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Meeting the challenges of teaching agriculture

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, what different ways of thinking and ways of knowing have been cultivated in each of us because of our academic backgroundsimagine the diversity of thought within a larger population."

Such insights can emerge from in-class experience, and can help prepare students for a lifetime of enhanced "social learning" as society engages the grand challenges of 21st century agriculture.

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at After 30 days it will be available at the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education website, Go to (Click on the Year, "View Article List," and scroll down to article abstract).

Today's educators are looking to the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education,, for the latest teaching techniques in the life sciences, natural resources, and agriculture. The journal is continuously updated online during the year and one hard copy is published in December by the American Society of Agronomy.


Contact: Sara Uttech
Soil Science Society of America

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