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In 1994 Dr Rob Fletcher of The University of Queensland, Gatton College introduced the concept of using new crops as part of an Introductory Crop Improvement Course. As he explains in the following article he has found that students have responded most favourably to the challenge of developing a new crop improvement program.
Dr Rob Fletcher
One of the problems all educators face is the tendency of students to learn in a shallow fashion rather than in a deep fashion. Shallow learning is 'rote' learning, often associated with 'cramming the night before an examination'. Linked to this problem is the obsession of students with passing examinations, rather than understanding what is being taught.
The advantage with deep learning is that it is linked to understanding. Students who learn in this manner, and thus understand the principles being taught, are more likely to retain the knowledge and the understanding longer. It will also be easier to build further on the knowledge.
The model of conventional teaching usually takes the form of information flow from a 'source of all wisdom', that is the teacher, into an 'empty vessel', that is the student. Such teaching, with a focus on the forms of assessment, will often produce shallow learning amongst students. Such a response requires less effort.
More enlightened approaches to teaching take the form of 'shared apprenticeships', whereby students and teachers learn together, with student learning being facilitated by the teacher. Such an approach has been found to be more likely to produce deep learning and lead to understanding. This alternative approach to teaching takes account of the fact that all students in a class have different levels of:
The subject of genetics, a major component of crop improvement, has been documented regularly in the literature as being perceived by students as being difficult to understand.
The approach in the introductory Crop Improvement classes at the University of Queensland Gatton College has been to follow the 'shared apprenticeship' approach to teaching. The approach has been termed a 'subject-long problem-solving' approach. Each student is required to spend the time in the class solving the following problem:
How would you approach, design and carry out a Crop Improvement program for a new crop of your choice?
Each student chooses a new crop and throughout the course seeks to find information about their chosen crop and use this to prepare a Report on their Crop Improvement program. Throughout the course, lectures and seminars are used to introduce principles to guide the students in the manner in which their program should be planned.
The course, and the Crop improvement programs, comprise the following components:
As each component is completed, the students report briefly to their colleagues on their findings, with respect to their chosen new crop. Very quickly, students establish, to their own satisfaction, the relevance of the information that they have learnt. In most cases, students have a high level of interest and have thus been motivated to learn the principles of Crop Improvement. Students particularly enjoy the experience of being the expert in their chosen new crop.
Research conducted with this approach since 1994 has shown that it is a most effective manner of teaching Crop Improvement. There have been improvements in student understanding and student responses to surveys have been positive. The key to this success is believed to be the use of a new crop as the teaching tool.
On the negative side, many students find it difficult to break away from the shallow approach to learning, due mainly to the perceived importance of examinations. This is only natural since so much teaching is still dominated by performance in final examinations. One student in 1995, whilst acknowledging the understanding he had gained during the subject, still wanted to only 'learn definitions' for the examination.
It is planned to continue with this approach in the Introductory Crop Improvement course but the examination process will be modified to establish the real level of learning and understanding achieved during the course.
Any claims made by authors in the Australian New Crops Newsletter are presented by the Editors in good faith. Readers would be wise to critically examine the circumstances associated with any claims to determine the applicability of such claims to their specific set of circumstances. This material can be reproduced, with the provision that the source and the author (or editors, if applicable) are acknowledged and the use is for information or educational purposes. Contact with the original author is probably wise since the material may require updating or amendment if used in other publications. Material sourced from the Australian New Crops Newsletter cannot be used out of context or for commercial purposes not related to its original purpose in the newsletter
Contact: Dr Rob Fletcher, School of Land and Food, The University of Queensland Gatton College, 4345; Telephone: 07 5460 1311 or 07 5460 1301; Facsimile: 07 5460 1112; International facsimile: 61 7 5460 1112; Email:email@example.com
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originally created by:GK; latest update 6 June 1999 by: RF