considered a member of the CTE community.

Furthermore, focusing on anything less than preparing students for careers could contribute to an increasing skills gap in the United States. There is clearly a need for agricultural education to be positioned to teach about agriculture and to teach in agriculture. In order to achieve both of these tasks, the structure of agricultural education must be critically examined and evaluated, and alternative structures of agricultural education should be considered. As can be seen in figure one, a conceptual framework is proposed that illustrates an example structure for K-12 public education that allows for the effective delivery of agricultural education programs to teach students about and in agriculture.

The conceptual framework illustrates that teaching about agriculture should occur in grades K-9, with agricultural curriculum integration into core curriculum high school courses. Once students obtain a basic understanding of agricultural concepts they can elect to enter a pathway for career readiness identified by state boards of curriculum and individual schools.

Figure 1
A conceptual framework for teaching “in” and “about” agriculture in K-12 education.

Kindergarten – 5th Grade

The first stage in a holistic effort to improve the agricultural literacy among the public is to teach agricultural topics in grades K-5. The importance of agricultural education programs in grades K-5 should not be undervalued, as this formative stage of cognitive development is central to establish a life-long appreciation and interest in agriculture. Programs such as the Agriculture in the Classroom campaign should continue to strive to make sure that every child is exposed to educational applications that engages them in agricultural topics. Opportunities for children to be exposed to agriculture should extend beyond the classroom, increasing the exposure of children to school gardens and working farms. Every child should know where food comes from at the most basic level, and public education at lower levels and in every community should be the primary mechanism to ensure this occurs.

6th Grade – 8th Grade

Federal and state efforts requiring a basic agricultural education course in public education is well-warranted. This framework proposes that students in grades sixth through eighth should be required to enroll in at least one agricultural education course. Courses at this level should focus on teaching students about agriculture on a foundational level. Coursework should be oriented toward agricultural literacy, consisting of subject matter that is rich in consumer knowledge that explores food production from field to fork. Ideally, students will take more than one agricultural education course at the middle school level. However, the teacher shortage in agricultural education (Camp et al., 2002; Kantrovich, 2010; Roberts & Dyer, 2004), and the current status of agricultural education, which is focused at the high school level, creates difficulties in providing agricultural education to every middle school student. Innovative solutions, such as additional middle school agricultural endorsement programs for core curriculum teachers, and offering online agriculture courses, could provide every middle school student with at least one agricultural course. Agricultural courses at the middle school level should focus on basic agricultural content knowledge and literacy.

9th Grade

This framework also proposes that every student should take an advanced introduction to agriculture course during their first year of high school. This course will expand upon the required middle school agriculture course by exposing students to complex agricultural issues that emphasize students’ use of higher order thinking. However, the focus of the advanced introduction to agriculture course will still be centered in teaching about agriculture and will allow students to explore agricultural careers.

9th-12th Grade

Contrary to the integration of core subjects into agriculture courses, this framework highlights the need to integrate agricultural topics into core classes. It is believed that this method will expand agricultural literacy for students who elect to not go into agricultural career pathways. Furthermore, the integration of real-life applications is needed in core curriculum. Stakeholders of agriculture and key organizations in agricultural education should design lessons that have an agricultural context for core curriculum classes that teachers can use to supplement their current lessons.

10th-12th Grade

In order to prepare a specialized and highly-qualified agricultural workforce for the 21st century, this framework proposes that programs should strategically implement a series of career pathway courses that are uniquely tailored to the occupational needs of each state. Such courses should be designed to allow students to obtain the skills needed in localized agricultural careers. The implementation of career certifications in SBAE, which are currently found in some states, provide a necessary link between industry and education. Furthermore, the design of career preparation courses should expand beyond the immediate skill sets needed in the industry and should promote students’ social, critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills that are needed in the 21st century workforce. 


The development of agricultural education was first established to prepare individuals for the skills they needed to work on a farm. Following the industrial revolution, federal acts expanded vocational education in secondary schools and post-secondary institutions. The focus in trade-based learning was evident in agricultural education until the reinvention of agricultural education during the 1990s. Agricultural education expanded its mission to teach beyond agricultural trades, emphasizing agricultural knowledge, as opposed to specific career skills. The new paradigm of agricultural education may have been essential for the growth of SBAE. However, the purpose of SBAE to teach about agriculture has led to deficiencies in students’ career preparation while also not fully reaching its potential to educate society about agriculture.

The conceptual framework provided in this paper was developed to offer a solution for agricultural education to be better positioned to teach both about and in agriculture. The framework expands upon existing efforts for agricultural education to reach K-8 students. An expansion of agricultural education at the middle school level is necessary to fully expose students about agriculture. An additional course at the 9th grade level, which exposes students to higher level thinking about agriculture, is necessary. These courses along with the integration of agricultural contexts into core curriculum will aim to decrease the public’s knowledge gap of agriculture. Courses beyond an advanced introductory course will focus on specific agricultural careers and will exist for the purpose of providing students with the advanced skills they need in specific agricultural industries. The authors of the proposed framework understand the complexities associated with the redevelopment of the structure of agricultural education programs; however, in order for agricultural education to simultaneously provide solutions to both career readiness and agricultural literacy, the structure and purpose of agricultural education at each level should be discussed and refined on a national level.

The implementation of the provided conceptual framework would have dramatic implications for SBAE. An enormous increase in the number of students enrolled in SBAE courses would be seen. The expansion of middle school agricultural education programs would educate all students about agriculture, putting less pressure for high school agriculture courses to teach both about and in agriculture. Furthermore, it would be expected that agricultural literacy would increase in society, resulting in a new generation that appreciates and understands the basic components of food production. A renewed focus on advanced career preparation for specific career pathways could potentially reduce the number of students being taught career-specific agricultural skills. However, students completing specific career pathways that are tailored to the demands of industry, would be adequately prepared to enter the workforce or continue advanced, postsecondary training in a specific field. The investment in this educational design could contribute to closing the large skills gap identified in industry. Agricultural education has advanced in many ways to become a model for CTE. Despite its many successes over the last century, the current structure of agricultural education is beginning to experience unintended strain from pressures asking agricultural education to do too much with its existing structure. The current structure of SBAE is not appropriately designed to teach both about and in agriculture, where both purposes are given the attention they need. The proposed conceptual framework included in this paper is one of many potential designs to offer alternatives for the structure of agricultural education to meet challenges that are currently being faced in agriculture. 


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Identifying the Teaching Effectiveness of School-Based Agricultural Education Teachers Who Aim to Increase their Human Capital

Christopher J. Eck, Oklahoma State University,

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Teaching effectiveness is an elusive, difficult to gauge concept, especially in career and technical education. This exploratory study was undergirded by the human capital theory and the effective teaching model for SBAE teachers. The purpose of this study was to identify the overall effectiveness of SBAE teachers aiming to improve their human capital by attending professional development at the 2020 NAAE conference. Composite effectiveness scores on the effective teaching instrument for school-based agricultural education teachers (ETI-SBAE) ranged from 59 to 98, out of 104, with a mean score of 81.54 overall. Work-life balance was found to be the component of greatest concern, followed by SAE supervision. Female SBAE teachers were found to be more effective than their male counterparts in this self-reported study. Determining effectiveness using the ETI-SBAE allows teachers to reflect upon their current human capital, ultimately guiding professional development opportunities to improve their effectiveness. SBAE stakeholders responsible for developing professional development workshops should consider the needs of their target audience and be purposeful in the offerings provided, as needs of SBAE teachers vary across a wide spectrum of personal and professional characteristics.

Introduction/Theoretical Framework

Teaching effectiveness has often been considered an elusive concept (Stronge et al., 2011), as it has multiple definitions and evaluation metrics (Farrell, 2015), although, studies (Kane & Staiger, 2008; Stronge et al., 2011) have found a link between teaching effectiveness and students’ success. As with career and technical education (CTE) at large, considering the effectiveness of school-based agricultural education (SBAE) teachers becomes an even more daunting task (Eck et al., 2019). Evaluating SBAE teachers differs from those within core subject areas, as SBAE teachers have unique workloads and expectations (Roberts & Dyer, 2004). The expectations of an SBAE teacher are often designed based on the National FFA Organization’s (2015) three-component model of agricultural education, (i.e., classroom and laboratory instruction, FFA advisement, and supervised agricultural experience (SAE) supervision). Figure 1 outlines the three-component model along with integral details.

Figure 1
The Three-Component Model of Agricultural Education (National FFA Organization, 2015)

The components outside of classroom and laboratory instruction (i.e., SAE and FFA) are considered intracurricular, as they are a comprehensive part of a complete SBAE program (National FFA Organization, 2015). Although these components are intracurricular, the time SBAE teachers must commit to overseeing these tasks is time consuming and often daunting for newer teachers (Torres et al., 2008). Many of these additional tasks go unnoticed by supervisors and administrators even though teachers often struggle preparing for class (Boone & Boone, 2007) and balancing the additional workload (Boone & Boone 2009). This workload and the increased community expectation placed on SBAE teachers often leads to the concern of work-life balance (Clemons et al., 2021; Edwards & Briers, 1999; Murray et al., 2011; Traini et al., 2020; Sorensen et al., 2016). Additionally, work-life balance has been identified as an integral component of an effective SBAE teacher (Eck et al., 2020). But finding this balance can be an overwhelming task considering the extra duties and responsibilities placed on SBAE teachers (Terry & Briers, 2010). Regardless of the subject area many can agree that “teachers make a difference” (Wright et al., 1997, p. 57), which leads to the need for support structures for teachers.

One critical way that teachers are supported is through professional development opportunities (Desimone, 2011). Unfortunately, professional development is often broad and not developed based on teacher’s needs, leading to little or no benefit to the teachers participating (National Research Council, 2000). Research within SBAE often focuses on the needs of teachers but professional development is rarely designed to meet those needs (Easterly & Myers, 2019). Therefore, it is essential that teachers’ needs are not only evaluated but the opportunity to address those needs through purposeful professional development is explored.

This study aimed to address the overarching concern related to professional development and the alignment of SBAE teachers’ needs by evaluating their teaching-specific human capital during a professional development workshop. Thus, this study was framed by the conceptual model for effective teaching in SBAE (Eck et al., 2020). The model was undergirded by the human capital theory (HCT), as HCT addresses an individual’s experiences, education, skills, and training (Becker, 1964; Little, 2003; Schultz, 1971; Smith, 2010; Smylie, 1996) specific to their career (Heckman, 2000). As the educational landscape continues to change, it becomes increasingly important to assess and update career specific human capital (Spenner, 1985).

To help address the specific concerns related to SBAE teaching, Eck et al. (2020) developed and validated the effective teaching instrument for school-based agricultural education teachers (ETI-SBAE) in response to the growing interest in developing comprehensive evaluation systems for education (Darling-Hammond, 2010), specifically those unique to SBAE (Eck et al., 2019; Roberts & Dyer, 2004). To further support the professional development of SBAE teachers, a conceptual model was established to connect the primary components of SBAE teacher human capital development and effective teaching in a complete SBAE program. Figure 2 depicts the effective teaching model for SBAE teachers (Eck et al., 2020), which supports the ETI-SBAE by grounding the instrument in the human capital theory.  

Figure 2
The Effective Teaching Model for SBAE Teachers

Since human capital focuses on the education, skills, experiences, and training (Little, 2003; Schultz, 1971; Smith, 2010; Smylie, 1996) specifically related to one’s career (Becker, 1964), the model is encompassed by the development of human capital. The effective teaching model (see Figure 2) aligns the six components of effective SBAE teachers from the ETI-SBAE along with personal, professional, and environmental factors, all of which are necessary elements of human capital for SBAE teachers (Eck et al., 2020). Although the ETI-SBAE exists, little research has been conducted related to the evaluation and growth of SBAE teachers seeking to increase their human capital through professional development opportunities. The ETI-SBAE and the accompanying conceptual model were established to help in-service SBAE teachers conceptualize their personal strengths and weaknesses as they relate to effective teaching in a complete SBAE program (Eck et al., 2020). Therefore, this study aimed to determine the self-perceived effectiveness of SBAE teachers related to the effective teaching model, who were participating in the 2020 National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) annual conference who were taking part in professional development opportunities. The workshop provided career specific professional development for SBAE teacher participants, which served as a training (Schultz, 1971) aimed at increasing career specific human capital (Becker, 1964).

