USDA funded project to better prepare students for rigorous college programs and future careers

Faculty members in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications received $298,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture to develop and test communications and decision-making curriculum for students enrolled in secondary and two-year post-secondary education programs.

As part of the three-year project, Fueling the Mind, Feeding the World, Holli Leggette, Ph.D., and Theresa Murphrey, Ph.D., and their team of an instructional designer and undergraduate and graduate students will develop and deliver 14 online reusable learning modules designed to prepare students for the communication and decision-making demands of rigorous college programs and/or careers in food, agricultural, natural resources and human sciences.

In 2011, Crawford, Lang, Fink, Dalton, and Fielitz conducted a study of more than 800 faculty, alumni, employers, and students to identify the soft skills undergraduate students need to be successful in the workplace. The participants in this study ranked communication and decision-making skills as the two most sought skills.

Leggette and Murphrey said they designed their project based on the Crawford et al. findings, hoping that the curriculum would better prepare students with communication and decision-making/problem solving skills.

Critical thinking is important, because it directly impacts decision-making skills, Leggette said.

“If you look at the top areas that students are lacking when they enter Texas A&M or any institution, they cannot communicate or think critically,” Leggette said. “It is our hope that if we target them at a high school level, then they will be coming to us more prepared.”

Leggette and Murphrey partnered with faculty at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, and San Luis Obispo High School in California for designing and testing the curriculum and with the National FFA and the National Council of Agricultural Education for disseminating the curriculum to the more than 800,000 students enrolled in agricultural education programs in the United States.

“If we are able to better prepare high school and junior college students, then that might bring in better students to a four-year classroom,” Murphrey said.

Research is a critical component of the project, Murphrey said. Developing the modules isn’t enough — the modules must be tested to ensure they enhance learning and are easy to use for faculty and students, feasible, and built using best practices for delivering online content.

“The modules and instruction will be very flexible, so that teachers can easily incorporate them into their classroom to benefit the students,” Murphrey said. “Our partners will help us ensure the curriculum is best suited for the audience and meets the intended goals.”

Leggette and Murphrey said, throughout the project, they will meet with an advisory board that includes members representing all levels of the educational system. Advisory board members will help the project team identify relevant content and critique the curriculum before implementing the curriculum into the classroom. Several of the members have also agreed to pilot test the curriculum in their classrooms.

Leggette and Murphrey said they credit their passion behind this project to their desire to create a positive learning environment where all students have access to curriculum that will improve their soft skills and make them more employable.

Leggette is an assistant professor with more than 80 peer-reviewed publications and $2.1 million in funding for projects related to training scientific communicators and disseminating scientific information. Murphrey is an associate professor with more than 20 years’ experience in the area of eLearning, distance education, and curriculum development. She has published more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and has been involved in funded-projects totaling more than $4 million.

For more information about the project, email Holli Leggette at hollileggette@tamu.edu

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