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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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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GPS and Geocaching Integration in Agriscience: The Impact on Critical Thinking

Rachel Hendrix, West Virginia University,

OP McCubbins, Mississippi State University,

John Ricketts, Tennessee State University,

PDF Available


Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has an important role in both agriculture and in everyday life. However, the effects of GPS integration into agricultural classrooms has never been fully explored. This study evaluated the potential for critical thinking skill development as a result of student participation in a GPS lesson and the GPS-based treasure hunting game of Geocaching. The GPS lesson for both groups combined, the treatment (integrated Geocaching) and control (no geocaching integration), yielded statistically significant improvements on student engagement, cognitive maturity, innovation, and total critical thinking disposition. However, there were no statistically significant improvements resulting from the Geocaching integration. The authors recommend additional research on the influence of Geocaching on other variables of student achievement (i.e., knowledge gained, mathematical processing skills, science processing). Geocaching can be designed to be educational and the authors contend it is a novel way to promote student engagement and reinforce academic content into the Agriscience classroom.


Treasure hunting is often imagined to be the sport of pirates and adventurers looking to strike it rich.  Now, thanks to the concept of Geocaching, anyone with a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver and Internet access can explore for hidden objects. Geocaching can serve as an enjoyable hobby, but can also be beneficial within various learning environments (Christie, 2007; Hendrix et al., 2011). This study introduced GPS technology and a modern-day treasure hunting activity, Geocaching, into the agriscience classroom.

GPS technology is a “navigation and precise-positioning tool” that was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1973 (Glasscoe, 1998, para. 1; “What is GPS?,” 2011).  Global Positioning System technology allows users to create accurate maps of their surroundings by receiving geographic information beamed down from satellites orbiting the Earth (Shaunessy & Page, 2006). One way to introduce GPS technology to students is through the game of Geocaching (Groundspeak, 2011).  Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt experience in which participants use GPS units to discover hidden objects known as Geocaches. Any member of the Geocaching community can hide a Geocache, although they must follow certain rules pertaining to safety and legal issues (Groundspeak, 2011).

The impact of technology integration in education has been studied widely, and results indicate that access to technology in education improved student motivation, self-esteem, technical knowledge, and interpersonal skills compared to students without access (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). Teachers who frequently use technology can aid in developing their students’ understanding of essential 21st Century Skills – skills regarding knowledge of technology, the developing world, communication, creativity, teamwork, and self-discipline (Grunwald & Associates, 2010).

Teaching with GPS “is an ideal context in which to develop critical thinking” (Schwartz, 2016, p. 13). “Students use critical thinking skills [when learning through GPS] to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources” (Schwartz, 2016, p. 13). According to Siegel (1988), critical thinking skills are an important component of life, and should be included in educational systems because young people deserve the chance to learn to think critically. Additionally, critical thinking has been included in frameworks to illustrate the skills students need to succeed in work and life (Crawford & Fink, 2020). A student’s mastery of critical thinking also helps them to improve control over their own lives and increase the quality of their life experiences (Paul, 1995).  In a 1991 report, the U.S. Department of Labor identified critical thinking skills as one of the foundational skills in which students should gain competency (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills).

In addition to critical thinking, GPS requires a working knowledge of geography, math, and physical science. Therefore, GPS systems and tools are often utilized in classrooms in these subject areas. Geocaching adds to the teacher toolbox, allowing them to cover almost any topic in a fun and engaging manner (Dixon, 2011; Thorpe, 2006;). Related technology experiences have had significant impacts on the development of critical thinking in students (Duran & Sendag, 2012). Therefore, we tested the impact of integrating a GPS and geocaching lesson and activity in an agriscience course to determine if similar, positive critical thinking outcomes would be realized.

Conceptual Framework

Critical thinking has been defined as “a reasoned, purposive, and introspective approach to solving problems or addressing questions with incomplete evidence and information and for which an incontrovertible solution is unlikely” (Rudd et al., 2000, p. 5).  Angelo (1995) notes critical thinking involves “the intentional application of rational, higher order thinking skills” including “analysis, synthesis, problem recognition and problem solving, inference, and evaluation” (p. 6). Although these definitions are complex, when simplified, they reveal that critical thinking is the ability of a person to make a difficult decision after considering all people, situations, and options – a trait agricultural education students ought to reflect (Facione et al., 1997).

Effective critical thinking has positive effects across the aspects of one’s life. Murawski (2014) says that critical thinkers produce more ideas of higher quality than non-critical thinkers, and are more likely to set goals and overcome obstacles such as failure, distraction, and limitations. Ruggiero (2012) notes critical thinkers are better at demonstrating effective listening skills, identifying extreme views, avoiding emotionalism and stereotyping, seeing multiple perspectives, acknowledging limitations, and thinking before acting. Butler (2012) and Butler et al. (2015) found that critical thinking was more effective than intelligence at predicting life decisions. In their study, individuals possessing higher critical thinking scores reported experiencing fewer negative life events than those with lower critical thinking scores.

Critical thinking has benefits in the workplace (Ennis, 1987; Murawski, 2014; Willsen, 1995). Casner-Lotto et al. (2006) found that 92.1% of surveyed employers identified critical thinking and problem solving skills as “very important” to successful job performance for four-year college graduates (p. 20). Research shows that people who score well on critical thinking assessments are rated by their supervisors as possessing “good analysis and problem-solving skills,” “good judgment and decision making” skills, “good overall job performance,” “the ability to evaluate the quality of information,” “creativity,” “job knowledge,” and “the potential to move up” in the workplace (Harris, 2015, para. 9).

Leaders who exercise quality critical thinking on the job are better able to evaluate and mitigate risk, weigh options, and recognize the effect that consequences have on not only themselves, but on coworkers and stakeholders (Anderson, 2013; Murawaski, 2014). Unfit or hasty decisions result in real issues for businesses, which illustrates the need for employees who can gather information, consider outcomes, and make informed decisions. Thus, critical thinking – alongside related behavioral skills such as leadership, communication, collaboration, and innovation – are highly sought by employers when making hiring decisions (AACU, 2010; Casner-Lotto et al., 2006; Hendrix & Morrison, 2018; Landrum & Harrold, 2003).

While effective critical thinking is beneficial to students, it is a difficult skill to teach (Angelo, 1995). It does not often arise “simply as a result of maturation,” but rather through guided learning experiences that overtly highlight “active engagement” and “personal investment” in the learning activity, “comprehensible and timely feedback,” and cooperative work “with peers and teachers” (Angelo, 1995, p. 6). Yet students cannot simply be passive receivers of knowledge. Critical thinking is purposeful, and it requires the active use of information to make effective decisions – a process that includes application of knowledge in real-world circumstances, experimentation through trial and error, and reflection upon successess and failures (Murawski, 2014; Paul, 1995).

When measuring the critical thinking abilities of agricultural education students, Cano (1995) stated they were able to “think critically at various levels,” and that they tend to “score at higher percentages at the higher levels of cognition” (p. 29). These findings supported the earlier work of Rollins et al. (1988), who found agricultural education students able to successfully employ critical thinking skills when addressing problem-based situations. Akins et al. (2019) noted the use of case studies in agricultural communications courses increased students’ critical thinking, information-seeking, and interpersonal engagement behaviors.

Ricketts and Rudd (2004) found the National FFA Organization – a co-curricular organization for agricultural education students – to be fertile ground for critical thinking development. Student leaders in the National FFA Organization showed “high” levels of critical thinking, with scores in the “upper end of the range” for the sub-skills of analysis, inference, and evaluation (Ricketts & Rudd, 2004, p. 15). In contrast, Latham et al. (2014) found that critical thinking was occuring at a lower level among senior Texas FFA members than their counterparts. Latham et al. called for an improvement for critical thinking instruction within agricultural education throughout the curriculum.

The conceptual framework for this study is supported by a National Delphi study conducted by Facione (1990), who defined critical thinking as “purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based” (p. 2). The Delphi study revealed a set of critical thinking dispositions that are inherent in critical thinking. Facione (2011) referred to the dispositions as approaches to life that characterize critical thinking. He developed an assessment of the following critical thinking dispositions: Truth-Seeking, Open-mindedness, Analyticity, Systematicity, Self-confidence, Inquisitiveness, and Maturity. 

This study utlized a model of critical thinking developed by agricultural educators at the University of Florida (UF). Researchers at UF developed an instrument that measured dispositions as Facione (2011) did, but in a more effective and efficient way (Irani et al., 2007).  Because of the length and amount of time Facione’s assessment took to complete and the suspect reliability of the scales on Facione’s California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCTDI) (Moore et al., 2002), researchers developed the UF-EMI (Irani et al., 2007). For this study, changes in these dispositions were assessed utilzing a retrospective/post version of the UF-EMI (University of Florida – Engagement, Maturity, and Innovativeness) assessment (Ricketts et al., 2007) described in the methods section below.

The UF-EMI model of critical thinking assessment used to reach this study’s objectives contains three scales (Engagement, Cognitive Maturity, and Innovativeness). The Engagement construct measures a person’s ability to anticipate and seek out situations requiring logical reasoning, use existing critical thinking skills to confidently solve problems, and to be an effective group leader. The Maturity construct assesses a person’s awareness of their own biases, their environment, their opinions, and their influences on both their own lives and the lives of others. The Innovation construct assess a person’s desire to learn new information and to explore the world around them while continually seeking truth through research and questioning (Irani et al., 2007; Ricketts, 2003).

Purpose and Objectives

Despite existing literature illuminating how effective Geocaching can be as an educational activity (Christie, 2007; Dixon, 2011; Schwartz, 2016), its use has rarely been documented as a method of teaching agriculture. While this does not exclude the possibility that agriculture teachers have used Geocaching before, it does show a lack of knowledge about either the educational possibilities or the existence of the game in general.

Therefore, it is important that if GPS technology and Geocaching are to be used as an educational tool in agriculture classes, the possibilities are fully explored. Geocaching makes learning an active experience that requires the evaluation of ideas alongside problem-solving, decision-making. Therefore it is possible that students’ critical thinking will be impacted by the introduction of GPS in the agriscience education curriculum.

The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of Geocaching integration in an agriscience lesson plan. The primary objectives of this study were to:

  1. Describe the change in critical thinking dispositions as a result of the GPS lesson for both the treatment (Geocaching integration) and control (no Geocaching integration) groups in the agriscience courses.
  2. Compare the critical thinking dispositions of students of the treatment group who participated in the GPS lesson with integrated Geocaching activity against those the control group who participated in a GPS lesson void of Geocaching integration.


The first step undertaken in this study was the development of an introductory level GPS lesson which fit into a 50-minute class period. This lesson opened with a 20-minute lecture discussing GPS history, reading coordinates, usage in agriculture, and the game of Geocaching.Materials including an accompanying PowerPoint a coordinate worksheet, and a Geocaching worksheet were created as well.

Eight Garmin eTrex 10 GPS receivers and carrying cases were purchased for use in the study. These specific receivers were chosen due to their low cost, durability, and ease of use. Other purchased materials included Geocache container materials such as a plastic hide-a-key containter and a PVC pipe with one cap attached to the bottom. All materials were clearly labeled as Geocaches using official stickers purchased from Groundspeak (2021).

Five schools were contacted through email about participating in the study. On the day of each visit, the researcher arrived at the selected school approximately forty-five minutes early and proceeded to hide the Geocaches. When the selected classes began, the researcher allowed the teacher to perform any necessary duties before beginning the GPS lesson.

After the end of the introductory lecture, the students were introduced to their first activity. This activity was developed to introduce basic GPS ability and to reinforce the concepts of latitude and longitude. In this activity, students were placed into groups of two to five students, with each group given a GPS unit, a GPS Instructions page, and a Coordinate Worksheet. Each group was then led outside and asked to turn on their GPS unit. The teacher visited each group to ensure that everyone understood the directions and to minimize potential problems. After each unit had a successful lock on three or more satellites, the teacher asked students to write their current coordinates down on the Coordinate Worksheet. The students then moved to a new location not far away, and wrote down a new pair of coordinates. Again, the teacher visited each group, this time to discuss the results with the students. Discussion topics included uncovering which coordinate numbers changed, why certain numbers changed the way they did, and how the numbers indicated the students’ direction of travel. Then each group would compare their results with other groups before the Coordinate Worksheets were collected.

The next part of the GPS unit varied between classes. For those classes randomly chosen to be the control group, the GPS units were collected, the class returned to their classroom, and the paper-and-pencil based GPS Review Worksheet provided.

The treatment groups were instead allowed to keep their GPS units for a second activity in which they would experience the game of Geocaching.  The Geocaching activity began by dividing up students into three groups. Each group was given a different set of coordinates that were designed to lead them a Geocache. Although both their teacher and the researcher monitored the groups, the students were allowed to follow their GPS and search for the Geocaches on their own. If problems arose, students were given clues or hints to help them discover the final location of the cache. When the caches were discovered, students were instructed to sign the contained log sheet, take a few stickers as a prize, and then re-hide the cache back in its original location before returning to the classroom.

When either the Review Worksheet or Geocaching activity was complete, the students were given the GPS Test and survey instrument. The test was written with the specific intent of testing what knowledge was gained during both the lecture and activity portions of the lesson. It consisted of seventeen multiple choice questions that covered basic concepts regarding the history of GPS, the usage of GPS in agriculture, the workings of GPS technology, and also latitude and longitude. Students were not allowed to use notes during the test, and would be given as much time as needed to answer the questions and survey instruments. 

Following the end of the lesson, GPS units, tests and surveys were collected, and the remaining five to ten minutes left in each class period would be spent debriefing students about what they had learned and experienced. This was to help the students further retain what they had learned, and to give them a chance to offer their thoughts on the GPS unit as a whole.


This study utilized survey research and took place at [university] and in five different high schools in three counties in the [state]. These schools were chosen to participate in the study due to their proximity to [university], because they all had successful agricultural education programs, and because they offered agriculture courses that fit study criterion. In order to be selected, a school had to offer two of the same agriculture classes that were taught by the same teacher. This was done to minimize error and decrease the number of potential variables. Due to budgetary and time restraints, the selected classes were not the same in every school. A total of four different types of agricultural classes were visited overall – two agriscience classes, two agricultural mechanics classes, two floral design classes, and four small animal care classes.

Each class had a different number of students ranging between 13 and 21 students, with an average of 16.8 students per class. One hundred and fifty-five usable responses were collected, for a response rate of 92%. Of these usable responses, 79 were from female students and 76 were from males. Students ages ranged from 14 to 19 with an average age of 16.1 years.  One of the two classes at each school was randomly selected by a coin toss to serve as the test group that would receive the treatment Geocaching activity. The other class served as the control group and received a paper assignment in place of the Geocaching activity. Seventy-eight students who provided usable responses were members of the treatment group/classes, while seventy-seven were members of the control group/classes.

The survey instrument used to collect data was the EMI Critical Thinking Disposition Retrospective Post Instrument (Ricketts et al., 2007) as adapted from the original UF-EMI (Irani et al., 2007; Ricketts, 2003). This version was used for convienience since it has been found to be just as reliable as the original instrument. Reliability of the original UF-EMI ranges from (α = 0.79 to 0.94) (Irani et al.), and reliability of the retrospective post version, as used in this study, ranges from (α = 0.79 to 0.93) (Ricketts et al., 2007).

This instrument asks students to state on a six-point scale their agreement or disagreement with 26 statements in order to evaluate their level of critical thinking disposition. Because it was a retrospective post instrument, it asks students to first rate how they thought their critical thinking disposition was before participating in the study, and then to rate their disposition following the lesson. Retrospective post research designs are frequently used in Agricultural Education and Extension research and evaluation, specifically in regards to the effectiveness of educational programs (Klatt & Taylor-Powell, 2005). A retrospective post design was chosen for use in this study for two reasons.

First, it was selected to minimize the effects of response shift bias. Response shift bias occurs when a participant’s understanding of the construct being measured changes in response to the content of an educational program (Drennan & Hyde, 2008; Klatt & Taylor-Powell, 2005). In this study, the educational program was the introductory lecture and the Geocaching activity. Since students knew little about critical thinking or GPS technology prior to the introductory lecture and Geocaching activity, it is likely that students would have not possessed enough information to give an accurate picture of their understanding of these subjects on a true pre-test. By presenting students with the information and then asking them to compare their new knowledge with their prior state, the researchers were better able to compare the changes in critical thinking that occurred as a result of the educational program.

Second, the retrospective post was chosen due to convenience and time constraints. Retrospective post studies are versatile and can be used “to evaluate many types of programs for different audiences in varied settings” (Klatt & Taylor-Powell, 2005, p. 2). They are also “less burdensome and intrusive” for participants and take less time to administer, as all data are collected at the same time instead of at two different points (Klatt & Taylor-Powell, 2005, p. 2). This type of research design fit the needs of the study, since all participating schools used schedules that offered class lengths of only 45 to 60 minutes. Including a separate pre-test and post-test, alongside the introductory lecture and Geocaching activity, would not have fit into this single-class time frame. Separating the experience into two days was a possibility, but the researchers rejected this idea for being intrusive on participating agricultural educators, and to manage the potential for incomplete data due to student absences.

The standards for reliability for Cronbach’s alpha by Robinson et al.(1991) were utilized to assess the quality of the scales in the instrument: .80 – 1.00 – exemplary reliability, .70 – .79 – extensive reliability, .60 – .69 – moderate reliability, and <.60 – minimal reliability. Using these standards, all scales possessed exemplary or extensive reliability. Internal consistency coefficients for the subscales for the EMI Critical Thinking Disposition Retrospective Post Instrument were 0.89 for Engagement, 0.75 for Maturity, and 0.79 for Innovativeness.  Engagment was measured by 13 items on the instrument, Maturity by six, and Innovativeness by 11 (Irani et al., 2007; Ricketts, 2003).  The total possible score for Engagement ranged from 13 to 78, Maturity from 6 to 36, and Innovativeness from 11 to 66.  The total survey score ranged from 30 to 180.