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this study was to identify the overall effectiveness of SBAE teachers aiming to improve their human capital by attending professional development at the 2020 NAAE conference. Two research objectives guided the study: (1) Determine the self-perceived effectiveness of SBAE teachers attending professional development at the 2020 NAAE Conference; and (2) Compare the effectiveness of SBAE teachers based on personal and professional characteristics.

Methods and Procedures

This non-experimental study implemented an exploratory survey research design (Privitera, 2020) during a professional development workshop at the 2020 NAAE Virtual Conference. The population of interest included SBAE teachers nationwide, but an accessible population (Privitera, 2020) was surveyed that participated in the virtual workshop titled, Be Purposeful About Your Professional Development: How to Increase Your Teaching Effectiveness (n = 32), during the conference. During the virtual presentation, teachers were asked to complete a survey instrument to help them self-evaluate their overall effectiveness. Out of the 32 participants, 28 (87.5%) completed the instrument.  

The ETI-SBAE was the instrument used during the workshop as it was deemed a valid and reliable instrument to self-assess SBAE teacher effectiveness by Eck et al. (2020), with an acceptable Cronbach’s alpha of 0.87 (Nunnally, 1978). The instrument included 26-items (see Table 1) spanning six components (i.e., Intracurricular Engagement, Personal Dispositions, Appreciation for Diversity and Inclusion, Pedagogical Preparedness, Work-Life Balance, and Professionalism).

Table 1
Effective Teaching Components and Item Descriptions (26 items)
Component Title Item Corresponding Item Description
1. Intracurricular Engagement IE_1 I instruct students through FFA.
  IE_2 I advise the FFA officers.
  IE_3 I advise the FFA chapter.
  IE_4 I facilitate record keeping for degrees and
  IE_5 I am passionate about FFA.
  IE_6 I instruct students through SAEs.
  IE_7 I use the complete agricultural education 3-
     component model as a guide to  
     programmatic decisions.
2. Personal Dispositions PD_1 I am trustworthy.
  PD_2 I am responsible.
  PD_3 I am dependable.
  PD_4 I am honest.
  PD_5 I show integrity.
  PD_6 I am a hard worker.
3. Appreciation for Diversity
        and Inclusion
 AD_1 I value students regardless of economic status.
  AD_2 I value students of all ethnic/racial groups.
  AD_3 I value students regardless of sex.
  AD_4 I care about all students.
  AD_5 I understand there is not an award for all
     students, but that does not mean they are not
4. Pedagogical Preparedness PP_1 I demonstrate classroom management.
  PP_2 I demonstrate sound educational practices.
  PP_3 I am prepared for every class.
5. Work-Life Balance B_1 I have the ability to say no.
  B_2 I lead a balanced life.
  B_3 I am never afraid to ask for help.
6. Professionalism P_1 I have patience.
  P_2 I show empathy.

In addition to the 26-item instrument, five questions were asked related to personal and professional characteristics (i.e., age, gender, ethnicity, certification pathway, and number of years teaching SBAE).

Workshop participants rated each of the 26-items on a 4-point, Likert-type scale ranging from 1 to 4 (i.e., 1 = very weak; 2 = weak; 3 = strong; 4 = very strong) based on their personal assessment of strengths and weaknesses. A composite effectiveness score was calculated based on the recommendations of Eck et al. (2020) to assess overall teacher effectiveness based on a sum of the responses to the 26-items. The summative scores were equally weighted across the 26-items to provide optimal estimates according to McDonald (1997). The composite scores were calculated using Microsoft Excel®, with a possible range of 26 (very weak) to 104 (very strong). Composite effectiveness ranges were provided to participants during the workshop as follows: weak = 26 to 46; somewhat weak = 47 to 67; strong = 68 to 88; and very strong = 89 to 104.

Data were analyzed using SPSS Version 26 and included descriptive and inferential statistics.  Specifically, research objective one used descriptive statistics to report mean and standard deviation using SPSS, while also implementing Microsoft Excel to calculate composite effectiveness scores. The composite effectiveness scores were then used in research objective two as the dependent variable to compare against the five independent variables or personal and professional characteristics (i.e., gender, age, ethnicity, certification pathway, and years teaching) using a factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA), per the recommendations of Field (2009). The factorial ANOVA output from SPSS was analyzed to identify interactions and potential main effects of the data (Field, 2014). To further explain the effect, an effect size was calculated for the factorial ANOVA as partial eta squared (n2). The resulting effect size (n2 = 0.44) was considered a large effect (n2 > .25) according to Privitera (2020).

SBAE teachers participating in the NAAE workshop ranged from 24 to 53 years of age, with 78.6% being female (see Table 2). Twenty-one of the teachers (75.0%) were traditionally certified through either a bachelor’s or master’s agricultural education degree program with student teaching and ranged from first year teachers to those with 28 years of experience (see Table 2). Table 2 outlines the personal and professional characteristics of all SBAE teachers participating in the virtual workshop who completed the ETI-SBAE during the 2020 NAAE Virtual Conference. 

Table 2
Personal and Professional Characteristics of Participants (n = 28)
Characteristic  n % 
GenderMale 5 17.9 
 Female 22 78.6 
 Prefer to not respond 1 3.6 
Age21 to 29 4 14.2 
 30 to 39 8 28.6 
 40 to 49 8 28.6 
 50 to 59 3 10.7 
 Prefer to not respond 5 17.9 
Certification PathwayAgEd BS 11 39.3 
 AgEd MS 10 35.7 
 Alternatively Certified 3 10.7 
 Emergency Certified 1 3.6 
 Not Certified 1 3.6 
 Prefer to not respond 2 7.1 
EthnicityWhite 22 78.6 
 Black or African American 1 3.6 
 Native Hawaiian or Pacific
 1 3.6 
 Other 2 7.1 
 Prefer to not respond 2 7.1 
Years Teaching SBAEa1 1 3.6 
 2 0 0.0 
 3 1 3.6 
 4 1 3.6 
 5 3 10.7 
 6 to 10 6 21.4 
 11 to 15 7 25.0` 
 16 to 20 5 17.9 
 21 to 25 2 7.1 
 26 to 30 1 3.6 
 No Response 1 3.6 

Note. aYears of teaching experience was aggregated based on participant responses.

The limitations of this study should be considered, as participation was limited to those who registered for and attended the virtual workshop at the 2020 NAAE Conference titled, Be Purposeful About Your Professional Development: How to Increase Your Teaching Effectiveness. and were willing to complete the ETI-SBAE instrument during the virtual workshop. The participants were seeking professional development; therefore, the findings are limited to in-service SBAE teachers who are interested in professional development opportunities.


Findings for Research Objective One: Determine the self-perceived effectiveness of SBAE teachers attending professional development at the 2020 NAAE Conference

This study resulted in responses from 28 SBAE teachers with composite effectiveness scores ranging from 59 (weak) to 98 (very strong), out of a total of 104, with a mean of 81.54. To further understand these composite scores, Table 3 outlines the means and standard deviations of each of the 26-items on the ETI-SBAE.

Table 3
ETI-SBAE Items with Means and Standard Deviations (n = 28)
Corresponding Item Description M SD
I am a hard worker. 4.00 .00
I am trustworthy. 3.96 .19
I am dependable. 3.93 .27
I am honest. 3.93 .27
I show integrity. 3.93 .27
I am responsible. 3.92 .27
I value students regardless of economic status. 3.89 .32
I value students of all ethnic/racial groups. 3.85 .36
I value students regardless of sex. 3.85 .36
I care about all students. 3.81 .40
I understand there is not an award for all students, but that does not mean they are not valuable. 3.81 .49
I am passionate about FFA. 3.74 .71
I demonstrate sound educational practices. 3.33 .48
I show empathy. 3.33 .68
I have patience. 3.32 .67
I advise the FFA chapter. 3.31 .62
I advise the FFA officers. 3.27 .83
I use the complete agricultural education 3-component model as a guide to programmatic decisions. 3.27 .72
I demonstrate classroom management. 3.26 .59
I instruct students through FFA. 3.23 .71
Corresponding Item Description M SD
I am prepared for every class. 2.89 .64
I instruct students through SAEs. 2.88 .71
I facilitate record keeping for degrees and awards. 2.85 .93
I lead a balanced life. 2.41 .64
I am never afraid to ask for help. 2.37 .88
I have the ability to say no. 2.33 .68

Note. 1 = very weak, 2 = somewhat weak, 3 = somewhat strong, and 4 = very strong

As shown in Table 3, the top six items based on means (ranging from 3.92 to 4.00) were all related to personal dispositions of the SBAE teachers (i.e., I am a hard worker, I am trustworthy, I am dependable, I am honest, I show integrity, and I am responsible). The next five items all correspond with an SBAE teachers’ appreciation for diversity and inclusion (i.e., I value students regardless of economic status, I value students of all ethnic/racial groups, I value students regardless of sex, I care about all students, and I understand there is not an award for all students, but that does not mean they are not valuable), ranging in means from 3.81 to 3.85. The component related to work-life balance (i.e., I lead a balanced life, I am never afraid to ask for help, and I have the ability to say no) resulted in the lowest three mean scores, ranging from 2.33 to 2.41. Professionalism corresponds to two items; I have patience and I show empathy which resulted in mean scores of 3.32 and 3.33 respectively. Pedagogical preparedness is represented by three items (i.e., I demonstrate classroom management, I demonstrate sound educational practices, and I am prepared for every class), which ranged from a low of 2.89 to a high of 3.33. The final, and largest component is intracurricular engagement, which corresponds with seven items (i.e., I instruct students through FFA, I advise the FFA officers, I advise the FFA chapter, I facilitate record keeping for degrees and awards, I am passionate about FFA, I instruct students through SAEs, and I use the complete agricultural education 3-component model as a guide to programmatic decisions) that ranged in mean scores from 2.85 to 3.74.

Findings for Research Objective Two: Compare the Effectiveness of SBAE Teachers Based on Personal and Professional Characteristics

Respondents were asked five questions related to personal and professional characteristics, including their age, gender, ethnicity, certification pathway, and number of years teaching SBAE (see Table 2). These characteristics were then compared against the composite sum effectiveness score for each participant. The maximum possible effectiveness score was 104 points for the 26-item instrument, as identified in the first research objective respondents in this study had effectiveness scores ranging from 59 to 98 points.

Before proceeding with the statical analysis, normality and homogeneity of variance was assessed, with all responses being normally distributed and Levene’s test statistic resulting in a non-statistical significance (p > .05).  With the assumptions being met, a factorial ANOVA was conducted with the composite sum effectiveness score serving as the dependent variable and the five personal and professional characteristics serving as independent variables. The SPSS output resulted in no statistically significant interactions within the factorial ANOVA. Although there were no significant interactions, main effects were analyzed, resulting in a statistically significant main effect for Gender F (17, 10) = 2.91, p < .05. Specifically, women in this study perceived themselves to be more effective (mean score = 88.50) than men (mean score = 83.20). The other for factors were not statistically significant; (1) Age F (17, 10) = 2.03, p > .05; (2) Ethnicity F (15, 10) = 1.60, p > .05; (3) Certification Pathway F (15, 10) = 0.76, p > .05; (4) Number of Years Teaching F (16, 10) = 2.35, p > .05.


SBAE teachers participating in the professional development session at the 2020 NAAE conference perceived themselves to be effective teachers overall according to their responses on the ETI-SBAE with a mean composite effectiveness score of 81.54. This overall composite score falls within the strong category of SBAE teaching effectiveness (i.e., strong = 68 to 88). Twenty of the items resulted in mean scores above 3.2, indicating responses of somewhat strong or very strong on the instrument. The remaining six items ranged in mean scores from a high of 2.89 (I am prepared for every class) to a low of 2.33 (I have the ability to say no), indicating somewhat weak areas for the SBAE teachers. Specifically, the component of greatest concern was work-life balance with the lowest three mean scores. Work-life balance is not a new concern, as the continual increase in SBAE teacher workload and community expectation has been an ongoing discussion within the literature (Boone & Boone, 2009; Clemons et al., 2021; Edwards & Briers, 1999; Murray et al., 2011; Sorensen et al., 2016; Traini et al., 2020), as it ultimately impacts work-life balance.

