College students have several avenues for learning: lectures, labs, reading, research, activities, and various experiences. Probably most learning takes place while reading. Students gather the most information from reading the texts and articles assigned by the instructors. However, the main student/teacher instructional time for most college courses takes place in lectures. Lectures provide the opportunity for an experienced worker in a field of study to impart the basic material and ignite an interest. Lectures can also be the motivational prep for reading and other research. From an instructor's viewpoint, the lecture period is the focus of college instruction. But there are aspects of lectures that are not as productive for certain students as lecturers might want them to be. Let's look at the positive and negative aspects of lectures and suggest ways to maximize their impact.

Lectures provide an opportunity for those knowledgeable in a subject to give that knowledge to others. Lectures often are active for the speaker but an exercise in auditory comprehension for students. Since most college courses have lectures as the main connection between teacher and student, those students who excel in auditory comprehension skills benefit most from college courses. However, most people are more visual than auditory in how their brains and memories function. Most people are not able to use their mental strengths in lecture. To compensate for having to use a less powerful brain tool, students take notes, draw, or refer to handouts or texts while hearing the lecture. Lecturers also utilize black or white boards and models to provide a visual component to what is being delivered auditorally. Some students' greatest modality is kinesthetic. Lectures may never allow those students to utilize their strength. Labs, however, can provide the best learning opportunity with these students.

Instruction is more effective when students understand their own learning modality strengths and weaknesses and instructors understand that a class will have visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners all together. Good instructors will provide opportunities for learning basic material in all three modalities as often as possible. Good instructors realize that their own style of learning does not apply to everyone else. Material covered in Forage classes can easily be presented in ways that visual, auditory, and kinestetic students all have opportunities to use their strengths. Of course, not all material can be presented in all three modalities, but a student of any modality should not be at an disadvantage throughout an entire course. If lectures are the mainstay of the course, find opportunities for supplementing the lecture with slides, drawings, diagrams, and other visual material. Be aware that visual learners will remember best what is seen, so do talk one thing and visually provide new material. Live samples that can be seen, touched, smelled, and manipulated will provide kinesthetic and visual learners with additional learning when added to lectures. Plant identification, hay evaluation, seed samples, soil testing, and many other forage topics can be wonderfully presented through visual and kinesthetic means.

One difficulty many students experience is the shift from extremely visual material presented in elementary and secondary schools to the largely auditory style of college classes. College instructors that realize their classes contain visual, auditory, and kinestetic learners and provide learning opportunities for all modalities will find college teaching less frustrating.

AS A SIDE NOTE: There have been a few students whose strongest modality was their olfactory sense. This provides quite a challenge for instructors in fields other than food science. One medical student's sense of smell was so keen he could smell the difference in cells from various organs. Be thankful to only have visual, auditory, and kinesthetic students most of the time and be thankful you don't have a nose like that.

Collaborative Work:

The main objective of this website is to utilize the talents, expertise, experience, and skills of many to provide quality materials for all. "In a multitude of counsel there is wisdom" as the proverb states. Each contributor supplies his/her best and can benefit from the best of others. But another wonderful benefit of collaborative work is a saving of time. Those involved do not have to start from scratch with each new concept. Someone else has already had experience with it. It is hoped that a national curriculum will save many the time and effort to research and develop materials.

Since this entire project is based on the notion that collaborative work is productive and beneficial, we encourage instructors to introduce and practice collaborative (cooperative) group work in class. In most forage classes there is a diversity of students. Some small agriculture businesses have sent sons and daughters to learn more about forages, environmentalists sometimes take the course to gain information about controversial land use issues, animal science majors take a forage course to develop their knowledge of animal diets, and some environmental engineers take the course to learn better land utilization. This diversity provides opportunities for broadening perspectives and student-student learning if the classroom atmosphere allows for productive exchanges. Look at course content that may be best presented and discussed after small groups have worked together on a portion of the content. If done early in the course, the cooperative tasks can bond the class members together and improve dynamics. A few of the concepts that have worked well for small group discussion and presentation to the entire group include: controversial topics in current events, things to consider when initiating rotational grazing, companion and double crops, weed identification, and tricks in better hay and silage production.

For collaborative classroom work, introduce the topic to the class; divide the class into diverse groups; assign each group a portion or specific tasks that will be added to the others to cover the topic; direct each group to designate a recorder (secretary); allow time for group brainstorming and discussion; mingle in and out of each group; designate a time for a written summary of the group's thoughts; collect the groups back into a class; have a spokesperson from each group share their summaries. Correct any misinformation and provide closure comments.

Plant Identification:

Forage plant identification is a part of most forage courses. Proper plant identification is deemed important by forage instructors but often dreaded by students. That is because instructors do not differentiate content information from skill development. Plant identification requires extensive long-term memory practice to become a skill. Most instructors, however, present it as content and are frustrated with the poor mastery. Here are some guidelines for making identification an achievable task for students.

Most beginning forage students cannot identify forage plants. Some know alfalfa because it is common and clovers because there are many and have rounded leaves, but they cannot differentiate the clovers and usually call trefoils alfalfa. A helpful first step in developing identification skills is to pretest the students in a way that exposes the lack of skill but does not penalize them. Fifteen to twenty common forage plants, whether live, pressed, drawn, or photographed will do. Number each specimen and provide a numbered paper with room for students to write the common and scientific name of each specimen. Once completed, students have a better sense of what they really know and can direct their efforts. Knowledge that a posttest will occur at the end of the course also is motivational. After the pretest, explain that proper identification is a skill and will require time, practice, and instruction to acquire. Use the entire course to develop this skill. Present students with the vocabulary and diagrams for labeling grass plants (collar, auricle, ligule, inflorescences...) and informally test that grass plants are properly labelled. Once the plant parts are understood, present specific plants and differentiate them; usually two at a time works best for memory tasks. For example: introduce perennial ryegrass and emphasize the slender, clawlike auricles, short, blunt ligule, and sessile, spike inflorescence, leaves folded in the bud, and awnless seeds. When this is presented well, students can differentiate it from annual ryegrass with its awned seeds, rolled leaves in the bud. Presenting the scientific and common names as plants are presented is beneficial since many of the Latin names identify physical characteristics. Once the desired grasses are presented, provide the vocabulary and diagrams for legumes. Present the individual desired legumes two at a time.

It is helpful to present the plants at various times throughout the course since plants look different at various growth stages, and repeated opportunities for identification push the information into long-term memory banks. Presenting two similar species and comparing and contrasting them is also helpful. Allow practice identification sessions. Display specimens around the classroom before and after class, but most students will still need trial tests to really develop the skills. Having the specimens in sight does not internalize the information. The students must practice identifying the plants to have identification become a skill. But it only takes a few minutes of class time to practice once the specimens are collected.

Identification skills are accumulated; for instructors it has come over years of working with the plants. For students it can happen in a quarter if the steps in developing the skill are carefully presented and the information is practiced on a consistent basis.

A Forage Identification CD-ROM using wonderful photographs and drawings is available to teach this skill. Strong educational design and mnemonic devices are included to facilitate the learning process.

Forage Identification CD-ROM