Data were recorded in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which were later transferred to SPSS statistical software (SPSS, IBM Corporation, 2010) for further analysis. An alpha level of 0.05 was used, providing a 95% level of confidence.  Inferences (t-tests) were drawn by comparing critical thinking and leadership development mean scores of the different groups. 


Objective One

The GPS lesson for both groups combined yielded statistically significant improvements in the critical thinking dispositions of student engagement, cognitive maturity, innovation, and total critical thinking disposition, albeit with a small effect size according to Cohen (1988). The study participants as a whole scored a total Critical Thinking Disposition (CTD) mean of 90.88 (SD = 13.58) for the retrospective assessment, and a mean of 94.03 (SD =14.59) for the post-lesson assessment. The Engagement retrospective mean was 38.65 (SD = 6.80), and the post-lesson mean was 39.92 (SD = 7.10). The Cognitive Maturity retrospective mean  was 28.45 (SD = 3.99) and the post-lesson mean was 29.23 (SD = 4.42). The retrospective Innovation mean score was 23.79 (SD = 4.10), and the post-lesson mean was 24.88 (SD = 4.34)  (Table 1). 

Table 1
Critical Thinking Change Resulting from the GPS Lesson
Retro Total15590.8813.581.09-6.26154.000.23
Post Total15594.0314.591.17    
Retro Engagement15538.656.800.55-4.63154.000.19
Post Engagement15539.927.100.57    
Retro Maturity15528.453.990.32-5.04154.000.20
Post Maturity15529.234.420.36    
Retro Innovation15523.794.100.33-5.88154.000.27
Post Innovation15524.884.340.35    
Note. *p < .05, 2-tailed
**Cohen’s interpretation of effect size (d), 0.2 = Small, 0.5 = Medium, 0.8 = Large

Objective Two

To determine the influence of the integrated Geocaching activity, changes in critical thinking dispositions were measured by comparing the control group mean score and the treatment group mean score. The total mean score for the control group was 91.03 (SD = 12.80), and the total mean CTD score for the treatment group was 90.74 (SD = 14.40). The Engagement mean score was 38.86 (SD = 6.40) for the control group and 38.44 (SD = 7.21) for the group receiving the treatment. The Cognitive Maturity mean score was 28.42 (SD = 3.66) for the control group and 28.47 (SD = 4.32) for the treatment group. The Innovation mean score for the control group was 23.75 (SD = 4.19), and was 23.83 (SD = 4.02) for the treatment group (Table 2).

Table 2
Critical Thinking Change Resulting from Geocaching Integration
Control Total7791.0312.801.46-0.131530.890.02
Treatment Total7890.7414.401.63    
Control Engagement7738.866.40.73-0.391530.700.05
Treatment Engagement7838.447.21.82    
Control Maturity7728.423.66.47-0.091530.930.01
Treatment Maturity7828.474.32.49    
Control Innovation7723.754.19.48-0.121530.900.02
Treatment Innovation7823.834.02.46    

There were no significant differences between the group with the integrated Geocaching activity and the control group who received the GPS lesson minus the activity.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Although research has already shown that technology in the classroom has benefits (Duran & Sendag, 2012; Grunwald & Associates, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 1998), the use of GPS technology is hasdistinct benefits to students’ critical thinking ability (Schwartz, 2006).  Using GPS technology requires students to solve problems, overcome obstacles, make decisions, participate actively in the learning process, and apply new uses to technology – all factors that play a role in the development and exercise of critical thinking skills (Angelo, 1995; Harris, 2015; Murawski, 2014; Paul, 1995; Schwartz, 2006).

Study results imply the introduction of GPS technology into the agriscience classroom has potential to improve student critical thinking, especially regarding the quality of Innovativeness. Innovativeness involves one’s desire to learn new information through exploration, truth-seeking, research, and questioning (Irani et al., 2007; Ricketts, 2003). Hands-on use of GPS systems required participants to exercise innovativeness as they experimented with unfamiliar tools and concepts and sought answers via trial and error. At first, student participants were unsure about their ability to navigate, but by the end of the lesson they could utilize concepts such as coordinate planes and latitute and longitude while connecting them to uses in the modern agricultural industry. This behavior demonstrates critical thinking as defined by Facione (1990) and Angelo (1995), who both included problem solving, analysis, evaluation, and inference as crucial parts of the critical thinking process. Students were able to quickly and correctly make use of new information and tools in order to gain new understanding.

The Engagement construct of critical thinking saw some development. Engagement concerns itself with a person’s ability to identify and solve situations that require logical reasoning, leadership, and critical thinking. Students in the coordinate activity worked in groups, with each group assigned only one GPS receiver. This naturally led to some students adopting an unofficial leadership position with the group. These leaders often took responsibility for determining positions using the unit while delegating other tasks such as writing coordinates, marking locations, or reading instructions to other members. While there were overall gains in engagement, some students were able to take greater advantage of the situation than others, and perhaps see higher gains in critical thinking than others.

The Cognitive Maturity construct saw the least amount of gain among the three EMI constructs.  This construct evaluates a person’s awareness of their own biases, their environment, their opinions, and their influences on both their own lives and the lives of others (Irani et al., 2007).  This study was not designed to focus on any of these aspects of the Maturity construct, which is most likely the reason that the gain in Maturity scores was the least of all critical thinking gains.

Integrating Geocaching into the lesson did not show any significant benefits to student critical thinking levels. This could potentially be because Geocaching is traditionally a recreational activity, and students saw it as such. Although there are some official Geocaches designed to be educational or to require complex research, inquiry, and puzzle-solving efforts (Groundspeak, 2020), the caches used in this activity were not of this type. Instead, they were representations of the simpler Geocaches that most typically populate the game. After using their GPS receiver to find the general location of a Geocache – a skill already demonstrated in the earlier portion of the lesson – students then physically searched for the hidden container. While this did require students to explore their school grounds and consider where objects could be hidden, usually only one student out of each group made the find while others were unsuccessful. It is possible that the finder alone saw some critical thinking development, or perhaps already possessed higher critical thinking abilities than the rest of their group.

The researchers recommend further study into the use of GPS technology in agricultural education. Global Positioning Systems play a large role in modern agriculture (, 2018), yet this technology not frequently addressed in agricultural education programs. The researchers recommend course developers in agricultural education consider including lessons and applications for GPS/GIS in agriculture. These lessons should focus on (a) developing critical thinking dispositions in students and (b) exposing students to career-relevant technology and content that will enhance those critical thinking dispositons.

The researchers recommend attempting to study GPS integration outcomes with the use of more GPS units. This was a limitation for the study, as not every student participant was able to personally interact with their assigned GPS receiver for the duration of the lesson. Possessing enough GPS receivers to allow students to work in pairs, or perhaps individually, might impact the level of critical thinking that occurs.

Researchers recommend further study to identify the effectivness of Geocaching and other game-based learning methods with the use of a true pre-post design rather than the retrospective-post design. While a retrospective-post design was chosen to minimize response shift bias bias and fit the needs of the study, the format had a downside. Klatt and Powell-Taylor (2008) report that reflecting upon and evaluating one’s prior knowledge can be a difficult task, making a retrospective-post design “difficult or inappropriate for certain learners” (Klatt & Powell-Taylor, 2008, p. 2). A true pre-post design would eliminate this issue and measure student critical thinking growth in a more straightforward manner.


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Measuring Effective Teaching Components of School-Based Agricultural Education Teaching Aspirants During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Christopher J. Eck, Clemson University,

Jessica M. Toombs, California State University, Chico,

J. Shane Robinson, Oklahoma State University,

PDF Available


Defining, identifying, and evaluating teaching effectiveness is a difficult proposition; however, measuring  the effectiveness of school-based agricultural education (SBAE) teachers is even more difficult considering the diversity of programs nationwide. Faculty in the agricultural education teacher preparation program at Oklahoma State University sought to measure the effective characteristics developed during the Spring 2020 semester, using the effective teaching model as a frame for this study in conjunction with the Effective Teaching Instrument for SBAE Teachers (ETI-SBAE). This approach allowed the research team an opportunity to further investigate the preparedness of SBAE teacher aspirants during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A descriptive research design was implemented with SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University with a junior- or senior-level classification (N = 72). The SBAE pre-service teachers at Oklahoma State University identified a high sense of effectiveness based on the ETI-SBAE instrument. In this group of pre-service teachers, all participants scored an overall teaching effectiveness score of strong to very strong, with the overwhelming majority (79.2%) planning to enter the teaching profession. Additionally, there was a relationship between intention to teach and teaching effectiveness scores, with those who intend to teach reporting higher teaching effectiveness scores. The ETI-SBAE holds utility for SBAE teacher preparation programs.


Multiple perspectives exist regarding the design and implementation of school-based agricultural education (SBAE) teacher preparation programs (Darling-Hammond et al., 2002). Some have suggested teacher candidates must receive additional coursework or experiences focusing on the development of personal qualities (Roberts & Dyer, 2004), while others have recommended the essential skills for teaching effectiveness revolve around instructional planning (Phipps et al., 2008).

During their college years, students make the pivotal decision to focus their energy and attention on a major program that will shape their future. In turn, these programs provide direction and requirements intended to help students achieve their academic goals. (Kohn, 2018, p. 1)

Regardless, students come to “each new task or problem [with] a set of skills, performance standards, and values” (Krumboltz et al., 1976, p. 73); although, for this discourse to be effective, students must engage in the learning environment, “which incorporates behavioral, emotional, and cognitive aspects” (Marx et al., 2016, p. 213).

Although numerous scholars have attempted to define effective teaching throughout the decades, it has been referred to as “an elusive concept” (Hayes, 2006, p. 43). Rosenshine and Furst (1971) found that effective teachers are those who are clear, infuse a variety of teaching methods and media, are enthusiastic about teaching their subjects, remain on-task throughout the duration of the lesson, and provide students ample opportunities to apply their learning, to name a few. Steele (2010) identified effective teachers as those who exhibit servant leadership, a strong sense of personal self-efficacy, and nonverbal communication skills. Farrell (2015) suggested that effective teachers must be “multidimensional” in their ability to teach students. Despite the rich amount of scholarship and literature devoted to and written on effective teaching, various opinions exist regarding the competencies teachers need to possess to be deemed effective at their profession (Hayes, 2006). 

When considering the uniqueness of SBAE teachers, the problem becomes even more difficult due to the added expectations of the complete program (i.e., Classroom and Laboratory Instruction, Supervised Agricultural Experiences, and the FFA) outlined by the National FFA Organization (2015). SBAE teachers are expected to be effective in community relations, marketing, professionalism, program planning, and possess the personal qualities  necessary to perform the job well (Roberts & Dyer, 2004). In addition, SBAE teachers should be effective in leading classroom instruction, maintain a proper work-life balance, and focus on diversity and inclusion of all students in their programs (Eck et al., 2019).

Defining SBAE teacher effectiveness is a challenging proposition, but evaluating the effectiveness of SBAE teachers is perhaps even more difficult due to the diversity of programs nationwide (Enns et al., 2016; Roberts & Dyer, 2004). In light of these variations and challenges, SBAE teacher preparation programs must continually consider how teacher aspirants are prepared for a successful career in agricultural education.

The semester in which this study was conducted was Spring 2020, which had its own set of challenges due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Educators across the country scrambled to quickly overhaul and restructure their course delivery to virtual learning platforms (Daniel, 2020), leading Hodges et al. (2020) to coin the term: Emergency Remote Teaching. At Oklahoma State University, educators were forced to overhaul their classes to a complete online delivery of instruction in one week. Although some teacher educators at Oklahoma State University had experience delivering instruction online, the circumstances were vastly different among the faculty. The change in instructional delivery certainly added a challenge to preparing SBAE teacher aspirants for their future careers. Considering the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the multitude of developmental needs of SBAE teacher aspirants, a need existed to determine the essential components of an SBAE teacher developed during the Spring 2020 semester at Oklahoma State University. Understanding the deficiencies in perceived competence of these teacher aspirants as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is imperative for us to know if and what types of professional development may be needed for these teachers in the future.

Theoretical/Conceptual Framework

The human capital theory was used to frame this study, as human capital evaluates education, training, and skills obtained related to future employment (Becker, 1964). In the case of this study, the education, training, and skill acquisition is related to SBAE teacher aspirants’ enrollment in the agricultural education teacher preparation program at Oklahoma State University. The human capital development of SBAE teachers begins at Oklahoma State University with specific skills embedded in our teacher preparation program in the areas of teaching, supervising, and advising, and are continued and enhanced during the clinical teaching internship (NCATE, 2010). The human capital students acquire assists them in their future employment (Robinson & Baker, 2013). Human capital can also impact student success, as Pil and Leana (2009) connected teachers’ application of their human capital to a positive impact on student outcomes.

Although similarities exist in preparation of SBAE teacher aspirants across the U.S., the demands placed on SBAE teachers once they enter the classroom vary greatly (Roberts & Dyer, 2004). Therefore, specific evaluation metrics appropriate for SBAE teachers and their human capital development are necessary. To that end, the effective teaching model for SBAE teachers (Blinded for Review) was implemented to help frame the development of effective teaching components in SBAE teacher aspirants (Figure 1).

Figure 1
The Effective Teaching Model for SBAE Teachers

As SBAE teachers represent such a diverse landscape (Roberts & Dyer, 2004), there is no one-size-fits-all formula for the preparation, support, and evaluation of effective teachers (Steele, 2010). Using the effective teaching model (Figure 1) as a frame for this study in conjunction with the Effective Teaching Instrument for SBAE Teachers (ETI-SBAE) developed by Eck et al. (2020) allows us the opportunity to further investigate the preparedness of SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

 Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study was to measure the development of effective teaching principles in SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University. Four research questions guided this study:

  1. Identify the effective teaching principles developed by SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University during the Spring 2020 semester,
  2. Determine the teaching effectiveness score for SBAE teacher aspirants,
  3. Determine SBAE teacher aspirants’ intent to teach SBAE after graduation, and
  4. Identify the impact of career intent on SBAE teacher aspirants teaching effectiveness.

Methods and Procedures

A descriptive research design was implemented for this non-experimental study, as there were no circumstances being manipulated within the population of interest (Gay et al., 2012). The population of interest was all SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University with a junior- or senior-level classification (N = 72) during the Spring 2020 semester. Therefore, these students were either enrolled in AGED 3203 (n = 45) or were actively encountering their clinical teaching experience in a secondary agricultural education program (n = 27). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, data collection occurred virtually using dedicated time during a scheduled Zoom meeting to allow participants to follow a weblink or scan a quick response (QR) code to complete the instrument via the Qualtrics data collection form. As the SBAE teacher aspirants were a captive audience during this meeting, this study resulted in a 100% response rate, as all 72 teacher aspirants participated.

The instrument used in this study was the (ETI-SBAE) developed by Eck et al. (2020). The 26-item instrument spans six components including intracurricular engagement, personal dispositions, appreciation for diversity and inclusion, pedagogical preparedness, work-life balance, and professionalism (Eck et al., 2020) as detailed in Table 1.

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.

With any psychometric design, validity and reliability are important considerations (Privitera, 2017). To determine validity and reliability of the ETI-SBAE, a national census study was conducted using the instrument developed from the findings of a nationwide Delphi study which identified the key components of an effective SBAE teacher (Eck et al., 2019; 2020; 2021). The results deemed the instrument to be reliable (Blinded for Review) with an acceptable Cronbach’s alpha of 0.87 (Nunnally, 1978). This instrument included a four-point Likert-type scale (i.e., 1 = very weak; 2 = somewhat weak; 3 = somewhat strong; 4 = very strong) for the SBAE teacher aspirants to self-assess their preparedness to be a SBAE teacher after graduation. In addition to the ETI-SBAE, aspirants were asked to identify their intent to enter the SBAE teaching profession, in which they were asked to select: Yes, No, or Undecided.

Data were analyzed using SPSS Version 26 for descriptive statistics for the first three research questions and the analysis of variance (ANOVA) included in the final research question. In addition to SPSS, Microsoft Excel was used to calculate the overall effectiveness scores of each of the 72 SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University, as the 26-items were evaluated on a four-point Likert-type scale, providing a potential effectiveness score range from 26 (very weak) to 104 (very strong). The calculated effectiveness score was then used in the ANOVA to compare teacher aspirants’ effectiveness based on their career intent (i.e., Yes, No, or Undecided).

Although the research team of this study served as instructors and university supervisors for SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University, the completion of the ETI-SBAE was not connected to any course grade or evaluation score. Participants were asked to consider the instrument as a measure of growth as an agricultural education student at Oklahoma State University and their preparedness as a future SBAE teacher.


Research Question 1: Determine the effective teaching principles developed by SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University during the Spring 2020 semester

The ETI-SBAE was distributed for self-evaluation to pre-service SBAE teachers at the end of the Spring 2020 semester during online instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. SBAE teacher aspirants identified themselves as least prepared to instruct students through the FFA, advise the FFA chapter, facilitate record keeping for degrees and awards, demonstrating classroom management, being prepared to teach every class, having the ability to say no, leading a balanced life, not being afraid to ask for help, and having patience based on the frequency of participants marking very weak or somewhat weak (Table 2). These nine items resulted in mean scores ranging from 3.03 to 3.39, with the lowest mean score (3.03) resulting from the item related to leading a balanced life as an SBAE teacher aspirant. Mean and standard deviation scores of all 26-items from the ETI-SBAE are displayed in Table 2.