Another area of potential concern is within the intracurricular engagement component, specifically related to SAEs. Two items focus on SAEs, including I instruct students through SAEs and I facilitate record keeping for degrees and awards. These two items resulted in mean scores of 2.88 and 2.85 respectively, which are of concern, as the fall between somewhat weak (2.0) and somewhat strong (3.0), while SAE is considered an integral component of a complete SBAE program (National FFA Organization, 2015). SAE has also been discussed as additional time SBAE teachers must commit to overseeing the associated task, which is time consuming and often daunting for newer teachers (Torres et al., 2008). Boone and Boone (2007) described these related tasks as often going unnoticed by administrators and cause teachers to struggle with class preparation. Perhaps this is further confirmed within this study, as participants reported a mean score of 2.89 for the item, I am prepared for every class.

Determining the self-perceived areas of effectiveness and needs for improvement using the ETI-SBAE allows teachers to reflect upon their current human capital (Little, 2003; Schultz, 1971; Smith, 2010; Smylie, 1996), ultimately guiding professional development opportunities to help further career specific capital (Becker, 1964). Providing teachers an opportunity for self-reflection provides them the chance to seek purposeful professional development that could result in personal benefit for them professionally, offsetting the longstanding trend of little or no benefit to the teachers (National Research Council, 2000). Regardless, professional development has been identified as a critical way to support teachers (Desimone, 2011) and this research can serve as a starting point for the recommended research on engagement in professional development designed to meet SBAE teacher needs (Easterly & Myers, 2019).

Perhaps providing SBAE teachers with a valid instrument (ETI-SBAE) to evaluate their effectiveness across a complete SBAE program (i.e., classroom and laboratory instruction, FFA advisement, and SAE supervision) will encourage them to seek purposeful professional development opportunities, potentially increasing student success (Kane & Staiger, 2008; Stronge et al., 2011). Therefore, it is recommended that SBAE teachers use the ETI-SBAE to evaluate their areas of strength and weakness to identify gaps to be filled by professional development opportunities. Supervisors and administrators of SBAE teachers should also consider the ETI-SBAE to gauge the needs of their SBAE teachers. This exploratory study represented a small sample of SBAE teachers, therefore, the replication of this study using larger pools of teachers attending professional development events is warranted. Future research should evaluate the impact of purposeful professional development on teaching effectiveness using the ETI-SBAE.

Participants represented a range of personal and professional characteristics (see Table 2), allowing teaching effectiveness to be compared across those (i.e., age, gender, ethnicity, certification pathway, and number of years teaching SBAE). The only statistically significant difference was found between gender, as women perceived themselves to be more effective than men F (17, 10) = 2.91, p < .05. Although this is only a self-perceived effectiveness, there is room for growth across the SBAE teaching spectrum. This study suggests the need for professional development opportunities related to class preparation, SAE instruction, record keeping and work/life balance (i.e., leading a balanced life, asking for help, and having the ability to say no).


Although teaching effectiveness has been defined as a multi-dimensional (Farrell, 2015), elusive concept (Stronge et al., 2011), the effective teaching model for SBAE teachers (see Figure 2) should be used as a guide in conjunction with the ETI-SBAE to determine the specific needs of an individual teacher based on their overall effectiveness and personal, professional, and environmental factors to increase their human capital (Becker, 1964), leading to increased teaching effectiveness. SBAE teachers should consider their strengths and weaknesses related to delivering a complete program (i.e., classroom/laboratory instruction, FFA advisement, and SAE supervision) and then seek appropriate professional development to help addresses those areas of concern. Additionally, SBAE stakeholders responsible for developing professional development workshops should consider the needs of their target audience and be purposeful in the offerings provided, as needs of SBAE teachers vary across a wide spectrum of personal and professional characteristics.

Considering recommendations for future research, SBAE teacher preparation faculty should replicate this study during in-service trainings to better understand the needs of their constituents. Research should also consider how to best support the human capital development of teachers and measure teaching effectiveness in the given space. Furthermore, qualitative inquiries should be used to explore SBAE teachers’ perceptions of the effective teaching model and instrument to further develop and refine the items to meet the needs of current teachers across the country to better support self-evaluation to provide purposeful professional development opportunities focused on increasing career specific human capital.


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Influences and Barriers to Agricultural Education Curriculum Adoption by Ugandan Secondary Teachers

Emma Cannon Mulvaney, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association,

Joy Morgan, NC State University,

Wendy Warner, NC State University,

Travis Park, NC State University,

PDF Available


While most developing countries rely on agriculture for survival, many youths lack interest in learning about agriculture or pursuing agricultural careers. Furthermore, the educational system within developing countries often lacks a relevant agricultural curriculum that encourages an interest in learning about agricultural practices or future careers. While numerous studies have investigated how and why educational policy reforms are not effective on large scales through a countrywide adoption of new curriculum, this study sheds light on how an international non-governmental organization (INGO) can have a locally-relevant impact with a small-scale curriculum adoption and implementation process through the lens of Rogan and Grayson’s (2003) Framework for Curriculum Implementation in Developing Countries. Through qualitatively interviewing eight teachers from Uganda who adopted and implemented an INGO agricultural-focused curriculum, the following themes emerged: shift from theoretical to practical applications, motivations of teachers, barriers, curriculum meets students’ needs, survival, curriculum adoption and changed teaching habits, and shift from negative to positive perceptions of agriculture. It is recommended that further research be conducted to understand if students are more likely to become interested in agricultural careers after being taught using a curriculum focused on critical thinking, project-based learning (PBL), and hands-on approaches. It is also recommended that Field of Hope seek continued partnership with Uganda’s Ministry of Education to explore a country-wide adoption of the curriculum.


With a growing population estimated to reach 10 billion by the year 2050, food production is of utmost importance and a growing concern for leaders around the world (Mukembo, 2017). In Uganda, 56% of the population is under 18 years of age and 78% of the entire population is below the age of 30 (Ahaibwe et al., 2013); however, the average age of a Ugandan farmer is 54 years old (Lunghabo, 2016). Knowing the population is growing exponentially and understanding that the average age of a farmer outpaces the median age in Sub-Saharan Africa undermines a positive economic outlook relative to the lack of interest in agriculturally-related careers by youths (Mukembo et al., 2014).

“Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development” (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2017, para. 1). However, in Uganda, the sole emphasis of education is placed on students passing a final examination (Thurmond et al., 2018) rather than providing students with practical knowledge and skills that would support careers, life applications, and self-sustainability upon leaving school (Basaza et al., 2010; Lugemwa, 2014; Mukembo, 2017). Because rural youths are disinterested in agriculture, this is of special concern regarding agricultural education (Bennell, 2007). Additionally, “support for capacity development for youth indirectly productive agricultural activities (especially skills training at all levels) still receives limited support” (Bennell, 2007, p. 4). ActionAid International Uganda, Development Research and Training, and Uganda National NGO Forum (2012) reported that 61.6% of Ugandan youths were unemployed and did not receive skills in school that are necessary to prepare them for the real world.

Even though developing countries often spend 15% to 35% of their national budget on education, educational systems in these countries is inadequate in most instances (Oliveira & Farrell, 1993) due to limited access to knowledge and information (International Movement for Catholic Agricultural and Rural Youth, International Fund for Agricultural Development, & FAO, 2012). In addition, the agricultural education curriculum in developing countries is often outdated, inadequate, and lacks relevance to a rural context (FAO, 2009). Further, agricultural activities are common practices for punishment in many parts of the world, leading to negative attitudes that affect the aspirations toward agricultural careers (MIJARC et al., 2012). However, agriculture, when appropriately integrated into school curricula using practical activities such as school gardens, can encourage youths to pursue agricultural careers (MIJARC et al., 2012).

While educational reform has been attempted in many developing countries by implementing new curricula (O’Sullivan, 2002; Rogan & Aldous, 2005; Serbessa, 2006; Tabulawa, 1998), these curricula are often mandated by policymakers and the implementation process is often neglected. Outdated curricula leave teachers unprepared to adopt and implement the new pedagogies (Hennessey et al., 2010; Rogan & Aldous, 2005) and lacking the content knowledge needed to accompany curriculum. However, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) are more locally- and contextually-relevant to schools in developing countries than governments. They often assist in educational development because of their success in the implementing curriculum and learner-centered teaching methods (Raval al., 2010; Rose, 2009). Field of Hope, an American-based international NGO, has a strong partnership in Uganda working primarily with agriculture teachers, women’s’ groups, and small-scale farmers to “develop agricultural knowledge and enthusiasm among youth and smallholder farmers to sustain nutritionally food secure and economically empowered communities” (Field of Hope Organization, n.d.a., para. 1). After establishing relationships and working with teachers in Uganda, Field of Hope discovered agriculture teachers face many barriers to gathering technical content and information to develop lessons to teach (A. M. Major, personal communication, April 2, 2018). Working together, Field of Hope and Vivayic, a company that designs learning solutions, created a model of how to equip rural Ugandan youth with practical agricultural skills and build their interest in agricultural careers. The two organizations collaborated with Ugandan agriculture teachers to design, write, and pilot a year-long Senior 1 (S1) agricultural education curriculum incorporating content found within the national-level school exams as well as competencies needed to enter an agricultural career or become a small-scale farmer.

Review of Literature

The diversity of schools in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is quite broad across the multiple countries in the region. In well-populated areas, schools can resemble skyscrapers with magnificent educational programs that would rank highly on a global scale. In rural areas, however, schools can lack electricity, running water, doors or windows, or even books (Rogan & Grayson, 2003). In developing countries, children living in poor, rural villages are four times less likely to be in school than a child raised in a wealthy household (United Nations, 2015). Less than one-third of secondary school-aged children are enrolled in schools in SSA (UNICEF, 2012). In 40% of SSA countries, sixth-grade students reach more than 20% of the desired mastery level for reading literacy, but Ugandan sixth-grade students only reach 10% of desired mastery levels (UNESCO, 2007). World Bank Group (2007) reported that rural education needs the most improvement, but vocational training in education can provide technical skills that are useful in agriculture and help alleviate poverty.

In addition, teachers are important in the overall development of any nation (Fareo, 2013); however, teachers in developing countries have neither the experience nor the expectation of collaborating with peers (Rogan & Grayson, 2003) and may even shy away from collaboration for fear of exposing their weaknesses in teaching skills. The small number of teachers in schools is a challenge in SSA where there is a pupil-to-teacher ratio of 40:1 (UNESCO, 2007). Due to the lack of resources in rural areas, schools employ fewer qualified and experienced teachers and experience higher turnover and vacancy rates than in urban schools (UNESCO, 2007). Currently, 1.2 million students are enrolled in secondary schools in Uganda while there are only 20,000 secondary school teachers, yielding a pupil-to-teacher ratio of 60:1 (NCDC, 2019). Only 81% of secondary school teachers in Uganda meet the requirements to teach secondary school, which are the same requirements as primary school (UNESCO, 2007).

Because many Ugandan classrooms are large and teachers use lectures as the primary teaching method, students miss the opportunity to encounter everyday challenges and real-life scenarios, which is the purpose of education (Whitehead, 1929; Mukembo, 2017).The project-based learning (PBL) approach helps students develop interpersonal communication skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills in real-life situations and promotes higher-order thinking skills (Mills & Treagust, 2003). Therefore, introducing PBL in agricultural education through entrepreneurial situations could be an option for teachers to initiate agriculture as a viable employment opportunity for students (Mukembo et al., 2014, 2015) and attract more young people to further their education in agriculture (Mukembo, 2017). However, the use of PBL is foreign to most educators in developing countries (Thurmond et al., 2018). Ugandan education is primarily based on the theory and teaching that is classroom-centered (Basaza et al., 2010; Mukembo, 2017; Thurmond et al., 2018). The school garden or farm is rarely used as a learning environment and, in the current model of education, is often used to punish student misbehavior (Mukembo 2017; Thurmond et al., 2018).

