Farming systems education: Case study of Swedish test pilots

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Salomonsson, Lennart; Nilsson, Anna; Palmer, Sofia; Roigart, Adam; Francis, Charles
experiential education; action learning; rural development; sustainable agriculture; Viet Nam; Sweden; Plant Sciences
article description
We describe and analyze a pedagogical experiment that introduced a broad and holistic perspective on complete farming systems, systemic learning tools, and a participatory learning strategy at an early stage in agronomy education. The paper describes the adventure of three students, who came from a conventional agronomy program at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), who were frustrated with the lack of integrated approaches to the study of agricultural systems and a strong focus on molecular-level processes in their first year of education. They encountered a narrow focus in most courses and the overall curricula of agricultural education that is a function of specialization and university organization in unique departments that concentrate on small pieces of the large puzzle, that is the production milieu. In the current educational environment, it is difficult for students to make connections, integrate information and theories, and to create relevance to the challenges they observe in the practical world of farming and food systems. The three students agreed to put on pilots’ costumes and climb into an experimental vehicle called experiential learning, one that provides just-in-time education and a very high degree of self-responsibility for the learning process. The paper describes, analyzes, and evaluates the comprehensive and exhausting pedagogical process they followed in one semester in Sweden and Viet Nam, with positive and negative aspects of the program. We provide reflective recommendations from students and advisors for future agronomic education programs with the focus on developing renewable agriculture, selecting students and evaluating performance, and designing practical programs that will motivate highly committed and action-oriented students.