Table 2
Effective Teaching Results for SBAE Teacher Aspirants at Oklahoma State University (N = 72)
Component Item Description 
 I instruct students through FFA. 3.38 .57
  I advise the FFA officers. 3.44 .58
  I advise the FFA chapter. 3.39 .57
  I facilitate record keeping for degrees and
 3.14 .68
  I am passionate about FFA. 3.89 .32
  I instruct students through SAEs. 3.57 .55
  I use the complete agricultural education 3-
     component model as a guide to   
     programmatic decisions.
 3.56 .50
 I am trustworthy. 3.96 .20
  I am responsible. 3.86 .35
  I am dependable. 3.89 .32
  I am honest. 3.93 .26
  I show integrity. 3.93 .26
  I am a hard worker. 3.97 .17
Appreciation for
     and Inclusion
 I value students regardless of economic
 3.96 .20
  I value students of all ethnic/racial groups. 3.96 .20
  I value students regardless of sex. 3.97 .17
  I care about all students. 4.00 .00
  I understand there is not an award for all
     students, but that does not mean they are
     not valuable.
 3.96 .20
 I demonstrate classroom management. 3.38 .64
  I demonstrate sound educational practices. 3.60 .52
  I am prepared for every class. 3.39 .72
 I have the ability to say no. 3.17 .80
  I lead a balanced life. 3.03 .75
  I am never afraid to ask for help. 3.14 .89
Professionalism I have patience. 3.38 .64
  I show empathy. 3.57 .58
Note. 1 = very weak; 2 = somewhat weak; 3 = somewhat strong; 4 = very strong

Research Question 2: Determine a teaching effectiveness score for SBAE teacher aspirants

The 26-items associated with the ETI-SBAE (Eck et al., 2020) were evaluated on a four-point Likert-type scale, with a perfect effectiveness score of 104 (very strong) and a minimum effectiveness score of 26 (very weak). Effectiveness scores for SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University ranged from 79 to 104 with a mean of 94.28 (SD = 5.98). Therefore, participants considered themselves to be strong to very strong in terms of their preparedness to be an effective SBAE teacher. SBAE teacher aspirants deemed themselves most effective in their appreciation for diversity and inclusion, followed by their personal dispositions. Work-life balance, on the other hand, received the lowest average effectiveness score from the SBAE teacher aspirants.

Research Question 3: Determine SBAE teacher aspirants’ intent to teach SBAE after graduation

The majority (79.2%)of SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University selected “Yes” regarding their intent to become a SBAE teacher after graduation. Table 3 outlines the aspirants’ intentions related to becoming an SBAE teacher after graduation (i.e., Yes, No, or Undecided).

Table 3
Oklahoma State University SBAE Teacher Aspirants’ Intention to Enter the SBAE Profession (N = 72)
Yes 57 79.2
No 3 4.2
Undecided 12 16.6

Research Question 4: Determine the impact of career intent on SBAE teacher aspirants’ teaching effectiveness

To consider the impact of career intent on teaching effectiveness, participants’ response to the question: “Do you intend to become a SBAE teacher after graduation?” was used as the independent variable with answer choices of Yes, No, or Undecided. The dependent variable was the composite effectiveness score (ranging from 79 to 104) of SBAE teacher aspirants. Normality and homogeneity of variance were assessed with all responses being normally distributed and a non-statistically significant (p > .05) Levene’s test statistic. Therefore, a one-way ANOVA was conducted in SPSS, which resulted in a statistically significant difference based on composite effectiveness scores F (2, 65) = 4.66, p < .05. To further understand the statistical significance of the ANOVA output, a post-hoc analysis was conducted. Based on the ability to control for Type I error, a Bonferroni post-hoc analysis (Field, 2009) was used. A 95% confidence interval for the post-hoc analysis resulted in a statistically significant difference based on the SBAE teacher aspirants’ intent to enter the SBAE teaching profession (Table 4).

Table 4
Multiple Comparisons Mean Differences of SBAE Teacher Aspirant Effectiveness Based on Intent to Become an SBAE Teacher (N = 72)
Career IntentYesNoUndecided
Note. * = p < .05. Values identify the mean difference between groups.


The SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University identified a high sense of effectiveness based on the ETI-SBAE instrument. The mean score for each item ranged between the somewhat strong (3) to very strong (4) scale. Each participant rated the item, I care about all students,as very strong in their capacity to be an effective teacher. The components of, Appreciation for Diversity and Inclusion,as well as, Personal Dispositions, received the highest scores of perceived effectiveness in this group of teacher aspirants. These findings resonate with today’s generation of college students who are among the most diverse populations in history and express greater appreciations of diversity and inclusion than previous generations (Sanchez et al., 2018). Personal dispositions such as work ethic and trustworthiness are largely developed in childhood and adolescence (Syed et al., 2020). Therefore, the teacher aspirants in this study likely possessed these characteristics prior to their enrollment in the SBAE teacher preparation program at Oklahoma State University. Regardless, Darling-Hammond and Bransford (2005) stated that diversity and inclusion and personal dispositions should be highlighted by teacher preparation programs. Fortunately, the SBAE teacher preparation program at Oklahoma State University emphasizes diversity and inclusion through its international agriculture, special education, and adolescent psychology course requirements. Such opportunities for students to experience, learn, and practice such characteristics should continue.    

SBAE teacher aspirants rated record keeping, exhibiting patience, pedagogical preparedness, and work-life balance with a greater frequency of very weak (1) and somewhat weak (2). This conclusion aligns with work by Toombs and Ramsey (2020) and Toombs et al. (2020) that also found a lack of confidence in keeping financial records for Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects in SBAE pre-service teachers. Some of the teacher aspirants in this study identified a lack of patience in their professionalism component. This may be contributed to Generation Z’s scarcity of patience in their digital native world (National Retail Federation, 2017). It is possible a shortage of clinical and preclinical experiences may have contributed to the reported lack of confidence in pedagogical preparedness, specifically as it relates to classroom management and class preparation, as 62.5% (n = 45) of the teacher aspirants were still one or more semesters away from their clinical teaching experience. Additionally, the teacher aspirants encountering their student teaching experience (n = 27) were removed from their internship sites early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These experiences are vital to developing mastery and vicarious experiences to build teacher self-efficacy in managing student behavior and preparing instruction (Bandura, 1997; Smalley & Retallick, 2012). Some of the study’s participants questioned their ability to maintain a work-life balance before they had entered the teaching profession. All three items in this component, ability to say no, leading a balanced life, and willingness to ask for help were rated as very weak (1) or somewhat weak (2) by a significant portion of individuals. This may be problematic regarding the retention of these future SBAE teachers (Crutchfield et al., 2013). Though the mean scores were high for each item, frequency of low effectiveness responses should not be ignored.

The teaching effectiveness score was calculated by adding together the participants’ effectiveness score for each of the 26 items, with a maximum possible effectiveness score of 104. In this group of teacher aspirants, all participants scored an overall teaching effectiveness score of strong to very strong (i.e., ranging from 79 to 104) indicating these future SBAE  teachers are confident in their ability as they near entrance into the teaching profession. The aforementioned responses of very weak and somewhat weak were not sufficient to reflect a low teaching effectiveness score for any participant. A person’s positive view of his or her own ability is important in career choice and early career self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). These neophyte teachers may be more resilient with a greater likelihood of being retained in the teaching profession than their less confident peers (Redman, 2015).   

The extreme score of 104 on the ETI-SBAE is worth mentioning. Two possible explanations exist for this data point. It is possible this individual is very confident in their ability to be an effective SBAE instructor. It is also possible this individual could have reported a very strong (4) sense of effectiveness to each item with little to no regard to the item in question. Still, Liu et al. (2017) found extreme cases to have little impact to their overall findings.

Of the 72 SBAE teacher aspirants who participated in this study, only three (4.2%) reported they did not intend to teach SBAE. Even with another 12 (16.6%) being undecided, the overwhelming majority (79.2%) plan to enter the SBAE teaching profession, which surpasses national data from 2018 that found 77% of agricultural education graduates entered the teaching profession (National Association of Agricultural Educators, 2019) and from 2001 that found only 59% of graduates were entering the teaching ranks (Camp et al., 2002). It also surpasses research conducted by Eck and Edwards (2019) who found that six out of ten SBAE teacher aspirants who encountered a teacher preparation program actually entered the teaching profession. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, mandated distance learning, and a shortened student teaching internship, most SBAE teacher aspirants envisioned a future as a SBAE teacher. Considering a SBAE teacher shortage across the nation, SBAE graduates who are interested in teaching jobs are likely to be hired as an SBAE instructor (Camp et al., 2002).

In comparing teaching effectiveness scores across intention to teach groups, a statistically significant difference was found in the one-way ANOVA. Post-hoc analysis revealed statistically significant differences between those who intend to teach and those who do not. Uneven group sizes (Yes = 57, No = 3) were mitigated by homogeneity of variance within the groups. No statistically significant differences were found relating to the undecided group. Therefore, a relationship exists between intention to teach and teaching effectiveness scores, with those who intend to teach reporting higher teaching effectiveness scores than those who do not. This finding corroborates with Bandura’s (1997) theory of self-efficacy and the connection of higher self-reverent beliefs and motivation.


The ETI-SBAE holds utility for SBAE teacher preparation programs. Peer institutions are encouraged to conduct similar survey research studies of their own teacher aspirants to compare populations across institutions. The same instrument could be used to assess the efficacy beliefs on entrance to the teacher preparation program, at the completion of pre-clinical experiences, and again after the conclusion of the student teaching internship to track human capital development throughout the SBAE teacher preparation program. Participants also could be followed into the novice years of their SBAE teaching careers. Additional qualitative data would add context to explain participants’ rankings of their efficacy beliefs and ability. The findings of such research could impact course content, delivery, and pacing within SBAE teacher preparation programs.

Specific to the agricultural education teacher preparation program at Oklahoma State University, teacher educators should analyze existing instruction relating to the area’s participants marked as somewhat weak and very weak. Specifically, topics of record keeping, maintaining patience, pedagogical preparedness, and work-life balance need to be emphasized and reinforced in the curriculum. Perhaps current in-service SBAE teachers could be recruited as guest speakers to speak on record keeping systems and work-life balance. Further, teacher aspirants should have the opportunity to prepare and present lessons from various agricultural pathways before student teaching but specifically in regard to record keeping (i.e., data management). This mastery experience could be designed to build pre-service teachers’ confidence in teaching in a variety of agricultural classes (Bandura, 1997) and build human capital in all areas of the SBAE curriculum.

To better interpret extreme responses in future studies, one or more items on the instrument could be reverse coded (Liu et al., 2017). This would eliminate the confusion on the true state of self-reverent beliefs in relation to teaching effectiveness. Although these teacher aspirants held a high sense of their ability to be effective SBAE teachers, they had yet to test their true abilities as a practicing SBAE teacher. Still, this belief in their ability to be successful should be fostered by teacher educators (Clark & Newberry, 2018). A positive self-perception of a person’s ability to be successful is a necessary ingredient to sustained motivation (Bandura, 1997).


Despite the Spring 2020 semester rapidly changing due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, SBAE teacher aspirants at Oklahoma State University developed the necessary human capital based on the results of the ETI-SBAE. Oklahoma State University faculty worked diligently to provide effective and timely instruction throughout the pandemic, even as they were forced to quickly restructure their course delivery to virtual learning platforms (Daniel, 2020), which may have led to this positive development of necessary human capital skills. Considering the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the multitude of developmental needs of SBAE teacher aspirants, the data tend to be favorable despite the circumstances.

The clinical teaching experience has been referred to as one of the greatest benefits of a traditional teacher preparation program (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010). Fortunately for some of the teacher aspirants, they were able to continue delivering content through online modules, live class meetings using synchronous learning platforms, or sending homework packets to their students each week. All of these opportunities allowed for essential human capital development as it relates to preparedness for establishing teaching effectiveness. Some teacher aspirants had the opportunity to hold synchronous meetings with FFA officers, prepare career development teams, and host chapter meetings and banquets using online platforms. Unfortunately, for others, the clinical teaching experience ended as school districts failed to have the necessary resources to provide virtual instruction or offer other distant delivery methods. Although the SBAE teacher aspirants deemed themselves effective based on the ETI-SBAE, how should professional development opportunities for these first-year teachers be developed to offset the potential gap that was left at the beginning of the pandemic? As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, how should SBAE teacher preparation programs change to best prepare future teachers? Perhaps it is time to consider preparing teacher aspirants to become familiar with and use various online learning management systems, such as Google Classroom, Canvas, Moodle, and Docebo, to teach and deliver content, advise student learning, and supervise student projects, as other studies have identified (Eck, 2021). Maybe teacher preparation programs need to include training on teaching curriculum using a hybridized and flexible delivery system (i.e., synchronous and asynchronous teaching strategies). Although this study identified the SBAE teacher aspirants’ self-perceived effectiveness as being strong to very strong, agricultural education teacher preparation faculty need to consider the future effectiveness of this group and others as they enter an everchanging education system. 


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Growing Wellbeing through Community Gardens in Georgia

Christina Garner, University of Georgia,

Kathleen D. Kelsey, University of Florida,

PDF Available


Community gardens have been part of the American landscape for over 100 years. Recently, community gardens have been used to address food deserts and the obesity epidemic in the United States by increasing household access to fresh produce, physical activity, and social engagement. We report evaluation results from a community garden project located in a food desert in a Southeastern state. This particular county also had the highest rate of obesity in the state. Garden leaders described the impact of their gardening experiences on their well-being, access to fresh produce, and motivation to participate in the project. Well-being was enhanced through increased self-care and physical activity, reduced stress, a sense of contributing to others, and community cohesion. Garden leaders were motivated by opportunities to fulfill a request to participate, to teach others, to achieve self-fulfillment, to access fresh produce, and to try new recipes through Extension cooking classes. We recommend that local leaders adopt community gardens as a positive intervention to build cohesion and increase well-being among participants. Future research should focus on documenting the impact of community gardens on obesity and diabetes outcomes.

Introduction and Problem Statement

Community gardens have been part of the American landscape for well over 100 years. Their popularity has ebbed and flowed according to changing socioeconomic conditions such as war and economic stress. More recently, community gardens have been used to address food deserts and the obesity epidemic in the United States by increasing household access to fresh produce and engaging participants in more physical activity and social engagement (Draper & Freedman, 2010).

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defined community gardens as “a plot of land, usually in urban areas that are rented by individuals or groups for private gardens or for the benefit of the people caring for the garden” (USDA, 2019, para 1). Community gardens are a reemerging trend in urban and rural landscapes because they enhance participants’ well-being through increased access to fresh produce, increased physical activity, and intergenerational and improved cross-cultural social engagement. Community gardens also contribute to social activism, urban beautification, green spaces, and agricultural and nutritional literacy. Well-placed community gardens help alleviate food deserts, as the food produced may be a conveniently available source of fresh produce for participants (Armstrong, 2000; Draper & Freedman, 2010; Loria, 2013; Ober Allen et al., 2008; Rupel, 2014; Twiss et al., 2003; Voluntad et al., 2004).

The evaluation study reported here was conducted in a small county in a Southeastern state with a population of 6,352. The county was classified as a food desert where 35% of the population lived in poverty and had the highest obesity rate in the state in 2019 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019; USDA ERS, 2019a). To address these challenges land-grant university Extension agents received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 to: (a) increase access to healthier food options, (b) increase physical activity, and (c) improve communication of health-related activities among residences. After research and community assessments, Extension agents and community leaders determined raised-bed community gardens were an effective method for achieving the project goals.

This study addresses priority area six of the National Research Agenda for the American Association for Agricultural Education 2016 – 2020 (Roberts et al., 2016) by addressing research concerning vibrant, resilient communities with a particular focus on how agricultural programs impact communities and “appropriate models for engaging volunteers in the delivery of educational programs in agricultural and natural resources” (p. 51). In this article, we describe participants’ experiences and outcomes from participating in a community garden project.

Literature Review

History of and Justification for Community Gardens

The widespread use of community gardens in the U.S. emerged as relief for food shortages during World War II and were known as Victory Gardens (National WWII Museum, 2017). Approximately 40% of the fresh produce consumed in the U.S. was grown in one of the estimated two million Victory Gardens. Community gardens have been documented to benefit the well-being of individuals and communities by assisting vulnerable populations such as youth, the elderly, the homeless, and food insecure families by providing access to fresh produce, increased social interactions, increased physical activity, and agricultural and nutrition education (Twiss et al., 2003). In some communities, gardens have led to decreases in violence and improvements in social well-being through strengthened social cohesion (Bussell et al., 2017; Ober Allen et al., 2008).

Modern U.S. agricultural practices lead the world in efficiency and production, yet food insecurity affected 37.2 million Americans in 2018 (USDA ERS, 2019b). Food secure households were defined as having “access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members” (USDA ERS, 2019b, para 2). Food insecure households are often located in food deserts or areas where access to fresh produce and meats are hampered by a lack of stores that sell these items or a lack of transportation to stores (USDA ERS, 2019a). Food insecure households also have higher than average rates of obesity as high calorie, low nutrient foods tend to be less expensive and more available than fresh produce and animal proteins (Bleasdale et al., 2011).

Health Benefits of Community Gardens

The World Health Organization (WHO, 1946, p. 1) defined health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008) provided recommendations including “at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and muscle-strengthening exercises on two or more days each week.” Physical activity is defined as movement of the body that uses energy (USDA, 2015). Walking, gardening, climbing stairs, playing games, riding a bicycle, and dancing are all examples of physical activity.

Physical activity and exercise have frequently been reported as benefits of community gardens (Pate et al., 1995, Twiss et al., 2003, Wakefield et al., 2007). To describe the health benefits of a community garden, researchers include the physical, mental, nutritional, and social benefits received by participants. Community gardens offer the location and opportunity for increased physical activity and exercise. Wakefield et al. (2007, p. 100) reported that “the opportunity for physical activity that gardening presented was seen as beneficial to health, especially for the elderly.” Additionally, in a California Healthy Cities study (Twiss et al., 2003, p. 1,437), garden participants reported their physical activity increased 6% by increasing activity sessions from 4.9 to 5.2 times per week.

Mental health benefits have also been reported among community garden participants. The therapeutic landscapes allow participants to enjoy and connect with nature. “Horticultural therapy is a process through which plants, gardening activities, and the innate closeness we all feel toward nature are used as vehicles in professionally conducted programs of therapy and rehabilitation” (Davis, 1998, p. 3). Through community gardens participants often experience support, thus, increasing both psychological well-being and social well-being (Ober Allen, 2008). Positive well-being was not one of the intended goals for the gardens studied by Egli et al. (2016); however, the outcomes included an increase in well-being as a result of participating in community gardens.