The purpose of the secondary school curriculum created by Vivayic and Field of Hope was to create an S1–S4 Ugandan agricultural curriculum that enhances competency in problem-solving and critical thinking skills (Thurmond et al., 2018). Because the curriculum promotes critical thinking skills, it is of high interest to the ministries of education in Uganda and the National Curriculum Development Center in Uganda. In developing countries, NGOs commonly provide schools with resources. Understanding why and how teachers use those resources to adapt and innovate to change leads to a deeper need of exploring their motivations.

Theoretical Framework

In order to explore how secondary school teachers who partnered with Field of Hope have implemented the new curriculum, a framework developed by Rogan and Grayson (2003) was used focusing on three main constructs: (1) profile of implementation, (2) capacity to support innovation, and (3) support from outside agencies. Profile of implementation refers to the process of employing a new curriculum is not an all-or-nothing proposition and may include segmented stages for implementation (Rogan & Grayson, 2003). The beginning level, orientation and preparation, addresses the time when teachers and faculty “become aware of and prepare to implement the new curriculum” (Rogan & Grayson, 2003, p. 1181). The next levels refer to the mechanical and routine use where the curriculum can be used with minimal modification to the local context (Rogan & Grayson, 2003). The last stages, refinement, integration, and renewal, represent the teacher’s ownership of the curriculum while possibly enriching it with modifications (Rogan & Grayson, 2003).

The capacity to support innovation includes factors supporting or hindering the implementation of new ideas and practices in the new curriculum and recognizes that schools differ in terms of their capacity to implement innovation (Rogan & Grayson, 2003). There are four indicators for the capacity to support innovation: “1) physical resources, 2) teacher factors, 3) student factors, and 4) school ecology and management” (Rogan & Grayson, 2003, p. 186).

The final construct, support from outside agencies, focuses on factors encouraging or limiting support of the implementation of new ideas and practices within the given curriculum (Altinyelken, 2010). Outside agencies are referred to as any organization that is not within the school but helps facilitate innovation by interacting with the school (Rogan & Grayson, 2003). In developing countries, most often the support from outside agencies comes from American agencies and other developed countries that are providing aid (Rogan & Grayson, 2003).

Guiding Questions

The purpose of this basic qualitative study was to explore and derive meaning from the experiences of the instructors teaching agricultural education in Ugandan secondary schools who partnered with Field of Hope and were given a new Senior One (S1) agricultural education curriculum to implement. While this was a part of a larger thesis study, the two specific questions guiding this research were:

  1. What influences impacted teacher adoption of the curriculum?
  2. What barriers prevented teachers from adopting the curriculum?


Qualitative inquiry was selected as the best method to understand the shared experiences of the teachers delivering a new curriculum provided by Field of Hope within the secondary schools located in northern Uganda. To understand the validity of the interview protocol (Merriam, 2009), a pilot study was completed in North Carolina with two current agriculture teachers who have adopted and implemented a new sustainable agricultural education curriculum. Upon completing the interviews with the participants, the researcher consulted their committee chair regarding the needed alteration of the interview protocol and wording of the questions to fit the needs of the intended data collection (Merriam, 2009).

To “learn a great deal about issues of central importance to the purpose of the inquiry” (Patton, 2002, p. 230), the researcher chose a purposive sample of interviewees. Typical purposeful sampling was used to determine the sample of participants of the basic qualitative study to obtain rich information to study in-depth (Creswell & Poth, 2018; Merriam, 2009; Patton, 2002). This type of sampling was selected because it “reflects the average person, situation, or instance of phenomenon” (Merriam, 2009, p. 78) and contributes to a better understanding of the research problem and the central phenomenon of the study (Creswell & Poth, 2018, p. 159). To conduct a criterion-based selection of interviewees, the researcher created a list of the essential attributes that included: the teacher taught the S1 curriculum provided by Field of Hope and the teacher attended the teacher training offered by Field of Hope in June 2018. This selection criterion aligned with the purpose of the study to explore and derive meaning from experiences of instructors who were teaching the new S1 agricultural education curriculum and allowed for reflection on the theoretical framework focused on implementation, the capacity to support innovation, and support from outside agencies. A key informant employed by Field of Hope provided the researcher with a document containing the teachers’ information regarding their attendance at the training (Gilchrist, 1992; Rogers, 2003). From the key informant, the researcher was able to identify eight teachers meeting the selection criteria identified for the study. With all eight consenting, the researcher conducted one-on-one, semi-structured interviews to “attempt to understand the world from the subjects’ point of view, to unfold the meaning of their experience, and to uncover their lived world” (Brinkmann & Klave, 2015, p. 3). The interviews were guided by 25 open-ended questions developed by the researcher and three faculty of North Carolina State University. The faculty all had experience in qualitative research, professional development, instructional strategies, international development, and curriculum development. Interviews lasted 30 minutes to one hour and were conducted during the Train the Trainer professional development held by Field of Hope for teachers using the new curriculum.

Before conducting an interview, the researcher shared that she, like each participant, was also was a teacher in a very rural village in Africa. Sharing this information was part of a deliberate effort to create a conversation that would allow the participant to feel somewhat connected to the researcher and to build rapport with her. In addition, the researcher took on the characteristic of neutrality to allow the participant to feel comfortable with the interviewer by refraining from letting her personal views about the subject be known (Merriam, 2009). The interview protocol included six types of interview questions to encourage an array of responses and was created using United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s Framework for Curriculum Implementation in Developing Countries (2017) constructs and sub-constructs and the objectives of the study. The interviews were audio recorded and the researcher took notes during the interviews to capture any reactions, thoughts, or importance of participants’ responses (Creswell & Poth, 2018; Merriam, 2009). The researcher conducted unstructured natural-setting observations and utilized reflexivity to triangulate findings emerging from the interviews (Creswell & Poth, 2018; Merriam, 2009; Tracy, 2010). Observations were collected during visits to schools, meetings with school administrators, and professional development sessions provided to the teachers. Field notes were kept during interviews and observations, and a written reflexive journal was recorded each night to capture important memories, conversations, and interactions of the day (Angen, 2000; Creswell & Poth, 2018; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Merriam, 2009).

Once all interviews were complete, observations were conducted, and field notes were taken, the researcher utilized the three methods of data management as set forth by Reid (1992): (1) data preparation, (2) data identification, and (3) data manipulation. The researcher compiled the audio recordings of participant interviews and utilized a transcription service to receive an editable document of the recorded interview. The researcher then listened to the audio recordings while reading the transcribed interviews and edited or corrected them to have a verbatim transcription for analyzing data. To begin the data evaluation process, the researcher read each transcript and made memos, and noted key concepts that stood out “to build a sense of the data without getting caught up in the details of coding” (Creswell & Poth, 2018, p. 198).

During the first-round coding, the researcher utilized in vivo coding to “honor the voices of the participants and their perspectives” (Saldaña, 2013, p. 61). To conduct second-round coding, the researcher utilized axial coding methods to reorganize data coded in the first coding cycle to create a categorical, thematic, and conceptual organization of the data (Saldaña, 2013). Axial coding organized repeating patterns that exemplified potential themes across the data (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015). To ensure the observations of the researcher were considered, note-taking and memoing were conducted while coding to create a reflection on the data as a whole (Creswell & Poth, 2018; Merriam & Tisdell, 2015; Yin, 2016). Theoretical schemes were constructed from axial codes that exemplified the “significance of interpretations and conclusions in relation to the literature and previous studies” (Yin, 2016, p. 199). To ensure the themes were “describing, classifying, and interpreting the data” (Creswell & Poth, 2018, p. 189) the themes were analyzed by the researcher.

The three lenses through which the research employed strategies for validating the qualitative study were the: (1) researcher’s lens, (2) participant’s lens, and (3) reader’s or reviewer’s lens (Creswell & Poth, 2018). The researcher employed triangulation and engaged in reflexivity through the researcher’s lens. Through the participant’s lens, member-checking ensured validity and established credibility. Participants were asked to examine rough drafts of the ongoing data analysis process to provide “alternative language, observations, and interpretations” (Stake, 1995, p. 115). Finally, through the reader’s or reviewer’s lens, the researcher employed rich and thick descriptions to corroborate validity. Finally, while collecting interviews, the researcher listened to the recorded interviews at night and confirmed quotes and attitudes with the participants to check for accuracy the next day. Additionally, after the concluding the findings of the study, the researcher traveled back to Uganda and met with participants to discuss findings and ensure accuracy and credibility. This step was crucial to provide credibility because participants were from a different cultural background than that of the researcher. Additionally, English, the language in which interviews were conducted, may not have been the participant’s native language. Member-checking ensured the credibility of the researcher’s preliminary analysis (Creswell & Poth, 2018).

Researcher’s Reflexivity

Tracy (2010) defined self-reflexivity as a cognizant awareness of the researcher’s own bias as well as the audience of the researcher. “Self-reflexivity encourages writers to be frank about their strengths and shortcomings” (p. 842). The researcher’s social position was a young adult, white female, American citizen who had worked, volunteered, and traveled both domestically and internationally with agricultural organizations, mostly non-profit organizations. Upon graduating with a baccalaureate degree, the researcher lived in rural Ghana and worked as a Form 1 integrated science and social studies teacher, 4-H advisor, and Extension agent.

From this experience, the researcher was left with a desire to understand why a nation that relies so heavily on agriculture and whose young students know agriculture struggled to teach agriculture. Because of the in-depth experience living and working in rural Sub-Saharan Africa, the researcher utilized bracketing to “mitigate the potential deleterious effects of unacknowledged preconceptions related to the research and thereby to increase the rigor” (Tufford & Newman, 2012, p. 81). In order to set aside personal experiences, “take a fresh perspective toward the phenomenon under examination” (Creswell & Poth, 2018, p. 78), and approach data collection and analyzation, the researcher took on a transcendental approach, meaning “everything is perceived freshly, as if for the first time” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 34).


Two primary themes emerged for the two research objectives: the shift from theoretical to practical applications and barriers. Within the shift from theoretical to practical applications theme, the following sub-themes emerged: practical applications, allows students to think critically, inclusivity of all learning types, teacher-centered to learner-centered, assessment, and community engagement. In the barriers theme, lack of resources, additional training needed, support from the school, and support from outside agencies emerged as the subthemes.

Research Question One: What influences impacted teacher adoption of the curriculum?

Theme 1: Shift from theoretical to practical applications. Historically, students come to school, sit at their desks, listen to a teacher’s lecture, and watch as they write on the chalkboard. Participants explained this type of learning is theoretical, teacher-centered, and provides students with very little practical application to the subject. The new curriculum provides three class periods of agricultural instruction each week, which is the same as when using the Ugandan curriculum (Ministry of Education and Sports, 2008); however, the new curriculum calls for two of those three days to be spent in the class and one day is “practical,” where the students gain real-world application by visiting the closest environment (farms, gardens, community) that matches what they have learned in class that week.

Practical applications. All eight participants expressed that the new curriculum allowed students to be more involved in the learning through different aspects of practical teaching methods. Grace shared that PBL allows her students to apply situations to the real world: “It’s also you have to do it, let’s make a student think about their home or about the thing and to know what is happening in the surrounding.” Tuno shared that his students complete a beekeeping project where they learn to see how a similar enterprise would operate in the real world. Tuno stated his students appreciated and understood the industry better through practical application, “I came to realize that without, without doing the practical aspects of agriculture learners may not take it more seriously, but when you demonstrate to them and show to them that the things, things that done this way, they learn better than when you tell them in class.”

Allows Students to Think Critically. Participants recognized their role in critical thinking and that their students were thinking in a new manner due to their new behaviors. It was found that students were asking more questions in class than previously, meaning they were considering what to do or believe based on the information presented to them. When asked what skills students were learning, Dowda said, “Critical thinking through writing and their project and, of course, demonstrating in the garden.” Dakar further emphasized her thoughts on critical thinking, “They have to think so that they can . . . always gives them a lot of stress but at the end of the day they learn from their own experiences and that is why I like it so much.”

