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|Investigating threshold concepts in the learning of agriculture :gearing towards quality and relevant curriculum innovation
|Haji Bungsu, Hajah Jabaidah
|Agricultural education in Brunei Darussalam is torn between apparently conflicting patterns. There seems to be an economic agenda where policy makers attempt to make educational outcomes match national priorities. Worldwide, agriculture is being confronted by a globalised economy and market reforms. However, agriculture as a subject in schools is also confronting the issues of quality education. Quality education is the number one goal of Brunei’s national education system; but how do we address quality in learning, in a prescribed curriculum? In pursuit of that quality, this study explores what concepts in agriculture learning lead to higher levels of understanding, is there progression, and how do students arrive at their understanding? This multicase study draws on data from secondary education students studying agriculture during 2009 – 2010. It uses the threshold concepts framework as an analytical tool for understanding students’ learning and for exploring their personal experiences (and insights into their phenomenological reflections) based on interview data (n=7) and questionnaires (N=19), corroborated/triangulated by teachers’ data (questionnaires n=14, interviews n=2) and other documents to inform future curriculum innovation. The methodological approach is phenomenological, interpretive, descriptive and qualitative, using four stages of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) supplemented with some quantitative analysis. The threshold concept constituents that were discovered are very diverse, ranging from skills, science, business, research and management; but planting is the key. Eleven super-ordinate themes illuminated two stages of threshold understanding: planting and plant science at the crop production level; and research, business and management at the commercial level. The findings showed the importance of phenomenological experiences: feelings associated with sweat, yields and money generation, emanated from a sense of agency and affective labour, paving the way to power of purpose towards self and socio-economy. Understanding the importance and merits of their learning activities made students reflected their meaning and positive feelings about themselves and self-worth. This motivated them to achieve further learning goals. iii Agricultural learning transformation seems to come through a combination of knowledge-based understanding in plants, and how they grow, alongside the experience of planting and growing crops successfully. Importantly, it is not just the knowledge about planting that the students get from the experience, but it is the feelings (emotion) that seemed to emerge from their words of sweating under the sun that helps to consolidate that knowledge into something which becomes part of their identity. This study’s findings about lower level agriculture learning seem to leverage on experiences to create bigger learning outcomes prior to mastery in the discipline. Transformative learning occurred when learners studied through situated contextual experiential activities, providing affective embodiment and thinking like agriculturists. Thus agricultural understanding and transformation was triggered by experiential threshold concepts whose foundations arise from integration of personal, emotional affective feelings and everyday experiences with ideas from discipline. Emotional feelings (associated with phenomenal experiences) provide an added dimension to the ‘basic threshold concept’ work by Davies and Mangan (2008:39), ‘where newly met concepts some of which transform understanding of everyday experience through integration of personal experience with ideas from discipline’. These results reveal a new perspective on threshold concepts work, particularly relevant to disciplines involving process skills and experiences, especially for agriculture. The findings serve as key indicators to progression and quality learning outcomes. They also offer useful implications for a quality curriculum in agriculture which fosters personal identity transformation, so more students become future agriculturists and thereby will help the economy. Of foremost importance is to include, in the curriculum, the key threshold concepts capable of transforming understanding and how to teach these concepts through meaningful/engaging experiences (via practicality and doing project-evidence/outcome-based learning), and provision of connections and relationships. The key to quality in the agriculture curriculum is therefore, how to translate and teach these concepts into meaningful affective learning experiences.
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|School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences
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|Haji Bungsu, H 2014.pdf
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