Learning in ABE

Learning -- it's who we are and why we are here. The faculty and students in the Ag & Bioystems (ABE) Department at Iowa State University are committed to learning. You might think that this is a obvious declaration for an academic program at a university to make. But it's easy to be distracted from making learning as a priority. ABE is rethinking and refocusing its programs to focus on learning and not teaching.

ABE is embarked on a revolutionary and comprehensive approach to curricular reform using a combination of technology and outcomes based assessment to create a community of practicing professionals in agriculture. We see this emerging pedagogy as a direct response to the massive changes currently affecting modern universities and our students’ changing experience of their own education. Our goal is to provide an environment that allows students to explore and represent the wide variety of learning sites available both in and out of the university setting in the belief that the reported experiences of students can help us better understand how to educate the generations of students to come.

Building Communities of Practice

At its base, ABE now operates as what Etienne Wenger would call a “Community of Practice.” For our students, what this means is that we are striving to show them how through their participation in their educational experience they are part of a larger community of practicing engineering and technology professionals. As a department, this means that we are continually in the process of understanding and sustaining the types of practices that allow our community to thrive. Ultimately, our efforts spring from the notion that learning and the experience of learning are a dynamic process that continually must be understood within the context of the present, informed by the past, while planning for the future.

Such an undertaking requires multiple efforts. The list below is a snapshot of what we are currently doing in ABE to foster a community of practice. Each part adds to the unique experience that ABE offers its students in the course of their undergraduate education.

ABE Learning CommunityThe ABE Learning Community is a series of vertically linked courses that brings students and instructors together in an effort to show students how different disciplines inform each other in the practice of an education. Students in the ABE Learning Community also have the opportunity to belong to a Living Communiy where they can share common dorm space, get to know upper division students who serve as peer mentors, and participate in out-of-class co-curricular learning opportunities.

ABE Assessment ABE is engaged in a number of innovative assessment projects to gauge the growth and effectiveness of our program. First, we use the OPAL system in partnership with our industrial advisors to provide quantitative feedback on competency. Next, we have developed a unique eportfolio system based on competency/outcomes. Finally, throughout the course of the year we conduct focus groups, individual interviews, and surveys to spot check what is happening in our community.

ABE Electronic Portfolio Program The ABE electronic portfolio program is revolutionary in that it uses a series of preprogrammed Flash components as information appliances to provide the advantages of a web serviced database model while still giving our students complete control over their portfolio design. Designing the system this way springs from the belief that students should be given control over the presentation of their learning so that the department has a better idea of each student’s educational experience.

ABE Case SimulationsIn an effort to provide a more workplace-like environment for our students, the ABE Learning Community is using its junior year Technical Writing link to create online case studies geared toward agricultural professionals. Students are asked to participate in the Omega case study, an online simulation of a Bio/Genetics firm creating hybrid crops for third world countries. The Omega case study provides a learning environment in which students must actively construct knowledge essential for the development of the case.

ABE Presentations Sharing our knowledge and experiences is an important aspect of our Community of Practice. Here you'll see presentations that we've made at Iowa State and around the country on our focus on learning in ABE.

Scholarship of Teaching & Learning ABE aligns its scholarship of teaching with the new initiatives at Iowa State University. We enhance the learning experiences of students by creating a curriculum that is learner-centered, promotes discovery and innovation through interdisciplinary and collaborative activities, and engages key constituents through our work with industrial partners to provide a comprehensive learning experience. Overall, our goal is to anchor our research and scholarship within the classroom.

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