Inclusivity of All Learning Types. Because of the PBL aspect of the curriculum, many participants agreed that the new methods of teaching were much more beneficial to students at all learning levels. Participants made statements regarding their excitement of students participating that typically did not engage when using the Ugandan curriculum. When using the new curriculum, participants were able to recognize different types of learners had different learning needs, but collectively inclusivity could take place. Kofi shared his beliefs: “The curriculum is able to cater to all students . . . so students that learn on different levels can all learn together from this curriculum.” By recognizing that there were different types of learners, participants were better able to understand their audience and how to address problems their students were facing. Not only did the curriculum allow connections with all students, but the curriculum encouraged teachers to further recognize and identify who needs more specialized assistance.

Teacher-Centered to Learner-Centered. Prior to the new curriculum, participants agreed that the old curriculum was “teacher-centered.” When asked what teacher-centered meant, Isha said: “Whereby you give everything fully then we could also have possibly some small groups.” Through discussing with teachers their thoughts on using the curriculum, five out of the eight participants agreed that they previously used teacher-centered methods and now use a curriculum that is “learner-centered.” Isha also described learner-centered:

Learner-centered simply means most of the things or most of the activities are done by the students themselves. As they do it, they learn it and then they master it. The teacher is just to guide them on what to do.

Participants expressed their excitement for the new curriculum because it reduced their workload, and students seemed to have more control over the learning.

Assessment. Through observations and interviews, the researcher was able to understand that some students were being assessed beyond tests, examinations, and written answers. Rauf showed the researcher his teaching laboratory and explained that he took weeds out of a field and placed them on a lab table for students to identify and explained the growth stages of the plant. In addition, his students dissected a hen for the poultry curriculum. These along with many other observations support participants’ statements that allowed the researcher to understand the practical nature of the curriculum was still reflected in assessments. While Rauf used practical measures to assess students’ learning, the majority of participants used exams, projects, and discussions. Tuno explained he uses “home assignment” as a form of assessment by stating, “Each of the agriculture students . . . they would manage it, and we see now the costs and benefits at the end of the day . . . that would motivate them to do, to do agriculture better.”

Community Engagement. Communal living, working, and sharing of most parts of life is how most Ugandans live. Whether as orphans at a children’s home or in villages of multiple families, Ugandans live and work alongside their extended family members and neighbors. Participants expressed a sense of increased engagement with the surrounding communities as a result of using the curriculum by taking their students into nearby communities to observe, learn from, and see the practical application from farmers in their fields of the lessons they were learning in class. Grace explained how she has adapted to using PBL and critical thinking in her classroom while connecting students’ learning to the real world in a community:

This activity that they can tell you that you have to make a student to do it or you have to go in a community and then you make a student too to see that thing practicality or to do it using the hand, which you can make a student not to forget about that topic.

Participants also expressed students have an increased excitement for going into the communities to learn from their environments so they can easily apply and replicate what they have learned. Using such practical application through the new curriculum has also heightened teachers’ sense of their role in not only a child’s future, but the future of the communities the children come from because so many communities rely on the practical aspects of agriculture to feed their families. Dakar expressed this by saying, “It has made me to know the benefit of the application. It also made me, reminded me about my role in the community.” Dakar explained how, through implementing the curriculum, teachers have been able to involve the farmers in the community to use the practical nature of the curriculum: “Field of Hope has trained me how to associate with the community by putting a demonstration farm because if I put a demonstration farm, many people will now come and be asking questions on what to do. So, it has already given me how to reach the community.”

Research Question Two: What barriers prevented teachers from adopting the curriculum?

Theme 2: Barriers. While Field of Hope provided participants and their agricultural programs a new curriculum, there were still barriers that participants faced that hindered their complete and full adoption of the curriculum with many being out of the control of the participants.           

Lack of Resources. The majority of the S1 curriculum contains practical lessons focused on how to grow plants in a garden setting. All eight participants expressed the need for additional resources and materials to fully implement the curriculum and incorporate critical thinking and PBL into their classrooms. While six of the eight schools reported having a garden, they reported lacking the necessary tools or equipment to work effectively in the garden. Dakar explained the consequences of teaching without the proper resources:

The only challenge we have is that in Uganda, or in some schools in Uganda we lack some of the apparatus for practicals and it make most of the teachers now to teach agriculture what? Theoretically which it doesn’t become meaningful. But agriculture needed to be taught what? Practical.

Equipment is necessary to run any kind of agricultural operation. Kofi had 96 students in S1 which presented a challenge with only a few watering cans for during the dry season which ultimately impacted the school garden. Fred shared, “As teachers we try to improvise or be creative enough, but the actual physical resources are not many except land, land we have.”

Additional Training Needed. During interviews, participants expressed appreciation to Field of Hope for supporting, empowering, and following up by visiting schools. Teachers desired further training on a multitude of subjects to better implement the practical nature of the curriculum and increase their knowledge to deliver the curriculum to the best of their abilities. While Uganda has a diverse agriculture industry, participants reported the need for more locally relevant examples in the curriculum. Rauf described his desire to learn more about crops produced in the region in which he teaches in Uganda:

Some of the crops that they’ll put in the curriculum, which may not be in our region, how to grow them . . . Like uh, we have never grown apples in our country here . . . They grow coffee in Uganda, just maybe not in this region.

In addition, some teachers desired to be trained further on using the curriculum to incorporate more PBL and critical thinking. Fred shared his desire to learn about teaching methods: “So, I realized the teaching method should always be practical, scientific, practical for the learning to be more to the learners even to you as a teacher.” Teachers also recognized the need for training that would recruit other teachers to use the curriculum and provide opportunities to highlight Ugandan agriculture.

Support from School. In Uganda, there are a variety of schools including government-funded schools, private schools, and boarding schools, all with varying levels of support for the new curriculum. Fred described having support from his school director but also said that his school “fails to provide what I needed for the lesson or for the curriculum. Being the first time I’m introducing the curriculum, they’re not seriously in support, but I hope with time.” A few of the teachers also had difficulty convincing administration to allow them to use the new curriculum. Rauf explained how he convinced his school leadership to allow him to use the curriculum provided by Field of Hope: “They thought it was something separate, but now when it’s explained. It is, it is incorporated in the syllabus of Uganda and then . . . I brought the curriculum and tried to go with the syllabus and compare to it.”

While most teachers who were interviewed reported the lack of school support, there were a few who shared their positive experiences about the support their school gives. Grace, who teaches at a children’s home, also reported having positive experiences regarding support of the school leadership:

“They love when students are going for practicals or PBL or when they are working in the school garden they encourage, the buy the produce that is the student always produced and it’s made it, the students make me to know that, that they are encouraging the curriculum that we have to push on with it.”

Support from Outside Agencies. One of the three pillars of the Framework for Curriculum Implementation in Developing Countries is support from outside agencies. Participants were asked if they received support from any other NGOs or private donors to assess the support from outside agencies. Six of the participants reported that they do not receive support from any other agency besides Field of Hope. When asked if their schools received any funds from donors Dakar responded, “Not yet,” and Rauf said, “We have not yet received.” Fred and his headmaster gave the researchers a tour of the school and explained their relationship with Notre Dame University. Through this relationship, the school has received enough solar panels to provide the entire campus with electricity and Wi-Fi, which only uses approximately one-half of the electrical supply.


From the analysis of interviews with eight teachers, two themes and multiple subthemes emerged in gaining an understanding of the influences and barriers to adopting a new agricultural curriculum. Theme 1, the shift from theoretical to practical applications, concluded that the practical application provided by the new curriculum allows students to experience learning in an entirely new way rather than through teaching that was theoretically or lecture-based. Supporting research by Chiasson (2008) and Mukembo (2017), the subtheme practical applications highlighted how the new curriculum with practical application allowed students to comprehend what they are learning, construct questions to further their understanding (think critically), and then go home over the holidays to repeat what they have learned with family or friends.  In addition, participants now have the ability to recognize the different levels of learners, creating a more inclusive environment (inclusivity of all learning types). The new curriculum provides diversity in learning through varied instructional styles, which aids in student understanding because participants realized not all students learn best from lectures. The learners are able to take control of their knowledge (learner-centered) by applying themselves to the subject through hands-on work during practical days. The teachers are not only using practical methods of teaching but are also using practical methods of assessing students (assessment) allowing them to continue to reinforce real-world applications. Through using the curriculum, teachers have become increasingly connected to community members and have been reminded of their role in building the future citizens of the communities from which these children come (community engagement). Teachers encourage students to go into their communities and test out their new knowledge learned on their families’ or neighbors’ farms.

Teachers have been supported by Field of Hope through the curriculum and training they received; however, they still face barriers (theme 2) that prevent them from being able to fully use the curriculum in the way it is intended. Teachers struggle to provide practical applications to their students due to a large number of students, lack of land for gardens, and tools (lack of resources). This conclusion is critical to the success of implementing the curriculum because the FAO (2004) argues that school gardens are encouraged in developing countries as experiential learning tools to improve the quality of education. The participants were thrilled at the practical aspects of the curriculum, but additional training is needed relevant to teaching skills and agricultural knowledge to increase their understanding and confidence in delivering information to their students and incorporating more PBL and critical thinking. This conclusion is supported by Hennessey et al. (2010), who argued that the technical expertise of the teacher is critical for any new implementation to take place. The level of support from the school varied among the participants, but the major lack of support related to the funds available to purchase needed supplies related to the instruction supports the research by Rogan and Grayson (2003). The main source of support from outside agencies in the study is the INGO Field of Hope, however, several of the schools received support from other agencies which increased the support for the students and the activities. This curriculum implementation and support received from Field of Hope were unique from other studies completed using the Framework for Curriculum Implementation in Developing Countries because there was a constant connection to a supporting agency with ongoing support versus curriculum being distributed and teachers learning to adapt.

Recommendations and Implications

To fully understand the needs of agricultural education in developing countries and curriculum implementation, more research is needed. Using Roger’s (2003) Diffusion of Innovations, a study on the transfer of new agricultural knowledge during the holidays would allow teachers to see if their efforts are leading to family and community adoption of agricultural practices (Okikoret al., 2011). Research should also be conducted to follow students who complete S1 through S4 using the Field of Hope curriculum to further understand the impact curriculum is having on students. A capacity instrument should be administered both before and after students are taught the curriculum that contains themes of technical aspects of agriculture, agriculture careers, soft skills, and overall attitudes toward agriculture to measure changes in capacity. To further understand the impact that teacher training and professional development sessions are having on participants, a formal evaluation of training should be conducted to determine the effectiveness and to improve planning.

In addition, more can be done to impact curricular success. To ensure teachers implementing curricula understand PBL and critical thinking, it is recommended that a formal process for training teachers be developed and acquire local Ugandan trainers who would enable sustainability and potentially elongate the training process. The administrations of schools adopting and implementing curriculum should be involved to ensure full awareness of the NGO’s intentions, involvements, and teacher professional development goals as this could spur additional support.


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Motivating Students to Conduct High-Quality Supervised Agricultural Experience Programs: A Collective Case Study

Jillian G. Bryant, University of Georgia,

Eric D. Rubenstein, University of Georgia,

Jason B. Peake, University of Georgia,

PDF Available


Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) Programs are often regarded to be the most challenging component of the three-circle model of Agricultural Education. The literature reported a strong belief in the philosophy of SAE but a lack of engagement for teachers and students (Retallick, 2010; Wilson & Moore, 2007). This collective case study aims to provide a narrative for how successful teachers motivate students to engage in high-quality SAE programs. The data revealed that within the context of these three cases, requiring SAE as part of a grade, dedication of caring teachers, building SAE programs over time, being flexible in SAE categories, connecting to student interests, and intentional planning were key to successful SAE implementation. These results have implications for how teachers structure SAE programs in their classrooms, how teacher educators prepare pre-service teachers, and the direction of future research in SAE.

