From the Ground Up: designing new BScs in Agricultural Science

CC [alljengi]
CC [alljengi]
Colleagues in the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security have used a new process to design degrees in Agricultural Science.

The new Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security at the University of Edinburgh will provide world-leading research and innovation in support of global food and environmental security, sustainable rural development, and human and animal wellbeing. Part of the Global Academy’s mission is to provide world-class education and training opportunities within the field of agricultural science.

Agricultural science is a broad discipline, spanning natural and social sciences. Feeding our growing world challenges all aspects of science and society. The agricultural scientists of the future will need not only a thorough understanding of their chosen specialisms, but also an excellent grasp of how different disciplines can work together, to better answer the big questions for agri-food systems.

To that end, it was decided to create a series of brand new agricultural science programmes from the ground up. Consultations with our stakeholders, and our own long experiences of teaching agriculture made it clear we wanted graduates who were flexible, creative, and able to solve problems across the different fields of agriculture. Our students would need to be as comfortable discussing a smallholder’s dairy herd in Malawi as they would be talking gene editing in crops for a commercial enterprise in Minnesota.  These desires align perfectly with the university’s graduate attributes, which was an encouraging sign as we embarked on an ambitious programme design.

Many of our colleagues have been teaching for more than thirty years, and so the team was delighted to make use of the opportunity to take part in an ELDeR (Edinburgh Learning Design Roadmap) workshop for both programmes and courses. As one of the first programme-level ELDeR’s run by Fiona Hale, we were all interested in how the workshop would influence the programme design.

Often during the ELDeR, the programme design team would split into two groups and come up with ideas. For example, at an early stage we were asked to define the purpose of our programme. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in peoples’ opinions. When both groups finalised their ideas, a friendly competitiveness arose as the statements were combined. The good humour continued throughout the two days of the workshop, with many ideas being greatly refined by the ‘critical friend’ approach of the other group members and the ELDeR facilitators.

One of the most valuable aspects of the ELDeR was being able to look at teaching in our discipline with fresh eyes. The ELDeR’s focus on learning outcomes highlighted where sometimes teaching can become routine, without necessary thought as to how students will receive information. Going ‘back to basics’ in terms of pedagogy was one of the more empowering aspects of the process. Innovation in teaching and assessment was often easier when we asked why something had ‘always been done that way’, or queried what made a gold standard teaching strategy so effective. Perhaps one of the most important lessons the programme teams took from the ELDeR was not to be afraid to think critically about teaching practice, much as we also hope to teach our students to become critical thinkers.

The new programmes will be delivered for the first time in the academic year 2018. The team are very excited to move forward with these innovative new programmes, and we look forward to sharing them with students.

Next steps:

Read more about ELDeR on the University of Edinburgh website

Browse other Teaching Matters posts on learning design

Jill MacKay

Jill MacKay is a Research Fellow in Veterinary Education with an interest in digital education, the staff-student relationship, and human-animal interactions, and interdisciplinary research methods. She teaches animal behaviour on the Clinical Animal Behaviour online MSc and research skills on the International Animal Welfare Ethics and Law online MSc. You can find her on Twitter @jilly_mackay

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