Almost every teaching faculty member that I know would like to spend time make real changes to their courses but find that time runs out at the end of the day. University-level curriculum improvement grants can help give a little incentive as they pay for time during the summer for faculty to think about the pedagogy of their courses and make improvements. What follows is an example of a grant that I wrote that was funded through one grant but declined by another. The only criticism from the denying parties was that the grant was too focused and didn’t take into account a more broad audience. Good information to have for next time!
The School of Agriculture has a distinct advantage over other schools in the system in that we can draw students from two other neighboring states and offer them a well-rounded education close to home at a fraction of the out-of-state cost. Through the Tri-State Initiative Program, the enrollment at here has grown by over a thousand students and the enrollment keeps growing. Within the School of Agriculture we have benefited from this growth, specifically in the Animal Science area.
In the Animal Science program, our enrollment is up almost 10% from last year and almost 40% from 2004. Our program makes up over 40% of the total enrollment in the School of Agriculture making our classes increasingly popular such that they are usually full by the end of the advanced registration period. The majority of students that come through the Animal Science program are majoring with a Dairy Science Emphasis by the time they reach graduation. Among the first classes these students take is Introduction to Dairy Science. This is my first semester teaching this course and I see a real need to make some significant changes.
The current enrollment in the Introduction to Dairy Science course is 60 and 38 of those students are female, however only 19 of those females are planning on entering the dairy science industry or going to graduate school. The remaining students are hoping to attend vet school or plan to marry onto a farm. By the time that these female students are graduating only 1 of the 15 that planned to go to vet school will actually be accepted while the rest are left wondering “What’s next?” This course also enrolls a low number of minority students. I think part of the problem may be the disparity between the instruction of the introductory course and the upper level courses in dairy science.
In the past the Animal Science group has focused on a faculty-centered approach to teaching this course and I think it is time for a change. With so many of our Animal Science majors taking an interest in dairy science, it behooves me as the new instructor of the course to make some significant changes. I think these changes will not only benefit the students while they are in the class but also as they move forward into their upper level classes where we have a much more student-centered approach. The gap between this introductory course and the next level is very wide at this point. My goal is to get the students in this course, especially the freshmen that have been put in their because of the scarcity of available classes during registration, to experience something more than just a lecture. I want them to experience the dairy industry.
My background is incredibly varied and I believe it is why I was chosen for my position. My focus has not been on just one species of animal, nor has it been on just one aspect of academic life. I have experience in research and teaching as well as extension and administration. I bring a wealth of knowledge from on-line education and I have worked in a community college environment. This growing population of students that are calling our university home because of the Tri-State Initiative and the established excellence of our School of Agriculture deserve to start out with the tools to succeed in their major and in their chosen profession. I intend to give them that and would appreciate your help in doing so.
The Introduction to Dairy Science course in the Animal Science major is one of the most important courses that our students take due to the large number of students who are graduating with a Dairy Science emphasis or going into large animal veterinary medicine. This course sets the stage for many upper level dairy science courses such as Dairy Cattle Evaluation and Dairy Management. The upper level courses are student-centered whereas the introductory course as it is currently designed is largely faculty-centered. As a freshman class comes in there is a slight majority of women in Animal Science, however by the time they graduate the number of women declaring a Dairy Science emphasis has significantly diminished. I think that this is very likely due to a lack of understanding of their options after graduation. There are many problems with the current course that I would like to address for a summer of course reform.
The current course description for Introduction to Dairy Science is very simplistic:
In this course students will gain greater understanding of the selection, feeding, and care of dairy animals.
After reforming the course I believe we could develop a course description that highlights our desire to not only give students an understanding of the basics but allow them to have practical and experiential knowledge of the dairy industry that will serve them well throughout the remainder of their studies in the School of Agriculture.
Specific Course Additions/Changes
A) Students range from non-farm freshman who need to take the course in order to eventually graduate with a Dairy Science emphasis to seniors that have lived and worked on a farm all of their lives and are taking the course as a theoretically easy elective during their final year. The struggle that I have as an instructor is to teach the basics to those with no background without completely losing those students who think they know all of the information already from personal experience. One way to overcome this disparity is to have the upperclassmen teach micro-units to the freshmen. This method would engage both groups on a more equal basis. Another, less appealing, option is to limit the course to freshman and sophomores, forcing all students that may wish to take the course as an upperclassman to get permission from the instructing faculty member to register. I would much prefer to spend the time developing part of the course into units that could be student-taught.
B) A large disadvantage to making changes in this course is the large number of students and the classroom in which the course is being taught. A significant advantage to the course is that we have a working dairy farm a few miles from campus that would be an excellent hands-on learning tool to allow the students to become engaged and committed to their own learning.
I plan to work with the dairy farm manager to set up a schedule for the students to spend a set amount of time throughout the semester doing each of the following tasks: working one shift in the milking parlor, feeding the cattle, observing the robotic milking machines, feeding the calves, and observing the cows prior to calving. Each student will write a report on their experiences and what they learned during the tasks. Those students who claim to have extensive experience on a dairy farm in each of the above areas, will have the opportunity to prove their claim and will then be expected to assist the farm manager in working with the students who have lesser experience. The reports at the end of the semester will give me a very good indication of the success of this projected course reform.