Keywords: Supervised Agriculture Experiences, High-Quality SAE, Motivation, Case Study


The Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) Program is a valued, yet underutilized circle of the three circle model of Agricultural Education (Phipps et al., 2008). Teachers repeatedly reported that time constraints, juggling supervision of many projects, lack of a clear definition of what constitutes a high-quality program, and a stronger pull towards awards-based FFA endeavors limited their success in motivating students to engage in SAE programs (Dyer & Osborne, 1995). However, teachers have continued to preach the philosophical belief in SAE, creating a paradox between theory and practice (Retallick, 2010; Wilson & Moore, 2007). Agricultural educators have reported difficulty implementing SAE in practice even though they have valued it conceptually (Dyer & Osborne, 1995; Retallick, 2010; Wilson & Moore, 2007). This paradox in research and reported practices creates a lack of clarity in what is truly happening in successful Agricultural Education programs in regards to SAE. This divide of philosophy and practice leads us to question how agricultural educators motivate students to develop and implement high quality SAE programs.

 The Council for Agricultural Education identified four factors to consider when determining a student’s SAE is “high-quality” (NCAE, 2015). The four factors were: (a) the project must be well-planned, documented, and supervised, (b) the program must be agriculturally-focused, (c) the program should be student-driven rather than teacher-driven, and (d) the program should happen outside of regular classroom instruction (NCAE, 2015). The majority of Agricultural Education research was found by Dyer et al. (2003) to be quantitative in nature, using applied research methods. This collective case study aims to provide a rich narrative describing the phenomenon of student motivation to develop a well-structured SAE program, a need that was suggested by Dooley (2007).

Theoretical Framework

This research was grounded in the theoretical framework of achievement motivation. Achievement motivation refers to “striving to be competent in effortful activities” (Elliot & Church, as cited by Schunk, 2012, p. 358). The theory posits that individuals are motivated to act because of a desire to satisfy a need (Schunk, 2012). Under the umbrella of achievement motivation, Atkinson (1957) developed the expectancy-value theory of achievement. This theory suggests that an individual’s behavior is dictated by their expectancy of achieving a goal or reinforcer as a result of performing a certain task or behavior relative to how much one values the outcome (Schunk, 2012).

According to Atkinson (1957), achievement motivation, is a stable character trait of an individual. Atkinson postulates that tasks that are difficult to achieve create a greater incentive to work hard at the task. This is motivated by pride at accomplishing difficult tasks (Schunk, 2012). This model makes the prediction that students with high achievement motivation will choose tasks of intermediate difficulty because of their belief in its attainability, which produces a sense of accomplishment (Schunk, 2012). For these students, tasks deemed as too difficult will be avoided because of the unlikely probability of success, while tasks deemed as too easy will provide little sense of accomplishment when achieved. In contrast, students with low achievement motivation tend to choose easy or difficult tasks (Schunk, 2012). 

There are likely numerous motivational explanations for student involvement in high-quality SAE programs. In order for teachers to be able to implement SAE programs with efficacy, understanding these motivations is crucial. If teachers can begin to understand how to influence the expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation on student SAE engagement, as well as manipulate it, SAE achievement could increase. This study aims to provide a narrative through the lens of achievement motivation about how and why students are motivated to engage in high-quality SAE programs. Specifically, this study aims to provide insight to how teachers can influence a student’s tendency to approach an achievement-related goal.


The purpose of this study was to investigate how teachers motivate students in Agricultural Education programs to conduct high-quality SAE programs. This collective case study analysis of how agricultural educators implement SAE in [State] sought to answer the following questions:

1. What factors influence a teachers ability to implement SAE within their Agricultural Education programs?

2. How do teachers motivate students to participate in high-quality SAE programs?


This research follows a case study model as described by Yin (2014). A case study is one of the most frequently used methodologies in qualitative research. However, given the unique approach of case study research, it does not have a well-defined set of protocols. A case study defines a case as a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, whether it be simple or complex in nature (Stake, 2013; Yin, 2014). All cases are defined by the individual teacher in each program and all programs and teachers are unique to the community in which they are located.


The researchers contacted Agricultural Education State Staff in each of the three agricultural education regions to nominate teachers who they believed conducted high-quality SAE programs as defined by the National Council for Agricultural Education (2015). The qualifications were a well-planned, documented, and supervised program, a program that is agricultural in nature, is student driven, and occurs outside of traditional classroom instruction. Once nominations were received, nominees were contacted via email to complete an eight-question survey instrument that was used for determining their fit for the study. Once the survey was completed, the responses were reviewed by the research committee to determine if each individual nominated met the outlined criteria for conducting high-quality SAE programs.

Data Collection

The teachers who met the criteria were sought after for permission and acceptance to participate in the interview. Two teachers were interviewed through an online video conference software, Google Hangouts while one teacher was interviewed face-to-face. The interviews followed a semi-structured interview format focusing on the individual teacher’s philosophy regarding SAE, how SAE was implemented in their programs, and what they believe motivated student to conduct high-quality SAE programs. All interviews lasted between 33 and 59 minutes where teachers engaged in a converstaional interview environment where they freely shared their thoughts about incorporating SAE into their programs. Interviews were recorded and transcribed for analysis using Temi, an online transcription service.The lead researcher reviewed each transcript for accuracy. During transcription, all participants were given a pseudonym and any other identifiers removed to ensure anonymity was maintained. Weft QDA, a digital qualitative analysis software, was used to code for themes.

To ensure cross-case analysis, Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) constant comparative method was utilized. After initial individual analysis, researchers met to discuss findings and compare perspectives. The final themes were shared with the participants to ensure triangulation of the data through member checking and peer debriefing. During this study researchers kept methodological journals to document methodology decisions and reflection to ensure reliability and trustworthiness (Dooley, 2007). In order to establish trustworthiness and rigor, the researchers engaged in prolonged engagement, thick descriptions, and reflexivity (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).

Subjectivity Statement

The researchers were actively involved in agricultural educationand believe that SAE is an integral and valuable component of the Agricultural Education model. Having engaged in an SAE as a student as well as fully incorporating SAE programs into their Agricultural Education programs, the researchers believe that all teachers should have every students engaging in an SAE program. The researcher has developed a model for SAE in an urban setting and shared that model with other teachers through professional development workshops.


Case Study 1: Setting the Context

Ms. Jennifer Roberts excitedly introduced herself, her background, and her teaching career. She came from an Agricultural Education background, having been a student in a strong program with “great teachers” before making the choice to become an agricultural educator.  She taught approximately 170 students in an area she defined as somewhere in between suburban and rural in [State]. All students in her program were required to conduct and maintain a SAEprogram as part of their grade in her classroom. Ms. Roberts taught in a single-teacher program with approximately 1,400 students enrolled at the high school.

Connecting to student interests

She admitted not all students who enter her classroom have an intrinsic interest in agriculture or plan to pursue agriculture as a career after graduation. However, she expressed her strong belief that teachers must take the time to connect agriculture to student interest to assist them in developing their SAE. Ms. Roberts shared, “I have students who are in art, we’ve got to figure out a way to tie your art in with agriculture, we need to be able to tie in every student, doesn’t necessarily have to be the typical ag kids.”

By connecting students who are otherwise uninterested in agriculture to SAE programs that meet their needs, Ms. Roberts believed she was able to show students an elevated level of caring. Ms. Roberts noted, “maybe they’re (SAE) supposed to be more traditional, but I don’t think the student is traditional anymore. So, I don’t think that she has to be … sometimes you got a gamer kid. You got to figure out something else that they like.” Beyond this, Ms. Roberts explained that perhaps the entire point of SAE is to tie in non-traditional students with a learning opportunity directly connected to agriculture. The best part of SAE programs, to her, was having the opportunity to observe what students can do in agriculture when motivated by an SAE program directly connected to their interests. Ms. Roberts firmly believed, “with student driven and non-traditional kids, I think the really cool part about an SAE is that if I was told that was my homework project and then I could choose what it was, I think I probably would’ve liked homework.” Although Ms. Roberts discussed connecting non-traditional students to SAE frequently, she did not discount the importance of SAE programs for students who may already have an interest in agriculture or may be conducting a project at home that resembles an SAE. The important thing to her was taking the students’ projects to the next level to further expand student opportunities and learning in something they already had as an interest. Ms. Roberts stated, “if you have a kid who already does something in wildlife, the only difference in your project now is we want to develop it with record keeping skills … let’s add your expenses, inventory, income, and your time.”

Extending learning outside of the classroom through career connection

As Ms. Roberts discussed how she motivated students to engage in high-quality SAE programs, multiple times she brought the conversation back to taking student learning beyond the classroom and connecting SAE programs to student career interests. She explained how students were often more motivated to engage in an SAE if they were given the opportunity to explore career areas in which they were interested. For some students, it was about discovering a career they did not even know they enjoyed. For others, it was about discovering new areas within a career interest. Ms. Roberts excitedly shared, “what’s really fulfilling as a teacher is watching them take that even farther. Because there are those that do they make a career out of it. That’s what’s cool. You know, I don’t know that it’s always great.” This was the case even with non-agriculture related careers. Ms. Roberts gives the example of a student who wants to be a Pre-K teacher. Ms. Roberts discussed setting her up with a local Pre-K teacher to come up with agricultural lessons to teach her students. Mrs. Roberts added, “if a kid says, I wanted to take agriculture because I like it, but I really want to be a Pre-K teacher. I’ve got some Pre-K teachers and kindergarten teachers who would love for you to come and teach lessons.”

Case Study 2: Setting the Context

Ms. Lindsey Carter taught in a high school outside of a major metropolitan area in [State]. The community, on paper, was considered urban; however, agriculture and farming were still major pillars of the community, with strong agricultural education programs throughout the county. Ms. Carter teaches approximately 120 students in a high school over with 1,400 students. Ms. Carter excitedly discussed how she incorporated SAE in her classes while also vocalizing ideas she has to make her program even better. Her desire to improve does not end with her ideas for SAE, as she is currently working on her doctorate degree while teaching full-time and raising two children. She was willing to share ideas and resources without ever suggesting she is the one with all of the answers.

Breaking from traditional views of SAE programs

While she was a firm supporter of agriculture, and believed that students who continue in her program should have agricultural focused SAE programs, she also believed some leniency was needed to help meet students where they were in their interests and career goals. Ms. Carter shared, “some teachers are determined they don’t want kids working at fast food. They don’t want them babysitting. I’m okay with it, that first year it’s about learning what you want to do, don’t want to do, and keeping records.” Ms. Carter was not afraid to challenge the status quo and critique the norms that had been put in place for SAE programs. Her belief in helping students achieve success through SAE programs in any way she can allowed her to remain flexible yet keep standards high. Ms. Carter passionately shared, “I’ve got to meet my kids where they are and sometimes the powers that be may think, oh well that’s not qualified to be a state degree. It is all that this kid could do and they need to be rewarded.”

Building student SAE programs over time

Much of the interview with Ms. Carter was focused on the early stages of establishing high-quality SAE programs with first year students. The steps she took to set the foundation for these programs was of high-importance, and something she believed was key to the success of her students’ SAE programs. Ms. Carter would ask students, “Well what can you do? What’s an idea? What does your parents do? You know, like is there a job that they have that you can go and hang out with them? What do you want to do when you grow up?” Ms. Carter maintained that by planning to build over time and setting a solid foundation in the introductory level classes, she could step back and allow the students to continue in their SAE on their own. Ms. Carter noted, “so at the beginning when we first started it, I pound record keeping in their head, like we log in to AET (Agricultural Experience Tracker) a once a week and I show them how to log their hours and then we do checkpoints.”

Setting high expectations

Ms. Carter required that 100% of her students completed an SAE program as part of the class grade. Although this took a vast amount of work to grade and assist students, she refused to allow students to turn in something that was below their ability. Ms. Carter would tell student “if you’re not going to do a genuine project, please don’t waste my time and I want it to be genuine and if you can’t come up with something that is genuine then let’s find something.” As Ms. Carter discussed working with her students to build SAE programs, it was clear that she cared deeply for them. This care served as a strong motivator for students to do well in their SAE programs and reach the expectations put before them. Ms. Carter shared, “some of my students are so invested in the program and in, in me and they want to impress me. They want to do good for me. They, they want to reach whatever standard that I put for them.”

