, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 129-142
Date: 23 Jun 2012

Transformative food systems education in a land-grant college of agriculture: the importance of learner-centered inquiries

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In this paper we use a critically reflective research approach to analyze our efforts at transformative learning in food systems education in a land grant university. As a team of learners across the educational hierarchy, we apply scholarly tools to the teaching process and learning outcomes of student-centered inquiries in a food systems course. The course, an interdisciplinary, lower division undergraduate course at the University of California, Davis is part of a new undergraduate major in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. We provide an overview of the course’s core elements—labs, exams, assignments, and lectures—as they relate to social constructivist learning theory and student-centered inquiries. Then, through qualitative analysis of students’ reflective essays about their learning experiences in the course, we demonstrate important transformative outcomes of student-centered inquiries: (1) most students confronted the commodity fetish and tried to reconcile tensions between what the food system is and ought to be, and (2) students repositioned themselves, their thinking, and social deliberation in relation to the food system. Students’ reflections point to the power of learning that emerges through their inquiry process, including in the field, and from critical self-reflection. We also highlight the importance of reflective essays in both reinforcing experiential learning and in helping instructors to better understand students’ learning vis-à-vis our teaching.