McAndrews, Gina M., Jean Goodwin, and Russell E. Mullen. “Using Environmental and Ethical Issues for Debate in an Introductory Agronomy Course.” North American Colleges & Teachers of Agriculture Journal 2006, no. 4 (2006): 54-61. (Winner of K.B. Knight award for outstanding journal article.)
As modern societies place greater demand on natural resources, professionals working in areas impacting natural resources will increasingly have to work with others to address contentious issues. Students studying agriculture and natural resource related fields would benefit from improved profes- sional skills in debate and discussion of complex issues. In this study, we investigated student perspectives on debate in an introductory agronomy course using the following questions: 1) What are student perceptions of debate as a pedagogical method in an agricultural classroom? and 2) Do the students find that debate improves their content learning and communication skills? In 2005, 106 students completed surveys with agree/disagree statements, and short answer ques- tions regarding debate. When participating students were asked why they had chosen to participate in the class debate part of the course, 85% listed “intrinsic” or learning goals, and 83% of the participants listed extra credit points as one of their motivations. Eighty-seven percent of the participants expressed that debate contributed to their learning of course material. Students appreciated the way the debates encouraged them to go from passive knowledge of course content to active application of the material, and helped them improve their communication skills and learn about different points of view. Students’ overall evaluation of the debate experience was positive, with only two negative responses. This study suggests that incorpo- rating debate in the agricultural classroom was an effective pedagogical method for improving content learning and strengthening student skills in profes- sional discourse on controversial societal issues.