In the first semester, students are exposed to a different type of learning. Learning is strongly based on experiences from project work using real-life cases in Norwegian agriculture. The semester is comprised of the core course, Agroecology: Action learning in farming and food systems. A main component of the semester is group based case work.
Each group of students works together with a key-stakeholder on a project in a community and a farmer in the same area. A five-day visit is made early in the semester, where students conduct interviews with stakeholders of the food and farm systems, and gain an overview of the situation. Students use concepts learnt in class to approach and analyse the systems. A second visit is made later in the semester, where students hold a workshop with the stakeholders in the community.
After two visits to the community and the farm, the groups write two reports: one for the food system, and one for the farm system, providing suggestions for meeting the goals and visions of the farmer and the community.
The education is focused on viewing farming and food systems holistically, emphasising sustainability, systems theory, project management, stakeholder analysis and action research. In this way, the course takes a ‘top-down’ approach by examining the system as a whole, followed by viewing the sub-systems. The process of improving the situation, and the learning obtained from this process, are important for enhancing the student’s competency as an agroecologist.
The course also introduces the idea of ‘just-in-time’ learning, where students use the situation and challenges presented to guide the study that is needed to improve the situation. This tool is intended to allow students to practice identifying and addressing problems based on what they find experientially. This can be used in the future to ensure that knowledge or expertise held by those who are working to solve a problem do not overshadow innovative, practical solutions adapted to the localised situation.
This backs our belief that experiential learning is essential in developing agroecologists who themselves will be able to put theory into action. However, the instruction methods and evaluation in semesters of elective courses depend on the courses chosen from the different thematic areas.