An evaluation of how academic student engagement can be enhanced in agricultural education

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Title: An evaluation of how academic student engagement can be enhanced in agricultural education
Authors: Cunningham, Kevin
Permanent link: http://hdl.handle.net/10197/12728
Date: 2021
Online since: 2022-01-13T14:28:40Z
Abstract: The purpose of this study has been to evaluate how academic student engagement could be enhanced within vocational agricultural education in Ireland. This was identified as an issue that needed to be addressed by the Department of Education and Skills as part of whole college evaluations of vocational agricultural courses where Teagasc fund the delivery. A critical finding from this study has been the importance of ‘Course Design’ in creating an authentically engaging learning experience for students. The ‘Course Design’ is especially important when considering implementing an engaging teaching approach such as a student-centred learning approach. Findings from this study have shown that currently, in Teagasc, the ‘Course Design’ does not constructively align with student-centred learning. This study adopted an action research design and in phase 1, investigated why academic student engagement was low with the conventional teaching approach being evaluated. The key finding was that students struggled to engage with one type of module i.e. ‘Core Modules’, the most. Classroom observations on this type of module resulted in 0% categorised as ‘High Engagement’ (0/16 of the ‘Core Module’ classes observed). In addition, data gathered from focus groups with teachers highlighted the lack of flexibility in the design of modules, with teachers citing learning outcomes, assessment strategies and the quality assurance process as constraints. The student focus group highlighted that students lacked an intrinsic motivation to be interested in ‘Core Modules’, combined with the lack of interest in being ‘lectured to’ excessively as part of these modules. Phase 2 involved taking action on these findings and the design of an intervention through a pilot module attempting to use a student-centred learning (SCL) approach. Problem Based Learning was identified as a suitable SCL approach that could be implemented in an attempt to enhance academic student engagement compared to phase 1. A course redesign was used to develop the pilot module to attempt to align with PBL. This pilot module resulted in a substantial increase in the number of classes categorised as ‘High Engagement’ with 88% rated as high (21/24 classes observed categorised as ‘High Engagement’). Despite this positive result from phase 2, there were still a number of issues and conflicts with the ‘Course Design’ that arose during the pilot module. As such, it was important to reflect on this and phase 3 represented an investigation into these issues and conflicts. Phase 3 represented the evaluation phase of this action research project. This aimed to evaluate why the current course design creates barriers to using student-centred learning approaches. Four key aspects of ‘Course Design’ were analysed and compared against a student-centred design; 1) Course Aims and Outcomes 2) Module Design 3) Course Structure 4) Course Organisation. The key findings from this phase highlighted that the course structure and module design need to be redesigned to align with a student-centred learning approach. These are two aspects of ‘Course Design’ that are more complex to change which means they will also take longer to make changes to. In addition, it also does not mean that the ‘Course Aims and Outcomes’ and ‘Course Organisation’ are not important, they still play a vital role. They do, however, need the course structure and module design to support the use of student-centred learning. This highlights not the importance of any individual aspect of ‘Course Design’ rather how these four key aspects work together. The principles of ‘Course Design’ outlined in this study, teaching approaches and constructive alignment are transferable to those delivering courses in vocational (further) education and could also be considered by those delivering courses in higher education.
Funding Details: Teagasc
Type of material: Doctoral Thesis
Publisher: University College Dublin. School of Agriculture and Food Science
Qualification Name: Ph.D.
Copyright (published version): 2021 the Author
Keywords: Academic student engagementCourse designStudent-centred learning approachesAction research
Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
This item is made available under a Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ie/
Appears in Collections:Agriculture and Food Science Theses

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