Community gardens also increase access to fresh produce and contribute to community cohesion by bringing together intergenerational and cross-cultural community members for social interaction and labor sharing to produce food (Wakefield et al., 2007). Participants of a community garden project reported that their experience was “more than just planting seeds. It was about planting ideas, growing skills, and nurturing leadership and self-esteem in participants” (Voluntad et al., 2004, p. 1). Voluntad et al. (2004) also reported that the garden project was used to bridge the gap between Extension staff, seniors, and at-risk youth. Their reported approach gathered pertinent data regarding positive aspects of installing a community garden and shed light on the comradery that was built as an indirect result. To demonstrate the impact, one community garden participant in the Voluntad et al. (2004, p. 4) study said, “I would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to be part of the community. Not only did I learn a lot about plants, I also learned how to give something back to the community.”

In summary, community gardens offer physical and mental health benefits by providing opportunities to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, engage in physical activity and skill building, create green space, beautify vacant lots, revitalize communities in industrial areas, decrease violence, and improve social well-being through strengthening social connections (CDC, 2010). Gardens also increased community cohesion and social networks among participants.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study was to evaluate a community garden project in terms of participants’ well-being, access to fresh produce, community cohesion, and participants’ motivation to lead a garden site.


Evaluation research design was used to collect and analyze the data (Creswell & Poth, 2018), specially focusing on participant observation (DeWalt & DeWalt, 2011; Mack et al., 2005). All of the garden leaders (n = 11) were invited to participate in the study. Six leaders (55%) agreed to participate by sitting for an in-depth, face-to-face interview, providing food production data, and allowing for participant observation by the lead author. Participants’ names and research sites were changed to protect their privacy.

To increase trustworthiness, we chose a worthy topic to study, followed rigorous evaluation protocols, and were sincere in our efforts to collect and analyze the data. Our study is credible as the findings resonated with the participants through peer-debriefing sessions and provided a significant contribution to the garden leaders to better understand the impact of their efforts towards building community cohesion. We followed situational and procedural ethics as key markers of quality in qualitative research prescribed by Tracy (2010).


The primary data source for this study was in-depth, face-to-face interviews. We developed an original semi-structured interview protocol based on the study purpose and conducted interviews with participants. The participants were selected because they volunteered to lead a community garden site. There were six garden sites with at least one garden leader at each site. Of the eleven individuals invited to participate, six accepted the invitation. There were several attempts to contact each garden site leader to ensure that they all had an opportunity to provide input. No incentives were offered to encourage participation.

One-on-one interviews were conducted with Rita and James. Pair interviews were conducted with Lee and Jake and Mike and Sara. The participants were granted the ability to select the interview time that worked best with their schedule. Interviews were conducted in November, 2018 at the county Extension office nearest to their community garden site. The interviews lasted between forty-five and sixty minutes. To create a welcoming atmosphere, refreshments were provided. The interviews were audio-recorded with permission from the participants.

The interview protocol focused on participants’ experiences with the gardens and outcomes resulting from the project. During the interviews, I followed the interview protocol and engaged in probing questions to further elaborate on responses. The interview atmosphere was relaxed and allowed for natural dialogue as I had established a working relationship with each of the participants.

The interview protocol included introductory questions that asked participants to describe their involvement in the community garden, the leadership structure of the garden, and how they became involved in the project. Personal impact questions were then asked regarding benefits received, dietary changes, and changes in activity levels as a result of participating in the garden. Community impact questions were asked to ascertain how they perceived the garden had effected the community in terms of cohesion. The interviews were concluded by asking participants to reflect upon their involvement in the gardens and what personal changes they had noted as a result of participating in the project.

Participant Observation

I used participant observation techniques to capture body language, comments, and physical behavior throughout the study. Observations took place in community settings that were relevant to the research questions. Participant observation can increase social trust and may inform the researcher about relevant cultural and economic contexts in the community in which the participants live. Building familiarity within the context of the research site allowed me to build a connection with participants and gain a deeper understanding of the behaviors and activities the participants describe during interviews (Mack et al., 2005).

As a participant observer, I conducted trainings with community members to teach them how to construct the garden beds and grow vegetables. The participants had training on data collection, harvest preparation, and food preservation methods. As the interviews approached, I prepared the participants by explaining the process of data collection and the purpose of the study, including informed consent. The interviews allowed for in depth conversations to provide rich information towards the effects of the community gardens while the observation data enabled me to examine how the project was implemented.

Researcher Reflexivity

My role in the community was as an Extension garden assistant through the AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) program. I assisted Extension agents and volunteers by piloting the garden project, conducting irrigation trials, and making plant selections for the gardens. I also created a demonstration garden allowing volunteers to observe the implementation of a garden and assisted the distribution team with sharing the produce with the community at harvest time. I worked alongside garden leaders, building trust and learning about their motives for volunteering, the vegetables they preferred to grow, and what changes they suggested for the garden project. I traveled to all of the garden sites, worked on various aspects of the gardens, and took detailed field notes related to the research questions.

My insider stance as a participant observer in the research process aided learning about the participants’ experiences from an emic perspective (Creswell & Poth, 2018), built trust with the garden leaders, and allowed me to observe and note how the program was implemented and concluded throughout the research cycle. My involvement increased the trustworthiness and reliability of the findings as my observations were used to triangulate the interview data and verify cultural norms within the research site (DeWalt & DeWalt, 2011).

Data Analysis

The participant observation notes were typed and coded according to a code book. The data was analyzed through latent content analysis method; determining the presence of certain words, themes, or concepts within the data (Babbie, 1992). Confirmability and trustworthiness was enhanced by taking detailed notes as well as comparing notes with other team members.

The interviews were guided by a semi-structured protocol, recorded, and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were sent back to participants for member checking (Creswell & Poth, 2018). ATLIS.ti®, version 9.0 (2021), a computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software program, was used to open and free code the interviews for significant statements, which were then clustered into themes. The themes were synthesized to address the study purpose. Participants’ quotes were added to the findings to increase truth-value and add richness to the findings (Saldaña, 2015). Pseudonyms were used to protect participants’ privacy.

Data on the volume and type of food produced was collected by participants using a standardized form developed by the Extension program development coordinators. Descriptive statistics were used to report the size of the garden space and the amount and type of produce generated from each bed.

Research Sites

Extension agents, community leaders, and I constructed 30 raised-bed gardens in six different locations within the county. Community leaders were defined as those who were on the forefront of maintaining, harvesting, and recruiting volunteers for each of the garden sites. The raised-beds were approximately 8’ x 8’ for a total of 384 square feet of garden space per community. The total garden space constructed was 2,121 square feet (Table 1). Interested groups were required to submit an application to obtain garden materials. The six garden sites are described below.

County High School garden was led by the agricultural teacher and farmed by high school students enrolled in the agricultural education program. The produce was distributed to students and community members during the first year of production. Once established, the produce was more widely distributed within the community.

Charter Academy garden was led by the agricultural teacher and farmed by students enrolled in the agricultural education program. The teacher distributed produce to the school cafeteria. Extension agents and the school administration worked with the food service director to determine crops most beneficial to be cooked and served to students through the cafeteria.

Recreation Center garden was led by the director of the Boys and Girls Club and was farmed by adult volunteers. Extension agents assisted with a planting calendar, water recommendations, and insect control. The site served as a venue for after-school activities, including an outdoor classroom that was within walking distance to neighborhoods, allowing for community access to the garden and food distribution.

County Extension Office garden was led by the Extension agent and farmed by community members. This site was used as a demonstration garden for this project. The community was invited to learn about raised-bed construction techniques, irrigation systems, equipment, and planting suggestions.

County Commissioner’s Office garden was led by staff from the Commissioner’s office and farmed by volunteers. The location allowed community members to visit the garden, which generated dialogue regarding eating fresh produce and increasing physical activity. The produce was given to the community.

Boys and Girls Club garden was led by the club manager and farmed by youth in the program. The location was a successful outdoor learning space as well as a place for social gatherings.


All six participants reported having home gardens as children. Five participants worked full time, and one worked part time. Their average age was 40 years, with a range of 24 to 64 years. Two identified as women (Rita and Sara) and four as men (Jake, James, Lee, and Mike). Additional participant demographic characteristics can be found in Table 1.

Table 1
Participant Demographic Characteristics (N = 6)
NameAgeVocationWork full or part timeGarden SiteSq. ft. of garden space
Rita58Local gov. staffFullCommissioner’s office256
James64Nonprofit managerFullBoys and Girls Club384
Lee24Ext. AgentFullExt Office384
Jake40Ag. EducatorFullCounty High School384
Mike54Ag. EducatorFullCharter Academy384
Sara41Nonprofit staffPartRec. Center320

To address the goal of access to fresh produce, the volume of food produced is provided as a frame of reference. The gardens produced a total of 780 pounds of produce in 2018 (2.72 pounds per sq. ft.), including 188 pounds of broccoli, 78 pounds of cabbage, 201 pounds of collards, 28 pounds of eggplant, 30 pounds of mustard greens, 13 pounds of onions, 49 pounds of peppers, 40 pounds of rutabaga, 47 pounds of spinach, 44 pounds of Swiss chard, 12 pounds of tomatillos, and 50 pounds of turnips.


Five themes emerged from the data: (a) self-care, (b) increased physical activity, (c) reduced stress, (d) contribution to others, and (e) community collaboration.


All six participants reported that working in the gardens provided a therapeutic environment to reflect, enjoy, and focus on garden tasks, thereby creating a meditative experience. Rita said, “Mentally, it is my therapy to work in a garden” (1:8). Rita believed gardening improved her mental health by providing a relaxing environment to “get out and moving” (1:57).

Increased Activity

Rita and Mike reported that the gardens provided an opportunity to increase physical activity. Physical activity took the form of constructing the beds, preparing them for planting, weeding, cleaning out the beds after harvest, and watering. Jake said, “It’s really good exercise. Even better when you are cleaning them out and then planting and harvesting. You definitely break a sweat” (1:32). All six participants picked weeds or harvested on a daily or weekly basis, increasing their overall activity level. James noted that the gardens were located within walking distance to neighborhoods, providing a social gathering spot for adults and youth, especially in the summer.

Reduced Stress

Rita, Jake, Lee, and Mike reported that the gardens were in an easily accessible location outside of busy urban environments and helped to reduce daily stress. Sara said that the gardens provided “A little break from my desk” (1:66). Additionally, Sara, Rita, and Lee explained that the distraction of “pulling a few weeds or picking some stuff if they are ready” (1:67) allowed them to be more productive throughout the day.

Contribution to Others

Rita, Jake, Lee, and Sara reported that by being involved in the garden, they were able to provide food and support to others. Participants described delivering vegetables to the elderly, homeless, and low-income families. Sharing food grown in the community garden was particularly important in the teaching garden at the Extension office and the garden at the Boys and Girls Club. Youth maintained these gardens and donated food to those in need. James said, “It’s been a big plus for our organization” (1:44). All of the participants agreed that the gardens added community beautification by transforming previously unused lots into productive areas. The appearance of the gardens was a source of pride for the leaders.

Community Collaboration

Mike, Lee, Jake, Sara, and Rita reported that the gardens created an environment for collaboration among community members. The gardens were maintained by different groups of people who would not have interacted otherwise. Lee said, “Different gardens pull people from different areas in the county” (1:24), leading to networking among diverse community organizations. Sara said, “The different areas working together like the schools; the principals ask about the gardens, the city council members will be out there working…it’s just lots of different people, so I think it has strengthened those organizational ties” (1:70). Participants established friendships as “people stopped by the garden and started talking, learning, and asking questions” (Mike, 1:60). Jake said, “It’s the best thing our county has had in a long time” (1:92) as the garden increased social interaction among community members and provided fresh produce to vulnerable populations.

Motivation to Work in the Gardens

Participants were motivated to work in the garden because: (a) they were asked to participate, (b) for a teaching opportunity, (c) for self-fulfillment, (d) to access to fresh produce, and (e) for the opportunity to try new recipes. Each theme is discussed below.

Asked to Participate

Extension agents were the initial recruiters for garden leaders. They sought out gardeners through direct invitation. After being recruited by Extension agents, garden leaders recruited additional volunteers to participate in the project. Sara said, “I recruit people to come and work in the gardens, both kids and adults” (1:54). The participants had positive experiences with the garden, which led them to share their experiences with others.

Teaching Opportunity

The community gardens provided an environment for agricultural education at the school sites and a demonstration site at the Extension office. Mike was an agricultural education teacher. He reported that the gardens promoted positive peer interactions as well as strengthening youth-adult partnerships. He said that the gardens reinforced lessons on teamwork, food production, and food safety. Mike and Jake reported that the gardens were effective outdoor learning environments for experiential learning. Jake, an Extension agent, said, “I’ve done some education workshops out at the garden behind the Extension office” (1:28).


James and Rita’s motivation for participation was self-fulfillment and the enjoyment of seeing youth get excited about producing food. James said, “It is wonderful to see the kids go out there and actually pick produce and bring it in and cook it. Our kids like doing that” (1:58). Rita summed up her experience by saying, “I enjoy it! If you don’t enjoy it, you don’t do it!” (1:9).

Access to Fresh Produce

Access to fresh produce was a motivator for James, Jake, Lee and Rita. James said, “Fresh vegetables are the main benefit for me and the community” (1:41). “The benefits are worth the labor you have to put into the garden. It is rewarding in the end” (1:21) explained Lee. “I really enjoy it” (1:30) added Jake. All of the volunteers had first rights to the harvest; excess produce was then distributed to the community. All of the participants reported that the gardens provided more access to fresh produce and that they ate vegetables more frequently than before participating in the project. Rita continued to be involved because of the harvest. “I just let them get what they wanted, then I invite anybody and everybody to come get what they want” (1:3). Rita even went a step further to deliver food to those who were homebound.

Opportunity to Try New Recipes

As part of the project, Extension agents offered cooking classes to teach gardeners new recipes to use the produce from the garden. Sara said, “The Extension agents have done an outstanding job allowing the community to try different dishes other than just salads. It is very educational for me and several others” (1:65). Sara and Mike reported using many of the recipes designed for low-income households. Mike said, “I never imagined eating zucchini bread but we tried it” (1:64). The cooking classes also provided a social outlet for gardeners as a direct benefit of the garden project. Participants spent time “getting the vegetables and then researching a recipe that goes with them” (Mike, 1:63). Mike said, “The gardens have given community members access to fresh food and a place to exercise their body and minds and it needs to continue” (1:87).

Conclusions, Discussion, and Recommendations

The published literature described how community gardens fulfilled a variety of needs for diverse populations, especially youth, the elderly, and marginalized groups. Many authors have reported the benefits of community gardens including empowering gardeners to grow food for themselves and others, increasing participants’ social networks, and bridging community organizations (Armstrong, 2000; Bleasdale et al., 2011; Bussell et al., 2017; Draper & Freedman, 2010; Egli et al., 2016; Ober Allen et al., 2008; Rupel, 2014; Voluntad et al., 2004; Wakefield et al., 2007). Many of these same benefits were documented in this study.

Both physical and mental health benefits of community gardens have been well documented in previous research (Armstrong, 2000; Draper & Freedman, 2010; Ober Allen et al., 2008; Twiss et al., 2003; Wakefield et al., 2007). In this study, participants increased physical activity by building raised-beds, preparing them for planting, weeding, and harvesting. The six gardens provided a therapeutic environment for participants by providing a meditative experience and caring for others through food production.

Gardeners reported increasing their physical activity by walking to the gardens, weeding, harvesting, and maintaining the raised-beds. Being able to provide food to other community members was an important benefit as well. Our findings are consistent with Wakefield et al. (2007, p. 100) who reported, “community networks and social support were developed through the gardens.” Ober Allen et al. (2008) also found that community gardens enhanced nutrition while providing opportunities for interpersonal skill development and informal social control.

Motivation to participate in the garden project was based on being invited to participate by an Extension agent or other community leader, having an opportunity to teach others, self-fulfillment, access to fresh produce, and learning about new ways to cook vegetables. Voluntad et al. (2004, p. 1) stressed that “community gardens were about planting ideas, growing skills, nurturing leadership, and self-esteem” as added benefits. Giving food to others helped the recipients, as well as the giver, by increasing a sense of community cohesion.

The practical implications of the study demonstrate that community gardens can satisfy many social benefits by promoting well-being and social cohesion in a variety of settings. Because of the compelling and overwhelming evidence presented in the published literature of such benefits, it is recommended that community leaders adopt community gardens as a positive innovation to build community cohesion and increase well-being among participants.

Because the majority of published literature is qualitative with small populations, future research should focus on collecting empirical evidence on public health outcomes among gardeners as a result of community gardens. This evaluation study was undertaken by an AmeriCorps VISTA whose efforts contributed to the overall success of the project. Follow-up studies should examine how the gardens were maintained in the absence such support to determine if the gains documented here were sustained over time.

This study was limited by a small sample size (N = 6) and should not be generalized to other populations. Only garden leaders were interviewed. While they had extensive knowledge of the other gardeners and local neighborhood environments, they may have overstated benefits of gardening on behalf of non-study participants. Land access issues (who owns the land and gardeners’ rights to access) were not addressed in this study, which has served as a barrier to implementing successful community gardens in other studies. Extension agents must address land access as they plan for community gardens (Armstrong, 2000; Wakefield et al., 2007).


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Internal Branding of an AECL Department: Exploring Student Insights Regarding the Undergraduate Majors of Their Department

Katherine Bezner, Oklahoma State University,

Audrey E. H. King, Oklahoma State University,

Lauren Lewis Cline, Oklahoma State University,

Bree Elliott, Oklahoma State University,

Kane Kinion, The Ohio State University,

PDF Available


First-year college students are entering higher education with less agricultural knowledge overall, leading to misperceptions about potential career paths associated with their chosen degree programs. Researchers in Oklahoma State University’s Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership (AECL) Department’s pilot undergraduate research course desired to explore students’ perceptions of the department’s majors and internal brand. A quantitative, exploratory survey was completed by 207 students. Students felt most knowledgeable about their chosen major, were satisfied with their major choice, and anticipated obtaining a job upon graduation based on their major. When social pressures and career readiness perceptions of the majors were analyzed according to major program, most students showed a preference for their own major among the indicators. However, results varied on the students’ perceptions of other majors within the department. Agricultural communications was perceived the most positively by all AECL majors. Agricultural leadership was considered to be the most inclusive. Agricultural education was perceived to be the most important major program to the agricultural industry. It is recommended the AECL Department implement a multidisciplinary freshman orientation program, conduct a communications and branding assessment for recruitment and retention, and explore qualitatively the meaning of student perceptions of majors.


