The National Soil Science Curriculum is apace

9 May 2011

The development of a National Curriculum for Soil Science moved a step closer with the holding of the third forum hosted by the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources on the 28 of April. This forum focused on reviewing the development of material that could be offered in the curriculum in each of five Australian Universities, all of which have been members of a project funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council. As well as the consortium members of the Universities of Adelaide, Melbourne, Queensland, Sydney (lead institution), and Western Australia, including current student representatives, key industry partners also contributed to the day's discussion and debate.

A major activity of the day was to ask the participants to critique and suggest improvements to a set of real problems, being Soil Carbon Sequestration (contributing to the removal of CO2 from the air) and Role of Soil in Global Food Security, presented in an on-line format. As background the participants were told that from previous project forums it had been decided that a problem-based approach was to be adopted as one of the learning and teaching methods. After much discussion it was decided that each of the Universities host a problem, e.g. Sydney hosts the Soil Carbon Sequestration, but students from any of the institutions can choose to work on this problem as part of the unit of study in which they are enrolled. Considering the distances and diverse expertise in each of the Universities much of the material needs to be delivered in an on-line format supported by other tools, such as Skype, for group meetings and discussion between each other and the facilitator in the host University. Being a real-world problem, staff at the other Universities and members of industry can be identified as experts and invited by the students to participate in discussions as they move towards solving the problem. Staff, current students and industry representatives reviewed the problem-based material enthusiastically for near on 2 hours and provided much written feedback. Many of the participants appreciated the opportunity to critique the on-line delivery of the problems recognising this as good practice before these problem-based activities go live in second semester of this year. The feedback is now with the facilitators so changes can be made where needed. It's not often in academia that a group of universities, students and industry people get work on course development at the same time.

The participants were also updated on the achievements so far including the development of a set of Soil Science Teaching Principles. These teaching principles unique to soil science birthed from discussions at previous forums represent a national perspective and have been submitted to the Australian Society of Soil Science and the international journal Geoderma for publication and discussion. It was recognised by the consortium members that soil science is a unique discipline and therefore requires a unique set of teaching principles in addition to teaching approaches common to all disciplines. It is hoped that these principles will also be tabled for discussion and debate by the International Union of Soil Sciences, Commission 4.4 Soil Science Education and Public Awareness. This is the first time an attempt has been made to not only develop a national but also international set of teaching principles to guide soil science education.

Discussion of the principles along with all the on-line development activities made for an exciting day that brings the aspiration for a national soil science curriculum one step closer. The success of the project so far is not only marked by the development of the teaching principles and the development of on-line problem-based-learning activities, but was echoed by the project evaluator who reported, 'that this is a committed and strong group which is consistently achieving the deliverables promised'. With this momentum a National Soil Science Curriculum is apace.

Contact: Dr Damien Field

Phone: 02 9351 2527

Email: 282b5b0207391d5f0a260f1d72371a140c4e3141105623012b16