Minnesota Revises Business Management Education Curricula and Instruction for Farmers. Next in Line, Online Instruction!

A sizable collaborative project is enabling Minnesota’s Farm Business Management Education program to realign and revise its curriculum – offered through eight colleges across the state – to better help today’s producers achieve success. The program, designed for producers interested in learning more about farm business management and finance to improve profitability, now is based on clearly defined course and program outcomes that remain constant no matter where in Minnesota those courses are taught, or by whom. The newly defined course and program outcomes resulted from an occupational analysis that determined which knowledge and skills producers currently need to be successful business managers.

Minnesota’s Farm Business Management Education program, currently enrolling about 3,150 producers annually, has a more complete and outcomes-driven curriculum than ever before, according to Dick Joerger, system director for Agriculture and Business Program Coordination for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Producers know what knowledge and skills they will master by the end of each course and upon completion of the program, Joerger says. Moreover, the new curriculum and soon-to-be-completed instructional materials will make it easy for instructors to teach the courses, because they feature complete and updated curriculum, learning plans, learning activities, instructional media and performance assessments – soon to be accessible from a centralized Web site.

Access, Download or Print Curriculum Documents from Central Web Site

Ultimately, instructors will be able to download or print curriculum and instructional documents, including course outcome summaries, assessments, learning plans and related learning materials, from the program’s Web site, which will serve as a curriculum repository. “The electronic nature of the curriculum allows instructors to revise, adjust and recreate to meet the needs of individual producers,” says Joerger.

Making the curriculum easily accessible to the instructors is important, he says. Unlike most college programs, in the Farm Business Management Education program, instructors teach producers using individualized and small and large group instruction with a variety of instructional media including video-conferencing technologies. When phase one of the curriculum initiative is complete, phase two – the development of learning plans and activities and storage of the curriculum on the new, centralized Web site – is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2009. Hybrid or complete online courses are scheduled to become part of the Farm Business Management Education program offerings for students in 2010 and 2011 when sufficient development resources are secured. Online courses will help expand program opportunities to more students and producers within and outside of Minnesota.

Organizing the Revision & Collaboration

To pull the curriculum project together, Joerger needed help. That’s why he – and the eight colleges offering the program – turned to the Worldwide Instructional Design System (WIDS). WIDS is a non-profit organization that provides instructional design software, consulting and training. Terri Johnson, a WIIDS consultant, worked very closely with a number of instructors and producers to collaboratively develop the curriculum. Johnson says this approach resulted in the optimal sharing of ideas and practices.

Conducting the Occupational Analysis

The first step was orchestration of a DACUM (Designing A Curriculum) occupational analysis. A DACUM analysis helps determine the skills required of a specific job and relies heavily on input from people working in the jobs being analyzed. Johnson conducted the Business Farm Management DACUM with help from 11 producers – owners of small and large operations. “We brought in producers from a variety of farms across the state and determined what skills are needed in farm business management,” she says. “We used the data from the DACUM as a springboard to define course and program outcomes.”

She helped develop the new program with producer and instructor input using WIDS Software, a tool that helps users design outcomes-based courses and programs complete with syllabi, program and course outcomes, learning plans, learning activities, performance assessment tasks and more.

Developing the Curriculum

“Minnesota needed a process by which to develop curriculum, a tool for documentation and a way to develop learning activities that link to outcomes,” says Johnson. “WIDS Software allowed for the development of the new curriculum and associated learning activities and assessments.”

Together – using WIDS Software – the advisory group of producers and instructors honed the curriculum, and then distributed it to stakeholders to critique. “After the original curriculum design, we set up a survey in Survey Monkey and asked for input on the new curriculum,” says Johnson.

With the backbone of the revised curriculum complete, other instructional components are in the works – all in an effort to assist learning and instruction.

“We will develop learning activities and have already created a program assessment tool that shows students their progress after each of the program’s six years,” says Johnson. “It’s like a checklist that shows the outcomes mastered by students as they move toward program completion.”

Some instructors also are working in teams of three to develop criteria for performance assessment standards using WIDS Software, she says.

The final step in the revision process will be development of a customized Web site where all learning and teaching documents will be stored.

Who Benefits? Everyone

The new curriculum and instructional materials have many benefits, Joerger maintains. Not only will they be instantly available to instructors to use, the materials will include critical components like learning activities and related assessments for instructors. At the same time, students will know what is expected of them and can see what outcomes they’ve mastered as they progress through the courses and program. “Because we conducted the DACUM occupational analysis, the new program also ensures that producers are learning the things they see as essential,” adds Johnson.

But the new curriculum’s greatest advantage is to new instructors, according to Joerger. “It can be daunting for a new instructor to talk with an experienced producer and provide instruction,” he says. Now, new instructors will have a curriculum guide to follow – and if they choose, learning activities and assessments to use. “The curriculum provides for easy customization by faculty,” adds Johnson. “They can use the tools in WIDS Software to adjust learning activities to fit the individual producer.”

Looking ahead, because of the new structure of the curriculum and instructional materials, it is possible that the newly refined Farm Business Management Education program eventually may be made available entirely or partially online, according to Joerger.

The Farm Business Management program in Minnesota is offered by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and administered through the eight member colleges – Northland Community and Technical College, Central Lakes College, Alexandria Technical College, Ridgewater Community and Technical College, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, South Central College, Riverland Community College and St. Cloud Technical College. There are total of 70 Farm Business Management instructors. To find out more, visit www.mgt.org.

To find out more about WIDS visit www.wids.org.

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