Changing demographics among colleges of agriculture nationwide call for diverse degree options available to students (Foreman et al., 2018). First-year college students are also entering higher education with less agricultural knowledge overall (Colbath & Morrish, 2010), leading to misperceptions about potential career paths associated with their chosen degree programs. The attributes of academic programs are communicated by faculty and staff (Erdoğmuş & Ergun, 2016). Studies show factors such as potential financial earnings and social standing influence students’ perceptions of majors rather than the content and focus of the discipline itself (Fosnacht & Calderone, 2017). Simultaneously, the average job tenure across the U.S. is less than five years (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). Perhaps the misconceptions regarding agriculture and its related majors, combined with the influential factors on major choice, have created a disconnect between major choice satisfaction and job tenure lengths for college of agriculture graduates (Scofield, 1994).

Agricultural education departments serve an essential role in preparing a skilled and proficient workforce (McKim et al., 2017). Moreover, it is important agricultural education departments, or programs encompass a variety of agricultural social sciences (Barrick, 1989). To achieve these goals, the Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership (AECL) Department at Oklahoma State University (OSU) must understand the perceptions of its undergraduate students toward the departmental majors. This understanding could offer insights about the internal brand and culture of the department as a whole.

Researchers in the AECL Department’s pilot undergraduate research course desired to explore students’ perceptions of the department’s majors and internal brand. These students felt a disconnect between the three programs. The interdisciplinary research team developed this study to examine organizational silos within the department. The internal brand of the AECL Department was explored by surveying other undergraduate students.

Literature Review

As the interest in student retention has increased, research regarding student major satisfaction and undergraduate students’ perceptions has also increased. Student major satisfaction, which is influenced by internal branding, is a crucial component to a student’s academic success (Milsom & Coughlin, 2017). Moreover, major satisfaction is one of the largest factors impacting undergraduate student retention (Graunke &Woosley, 2005). Numerous studies have found students are influenced to choose majors with high job availability and high financial return (often referred to as career readiness indicators) after graduation (Del Rossi & Hersch, 2008; Baker et al., 2013). Moreover, recruitment materials for academic majors that demonstrate high job stability are most appealing to prospective students (Baker et al., 2011).

Other fields have studied the challenges that face departments when several majors are housed in one department. For example, bioinformatics majors face considerable challenges when integrating their major program into life sciences departments. Institutional support issues have been reported as a plausible cause for this department divide (Bianchi et al., 2019).

Institutional support issues are described as a lack of internal faculty support for a given major program (Bianchi et al., 2019). If a disconnect arises within a group, an organizational silo can form, impairing a department’s overall functionality (Evans, 2012). Evans (2012) described the reality of organizational silos by stating:

Silos segregate one type of grain from another and the segregated parts within an organization. In a business suffering from silo syndrome, each department or function interacts primarily within that silo rather than with other groups across the organization. (p. 176)

External branding efforts can bring awareness to available major programs; however, a student’s autonomy and connection to an academic department can be more meaningful (Joseph et al., 2012). Research indicates a student’s major choice can be impacted by the academic environment’s friendliness and atmosphere (Stair et al., 2016). Additionally, faculty can either perpetuate or address misconceptions related to college majors and can even influence a student’s major choice (Alam et al., 2019; Hertel & Dings, 2014). Research concerning student perceptions is commonly reported; however, there is a lack of research focused on undergraduate students’ perceptions of other major programs within an academic department. Staff and faculty opinions may contribute to students’ perceptions of not only their major but other programs as well (Hertel & Dings, 2014). Within academic departments, these interpersonal relationships between students and faculty can be challenging to cultivate. This can be influenced by departmental siloing, or the act of not crossing disciplines when conducting research, classwork, or other forms of learning (Guth, 2017). Therefore, by exploring an academic department’s brand value, one could better identify student perceptions and instill a proactive approach to prevent organizational siloing and promote learning (Friedman & Kass-Shraibman, 2017).

Theoretical Framework

Branding is not only a theory, but a practice that attempts to distinguish a product, corporation, or organization from others (Franzen & Moriarty, 2009). A brand is not a logo or tagline. A brand is created through a system of exchanges between brand managers and consumers, known as the receiver of branding messages. In this study, the brand manager is operationalized as the department as a whole, and students would be considered to be the brand consumers. It is impossible to understand a brand as independent from the environment in which it exists (Franzen & Moriarty, 2009). Moreover, a brand exists for an organization regardless of the intentional creation of the organization. Though abstract, a strong brand is invaluable in today’s marketplace (Swaminathan et al., 2020).

A critical aspect of branding efforts is creating a strong internal brand (Punjaisri & Wilson, 2011; Sartain & Schumann, 2006). An internal brand is displayed through the way the internal stakeholders display the brand to external audiences. Internal brands are particularly important for service-based organizations that depend on interactions between people to thrive (Schmidt & Baugmgarth, 2018). Internal branding can be promoted through relationships and peer-to-peer interactions. Studies have shown that teaching staff and attitude towards the university are major factors in student success and satisfaction within their major (Erdoğmuş & Ergun, 2016).

The framework for this study integrated internal branding and student perceptions. It was adapted from Punjaisri and Wilson’s 2011 work that described internal branding communication, including brand identification, brand commitment, and brand loyalty. The level at which these three components operate is known as an organization’s brand performance (Punjaisri & Wilson, 2011). When consumers and stakeholders identify with the brand, they consider themselves part of the brand itself (Punjaisri & Wilson, 2011). Brand commitment is the psychological connection between a brand or service and the stakeholder (Punjaisri & Wilson, 2011). Brand loyalty is the continued service and investment in a certain product or organization (Punjaisri & Wilson, 2011).

Recently, higher education branding has become a more researched phenomena (Chapleo, 2011; Dholakia, 2017). Universities, like corporate entities, work to distinguish themselves from the competition. However, universities are more complex than corporations, and therefore, so is their Branding (Mazzarol & Soutar, 2002). A strong university brand helps students navigate the decision of picking the university that is right for them by displaying the differences between schools and displaying the unique attributes of a university (Chen & Chen, 2014). Researchers agree that students’ educational experience is of the utmost importance in an overall university brand (Ng & Forbes, 2009; Pinar et al., 2014). Many factors, including departmental structure, faculty, staff, and peers, can be affected by a student’s educational experience and university brand.

The general atmosphere of the university also affects brand loyalty (Erdoğmuş & Ergun, 2016). A study has shown students value a sense of community not only within their department but also in their university as a whole (Erdoğmuş & Ergun, 2016). The same study also showed that fellow students’ opinions did not impact their educational choices. However, it is important for current and incoming students to have a positive relationship with program alumni, as their opinions and experiences are influential when students make educational decisions (Erdoğmuş & Ergun, 2016).

When studying students’ perceptions of brand equity (i.e., the value of a brand), researchers found the most important factors are the perceived quality of faculty, university reputation, brand loyalty, academic offerings, prestige, career readiness, and emotional environment. These factors are intertwined and ultimately build university brand awareness (Alam et al., 2019; Pinar et al., 2014). Similar to the emotional environment finding of Pinar et al. (2014), Eldegwy et al. (2018) found students who were satisfied with the social aspects of the university were more likely to recognize, recommend, and pay for the university brand.

Perceived quality of education, the institution’s social image, and job market success were important factors for university selection among students in the U.S. (Mourad et al., 2020). Studies have shown that faculty bring their brand to their classrooms. However, internal branding is related to the orientation of faculty behavior, which ultimately results in the student’s experience (Sujchaphon et al., 2015). Thus, for universities to deliver on their brand promise, it is important for faculty to properly communicate that brand (Sujchaphon et al., 2015).

University branding is a priority for undergraduate recruitment. The end goal for university first-year student success should be a long-term student retention rate (Cox & Naylor, 2018). A student’s feeling of self-efficacy influences retention. A sense of belonging can be heightened with involvement in an orientation program (Huddleston, 2000). Orientations are commonly used to communicate the culture and brand of an organization. Therefore, multidisciplinary classrooms with small and large group activities can serve as an innovative model to encourage peer-to-peer discussions and diversity of education (Stebleton et al., 2010). A collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to recruitment can serve as a vehicle for brand identification and brand loyalty.

Departmental Background

The OSU agricultural education program (EDUC) was established in the early 1920s (Oklahoma State University, personal communication, 2014). The department expanded to add an agricultural communications program (COMM) was added shortly after. As interest in the department continued to grow, the agricultural leadership program (LEAD) was approved in 2005 (Oklahoma State University, personal communication, 2005).

OSU has an undergraduate student retention rate of 83.2% (Oklahoma State University, 2014). The department has incorporated multiple strategies to retain students: one-on-one academic advising with faculty, developing major career paths, and academic support. These types of strategies increase the strength of the department’s internal brand. A strong internal brand can help to retain and attract students (Devasagayam et al. 2010). The strength of an internal brand is demonstrated through student or employee behaviors and their relation to organizational values (Simi & Sudhahar, 2019). A strong internal brand can result in increased student involvement in department clubs, professional organizations, and extracurricular activities. Organizations that are collaborative and demonstrate a unified internal brand are more appealing (Alshathry et al., 2017).

For the purpose of this study, the university brand is described as how external stakeholders view the organization, which includes students, parents, and mentors. Internal branding consists of the internal stakeholders, faculty, and staff, who have an inside viewpoint of the brand. We are going to frame this study to explore internal departmental branding, which we have operationalized to mean undergraduate students in the AECL Department at OSU and their perceptions of the department brand.

Research Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this study was to describe the undergraduate AECL Department students’ perceptions of the AECL Department undergraduate majors at OSU. Three research questions guided this study:

  1. What perceptions do AECL Department students have about their majors?
  2. What perceptions do AECL Department students have about other majors in the department?


This study was conducted as a quantitative, exploratory survey using a 10-item researcher-developed questionnaire. The study was conducted at OSU among a convenience sample of undergraduate students in the AECL Department. Of the 389 enrolled undergraduate students in the department at the time, 208 completed the questionnaire, but one incomplete questionnaire was removed from the study. The final response rate was 53.2% (N = 207). AECL undergraduate students identified their major as agricultural education (EDUC; n = 66, 31.9%), agricultural communications (COMM; n = 98, 47.4%) and agricultural leadership (LEAD; n = 35, 16.9%). Eight students identified as one of several double-major options in the department; it is noted that these students were included in analysis of demographic data to describe participants to determine a representative sample, but not included in further analysis based on the research questions and low response rates per double-major option.

Demographic data were collected from the study’s participants (N = 207). Participants were classified academically as freshmen (n = 7, 3.4%), sophomores (n = 43, 20.8%), juniors (n = 74, 35.7%), and seniors (n = 82, 39.6%). Participants included 161 (77.8%) self-identified females and 46 (22.2%) self-identified males. Of this population, about 62% (n = 129) entered OSU as first-semester freshman, about 37% (n= 77) were transfer students, and less than one percent (n = 1) entered as an exchange student. More than three-quarters (n = 163, 78.7%) reported their hometown as a rural, agriculturally based community. Thirty-eight participants (18.4%) reported their hometown as urban/suburban. The distribution of participants across the undergraduate majors in the AECL Department was deemed to be representative of the overall population.

The questionnaire consisted of 10 items based on the literature review related to student major choice, career readiness indicators, and internal branding. The first item analyzed for this study explored the influence of social pressures (e.g., other people’s opinions, family pressure, prestige, and career readiness indicators) to AECL Department students’ choice of major. The remaining nine questions gathered demographic data.

To establish reliability, the questionnaire was piloted among a 15-person AECL Department graduate research methods course. The instrument demonstrated acceptable test- retest reliability with Phi correlation coefficients ranging between .51 and .90. Minor edits were made to items with poor reliability and an advisory group of three AECL Department faculty representing the three undergraduate majors to ensure the face and content validity of the final questionnaire. The finalized questionnaire was distributed during a one-week period of the fall semester among 20 departmental courses. Data were analyzed using SPSS© Version 23.

Descriptive statistics, including frequencies, percentages, means, and standard deviations were calculated to answer the research questions.


Research Question 1: What perceptions do AECL Department students have about their majors?

Analysis of the items related to the perceptions undergraduate AECL Department students had about their major program demonstrated students were most knowledgeable about their chosen major. As shown in Table 1, most EDUC and COMM students believed they understood their major, while fewer LEAD students felt the same. More than 70% of students in all three majors appeared to be satisfied with their major.

Table 1

Research Question 2: What perceptions do AECL Department students have about other majors in the department?

To address the second research question, students were given a set of career readiness indicators and asked to choose the major they believed provided the best opportunity for each indicator. The six indicators and student responses aggregated by major and total responses are provided in Figure 1.

Figure 1

When looking at the perceptions of EDUC students (n = 66) across the six indicators of career readiness, EDUC students preferred their major among three out of six indicators. EDUC students considered the EDUC major to be the most inclusive (n = 31, 47%) and provided the most job opportunities (n = 42, 63.6%). Of the remaining three indicators, EDUC students believed the COMM major had more high-quality careers (n = 35, 53%), the highest potential income earning opportunity (n = 38, 57.6%), and was the most progressive and forward thinking (n = 23, 34.8%).

COMM students (n = 98) preferred their major among five of the six indicators. COMM students believed the COMM major to be the most inclusive (n = 56, 57.1%), provided more job opportunities (n = 66, 67.3%;), a higher-quality career (n = 87, 88.8%;), and had the highest potential income-earning opportunity (n = 70, 71.4%). COMM students believed the EDUC major was the most important to the agricultural industry (n = 65, 66.3%).

LEAD students (n = 35) preferred their major among three of the six indicators. LEAD students believed the LEAD major provided more job opportunities (n = 18, 51.4%), was the most inclusive (n = 28, 80%), and was the most progressive and forward-thinking (n= 24, 68.6%). Of the remaining three indicators, LEAD students perceived the COMM major as providing more high-quality careers (n =18, 51.4%) and the major with the highest potential income-earning opportunity (n = 15, 42.9%). LEAD students believed the EDUC major was the most important to the agricultural industry (n = 23, 65.7%).

When looking at the overall data, a consensus was shown by students from the three majors among three of the career readiness indicators. When data were aggregated, students believed the EDUC major was the most important to the agricultural industry (n = 147, 73.8%). The LEAD major was believed by more than one-third of the students to be the most inclusive program (n = 72, 36.2%). The COMM major was believed to provide more job opportunities (n = 98, 49.2%), more high-quality careers (n = 140, 70.4%), the highest potential income earning opportunity (n = 123, 61.8%), and to be the most progressive and forward thinking (n = 94, 47.2%).

Conclusions and Implications

Participants in the study were more likely to report their background as rural and agriculturally based than urban, which is representative of college of agriculture demographics at other institutions (Foreman, et al., 2018). More than three-quarters of students’ hometowns were a rural, ag-based community. Therefore, it could be concluded the prevalence of rural students might impact the internal branding of the AECL Department, as there may be a significant difference in major choice and perceptions between students with rural/ag-based backgrounds and urban/suburban students. Participants in this study were also primarily female, similar to the student population’s overall demographics within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University (Foreman, et al., 2018). The ratio of enrollment for male and female participants in our study was also consistent with the changing demographics of other colleges of agriculture in the United States (Foreman, et al., 2018). Perhaps the department’s recruitment efforts are over-investing in rural, ag based communities. The AECL Department’s internal brand influences undergraduate students and their perceptions of majors within the department. To increase collaboration, a multidisciplinary orientation course can enhance peer-to-peer discussions and diversity of education (Stebleton et al., 2010).

Research Question 1: What perceptions do AECL Department students have about their majors?

Findings indicated most AECL Department students felt they were knowledgeable, satisfied, and able to obtain a job after graduation with their major program. These positive preferences correlate to strong major satisfaction and internal branding buy-in. It seems natural for students to be most knowledgeable about their own majors. Strong major satisfaction is related to higher GPA levels, and it should be noted that students interested in multiple major programs do not necessarily improve their academic standing (Milsom & Coughlin, 2017). A student’s sense of belonging can be most influenced by interaction with faculty and staff members (Alam et al., 2019). Similarly, faculty members can contribute to student perceptions of other majors in an academic department (Hertel & Dings, 2014). Our college requires faculty academic advising, and most departmental faculty have a majority teaching appointment.

Participants in our study have the most exposure to their major program’s peers and faculty, which may have also impacted their perceptions of the department’s internal brand.

Research Question 2: What perceptions do AECL Department students have about other majors in the department?

Overall, COMM was perceived the most positively by all AECL Department majors. COMM was consistently identified as a major with career opportunities and benefits for graduates. EDUC was portrayed as the most important major to the agricultural industry. LEAD was considered to be the most inclusive. It is worth noting the COMM major was the most represented in our sample for this study. When perceptions of the majors were analyzed by their major program, most students showed a preference for their own major among the indicators. However, results varied on the students’ perceptions of other majors within the department. As a result, COMM student responses may have skewed the distribution of aggregated data for most items. This insight draws attention to the fact that LEAD was considered to be the most inclusive major despite students in each major perceiving their own major to be the most inclusive. Perhaps there were more defectors, or less consensus, within the majors for that particular item. Our findings could translate to a possible organizational silo within the AECL Department based on students’ tendency to prefer their own major among the items. Students enrolled in majors without multidisciplinary crossover may be in a less functional learning environment operating as an organizational silo (Friedman & Kass-Shraibman, 2017).


The findings demonstrate theoretical implications for student major selection. Based on the congruency between the findings in this study and the literature review, these are the following recommendations for the AECL Department: (a) implementation of a multidisciplinary freshman orientation program; (b) a recruitment assessment for retention; and (c) a qualitative study examining the meaning of student perceptions of majors.