C) One of the biggest struggles that new Animal/Dairy Science students have is trying to discover what they can use their degree for if they are not going to be able to attend a school of veterinary medicine. I hope to overcome this is by creating a Careers in Animal Science blog. I intend to use my extensive network of dairy science professionals across the country (and the world) to entertain student questions. By doing so I believe that the students in this introductory course will have a better understanding of the big picture and how they might fit in.
This part of the projected course reform will be especially helpful to our women and minority students. These students often suffer from misconceptions that can be easily overcome by interaction with the varied dairy industry specialists. It is my goal to educate all of the students that come through my Introduction to Dairy Science course on their options in the industry because so very few of them will actually end up on a farm or in vet school, as is often their initial belief.
D) Student-centered learning works best when the students are outside of the classroom. Therefore I intend to arrange facility visits for at least two areas businesses in the dairy industry. Due to our current schedule, the students have a one hour class and a two hour class each week. During the two hour class we will be visiting the milk testing facility in Lancaster, Wisconsin as well as one of the dairy processing plants in Platteville or Belmont, Wisconsin. In the future I would like to add a visit to a dairy goat farm as well.
E) As we educate our students in their area of study, in this case, dairy science, it is imperative that they realize that they are becoming ambassadors for their chosen field. A part from human studies, no discipline has as much potential for negative press as the animal science industry. With the advent of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, bad information becomes viral on the internet in a frighteningly short amount of time. To counteract some of the misconceptions that are populating the internet, I propose to encourage my students to get involved in a positive media project for some aspect of the dairy industry. Sources for their ideas can come from anywhere although the best areas will be from popular media sources, including Hoard’s Dairyman. The idea is to get students to create a short “positive spin” video that could potentially be disseminated.
This video project is designed to allow students to see the bigger picture and understand how they can easily educate and make a difference for their industry. My expertise in making videos is limited but our campus has a very good communications department that I would like to team up with in order to put forth the best quality product for the students.
F) For the future, once the implementation of the above changes has been completed and the course is running smoothly, I intend to visit with the director of our Pioneer Academic Center for Community Excellence. Through this program many students are getting the opportunity to interact with the community in outstanding and sometimes life-changing ways. I would be very interested in finding ways to allow my Introduction to Dairy Science students to have real-world experiences and make a difference at the same time.
My proposed course reforms are numerous but I think that they could all be implemented for the fall semester of 2010 by judiciously following a timeline. I have already contacted our IT department to start a course website and Careers blog. Over the summer is the best time to contact many of my colleagues with questions for future blog posts. I have requested questions from the course this semester to use for the initial start-up of the blog so I will be emailing colleagues weekly throughout the summer with these questions to obtain enough information for the start of the fall semester.
The dairy farm manager will have some down-time in the middle of July so I intend to get with him to work out a schedule for the students in the fall to begin their hands-on farm experience as early as the end of the first week of classes. I do not want to make more work for our farm crew so I intend to be very conscientious about the planning process for this part of the course reform.
Our spring semester ends in the middle of May therefore I intend to make my visits to the milk testing facility and the dairy processing plant. June is Dairy Month and I know the summer will be busy after that with county fairs in July and August. The sooner I get my visits completed, the better.
Our communications department on campus is willing to work with us on an on-going basis. I intend to visit with that department toward the middle of August once the faculty, staff, and students start to come back from summer break so that we can work out the logistics of who will be available to help with the video project.
The student teaching units will be an on-going project for me over the course of the summer. Each unit needs to be self-contained and carefully thought out so that both the upperclassmen and the freshmen get the most out of it while learning the material that they need to learn to advance successfully to the upper level dairy science courses.
Assessment of Project Success
I plan to assess the success of my proposed reforms by having the students take a survey at the beginning and at the end of the semester. The beginning survey questions will help me to assess where the students are coming from, allow me to adjust to course according to the particular needs of the current group of students, and allow them to express their desires and intentions for the course. The end of the semester survey questions will allow students to evaluate their progress as it relates to what their initial expectations were as well as giving me feedback on the different aspects of the course that I hope will be useful. After implementing each major addition to the course I will use meta-analysis to determine its success. Those additions will be the hands-on farm experience, the tour of a dairy products facility, the tour of the milk testing laboratory, the student teaching units, and the video project.
I intend to create a website for the Introduction to Dairy Science course with a link to the Women & Science Program as well as a link to the Careers blog. I believe that creating a website will give the students a valuable tool to refer to both during the course and throughout their time here. The initial creation of the website will be labor-intensive however further maintenance of the website will be significantly less time-consuming.
Upon successful completion of the course reform, I would be excited to share my project with the Women & Science Program during the Spring Conference or Opening Workshop, wherever it would fit best with the planned agendas.
I request the maximum amount of the grant ($1,000) as summer salary. Specifically I would use the grant monies to cover expenses associated with visiting the milk testing facility and the dairy products businesses as well as the time spent organizing student teaching units and contacting the industry professionals to use as expert contributors to the Careers blog.