Career skills

Ms. Carter expressed her prioritization of connecting students to opportunities that promoted career knowledge and skill. She believed the experience students gained from a high-quality SAE program opened the door for students to enter a job market that was often difficult to infiltrate without prior experience. Ms. Carter believed, “it’s more about two things, giving them the opportunity to get a skill so that they can hopefully get a job. And get some type of experience to get the job.” In addition to this, Ms. Carter also finds SAE to be a valuable opportunity for students to gain opportunities about the careers they are interested in before they make a commitment to pursue a specific field. She finds that through being able to go to a veterinarian’s office and shadowing the day-to-day operations, or doing landscaping for a summer job, students can learn the realities of those jobs to decide whether or not the job is right for them. These experiences, can allow students to figure out if the career goals they have are right for them. Ms. Carter stated, for example students who “want to be a veterinarian and they go and they shadow so then when they get to vet school it’s not such a shock that they have to know Latin terms or such a shock that these are the equipment.”

Case Study 3: Setting the Context

Mr. Jeff Thompson was a veteran teacher who taught middle school agriculture for nearly two decades before moving to high school agriculture for the last seven years. Mr. Thompson taught in a two-teacher Agricultural Education program, with agricultural mechanics being the primary pathway of focus. Between the two teachers at Mr. Thompson’s school, 298 agricultural education students were served among a population of 1,200 students. All students in the program were required to develop and maintain a SAE program. When speaking with Mr. Thompson, the typically subdued teacher exuded excitement about SAE programs. This excitement showcased his passion for SAE programs, and his philosophies were clear in the interview.


As Mr. Thompson spoke about how students engage in SAE programs in his program, nearly every interview question prompted him to mention the importance of planning in a successful, high-quality SAE project. He referred to this not only in the beginning planning stages of student SAE programs but also in building the SAE programs over time. Mr. Thompson firmly believed, “we can’t just do it for a week or two and be done, but we’ve got to go back, check and balances. We’ve got to have a plan, we got to follow up with the plan.” He credited student success in SAE to spending the time to have students plan their SAE programs when they begin. This includes goals, steps in the process, and developing a benchmark for the students to be able to know whether or not they accomplished their goals. Mr. Thompson added, “if they can’t see the end result, they’re not going to buy into it. They got to say, okay, I’ll do this idea, this might work.”

Building from student interest

Student interest in their SAE programs was also an important factor in Mr. Thompson’s students’ success. He stated the importance of doing more than just making it a required portion of their classroom grade to shift the SAE to high-quality. Mr. Thompson added, “so it’s going to be something that they’re interested in. It’s got to be something that gains their interest long term, can’t just be something Ima grade it and it goes away.” By connecting his students with SAE programs that tap into their interests, Mr. Thompson believes he can show his students what possibilities are out there for starting a career that relates to their interests. This connection allows students to dive deeper into their SAE and develop important soft skills. Mr. Thompson shared, “it’s valuable because it gives the kids the hands-on experience that you cannot really teach in class. … It lets them see the real-world application of what they’re interested in.”

Influence of technological advancement

Mr. Thompson reported the impact of new recordkeeping abilities and structure through the AET. The resource, Mr. Thompson shared, allowed students to continue to think about and work on their SAE programs in a way they had not before. Mr. Thompson shared, “the AET program keeps it in front of them, they have to plan it and follow through because it’s on paper, it’s on the computer and hopefully next year they can pick up where they left off and continue growing their project.” Mr. Thompson also expressed the impact AET on the number of students who turn in their SAE projects each year, and how it has changed how intentional he as well as his students have been in the SAE planning and implementation process.  Mr. Thompson stated, “if you’re going to have the SAE projects, you’ve got to be intentional. My projects have gotten better as a result of AET record keeping. I’ve got more kids participating, turning projects in.”


Based on these case study findings, there were broad themes that come forth in a cross-case analysis. Although the information presented in this case study is useful, it is important to note that generalizations should not be made beyond the scope of the three cases.

Caring, dedicated teachers

The three teachers each expressed a genuine interest in engaging students in SAE programs because they believed it was a worthwhile and valuable experience for students. The teachers interviewed expressed how much they valued the career skills, personal development, and experience students gained in their SAE programs. The influence of agricultural educators has been suggested time and time again to be a critical component of successful SAE programs (Dyer & Osborne, 1995; Philipps et al., 2008; Retallick, 2010; Rubenstein et al., 2014).

Mandating SAE as part of a classroom grade

Each of the three educators interviewed required SAE programs as part of their classroom grade. This finding was supported by research from Rubenstein and Thoron (2015). This practice was a crucial piece for rebuilding SAE programs and helping students gain the important skills from SAE. In order to accomplish this feat, all of the subjects reported taking the time to allow students to express their interests and future goals at the beginning of the planning process, and helped students develop an SAE that connected to those interests and goals. This allowed the students to receive the grade they desired while simultaneously gaining critical skills and experiences through their SAEs. By receiving a grade for their SAE, students are driven to be successful due to their need to strive for competence within their SAE program, further supporting achievement motivation as a foundational element to SAE program implementation.

Connection to student career interests and goals

Regardless of whether or not students wanted to go into an agriculturally-related career, all three teachers worked to connect student SAE programs to their future careers. This connection may come through a very specific skills, such as welding or 21st century skill acquisition that students gain through conducting a high-quality SAE program. It has been reported that student interest in SAE programs has contributed to success throughout the history of Agricultural Education (Bird et al., 2013). This conclusion aligns with the work of Atkinson (1957) in expectancy-value, where students are dictated by their expected success of achieving a goal they set for themselves at the beginning of an SAE program.  

Flexibility within SAE

Retallick (2010) reported teachers believed the agricultural education system, FFA award system and SAE categories caused issues with the implementation of SAE. All three teachers in this study expressed the need to make connections to student interests and, at times, stretch what might be considered a true SAE. Nonetheless, the teachers vocalized how these projects were still providing students with the same important skills all SAE should provide. While clear themes exist, it appears that all teachers must make informed decisions based upon their own community and program to ensure that SAE continues to thrive. 

In order to increase the motivation of students to engage in SAE programs the following recommendations are made for teachers:

  1. Provide time in class to plan, design, implement, and record SAE programs,
  2. Give students the opportunity to express and match SAE programs to their interests,
  3. Require SAE programs as part of the classroom grade,
  4. Take the time to connect student interests to agriculture, even if not directly related, and,
  5. Reformat FFA award structures to recognize outstanding student SAE that may not fit in a traditional category.

This study brought to light many critical components of motivating students to conduct high-quality SAE Programs. The following are recommendations for future research:

  1. Increase the amount of case studies being done to provide a rich narrative of SAE implementation,
  2. Conduct research directly with students on their motivations to start and continue with SAE,
  3. Study the practices of teacher preparation programs and how they prepare preservice teachers for SAE, and,
  4. Investigate the value of reported career skills gained through SAE programs.

In addition to teachers and additional research studies, the following recommendation are for teacher education programs:

  1. Perservice teachers need to engage in an SAE program in college to better understand the requirements they are setting for their students,
  2. Teacher educators should plan for instruction in SAE to be a core component of their teacher preparation program, and,
  3. Preservice teachers should be expected to visit agricultural education programs to see how inservice teachers are conducting high quality SAE program visits. 


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Rubenstein, E. D., & Thoron, A. C. (2014). Successful supervised agricultural experience programs as defined by American FFA degree star finalists. Journal of Agricultural Education, 55(3),162-174. 10.5032/jae.2014.03162.

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An Assessment of South Carolina Organic Farmers’ Educational Needs, Perceived Barriers and Growth Opportunities

Jill Robinson, Clemson University,

K. Dale Layfield, Clemson University,

Christopher J. Eck, Oklahoma State University,

Stephen Cole, Clemson University,

PDF Available


Organic farming has seen a dramatic increase over the last decade and is now practiced all over the world. With this new and innovative farming style growing in demand, it creates a greater need for education and resources for farmers. This study was undergirded by the diffusions of innovations theory, as the Cooperative Extension service aids in the diffusion of practical agricultural information throughout the United States. The purpose of this study is to determine the educational resources necessary for organic farmers. By assessing the community needs, the data can be used to provide cooperative extension with educational materials to help aid organic farmers. A Borich needs assessment was developed to conduct this non-experimental research study through a survey research design, which allowed researchers to rank the educational need. The results of this study indicate that educational resources need to be developed and geared toward managing organic crop diseases, insect pests and weeds in an organic farming system. Extension services play a major role in diffusion of technology and educational resources, as agents need to provide educational resources for organic farmers in addition to conventional farmers. Additionally, educational materials need to be developed to better educate consumers on organic farming and what it means to be certified organic. It is further recommended that an educational needs assessment be performed on extension agents to determine their educational gaps when dealing with organic competencies, bridging the gap between organic education and extension. These findings are very insightful for extension services and other educational agencies to understand where the largest educational need is.

Introduction and Theoretical Framework

The renewed emphasis on environmental protection and agricultural sustainability has created a new wave of interest in organic agriculture (McNeil, 2020). Organic agriculture can be defined as an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity (USDA National Organic Standards Board), which is based on minimal inputs and best management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony (Gold, 2007). Thus, organic farming has increased over the last decade and is now practiced all over the world, with global organic sales reaching $55.1 billion in 2019 (McNeil, 2020). In the U.S., 8.3 million acres are currently certified for organic production, and the organic marketplace allows smaller scale operations and new generation farmers to contribute to global agricultural production (Knutson, 2019).

As organic agriculture continues to grow, the need for education and resources for farmers grows. The Smith-Lever Act in 1914 established Cooperative Extension as part of the land-grant universities, which aim to serve agricultural producers in the state as an educational resource by providing research-based information (Scholl, 2013). Specifically, Clemson University has the obligation ‘‘to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanical arts… in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life’’ (Act M, 1862). Land grant universities were set up with the intention of providing agricultural education to citizens in the state, with organic farming emerging with unique regulations and required skillsets. Land grant universities need to fulfill their role as an educational resource for these organic farmers. Additionally, literature is lacking on the educational resources being implemented for organic farmers, therefore this study aimed to identify the necessary educational resources for organic farmers.

The continued adoption of organic agriculture will be influenced by policy measures that improve farming education and promote environmental mindfulness, such as farm output diversification. Therefore, this study was undergirded by the diffusions of innovations theory (Rogers, 2003), as the Cooperative Extension service aids in the diffusion of practical agricultural information throughout the United States (Hillison, 1996). Communication channels and networks play a huge role in facilitating the education to farmers with advanced extension services, organized workshops, and round table meetings among farmers and rural stakeholders (Genius & Pantzios, 2006), ultimately leading to a sustainable adoption (Rogers, 2003) of organic agricultural practices. Currently in South Carolina, increasing demand for organic products helps in the decision process to adopt organic agriculture, while the extensive list of regulations set forth can limit the continual implementation of the process (Rogers, 2003). Known barriers exist within the innovation decision process, including, producing organic crops with alternative pest management solutions, increasing soil fertility, following organic regulations, and implementing no-till methods. Additionally, two of Rogers’ (2003) attributes of innovation, trialability and observability, established educational practices of the Cooperative Extension service, help reduce uncertainty about innovations such as organic farming practices. With the proper knowledge, farmers may use small plots of land for their own trials before seeking organic certification. Therefore, it is essential to develop educational material, field trials and training targeted at organic farmers to provide the necessary knowledge to help in the decision and implementation process related to the diffusion of organic agriculture (Rogers, 2003). Specifically, this research aims to understand organic agriculturalists and their needs in South Carolina.


The purpose of this study was to determine the educational resources necessary for organic farmers. By assessing the needs, the data can be used to provide cooperative extension with educational materials to help aid organic farmers. Three objectives guided this study:

  1. Determine the personal and professional demographics of certified organic farmers in South Carolina,
  2. Determine the educational resource needs and preferred method of receiving educational resources, and
  3. Determine organic farmers’ perceived growth and barriers of organic farming.


A Borich needs assessment was developed to conduct this non-experimental research study, aimed at determining the educational needs based upon a discrepancy model (Borich, 1980). This study implemented a survey research design, which could then be weighted and ranked in order of educational need priority.


A census approach was implemented to reach South Carolina organic farmers who have been certified through the Clemson University Organic Certification Program (N = 41). The frame was obtained from the Clemson University Organic Certification Program, all 41 certified organic farmers in South Carolina were contacted and had equal opportunity to participate. The electronic survey was distributed via email with a letter explaining the survey’s purpose and a link to the Qualtrics survey. 