A multidisciplinary freshman orientation course should be implemented to increase collaboration within the AECL Department and reduce a perceived organizational silo. This course would be a collaboration between faculty and graduate students in the department. At OSU, other programs have implemented orientation courses including animal science, agricultural economics, and a basic orientation course for all freshmen enrolled in the college of agriculture. Other disciplines have successfully implemented multidisciplinary courses, which increased the confidence level of major choice among their undergraduate students (Copp et al., 2012).

A multifaceted communications approach focused on the department’s internal brand is needed for the success of both student recruitment and student retention rates. The internal branding of a department is most effective when all programs work cohesively (Alshathry, 2017). The buy-in for internal branding among potential and current students positively correlates to personal meetings (Devasagayam, 2010). High-achieving students are not influenced by campus visits alone; therefore, we suggest that faculty continue to hold personal meetings face-to-face with prospective students and academic advising meetings with current students. Additionally, departmental branding and communications should be evaluated for cohesiveness and inclusive representation of each major program across recruitment materials and publications.

To improve organizational siloing within the department, the lack of understanding between the three major programs needs to be addressed. Perhaps a disconnect in the internal branding of the department has created misconceptions between students. A more collaborative departmental environment could increase student buy-in and academic success (Schreiner, 2009). As student buy-in rises, the department will have less student turnover and major changes.

Perhaps a qualitative study could explain the meanings of AECL Department student perceptions toward other majors in the department. An additional exploratory study would be beneficial to interview students and gauge from their responses how they perceive the internal Branding of the AECL Department. These conclusions could be used to further strengthen the internal brand of the AECL Department and improve both faculty and student brand loyalty.

Future research should also be conducted on the number of AECL Department students who work in the agricultural industry after graduation. This study was focused more on the quantity of student responses, whereas future studies could look to see if different perceptions of majors exist based on a variety of student demographic variables.

Our research had several limitations, one being that career readiness and programmatic statements were based on our (the research team’s) perceptions of the department majors. The internal brand of a department may not be viewed the same by each of its constituents. Another limitation of this study was the inability to generalize and apply the results to other departments and institutions. It would be beneficial to replicate this study within the social sciences departments of other colleges of agriculture. The instrument needs to be validated among multiple settings with the target population for continued research use.

Although our research focused on students within the AECL Department at OSU, this study may serve as a guide to gain a better understanding of the agricultural education discipline as a whole. More research needs to be conducted on student major choice and satisfaction in the social science field of agriculture. Future studies should include students who change their major and leave the department. It is evident AECL Department students communicate and perceive majors, and levels of career readiness within those majors, differently; this can be a limitation for students if they have misconceptions about the career readiness and opportunities of a major.


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How Programmatic Changes Impact the Lesson Plan Quality of Student Teaching Interns: A Comparison of Two Formats

Jeffery Whisenhunt, Union County Career Center

Christopher J. Eck, Clemson University,

J. Shane Robinson, Oklahoma State University,

Ki L. Cole, Oklahoma State University,

Jim Key, Oklahoma State University,

Jon W. Ramsey, Oklahoma State University,

PDF Available


Effective teaching is a multidimensional concept that encompasses a need for instructional planning to make a positive impact on students. The purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which the student teaching format for pre-service teachers at Oklahoma State University impacted their lesson plan quality. A quasi-experimental design using a non-equivalent control group was implemented to compare student teaching formats at Oklahoma State University. Personal characteristics between the counterfactual and the treatment groups were similar. When considering lesson plan quality, a statistically significant finding was detected in favor of a longer student teaching internship. Based on the findings of this study, it is recommended that agricultural education teacher preparation programs evaluate their student teaching format, as well as the progression and delivery of courses, to allow for the greatest potential for the development of human capital related to teaching.


Effective teaching can be considered “an elusive concept to define when we consider the complex task of teaching and the multitude of contexts in which teachers work” (Stronge et al., 2011, p. 340). Further, it is a multidimensional construct (Farrell, 2015) that includes instructional delivery, student assessment, learning environments, and personal qualities of the teacher (Stronge et al., 2011). Effective teaching requires individuals who can relate to the demographic and cultural differences between the teacher and the students (Hollins & Guzman, 2005). Teachers who are considered effective have high expectations, contribute to positive student learning outcomes, use a variety of resources, celebrate diversity within a classroom, and collaborate with their students in the learning process (Goe et al., 2008). These attributes of effective teaching assume a certain level of lesson planning and execution.

Preparation through instructional planning forms the basis for effective teaching and student learning (Reiser & Dick, 1996). Sung (1982) found that students taught by teachers who used highly structured lesson plans had a higher level of academic achievement than those who were taught by teachers who used less structured lesson plans. Lesson planning is a proactive strategy used by teachers to anticipate how topics will be delivered in the learning environment (Bond & Peterson, 2004). Lesson plans allow the instructor additional control of classroom experiences and outcomes instead of merely reacting to what happens (Duke & Madsen, 1991). Thus, it is critical for teacher preparation programs to facilitate pre-service teachers’ development in an efficient means for instructional planning (Baylor & Kitsantas, 2005; Kitsantas & Baylor, 2001; Kress et al., 2008). 

One of the roles of higher education institutions that include agricultural education programs is to prepare students for teaching careers (Franklin & Molina, 2012; Myers & Dyer, 2004). Despite working toward the same goal of pre-service teacher preparation, each institution requires its own admission criteria, coursework, and student teaching experiences within their respective teacher education programs (Franklin & Molina, 2012; Graham & Garton, 2003; Myers & Dyer, 2004; Shinn, 1997; Swortzel, 1999). Such programs in agricultural education seek to assist teacher candidates in achieving licensure according to specific state and national teacher education accreditation standards (Myers & Dyer, 2004; Swortzel, 1999; Retallick & Miller, 2007, 2010). What is more, the student teaching internship has been incorporated into the accreditation standards (CAEP, 2019; CCSSO, 2013; Retallick & Miller, 2007, 2010).

Traditionally, agricultural education programs have focused on preparing pre-service teachers to teach in middle schools and high schools across the country (Myers & Dyer, 2004). Most teacher educators are tenure-track faculty who were former secondary agricultural education teachers (Myers & Dyer, 2004; Swortzel, 1998). Unfortunately, not every agricultural education program is actively producing certified agricultural education teachers (McLean & Camp, 2000; Myers & Dyer, 2004). Although the majority of agricultural education programs are housed in colleges of agriculture, around one-fifth are situated in colleges of education (Myers & Dyer, 2004; Swortzel, 1999). Despite degree requirements varying across programs (Franklin & Molina, 2012; Graham & Garton, 2003; Myers & Dyer, 2004; Shinn, 1997; Swortzel, 1999), courses of commonality include methods of teaching, program planning, and student teaching (McLean & Camp, 2000; Myers & Dyer, 2004; Retallick & Miller, 2007, 2010). 

The role of an agricultural teacher educator includes preparing pre-service teachers to transition into professional educators while also providing professional development to in-service teachers (Franklin & Molina, 2012; Myers & Dyer, 2004). In addition, recruitment, faculty development, and delivering college-wide, service-type courses are important responsibilities of teacher educators in agricultural education (Hillison, 1998; Myers & Dyer, 2004). Despite this expansion of responsibility, various school-based agricultural education (SBAE) teachers and state staff consider pre-service teacher preparation to be the greatest responsibility of university agricultural education programs (Myers & Dyer, 2004). After completing coursework in a teacher preparation program, pre-service teachers typically culminate their learning experience through the student teaching internship, which links the university experience to the secondary classroom (Franklin & Molina, 2012; Torres & Ulmer, 2007; Retallick & Miller, 2007, 2010).

The Student Teaching Internship

The student teaching internship is a highly influential component of preparing pre-service teachers (Franklin & Molina, 2012; Myers & Dyer, 2004; Retallick & Miller, 2007, 2010; Zuch, 2000). Pre-service teacher attitudes often change throughout the student teaching internship (Myers & Dyer, 2004) based on the mentorship, communication, expectations, and discipline management plans provided by their cooperating teachers (Harlin et al., 2002; Myers & Dyer, 2004; Young & Edwards, 2006). Further, cooperating teachers highly influence future instructional practices of pre-service teachers (Garton & Cano, 1996; Harlin et al., 2002; McKee, 1991; Myers & Dyer, 2004; Young & Edwards, 2006). The relationship between the cooperating teacher and the university supervisor also plays an important role in pre-service teachers’ development during the student teaching internship (Deeds et al., 1991; Franklin & Molina, 2012; Myers & Dyer, 2004). 

The student teaching internship provides pre-service teachers opportunities to demonstrate knowledge and skills regarding pedagogy in an actual classroom under the guidance of a cooperating teacher (Kelleher et al., 1995; Retallick & Miller, 2007, 2010; Torres & Ulmer, 2007). The Agricultural Education program at Oklahoma State University (OSU) highly values the student teaching experience and considers it “the most dynamic and vital phase of the total curriculum for preparing teachers of Agricultural Education” (Oklahoma State University, 2012b, p. 1). During the student teaching experience in Oklahoma, pre-service teachers are expected to acquire competence in fifteen areas. Some of these areas include teaching high school students, advising the FFA chapter, facilitating supervised agricultural experiences, preparing students for competitions, organizing community events, and counseling students (Oklahoma State University, 2012b).

Pre-service teachers work through four phases during their student teaching experience: Phase 1: orientation and observation – allows pre-service teachers to familiarize themselves with the classroom and discuss observations with their cooperating teacher; Phase 2: progressive teaching experience – allows pre-service teachers to begin routine procedures such as planning, preparing, grading, tutoring, and eventually teaching one or two courses under the close supervision of their cooperating teacher; Phase 3: extensive teaching experience – allows pre-service teachers to assume responsibility for the full course load while receiving regular feedback from their cooperating teacher; and Phase 4: culminating experience – allows pre-service teachers the opportunity to observe other teachers in the school (Oklahoma State University, 2012b). 

The valuable, real-life experience of the student teaching internship provides a safe space for pre-service teachers to implement pedagogical knowledge and skills under the guidance of a veteran mentor teacher (Roberts & Ball, 2009; Robinson et al., 2010; Swanson, 1971; Talbert et al., 2005; Torres & Ulmer, 2007). Although the importance of student teaching has been well documented, the delivery (i.e., duration of the internship) and its impact on student teachers is lacking. Over the past 40 years, student teaching internships have ranged from less than 10-week, part-time placements to full-time immersive experiences greater than ten weeks in duration (Wasburn-Moses, 2018). “Although student teaching has been and continues to be the most intensive field experience of traditional teacher preparation, little research has been conducted on the student teaching experience, or changes to that experience over time” (Wasburn-Moses, 2018, p. 703).

What is more, although pre-service teachers dedicate the majority of their time in their student teaching internship to planning, research has shown they do so at an inconsistent rate (Torres & Ulmer, 2007; Torres et al., 2008). Further, because the contents of a lesson plan can directly impact what is taught and learned in the classroom (Ball et al., 2007; Torres & Ulmer, 2007), it is imperative to determine how a pre-service teachers’ preparation program impacts student teachers’ lesson plan quality.

Theoretical Framework

This study was framed in the human capital theory, which includes the pertinent education, skills, and training (Becker, 1964; Little, 2003; Schultz, 1971; Smith, 2010; Smylie, 1996) provided through an agricultural education teacher preparation program. Pre-service SBAE teachers are preparing for their student teaching internship and, ultimately, a career; therefore, the teacher preparation coursework provides an opportunity to increase human capital and improve personal competence related to their future vocation (Heckman, 2000). This development of human capital is impacted by the individual’s previous experiences, most of which are acquired through informal training and experiences (Sweetland, 1996), leading to a variety of needs within a pre-service teaching cohort. The agricultural education teacher preparation program at OSU serves as a formal opportunity (Sweetland, 1996) for students interested in a career as an SBAE teacher to acquire the necessary skills for the teaching profession (Schultz, 1971). The culminating experience during the agricultural education teacher preparation program at OSU is the student teaching internship, which serves as an apprenticeship or on-the-job training, which Schultz (1961) identified as one of the five major categories of human capital development.

To further conceptualize the teacher preparation program and the human capital development of pre-service teachers within the program, Clark’s and Peterson’s (1986) model of teacher thought and action was used. Constraints and opportunities have a direct impact on the individual’s actions and thought processes (Clark & Peterson, 1986). Further, an individual’s thought process has a bi-directional relationship with his or her actions (Clark & Peterson, 1986). Ball et al. (2007) used Clark’s and Peterson’s (1986) model as a conceptual frame, where they connected the model with lesson planning. The conceptual model adapted from Ball et al. (2007) includes the reciprocal relationships between and among the constraints and opportunities for planning, the impact of those constraints on thinking about and planning for teaching, and the resulting plans (Figure 1). Additionally, the model (Figure 1) depicts the bidirectional relationship between “what teachers think and believe and what teachers do” (Ball et al., 2007, p. 57).

Figure 1
Conceptual model adapted from Ball et al. (2007) from the model of teacher thought and action of instructional planning (Clark & Peterson, 1986).

The model (Figure 1) served as a conceptual framework for this study, allowing the researchers to consider the constraints and opportunities presented within the student teaching format at OSU for pre-service SBAE teachers. The combination of constraints and opportunities provided through two different student teaching formats can be assessed by the quality of lesson plans developed by pre-service SBAE teachers in both formats. Further, the model can help demonstrate the preparedness of pre-service SBAE teachers at OSU based on their overall human capital development within the program’s two formats.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which making programmatic changes, such as the student teaching internship for pre-service teachers at OSU, impacted their lesson plan quality by comparing two distinct formats. Two research questions guided this study: (1) What is the level of lesson plan quality of pre-service SBAE teachers who student taught in the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 semesters compared to those who student taught in the Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 semesters? (2) What impact did the student teaching format have on the lesson plan quality of pre-service SBAE teachers at OSU during the two timeframes?

Methods and Procedures

A quasi-experimental design using a non-equivalent control group (Privitera, 2017) was used to compare two distinct student teaching formats in agricultural education at OSU. Because students complete their student teaching internships at the end of their academic studies and cannot be randomly assigned to a particular cohort, the quasi-experimental design was appropriate for this study (Privitera, 2017). The non-equivalent control group consisted of those who student taught during Fall of 2011 and Spring of 2012. The treatment group consisted of those who student taught during Fall 2019 and Spring 2020.

Student Teaching Cohort – Fall 2011 and Spring 2012

The format used during the 2011 to 2012 school year served as the study’s non-equivalent control group and required pre-service teachers at OSU to participate in three courses during their student teaching semester. Pre-service teachers in the non-equivalent control group enrolled in 15-credit hours of coursework during their student teaching semester. The courses consisted of a three-credit hour teaching methods course, a three-credit hour laboratory supervision course, and a nine-credit hour course that included the student teaching internship. The semester began with two four-week block courses, which consisted of pedagogical training in the classroom and laboratory settings (Oklahoma State University, 2010a).

During the block experience, students learned pertinent teaching methods related to agricultural education in a laboratory setting. In addition, the block experience assisted in pre-service teachers’ ability to identify community resources and secure teaching resources through involvement in professional organizations (Oklahoma State University, 2010a). Students simultaneously acquired facets of the teaching and learning processes, which included course content related to teaching methods, basic teaching skills, proper classroom management techniques, and motivational techniques and ideas (Oklahoma State University, 2012a). The laboratories embedded in the four-week block experience provided opportunities for students to practice behavioral management techniques, develop a complete unit of instruction, design formative and summative assessments, and deliver lessons using multiple methods and media (Oklahoma State University, 2012a). On completion of the four-week block experience, students transitioned to their cooperating center communities to complete their 12-week student teaching internship.

Student Teaching Cohort – Fall 2019 and Spring 2020

The format used during the 2019 to 2020 school year served as the study’s treatment group and required pre-service teachers at OSU to participate in one one-week course during the student teaching semester. The Teaching Methods course, which was part of the four-week experience for the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 cohort, was converted to a 16-week course for the Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 cohort and was designed to provide the learning experiences through the context of the InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards and Performance Indicators (Oklahoma State University, 2019). Specifically, learning experiences in the Teaching Methods course sought to prepare pre-service teachers with the instructional capability to positively impact student learning. The lens of the Praxis Performance Assessment for Teachers (PPAT) served as a framework for the course objectives (Oklahoma State University, 2019).

Pre-service teachers in the treatment group enrolled in 12-credit hours of coursework during their student teaching semester. Three of those credit hours included the Student Teaching course, which is a full-time, directed experience in agricultural education at OSU. It included applications of methods and skills in agricultural education as related to selecting, adapting, using, and evaluating curriculum materials to meet educational goals and facilitate learning for individual students. Experiences also involved identifying the roles, responsibilities, and interactions related to other school personnel, parents, and professional education groups.

The remaining nine credit hours were acquired in a Professional Development course, which focused on professional preparation and development for careers as agricultural education teachers. Professional correspondence, interviewing, networking, and other employability skills were taught in the course. Reflection and evaluation of instruction, project supervision, and advising of youth leadership development organizations also were emphasized. The course consisted of a one-week, on-campus seminar before students transitioned to their respective student teaching centers, a two-day midterm seminar, and a three-day capstone seminar. Table 1 provides a side-by-side comparison between the non-equivalent control (Fall 2011and Spring 2012) and treatment groups (Fall 2019 and Spring 2020).

Table 1   
Comparison of Student Teaching Formats at OSU

Note. aFall 2011 and Spring 2012 Student Teaching Cohort; bFall 2019 and Spring 2020 Student Teaching Cohort; cCourses are taken within the same 16-week semester during student teaching. dCourse is taken during the 16-week semester prior to the 16-week student teaching semester.  

Prior to entering the student teaching experience, pre-service teachers must pass the Oklahoma General Education Test (OGET), which is required for teacher certification (Oklahoma State University, 2018). The OGET measured various areas of knowledge such as reading, communication, mathematics, science, art, literature, social sciences, and writing (Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation, 2007). The OGET consists of broad competencies which “reflect the general education knowledge and skills an entry-level educator need[ed] to teach effectively in Oklahoma public schools” (OCTP, 2007, p. 2-1). Mathematic competencies range from problem-solving using data interpretation and analysis to problem-solving using a combination of mathematical skills (OCTP, 2007). Science competencies include understanding and analyzing major scientific principles, concepts and theories as well as applying skills, principles, and procedures associated with scientific inquiry (OCTP, 2007). 

