The purpose of this quasi-experimental study was to determine if upper-level college students who participated in AgPAQ, an integrated course cluster learning community, would demonstrate enhanced learning in the areas of oral communication, written communication, technical content knowledge, and problem-solving.
The population (N=182) consisted of students who participated in AgPAQ, the treatment group (n=33), and five comparison groups: the AgEdS 450 farm management class (n=57); the Agronomy 356 class (n=36); the Agronomy 356/English 309 integration ( n=35); the paid AgPAQ volunteer group (n=7); and the paid non-AgPAQ volunteer group (n=14). Students in these six groups worked in teams to generate the data for the study, team written reports and oral group presentations. The reports and presentations that were generated between 1999 and 2006 were scored by trained raters. AgPAQ and comparison group scores from Heppner's Problem Solving Inventory (1988), the Group Oral Communication Rubric (Barnett, 2006), the Written Communication Assessment Rubric (Barnett, 2006), and the Technical Content Assessment Rubric (Gibson, et al., 2006) were analyzed.
Analyses showed that AgPAQ participants scored higher on measures of oral and written communication than did comparison group participants. Also, AgPAQ participants scored higher on measures of technical content knowledge than did students in the non-AgPAQ paid volunteer group and the Agronomy 356 group. While AgPAQ participants achieved higher technical content knowledge scores than students who participated in the 356/309 integration group, the difference was not statistically significant. AgPAQ participants did not achieve higher problem-solving scores than the AgEdS 450 comparison group on three scales of the problem solving inventory: (1) individual confidence in problem-solving abilities; (2) problem approach or avoidance; and (3) control of emotions and behavior.
AgPAQ fostered enhanced learning in specific areas, so upper-level learning communities---designed specifically for students in agriculture---should be continued and used as research sites. For example, compare an AgPAQ-like learning community with technical content/communication linked courses to simultaneously test multiple skill sets---written/oral communication, technical content knowledge, and problem-solving. Incorporate qualitative methods to investigate group processes and problem-solving behavior (leadership, participation, and conduct). Further, implement an introductory seminar to demonstrate AgPAQ's benefits to future agriculture professionals.