I co-instruct UNIV*3140 Flexible Internship in Agri-Food, a new-ish Experiential Learning course, which teaches about professionalism and the agri-food industry. This course also allows students to complete a 40-hour, unpaid internship, which for some has been a steppingstone to employment after the placement.
This course is not only intended for students in the Food Science and Agricultural Science programs but is also tailored to most of our degrees. Students studying the environment, animals, biomedical toxicology, engineering, computer science, economics, commerce, and nutrition (to name a few) have all successfully completed agri-food internships related to their areas of study.
The past semester was particularly challenging since students did not have the benefit of meeting their peers and engaging with their instructors. To overcome that, guest speakers from the agri-food industry were asked to present for 30 minutes on their area of expertise. This allowed for a broader range of topics, which pre-pandemic would have been a gratuitous to ask of our guest lecturers, to drive to campus for such a short presentation.
The students enjoyed listening to this diverse group of individuals and appreciated the opportunity to ask questions at the end of their presentations. One student allowed me to share a quote from an email that they sent after lecture:
On a sidenote, I really enjoyed the two guest speakers tonight. I don't know what it was, but the way they were passionate and so genuine about their work was very refreshing to hear. It cleared my mind to hear them speak, both very admirable people.
Following the guest lectures, the students were posed a topical, divisive question that related to the presentations and asked to research a particular viewpoint related to that question. In the following synchronous session, the students would verbally discuss what they had researched. Their grades would depend on the quality of their discussion and the references that they would submit. Some students found this method of assessment highly engaging, resulting in lively discussions between peers. However, some students preferred not to participate, thus for W21 I am exploring the possibility of giving more flexibility and allowing the students to choose between verbal or written discussions.
This semester has pushed the limits for effective instruction and thought-provoking engagement. I look forward to continuing to learn from this experience and apply some of the newly formed, remote instruction methods past the COVID-19 pandemic.