Oklahoma requires two additional test requirements for teacher certification (Certification Examinations for Oklahoma Educators (CEOE), 2020). Those include the Oklahoma subject area test (OSAT) for agricultural education and the Oklahoma professional teaching exam (OklahomaPTE). The professional teaching exam was the OPTE before changing to the Praxis Performance Assessment for Teachers (PPAT) in 2019. The change in professional education exams is another factor impacting the preparation of pre-service SBAE teachers at Oklahoma State University.

The agricultural education subject area test consists of one constructed response in addition to 80 selected-response questions covering six subareas including agricultural business, economics, and marketing; animal science; plant and soil science; agricultural mechanics; environmental science and natural resources; and foundations of agricultural education (CEOE, 2020). The OPTE is a written exam spanning three subareas (i.e., learners and learning, instructional practice, and the professional environment) with a total of 10 competencies (CEOE, 2020). The exam includes “75 selected response questions and 3 written performance assignments” (CEOE, 2020, p. 1). Scaled scores for the OPTE range from 100 to 300, with a passing score of 240 or greater (CEOE, 2020). The OPTE was replaced with the adoption of the PPAT in 2019. The PPAT was adopted to evaluate “test takers on their abilities to impact student learning as it relates to the InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards, demonstrating that they have the basic pedagogical content knowledge and application for the classroom to begin teaching as an entry-level teacher” (ETS, 2020, para. 2).

The personal characteristics of pre-service agricultural education teachers (N = 70) during the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 (n = 30) and Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 (n = 40) semesters are outlined in Table 2. Specifically, the participants’ age, gender, and ethnicity are included.

Table 2 
Personal Characteristics of Two Cohorts of Pre-service SBAE Teachers at OSU during the 2011 to 2012 and 2019 to 2020 Academic Years

Lesson plan quality was evaluated using the Lesson Plan Evaluation Rubric, which is the same rubric used by the [Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Education] to evaluate students’ lesson plans throughout all the department’s agricultural education courses (Oklahoma State University, 2010b). Participants of the study were introduced and required throughout their agricultural education courses to use the same lesson plan format for which the grading rubric aligned (Oklahoma State University, 2012a). The lesson plan template and grading rubric were founded around Allen’s (1919) 4-step instructional model and Tyler’s (1949) four questions. This lesson plan format was based on a maximum of 20 points possible during the 2011 to 2012 school year. However, during the 2019 to 2020 school year, the rubric was updated to reflect the principles of the Praxis Performance Assessment for Teachers (PPAT) and was based on a maximum of 25 points, but still included the same primary principles as the one used with the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 student teaching cohort. The PPAT was introduced as a new certification requirement during the 2019 to 2020 school year; therefore, the changes to the rubric were necessary to reflect the additional expectations required by the certifying agency.    

For the 2011 to 2012 school year, a panel of three experts who had in excess of 10 years of school-based agricultural education (SBAE) teaching experience and two years of post-secondary teaching experience was organized to evaluate the quality of those lesson plans.  The panel consisted of graduate students in agricultural education at OSU who were familiar with the departmental grading rubric, having used it to evaluate students in agricultural education courses and laboratories previously. In comparison, for the 2019 to 2020 school year, a panel of three experts who had in excess of 30 years of SBAE experience and 20 years of post-secondary experience was organized to evaluate the quality of those lesson plans. The panel consisted of a faculty member, instructor, and a graduate student of agricultural education at OSU.

For inter-rater reliability (Ary et al., 2010; Gay et al., 2009), the panelists evaluated 10 lesson plans individually and then together. Panelists scored, discussed, and ultimately settled on a normative scoring procedure for the lesson plans prior to receiving their own sets of lesson plans to score. Data analysis began with three randomly selected lesson plans from each participant in the two cohorts using The lesson plans were divided randomly among the respective panel members. Microsoft Excel® was used to organize the data, followed by the Statistical Program for Social Sciences (SPSS), Version 23 for data analyses. 

Basic descriptive statistics (i.e., frequencies and percentages) were used to summarize the data for research questions one. Specifically, the lesson plan quality score was attributed based on the departmental lesson plan rubric, which aligned with the department lesson plan template. The 2011 to 2012 rubric allows for scores to range between zero and 20; whereas, the 2019 to 2020 rubric was evaluated on a scale ranging from zero to 25. The analysis of overall percentage scores was used to assess the overall quality of the lessons. A one-way ANOVA was used to assess the study’s dependent and independent variables (Field, 2009) for research question two, which consisted of the actual quality score assigned to the pre-service teachers’ lesson plans and the student teaching format (12-week or 15-week), respectively.

The researchers acknowledge the limitations of this study, as two chronologically disparate groups (2011 to 2012 and 2019 to 2020) were evaluated using different rubrics and experts to evaluate the lesson plans. The gap in years serves as a major limitation to the study, although the research team acknowledges this as existing data (2011 to 2012 non-equivalent group) was utilized to compare to the treatment group (2019 to 2020) for data collection and analysis. Additionally, changes in program delivery (i.e., teaching methods course, student teaching format, and changes in. instructors) limit the findings of this study. The research team addressed these limitations through a priori decisions in this post-hoc research design considering the multitude of limiting factors. Therefore, these limitations should be considered when interpreting the findings, conclusions, and recommendations. 


Research question one sought to describe the quality of pre-service SBAE teachers’ lesson plans during the student teaching internship, per the departmental lesson plan rubric. Lesson plan scores for pre-service teachers during the Fall of 2011 and Spring of 2012 resulted in three (3.3%) lesson plan quality scores ranging between 0 and 2.50, six (6.7%) between 2.51 and 5.00, 11(12.2%) between 5.01 and 7.5, five (5.6%) from 7.51 to 10.00, seven (7.8%) between 10.10 and 12.50, 18 (20.0%) from 12.51 to 15.00, 15 (16.7%) between 15.10 and 17.50, and 25 (27.8%) lessons had a quality score range of 17.51 to 20.00 (Table 3). Lesson plan scores for pre-service teachers during the Fall of 2019 and Spring of 2020 resulted in three (2.5%) lesson plan scores between 0 and 12, four (3.3%) from 13 to 15, 24 (20.0%) between 16 and 18, 39 (32.5%) from 19 to 21, and 50 (41.7%) between 22 and 25 (Table 3).

Due to the difference in lesson plan quality score scales (i.e., 0 to 20 for 2011 to 2012 and 0 to 25 for 2019 to 2020), percentage scores were used to compare the two cohorts of student teachers (Table 3). Table three identifies the breakdown in lesson plans by percentage scores, which relate to a specific letter grade (i.e., F = 0 to 59.99, D = 60.00 to 69.99, C = 70.00 to 79.99, B = 80.00 to 89.99, and A = 90.00 to 100.00). The greatest number of lesson plans reviewed in the 2011 to 2012 cohort received a failing quality score ranging between 0.00 to 59.99 (f = 27, 30%). In contrast, the greatest number of lesson plans reviewed in the 2019 to 2020 cohort received a “B” quality score ranging between 80.00 to 89.99 (f = 45, 37.5%).

Table 3 
Lesson Plan Quality Scores of Two Cohorts of Pre-service SBAE Teachers at OSU during the 2011 to 2012 and 2019 to 2020 Academic Years

The second research question aimed to determine the impact of the student teaching format on lesson plan quality. The overall quality of pre-service teachers’ lessons during the 2011 and 2012 school year equated to a mean percentage score of 66.1% (SD = 5.37), and the overall quality of pre-service teachers’ lessons during the 2019 to 2020 school year resulted in a mean percentage score of 82.2% (SD = 3.11). A one-way ANOVA was conducted using SPSS, with the lesson plan scores as the dependent variable and the student teaching format (12-week versus 15-week) as the independent variable (Table 4). The analysis resulted in a statistically significant difference between the two groups F (1, 208) = 20.95, p < .01.

Table 4

Comparative Analysis of Pre-Service Teachers’ Lesson Planning Performance by Group Means


Personal characteristics between the non-equivalent control (Fall 2011 and Spring 2012) and the treatment (Fall 2019 and Spring 2020) groups were similar. The majority of pre-service SBAE teachers in both groups were between 21 and 22 years of age, female, and predominately white. These characteristics support the current trends over the past 10 years in the agricultural education department at OSU. The personal characteristics also align with 2018 supply and demand of SBAE teachers (NAAE, 2019), which identified “the majority of new agricultural education majors [as] Caucasian (90%) and female (71%)” (p. 1).

When considering lesson plan quality, the mean percentage scores increased from 66.1% (SD = 5.37) for the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 cohort to 82.2% (SD = 3.11) for the Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 cohort. The difference in lesson plan quality scores can be attributed, in part, to two major programmatic changes: 1) the duration of the student teaching experience, which was aligned with the recommendations of Myers and Dyer (2004) to increase the focus on teaching and learning in the agricultural education teacher preparation program, and 2) to the increased credit hours reserved for teaching lesson planning to pre-service teachers. In addition to these two major changes, other modifications also occurred in the teacher preparation program at OSU during the 8-year time span of this study. These included Oklahoma certification requirements, course delivery offerings at OSU, and the instructors who impacted the course offerings and data collection, all of which provide limitations to the study. However, the faculty of this teacher preparation program were willing to make the changes if they might lead to improvements in pre-service teachers’ ability regarding their lesson planning and perceptions about planning (Ball et al., 2007; Clark & Peterson, 1986), as depicted in Figure 1.  

The difference in mean percentage scores between the non-equivalent control and treatment groups were statistically significantly different F(1, 208) = 20.95, p < .01. This change in lesson plan quality scores supports the need for teacher preparation programs to facilitate pre-service teachers’ development in an efficient means for instructional planning (Baylor & Kitsantas, 2005; Kitsantas & Baylor, 2001; Kress et al., 2008). This need was met by altering the teaching methods course from a 4-week block experience to a 16-week semester-long course prior to student teaching. The change in content delivery between the student teaching formats resulted in positive outcomes within the treatment group (Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 cohort). Providing additional time to think about and plan for teaching ultimately led to the increase in lesson plan quality scores observed in this study, which can ultimately impact what is taught and learned in the SBAE classroom (Ball et al., 2007; Torres & Ulmer, 2007). This positive impact results in increase human capital development (Becker, 1964; Little, 2003; Schultz, 1971; Smith, 2010; Smylie, 1996) within the pre-service SBAE teachers as it relates to teaching.


Based on the study’s findings, it is recommended that teacher preparation programs in agricultural education from across the country evaluate the delivery of their student teaching internship. As this study identified advantages to the increased time spent on learning how to plan for instruction and having additional repetitions, emphasis should be placed on helping pre-service teachers improve their lesson planning abilities in their teacher preparation courses as well as during their student teaching internship. To help facilitate this advantage, a semester-long teaching methods course is recommended, followed by a 15-week student teaching internship. The increased length of student teaching provides additional opportunities for personal growth. In addition to the increased human capital development (Becker, 1964; Little, 2003; Schultz, 1971; Smith, 2010; Smylie, 1996) within students, the new format has lifted the strain of teaching an intensive 4-week block while also managing a regular course load. Considering the conceptual model developed by Ball et al. (2007), the change is recommended to reduce constraints and provide additional opportunities for lesson planning for a positive impact on planning quality. Further, expectations should be placed on cooperating teachers regarding lesson planning. Despite the school district requirements regarding detailed lesson plans, cooperating teachers need to model quality lesson planning for pre-service teachers. Thus, in-service should be conducted with cooperating teachers to outline lesson plan quality expectations as well as train or refresh cooperating teachers on the components of quality lesson planning.

Considering recommendations for future research, additional studies should be conducted evaluating the perceptions of students enrolled in different student teaching formats to determine their view on the impact. It is recommended a nationwide study be conducted to compare lesson plan quality from various student teaching formats across the country. Such a study would provide an opportunity for agricultural education faculty to evaluate their student teaching format against others and refine their process. Although this study focused on the delivery format as the factor impacting lesson plan quality, additional factors such as course sequence, cooperating teacher expectation, university expectation, early field experiences, and planning format, also likely play a substantial role; therefore, additional research should investigate these potential factors further. In doing so, quality metrics should be developed to evaluate how such factors impact the student teaching experience. Finally, although this study was concerned with the effect of student teaching internship on teaching, SBAE instructors have other responsibilities as teachers (Eck et al., 2019; Roberts & Dyer, 2004). Therefore, what effect does the longer student teaching internship have on pre-service teachers’ ability to facilitate a complete SBAE program? Further research should investigate this phenomenon.


An integral part of both formats investigated in this study is the development of human capital (Becker, 1964; Little, 2003; Schultz, 1971; Smith, 2010; Smylie, 1996) of aspiring SBAE teachers. The four-week block (2011 to 2012) format provided an intensive, timely experience before students transition to their cooperating center communities and began their 12-week student teaching internship. The immersive four-week experience provides the necessary skills to help improve the student’s competence related to their future career (Heckman, 2000) as an SBAE teacher. In comparison, the 15-week student teaching internship (2019 to 2020) provides an extended on-the-job training opportunity, which has been identified as a major area of human capital development (Schultz, 1961). Although this format extends the student teaching internship, the timely training leading up to the internship is reduced to one week.

Finally, it is imperative that teacher preparation faculty consider the unintended consequences of significant programmatic changes, such as the one described in this study. For example, what is given up or lost as a result of such a change? It is possible that pre-service teachers in the non-equivalent control group had a greater readiness to learn, as they were focused for four weeks on student teaching only. Although the sessions were shorter and more intense, anecdotal evidence suggests the four-week block allowed for a greater sense of community cohesiveness and attention from pre-service teachers than did the longer 15-week internship.


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Designing a Technique for Program Expansion of Secondary Agricultural Education

Kendall M. Wright, Rolling Meadows High School

Stacy K. Vincent, University of Kentucky,

Andrew Hauser, University of Kentucky

Lucas D. Maxwell, Illinois State University

PDF Available


Introducing, building support for, and implementing an innovation requires many components of diffusion to be in place. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to investigate the most effective methods for developing new agricultural education programs. Using Roger’s (2003) Diffusion of Innovation model, four themes emerged from information collected in this study: a) identifying stakeholder needs, b) communication, c) education, and d) securing funding. Recommendations include creating informational packets for community members and administrators, hosting webinars to determine best practices, develop relationships with potential stakeholders, and research on additional information desired by secondary stakeholders and the circumstances under which diffusion in agricultural education fails. 


When secondary students graduate high school, their next successful transition is career, military, or post-secondary education. For many secondary students, productive dispositions and behaviors, coupled with non-cognitive skills, are most predictive of future earnings (Castellano, et al., 2017). Therefore, emphasis has been placed on college and career readiness through career and technical education programs. A number of educational organizations, including the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education (NASDCTE), the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, agree that all students in the United States should be college and career ready (Erdogan & Stuessy, 2016). However, the U.S. Department of Education (2010) reported that approximately 40% of all college freshmen are enrolled in remedial courses. To address this, schools have placed a greater emphasis on providing education which better prepares students for the transition from high school to higher education, the workplace, and/or the military. To ensure all students, regardless of geographic location, were indeed prepared to be college and career ready after completing their education in a public school, Common Core State Standards were developed in 2009 (Center for American Progress, 2014). In addition, common assessments were designed to measure the college readiness of secondary students (McIntosh, 2010). Although measuring college readiness is advancement in education, simply measuring readiness will not develop curriculum which allows students to pass. Instead, it is vital to also develop programs designed to produce career readiness in addition to college readiness, and to do so in a program that is available to all secondary students.

Along with conventional academic subjects, schools are turning to career and technical education courses to facilitate the development of college and career readiness. Not only does career and technical education provide knowledge and skill sets for students, but it also introduces potential career fields, as evidenced by a study in New York that revealed over half of middle school participants identified areas of interest that were representative of the agriculture, food, fiber, and natural resources industry (Conroy, 2000).

Secondary agriculture courses provide opportunities for a variety of learners to excel and succeed in an educational setting. This can be seen in a study completed by Roberts, Hall, and Briers (2009) in which new agricultural programs in Texas schools encouraged Latino students to become more active in their education by joining and participating in an intracurricular program. Furthermore, parents of the students and alumni from the area became more active in the students’ education. Access to a teacher who provides intracurricular opportunities, such as an agricultural educator, help at-risk students improve their GPAs and narrow the achievement gap (Herrick, 2010). 

Career and Technical Education (CTE) not only helps engage minorities and at-risk students, but it also helps to increase the high school transition rate. According to Wells, Gifford, Bai, and Corra (2015), only 75% of public high school students earn a diploma within four years of entering the ninth grade. Fortunately, research infers students who enroll in career and technical education demonstrate higher levels of engagement, leading to a reduction in the probability of the students dropping out of school and improved levels of academic performance (Evan,et al., 2013). In the 2013 study, the researchers identified the geographic location of all career academies in public schools in Florida in order to determine the type of student most likely to enroll in the career and technical education classes, as well as school information such as dropout and student engagement rates, and then compared those numbers to geographic areas which did not offer career academies. They found that enrollment in career and technical education gives students an advantage in academic and career success. Furthermore, in a study by Neild, Boccanfuso, and Byrnes (2015) determined that increased engagement in and out of the CTE classroom was correlated to a reduction in disciplinary referrals.

All students can benefit from completing a course in career and technical education. In a study completed by Hagen (2010), every student in one high school completed at least one career and technical course per year. As a result of being enrolled in the course, the study revealed student engagement, achievement, student transitions, attendance rates, dropout frequency, graduation potential all improved. In addition, students developed a higher level of self-confidence and competence. Once students experience the development of their self-confidence, they experience a higher level of motivation (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). Those who completed agricultural courses demonstrated a higher need for achievement than those students who did not complete an agricultural course. Furthermore, participants who completed agricultural courses and joined the local FFA chapter demonstrated an even higher need for achievement (Herren & Turner, 1997).