The needs assessment was adapted from Frick’s (2008) Needs Assessment of Saskatchewan Organic Farmers to meet the organic needs in United States. The survey consisted of a Borich needs assessment with Likert scale questions and open-ended questions to gain an understanding of what educational resources the organic farmers needed. The results identify the discrepancy between organic growers’ self-perceived skill level and their desired interest level on organic farming competencies. The survey questions were divided into three main groups to coincide with the objectives. The first set of questions covered basic demographics, including organic crops grown, total number of acres cultivated, gross revenue, farming experience, age, education level, gender, and location. The second set of questions focused on integral components of organic farming. These questions were divided up into the following categories: natural resources & biodiversity, land requirements, managing soil fertility and soil quality, managing weeds, managing crop insect pests, managing crop diseases, crop rotation and postproduction needs. The third set of questions asked the participants to identify their preferred method for receiving educational materials.


The survey was evaluated for content validity by a panel of experts in organic agriculture to ensure the survey questions were relevant to organic produces in South Carolina. In addition, faculty in agricultural and extension education reviewed the instrument for face validity based on their experience with survey design and implementation. Prior to survey distribution, the study was approved by the Clemson University IRB office. Once approved, the initial email was sent to organic farmers in South Carolina (N = 41) requesting their participation in the study. Following the tailored design method (Dillman et al., 2014), a second email was distributed two weeks later, followed by a final reminder email two weeks after that. After three rounds of email communication with organic farmers, a final attempt was made to solicit responses via phone, where the farmers were encouraged to participate in the survey that was distributed. Although responses were anonymous, participant email address were recorded to help collect data from non-respondents.

Data Analysis

Following data collection, SPSS Version 26 was used for descriptive data analysis. Microsoft Excel was implemented to calculate a mean weighted discrepancy score (MWDS) between current skill level and desired interest level. The organic competencies were then ranked using the mean weighted discrepancy scores.


Objective 1: Determine the professional and personal demographics of certified organic farmers in South Carolina

The survey had a 69% (n = 29) response rate. The responding organic farmers revealed that nearly half (48%) have been certified organic farmers for less than five years. The survey also revealed that nearly half (44.8%) of farmers make over $50,000 in gross organic sales. Nearly all (89.9%) the organic farmers are older than 41 with over half (58.6%) of them having completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. The majority (75.9%) of organic farmers are male. The most common organic crops are cucumber, squash, lettuce, tomato, and peppers, all of which producers intend on growing in the future with 55.2% of farmers stating they do not intend to change what they are already producing. The respondents were distributed across 21 counties in South Carolina with varying land sizes (see Table 1).  

Table 1
Acreage Allocation of Organic Farmers
# Acres# Farmers with Cultivated Acres# Farmers with Other Acres (Forests, Natural Areas, etc.)# Farmers with Certified Organic Acres

The greatest numbers of organic crops grown in South Carolina are tied between cucumber, pepper, and tomato with seventeen of the organic farmers producing these crops (see Table 2). Sixteen of the organic farmers indicated they produce lettuce and squash, while the least grown crops were melon (10), onion (9), corn (8), asparagus (5), and small grain (5). Three organic farmers intend to add carrot, berry, potato, and asparagus to their list, although the majority (n = 16) have no intentions to change their current acreage (see Table 2).

Table 2
Frequencies of Current and Intended Addition of Crops Produced by Organic Crop Farmers
Organic Crop Type# of Organic Farmers Currently Producing# of Organic Farmers Intending to Produce Crop
Small grain53
Stone fruit32

Objective 2: Determine the educational resource needs and preferred method of receiving educational resources

Natural Resources & Biodiversity 

The educational needs related to natural resources and biodiversity (Table 3) are wetland wildlife habitat management and removal of invasive species. Education programs should focus on these two educational areas and potentially partner up with DNR or Clemson University Invasive Species Program to cover these two topics. Organic farmers are confident in their upland wildlife habitat management and tree/shrub establishment skills.

Table 3
Rankings of Organic Farmers’ Competency Ratings of Natural Resources and Biodiversity Skills Using the Borich Needs Assessment Model (n = 26)

Land Requirements 

The highest MWDSs for educational need (Table 4) for land requirements are field border development and riparian forest buffer management. Organic farmers are confident in their buffer zone development skills.

Table 4
Rankings of Organic Farmers’ Competency Ratings of Land Requirements Skills Using the Borich Needs Assessment Model (n = 26)

Managing Soil Fertility and Soil Quality

The highest need of educational resources (Table 5) in managing soil fertility and soil quality are soil biology management to improve existing soil life and soil chemistry management as determined by the MWDS. When developing these resources, soil chemists could be utilized as experts on these topics. The organic farmers are confident in their ability to minimize soil erosion.

Table 5
Rankings of Organic Farmers’ Competency Ratings of Managing Soil Fertility and Soil Quality Skills Using the Borich Needs Assessment Model (n = 26)

Managing Weeds  

The top three educational needs (Table 6) from managing weeds are using biological weed controls (natural and introduced diseases and predators of weeds), designing weed control programs to manage specific weeds, and using cultural weed controls (seeding rates, varieties, cropping management). Organic farmers believe they have a strong skill set in using mechanical weed controls.

Table 6
Rankings of Organic Farmers’ Competency Ratings of Managing Weeds Skills Using the Borich Needs Assessment Model (n = 26)

Managing Crop Insect Pests  

The top three educational needs (Table 7) are designing pest control programs to manage specific weeds, enhancing natural pest controls (i.e., encouraging beneficial insects) and using biological pest controls (e.g. releasing insect diseases or predators). The organic farmers have a strong perceived skill level of using mechanical pest control.

Table 7
Rankings of Organic Farmers’ Competency Ratings of Managing Crop Insect Pest Skills Using the Borich Needs Assessment Model (n = 26)

Managing Crop Diseases  

The top two educational resource needs for managing crop diseases (Table 8) are enhancing natural disease controls and improving habitats for natural enemies of pests. The lowest educational need is using cultural disease controls.

Table 8
Rankings of Organic Farmers’ Competency Ratings of Managing Crop Disease Skills Using the Borich Needs Assessment Model (n = 26)

Crop Rotation   

The highest educational need in crop rotation (Table 9) is understanding soil, weed, insect and disease interactions in rotations. The lowest educational resource need is identifying crop rotations that provide erosion control.

Table 9
Rankings of Organic Farmers’ Competency Ratings of Managing Crop Rotation Skills Using the Borich Needs Assessment Model (n = 26)

Post-Production Needs    

The highest educational resource need (Table 10) is processing facilities for organic field crops and information on the buyers who are consuming organic foods. The lowest educational resource need is consumer education on organic standards.

Table 10
Rankings of Organic Farmers’ Competency Ratings of Managing Post-Production Skills Using the Borich Needs Assessment Model (n = 26)

Objective 3:Determine organic farmers’ perceived growth and barriers for organic farming.

The third objective was to determine how organic farmers would like to receive educational resources and what barriers and growths do they see for organic farming. A majority (79.3%) of organic farmers indicated they would like the educational resource to be an electronic form (i.e., email, website, orwebinar), while only a small percentage (13.8%) indicated they would like to have personal contact through workshops or farm tours to answer specific questions they have. The remaining 6.9% preferred mail correspondence with educational materials. 

The organic farmers were also asked what they percieved to be barriers and opportunities of growth for organic farming. The common barrier stated was lack of education on the consumer side on what organic truly means. One farmer stated “The general misunderstanding of the general public of what organic really “is” especially in confusing organic and local. The public does not understand the extra costs of production or benefits to themselves and the benefits to the local environment and workers for organic production.” An additional barrier mentioned was being able to adapt the individual growing environment for individual species. Another farmer stated “The barrier that I see would be the ongoing knowledge that it takes to adapt to ones growing environment for each individual growing species. Knowing what plants would be beneficial to grow together to help ward off pests would help break down the barrier on achieving success.” The opportunities for growth that the farmers stated was society’s push for healthier food options and becoming more aware of where their food is coming from. One farmer stated “As everyone seems to be more health conscious. I believe the ability to adapt and lower production costs would be greatly accepted by buyers. As we all continue to learn not just the basics but more advanced organic growing, I feel that Organics will only become more affordable and prosperous.” Another opportunity of growth would be educating the consumer on what organic certification really is and what it entials. One farmer stated “The opportunity depends on the education of the public on the benefits on all levels including why customers should patronize them to ensure that the benefits occur.  Stressing the difference between local organic and local.” The final opportunity of growth that the organic farmers percieve is developing more educational resources related to organic farming, one farmer stated “get extension teams more educated will help make it easier for farmers to try and do organics as there are many questions.”

Conclusions, Discussion, and Recommendations

This study mirriored the results of Frick et al. (2008), as South Carolina Organic farmers top areas of need included soil fertility and understanding integrated pest management plans that comabt weeds, insects and diseases. The barriers percieved by the Saskatchewan farmers were similair to the ones discovered in this study including the misrepresentation and lack of understanding of what organic farming is by the public. The growth of organics has renwed the public interest in food sustainability, which is a great opportunity for organic agriculture.

Extension services play a major role in diffusion of technology and educational resources, as agents need to provide educational resources for organic farmers in additon to conventional farmers. This Extension professional serves as change agents in the adoption of new technology, ultimately promtoing the initial addoption by reduces barriers, providing observability, and supporting farmers for continual adoptionof the technology and practices (Rogers, 2003). The results of our needs assesment suggest organic farmers need educational resources related to §205.206(a)(b)(c) Managing Crop weeds, Insect Pests and Diseases. With focus on the organic competencies of using biological weed controls designing weed control programs to manage specific weeds, designing pest control programs to manage specific weeds, enhancing natural pest controls, enhancing natural disease controls and improving habitats for natural enemies of pests. Current extension programs could adjust and redesign their current education programs and trainings to help close the educational gaps that organic farmers are currently facing. It is reccomended that extension programs create in-depth organic pest management trainings that meet the needs described above and identify exisiting resources and educational materials. Additionally, industry professionals (i.e., soil scientists, organic speciailists, IPM professionsals) should be utilized to cover these topics. Other state extension programs and educational groups should implement similar topics into their educational programs.

Many findings were related to farmer’s needs relating to different cultural practices of organic crops, including field border development, soil biology management, and designing pest control programs to manage specific weeds. Therefore, it is essnetial for the continuation of field trials on various cultivars of organic crops across South Carolina to continue to support organic farmers. These trials provide opportunites for innovation across organic agriculture and provide opportunities for observability, reducing the barriers to adoption (Rogers, 2003). It is recommended that South Carolina Cooperative Extension agents coordinate closely with organic crop researchers at Clemson University when field days are held to generate awareness and attendance of organic farmers in their respective regions. Further, Cooperative Extension agents may consider developing virtual field days for organic farmers as were held by many land grants across the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore the comments written by the organic farmers suggests there needs to be more education provided to the public on what organic farming is, the disconnect between the public and organic farming was seen as a major barrier to organic growth. Ultimately, education is a pivotal component in the future success of organic production, as the continued adoption of organic agriculture will be influenced by policy decisions often impact by public opinion. Knowing this, extension services are encouraged to provide more general educational materials to the public, discussing what organic farming is and correcting misconceptions, perhaps integrating organic farming concepts into their youth and adult agriculutral programs.

It is reccomended that the needs assesment used in this study be admistered to Extension agents to determine their educaitonal gaps related to organic compentcies. Improving the current gap between organic education and extension agents. This research was developed to better understand the education gaps for organic farming. These results show that educational resources need to be developed and geared toward managing organic crop diseases, insect pests and weeds in an organic farming system. Additionally, educational materials need to be developed to better educate consumers on organic farming and what it means to be certified organic. These findings are very insightful for extension services and other educational agencies to understand where the largest educational need is. The survey revealed electronic form is the most desired vessel of education. This will be key when developing educational materials that farmers will utilize. Altough this study is limited to organic farmers in South Carolina, other states with organic programs should consdier the findings and conclusions of this study to help guide future implmentation and practices. Replicating this study on a state by state basis would be beneficial to further understand the educational needs, barriers, and opportunites for growth within the organic agricultre community.


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