Kulbhushan Grover, Plant and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM and Shelly Stovall, Office of the Associate Provost, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
Research shows that students are better able to effectively apply principles when instruction is combined with experiential learning. A comprehensive, hands-on ‘Cover Crop and Vegetable Management Project’ was introduced in a crop production course, and was accompanied by several learning assessment strategies to evaluate its effectiveness. The project incorporated all four components of the experiential learning model: 1) concrete experience, 2) reflective observation, 3) abstract conceptualization, and 4) active experimentation. Students worked in pairs and managed 13 different cover crops and 6 vegetable crops. Throughout the semester students recorded crop growth and soil quality parameters, reflected on their observations of their own crop plots as well as those of others, and synthesized concepts. Students also documented issues they faced, how they addressed those issues, what decisions they made in their efforts to grow the best possible crop, and what they would do differently if they grew the same crop again. The culmination of the project was a comprehensive project report. Multiple assessment tools were introduced to evaluate the effectiveness of the project in facilitating student learning. Assessment measurements included a self-evaluation and direct assessment of conceptual knowledge, a direct assessment of application of conceptual knowledge and a direct assessment of students’ ability to synthesize conceptual knowledge and applied skills. Results indicate that the experiential learning project improved both the conceptual knowledge of the students and their ability to synthesize and apply the concepts learned.