With the benefits from agricultural education courses that ensure the development of college and career readiness, an expectation for program expansion should be a priority; however, 15 states have seen the number of agricultural programs decrease since the 2011-2016 academic year. The remaining states had an average increase of 12.6 programs per state, with 67% of that growth coming from ten states (National FFA Organization, 2017). What are the high growth states doing to increase the number of programs, and to provide secondary students with the opportunity to succeed?  Why aren’t states employing methods to produce more career and technical, and specifically agricultural, programs? This study focuses on obtaining answers to those questions so that all secondary students can experience the benefits of agricultural education.

Conceptual/Theoretical Framework

The guiding theory of this study is Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations (Rogers, 2003). An innovation is defined as a new idea, product, or method as perceived by an individual or group of people (Rogers, 1983). According to Rogers (2003), an innovation is adopted after a need is determined. The Diffusion of Innovations Theory describes the necessary means for an innovation to be adopted by a group of people. Rogers (2003) described diffusion as a process where innovation is communicated through various methods over time among the members of a social system.           

Diffusion can only occur when certain elements are present. Specifically, there are four essential elements for diffusion to occur. The source, or the entity presenting the innovation, provides two of those elements: the innovation itself and the communication of the innovation. The communication presented by the source must be through distinct channels, which connect the source to the social system in which the innovation is being presented. These channels can include mass media (television, social media, etc.) and/or interpersonal interactions (face to face meetings). According to Rogers (2003), the most effective channel for innovation is an interpersonal channel in which someone of similar status (age, education, etc.) completes a subjective evaluation of the innovation after adopting it themselves. People of similar status are referred to as “near peers”. The third element, time, occurs throughout the process as the fourth element, a social system, or adaptor, considers the innovation before it decides to diffuse the innovation (Rogers, 2003). Figure 1 provides a visual interpretation of the Diffusion of Innovation.

Figure 1

The four elements (innovation, communication through certain channels, time, and social systems) play roles in different stages of diffusion (Rogers, 1983). The knowledge stage is completed when the source communicates to the social system about the existence of the innovation and provides a basic understanding of said innovation. An example of how these stages can be seen in an educational setting can be found in a study by Hagen (1999) in which Valley City State University adopted a learning environment in which an innovation curriculum computer program was utilized. In this environment, all faculty and students were given laptops with constant access to the internet. The music department of the university entered the knowledge stage when they learned about what the technology could offer their department. As faculty learned about the possibilities, they entered the persuasion stage during in which they evaluated their initial impressions of the innovation. In this case, positive impressions were developed. The decision stage was completed when faculty began to create curriculum for the music department. The curriculum was implemented, and students focused on five innovative areas via the new environment: communication and aesthetic responsiveness, problem solving, effective citizenship and global perspective, collaboration and wellness, and technology (Hagen, 1999). 

Barriers can prevent the adoption of an innovation, and different barriers arise in different stages. Nelson and Thompson (2005) studied the diffusion of new technology into distance learning programs. When asked what the biggest barriers were to the adoption of the new technology, about 40% of teachers agreed the lack of adequate compensation for time and effort of the faculty was a major barrier. About 35% of respondents agreed the lack of faculty rewards/incentives was a major barrier and one-third of teachers agreed program development costs were also a major barrier to innovation.

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study was to determine the most effective methods for program expansion of new agriculture education programs. The research questions were:

  1. What methods of diffusion are utilized in the conception and implementation of new agricultural education programs, as described by leaders in state associations?
  2. What barriers must be addressed to establish new programs?

Methods and Procedures

This study is a qualitative case study in nature, as designed by Denzin and Lincoln (2008). Case studies investigate a phenomenon, population, or general condition, which is common between different cases (Creswell, 2009). Case studies facilitate the conveyance of a participant’s experience to the researcher.  Case studies are chosen because it is believed that understanding them will lead to a better understanding about a larger collection of cases (Yin, 2008). In this study, the researchers investigated a series of phenomena, common in multiple states. The researchers sought to obtain detailed information about the methods and communication channels used when launching new agricultural education programs throughout the United States.

Participant Selection

Ten states served as the sampling frame for this study due to their growth of secondary agriculture programs. Each participant selected was chosen or nominated because of his or her affiliation with the state’s growth. Achieving the best understanding of phenomena depends on choosing the best cases to study (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008). In this research study, the participants were selected based upon a series of standards set by the researchers. With the help of the National FFA Organization, ten participants met a predetermined series of qualifications. Qualifications for participant selection were as follows: represent a state which obtained a 10%+ chapter growth over a seven-year period at the time of growth and was employed by the state FFA association or by the state’s Department of Education. The selected states had a growth range from 21 to 43 programs.

Researchers selected participants because 1) their state was one of the top 10 states to experience  a growth of 10%+ in the last seven years in secondary agriculture programs; and 2) they were the considered instrumental in the state programmatic expansion by their peers. Three states considered a team of individuals were responsible for the state’s growth. The researchers selected to interview the group of individuals within the selected states in a focus group interview; thus, each state’s selected participant(s) partake in an interview.


The researchers focused on obtaining information about the growth of agricultural education programs over the past two decades. The National FFA Organization was contacted and information for the past seven years was provided. The National Association for Agricultural Education did not have an accurate count of agricultural education programs; therefore, the frame was limited to growth over the past seven years. The number of FFA programs were compared for all state associations from the 2010-2011 and 2017-2018 academic years. Because there must be an agricultural education program in place in a school before an FFA chapter could be started, the researchers decided the number of FFA chapters in a state was an accurate method for determining the highest growth.

Semi-structured interviews were completed, with each participant being interviewed for approximately one hour. The open-ended questions used in the interview were structured and centered on the individual’s views and experiences planning and implementing new agricultural programs, as it aligned with Rogers’ (1983) model. Following Yin’s (2018) framework of questioning, the researchers gradually modified their questions to transition from Level 1 questioning to Level 4 questioning. Pre-established prompts were used, but the order in which the questions were asked depended upon the participant’s responses. Furthermore, clarifying and elaborating probes were utilized as needed in order to provide further explanations and seek more detail in participant responses. The interviews took place over the phone and were audio-recorded.  Throughout the interview, the moderating researcher took field notes of reactions from the participant and researcher. After each interview was completed, the researcher expanded on the field notes in a reflective journal. Each interview was transcribed for analysis. 

Data Analysis

This data from this study consisted of field notes, taped interviews, transcribed interviews, and journals of personal reflections over the interview. Once all data were collected, researchers read and reread the data to become more familiar with them. Then, the researchers independently and systematically coded the data by identifying phrases and topics which consistently were mentioned in the data. Next, researchers used axial coding to create themes from the codes through the iterative method of recursive analysis. By utilizing recursive analysis, researchers constantly compared each piece of data to the prior pieces of data in order to ensure the themes were representative of the data (Yin, 2008). The researchers coded the thematic responses following Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations to develop assertions. To add multiple perceptions to the analysis of the data for the enhancement of validity and credibility to the results, triangulation was utilized throughout the procedures. 


After all interviews were conducted, audio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and field notes written and expanded upon in a journal, the researchers independently coded data and then compared results. Peer debriefing was utilized from an outside source throughout data collection and the coding process as an impartial colleague was asked to review methodology. Furthermore, the researchers independently coded the data and then compared results. This created inter-rater reliability, which enhances thematic credibility (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008; Saldena, 2009). To increase the trustworthiness of this study, member checking was utilized. Each participant was given a copy of the findings and asked to confirm the results, creating data confirmability (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008). Follow-up phone calls were conducted to each participant to verify the content of their interview. Finally, the findings and conclusions were sent to the participants for validation. Overall, the researchers established credibility of the data using reference materials, peer debriefing, and member checking. 

Triangulation and Bracketing

Triangulation is the simultaneous display of multiple realities (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008). Data source triangulation, which is the use of multiple sources of data, were utilized in this study. There were three major types of data: interviews, field notes, and a reflective journal kept by the researchers. Investigator triangulation was also used. Because the researchers have not experienced the same events as the participants, there are multiple realities, which could lead to bias from the researchers. In order to prevent bias in this study, the background of the researchers should be addressed. The two researchers are involved in agricultural education. One researcher is involved in teacher education and taught at the secondary level for seven years prior to beginning his career at the collegiate level. The other is a current agriculture teacher who has four years of experience and is currently working on a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. Investigator triangulation was utilized in all interviews and interactions with participants to minimize the influence of biases. This was achieved through independent coding and the maintenance of a reflective journal to describe the interactions between the researcher and the participants and to note any biases. 


For all findings, participants have been given alias names. Research question one sought to determine what methods of diffusion are utilized in the conception and implementation of new agricultural education programs. For this objective, two themes emerged.

Theme 1: Identify potential stakeholders and their needs

Throughout the interviews, participants emphasized the importance of identifying stakeholder needs. Several different stakeholders were identified, and three subgroups emerged.  The first group is community members ranging from parents, students, alumni, to legislators. The second group is school officials, ranging from administrators, school board members, superintendents, and the Department of Education. The third group included important people in the agriculture industry, such as farmers, Farm Bureau, the Department of Agriculture, sponsors, and other agribusinesses. These different groups of stakeholders have different needs for an agricultural education program. For example, a farmer would want an agricultural education program that would focus on production agriculture. However, an urban community would want an agricultural program to focus on urban agriculture and sustainability. A school administrator would want a program that would appeal to students, parents, and testing scores. Participants in the study emphasized the importance of first building a relationship with and then helping stakeholders to identify their needs and then providing them with the necessary tools and resources to advocate and build support for an agricultural education program in their community. Table 1 includes supporting statements from participants.

Theme 2: Communication is a method of entry

An important part of building relationships with stakeholders is communication. In each interview with participants, communication was a factor in creating and implementing new agricultural education programs. Two sub-themes emerged under this umbrella: methods of communication and resources in communication. Methods of communication varied, but a theme emerged with the most popular ones. Participants overwhelmingly responded that face-to-face meetings were the most effective methods of communication. However, participants recognized the need for other methods of communication, such as emails and telephone calls. For communication with students, the participants reported social media, including Facebook and Twitter, were the most effective method. Participants also listed several documents and online resources they utilize in order to implement new programs. These resources include student surveys, educational literature about agriculture and agricultural education, course standards, websites with information about agriculture courses and opportunities in FFA, and letters. State officers are also used as resources. Additional resources mentioned include grants for new programs, time placed into working with new programs, conference calls and webinars for teachers in new programs, leadership training for officers of new programs, state staff designated to help a region of teachers, and an employee who visits new programs and provides assistance as requested.   Table 2 includes supporting statements for this theme. 

Research question two sought to identify what barriers had to be overcome in order to implement new agricultural education programs.  For this objective, two themes emerged.

Theme 1: Overcoming educational barriers

When asked about barriers to creating and implementing new agricultural education programs, participants responded one barrier was the education of communities. Two sub-themes also emerged.  The first sub-theme is the education of the community (including all stakeholders) about the importance of agriculture. This was especially noted in urban and suburban areas as many people in those areas are unaware of the importance of agriculture in their community. However, in order to begin new programs, the community must see value in agriculture in order to develop a need for an agricultural education program. Participants spoke about how their first task in beginning new programs was to establish validity and importance for agriculture. The second sub-theme is the education of school officials, including administrators, school board members, and superintendents, about the difference between agricultural education and FFA.  Several participants spoke about schools that wanted to start an FFA chapter, but were unaware they had to have an agricultural education program first. Participants spoke of the importance in making school officials understand the importance of agricultural education, and not just the FFA component. Table 3 gives quotes from participants about community education.

Theme 2: Addressing financial support issues

 Overwhelmingly, the biggest barrier participants reported having to overcome is the lack of funding, or trying to find funding for new agricultural education programs to start. In most states, agriculture teachers are paid for extended days or they are paid on ten to twelve month contracts because they work with students throughout the year, regardless of whether or not school is in session. Because of this, many states have passed legislation that allows agriculture teachers to be paid for this time. In addition to paying a higher salary to a teacher, agricultural programs require additional facilities. For example, some schools have Agriscience labs or shops. Other schools have farms for their students. No matter what facilities are chosen for a program, it is an investment for schools, and many schools have struggled to find funding for new programs. The economic downturn, beginning in 2008, has also made it hard for schools to find funding for new programs. Table 4 provides participant responses on the funding barriers.

Conclusions, Implications, & Recommendations

The researchers recognize the limitations to this study and acknowledge that the findings were based upon the stories of a few individuals who were instrumental to the significant growth of program expansion in their state. However, this study did not include members of the community where the programs began, members of the organizations that further assisted with the growth, nor governmental or school officials that assisted with program expansion. Furthermore, the study is viewed from the lens of the authors who took a pragmatic worldview; hence the use of Roger’s model as a guide. Nevertheless, the findings from this study were implemented which have resulted in program development and expansion of programs within the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Of the programs developed, all have maintained partnerships with the community agency and are still present in secondary schools.

Although no community is the same and agricultural programs were not be created and implemented homogenously, there are similarities in the diffusion process. From this study, it was concluded that one of the first steps in creating new programs is to identify the needs of all stakeholders, including the community members, school officials, and industry representatives. Another important part of the process is to use the most effective communication channels possible. Although all types of communication are used (phone, email, letter, etc.), the most effective method of communication is face-to-face meetings. Resources must be used efficiently as well, in order to increase the understanding of agricultural education for the school officials and community. Resources that are utilized include websites, documents, student surveys, etc. 

The need for stakeholders serves as Channels to Rogers’ (1983) Diffusion of Innovation Theory. These stakeholders are the voice box for promoting the start of the agricultural education program from within a community. Various organizations serve as fundamental platforms and provide opportunities for community members to encourage the promotion of a secondary program within a school. To begin the process of innovation, agricultural education state staff members who are looking for the correct channel should consider meeting with various advocate groups that can assist in the process. Examples of organizations to be contacted, but not limited to, are the local Farm Bureau, the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and the local Chamber of Commerce. Each serve as interpersonal channel that could open opportunities for an agricultural education program to exist. Based upon Rogers’ model, the interpersonal channel the participants made, had a great impact on the adoption of new program expansion.

State staff members are recommended to build relationships with community leaders, administrators, and leaders in the agricultural industry prior to program proposals. Once established, the relationships serve as additional adopters for promoting and advocating the implementation of new agricultural education program. In addition, states with an interest in program expansion should seek to increase support at the state level. In this study, participants expanded upon utilizing trained support, such as state officers or teachers in the state, to further help in explaining the benefits and developing supportive networks. From the findings, it is recommended that states with the desire of program expansion seek opportunities to gain help by providing professional development in the area of advocacy. Such professional development could be provided to teachers within the state, state officers, alumni, and members of Foundation boards.  Building support by developing relationships with adopters is vital in getting a community to adopt an innovation (Rogers, 1983).

Communication in this process occurs through various ways, including phone calls, email, letters, etc., but the participants overwhelmingly agreed that face-to-face meetings are the most effective way to implement new programs. However, the main key is that an initial contact be implemented. For example, in a study utilizing Diffusion of Innovation Theory, small businesses who showed the most growth made various efforts to contact potential clients (Nooteboom, 1994). Resources that are crucial to share include student surveys, information about agriculture and agricultural education, agricultural education and FFA websites, and examples of other successful agricultural education programs in an area like the school which is considering a program. Currently, the National FFA Organization provides opportunities for administrators of non-agricultural education programs to attend the National FFA Convention to understand the value of the profession. Each state is encouraged to consider opening the door of their State FFA Convention to administrators of schools. Through these methods, communication serves as a source to the Diffusion of Innovation Theory (Rogers, 1983).

If support for agricultural education could be raised in school systems that do not currently have programs, they would be much more likely to implement one. Therefore, it is recommended that advocates for agricultural education programs should target school administrators to encourage implementation. To best implement the recommendation, face-to-face meetings are suggested, based upon the findings.  In addition, different resources, such as community, financial, industrial, and collegial, are beneficial if established prior to meeting. The establishment of such resources solves for barriers that may limit the social system (Rogers, 1983).

To fulfill Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations Theory more efficiently in the context of agricultural education program development, it is recommended that stakeholders develop educational materials for individuals seeking to propose new agricultural education programs. Similarly, Roberts, et al. (2009) determined that new curriculum was needed for program expansion in Hispanic serving program where Roger’s model was implemented. These educational materials could consist of, but are not limited to, creative program support information, beneficial results from agricultural education, and correspondence from administration of successfully started programs.

It was concluded that the development of a new program is costly and such cost may sometimes be detrimental to its development. Therefore, supporters of agricultural education, such as National Association for Agricultural Education (NAAE) and its state affiliates, should lobby to state legislatures in the development of funding resources for establishing new programs. Such funding sources, such as the STAR program, would assist in addressing barriers and further securing a commitment between administration and agricultural education stakeholders.

To help understand the emerging themes, the researchers developed the Agricultural Education Program Development Concept Model (Figure 2). It was concluded from the results in this study that the model best represented what the participants conceptualized for their success in program expansion. Each of the four emerging themes are all linked together in the process of program expansion. Although time is necessary in the development of a new program, stakeholders must be involved, funding sources need to be addressed, a clear and open flow of communication has to exist, and the school or profession must identify and extinguish educational barriers.

Figure 2
Agricultural Education Program Development Concept Model

It is important to note that this model is merely a visual representation of how the participants in this study conceptualize program expansion. It is recommended that the model serve as a guide toward the development of questionnaires in exploring and validating the findings in this study.

The National FFA Organization, in partnership with NAAE, are encouraged to host a series of webinars in which state leaders, such as the participants in this study, collaborate and share their ideas for new program expansion. The purpose of the webinar would be to create a list of best practices for distribute to all associations, which could then be utilized in the creation and implementation of agricultural education programs across the nation.

To provide opportunities for all students in all schools to become college and career ready, programs which provide that type of preparation must be available, including agricultural education. By following Rogers’ (1983) Diffusion of Innovation Theory and ensuring all necessary stakeholders are involved, clear and effective communication is presented, and options to overcome barriers are developed, it is possible to help schools adopt this innovation and improve the education provided to their students.


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