Teaching Matters

Online tools adapted from industry for teaching agricultural science at university

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Teaching Matters 2017 | Presentation Details | 28 NovemberNov 2017


Online tools adapted from industry for teaching agricultural science at university


Tina Acuña, School of Land and Food
Oliver Roberts, The University of Sydney
Richard Rawnsley, School of Land and Food
Beth Penrose, School of Land and Food
Amy Cosby, Central Queensland University


Innovative Teaching for Successful Graduates

Presentation Type

Showcase Presentation


Social Sciences 211




Agriculture is an important industry to the Australian economy, with farm production worth $A63.8 billion in 2016-17 (ABARES, 2017). The future competitiveness of the sector in a global economy requires continual improvement in agricultural production that is underpinned by rapid technological change. Agricultural professionals with contemporary knowledge and skills are then critical to ensuring that these new practices are adopted in farm businesses. However, only 8% of the agricultural workforce has a tertiary qualification compared with 25% of the broader population (Parliament of Australia, 2012), with an estimated four jobs available for every tertiary agricultural graduate (Pratley & Acuña, 2015). Consequently, this raises two issues: firstly, that the learning outcomes of graduates from Australian universities reflects the technology and data needs of contemporary farming practice; secondly, that more students are encouraged to consider a future career in agriculture.

The SMARTfarm Learning Hub (‘the Hub’: http://smartfarmhub.education/) aims to address these issues by developing learning modules that use authentic farm data in a real industry technology learning system (RITLS). The Hub is a collaboration between seven universities (University of New England, University of Tasmania, University of Central Queensland, University of Southern Queensland, University of Melbourne, University of Sydney and New Mexico State University), each with a farm representing a varied range of agricultural enterprises and geographical locations (Cosby et al, 2017).

Here we report on the development and delivery of an RITLS based on the online decision support platform Pasture.io. Using real-time data from dairy farms in north-west Tasmania, the tool can assist users to understand the complex nature of pasture management and dairy feed rations. The tool allows users to explore both tactical (short-term) and strategic (long-term) on-farm decisions. Supporting resources include a lesson plan, video and notes for both students and teachers for a three-hour practical session, which was delivered in the unit KLA211 Pasture and Animal Science to 64 students in semester 2, 2017.

The RITLS module was evaluated as part of an action research cycle (McTaggart, 1991) providing research outcomes and feedback to improve the learning materials. Students were invited to complete a survey, consisting of Likert scale questions at the conclusion of the practical. Questions include whether the perceived the learning outcomes were achieved, engagement with the content and learning experience, the applicability of the learning module to future employment, ICT skills and their demographic details.

Student responses indicate that the majority (75%) regarded the practical improved their knowledge of contemporary issues in agriculture. Similarly, a high number of respondents (79%) agreed or strongly agreed that the practical helped them to understand how to select and apply an appropriate tool to solve an agricultural problem.

Student responses indicate that they believe the use of industry tools in teaching is important for their future career with 76% of respondents indicating they would use the knowledge derived from completing the Pasture.io practical in their future employment. This is consistent with only a small number of students (16%) identified as living on a rural property when not attending university; those who did tended to derive less knowledge from the practical, particularly if they were from a dairy farm.

The next steps for the project are to revise the practical for delivery in 2018 and, as appropriate, develop an assessable component aligned with the unit learning outcomes. Project partners have expressed an interest in using the Pasture.io practical in relevant courses.


ABARES. 2017. Agricultural commodities: March quarter 2017. http://data.daff.gov.au/data/warehouse/agcomd9abcc004/agcomd9abcc20170307_0S6mp/AgCommodities201703_v1.0.0.pdf

Cosby, A., Trotter M., Jones, B., Acuña, T., Fasso, W. & Gregory, S. (2017). Increasing the employability of agriculture graduates through the development of real industry technology learning systems: examining a case study in an online farm mapping system (PA Source). In 23rd European Seminar on Extension (and) Education: Transformative Learning: New Directions in Agricultural Extension and Education, 4-7 July 2017.

McTaggart, R. (1991). Principles for participatory action research. Adult Education Quarterly, 41(3), 168-187.

Parliament of Australia. (2012). Higher education and skills training to support agriculture and agribusiness in Australia. Canberra. http://apo.org.au/node/30089

Pratley, J., & Acuña, T. (2015). From adversity comes strength – repositioning education in agriculture. In Building Productive, Diverse and Sustainable Landscapes. Edited by T. Acuña, C. Moeller, D. Parsons and M. Harrison. Proceedings of the 17th Australian Agronomy Conference 2015, 21-24 September 2015, Hobart, Tas. http://2015.agronomyconference.com/proceedings

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