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Meeting the challenges of teaching agriculture
Date:9/22/2008

MADISON, WI, September 22, 2008 -- Agriculture in the 21st century is rapidly expanding its "product line," aiming not only to provide society with food and fiber, but also biofuels, bioproducts, carbon storage, aquifer recharge, biodiversity, and still other goods and services.

Meanwhile, critics demand a focus on sustainability and responsibility as this new agriculture develops, underscoring the grand intellectual, moral, and practical challenges it presents. These challenges demand innovation in education.

Nicholas Jordan and colleagues, University of Minnesota, write about new ways to teach today's agriculture in an article published in the 2008 Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education.

The work was funded by a Faculty Development Grant from the College of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Minnesota.

Certainly, one need is for increased capacity to "learn our way forward" toward sustainability by intensive interaction among stakeholders. Presently, agricultural education offers very few opportunities to build foundations for such collective "social" learning.

"We offered an experimental course that provided foundational experiences for social learning needed to increase sustainability," explains Jordan. "Students participated in exercises that built awareness of individual and collective knowledge and knowing. Other exercises emphasized moral, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions of worldviews."

From observations and other data, we infer that our students developed a broader capacity to approach sustainability challenges systemically and collectively. We observed obvious increases in appreciation of worldview differences among individuals, and of the intrinsic value of these differences in the exploration of complex and controversial issues.

For example, a rural-planning student reported, "it was amazing to me, after interacting with students in the class,
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Contact: Sara Uttech
suttech@soils.org
608-268-4948
Soil Science Society of America
Source:Eurekalert

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