Augmented Reality for Animal Science Laboratory Classes

In the age of online teaching as  a result of COVID-19 integrating technology into the classroom has been a hot topic for consideration. I work with the introductory laboratory class in the APSC department at VT and have been thinking about ways to give students a realistic learning experience online. I have settled on the opinion that we can’t achieve our main learning outcome

for students demonstrate the ability to safely work around livestock

while teaching solely online. I feel that safety around livestock requires students to physically interact with the animals and a recreation in virtual reality would not be able to substitute.

However, I do feel that as professors at a university we should integrate technology into our teaching as we are preparing students to enter the agricultural industries that are embracing technology at breakneck speed. Looking ahead to the day that I am teaching my own laboratory courses ( a dream of mine), I have contemplated how I could integrate new technology into the classroom. I have been intrigued by augmented reality ( for those not sure what AR is check out the infographic borrowed from EdTechReview [1] below). I would like to integrate AR into the laboratory by designing environmental pop ups while touring farms (both on campus and off), and working in wet labs (doing dissections, practicing injections or working with feed ingredients for example).  I foresee these working through smart phone apps and maybe someday including a wearable technology such as Google Glass. I think this would allow me to let students work in a more hands off and exploratory way during the class which most closely aligns with my teaching philosophy for laboratory classes/units. The goal is that students take ownership over their time in the lab and work at their own pace exploring the available materials to achieve the learning objectives. I see AR as helping to achieve this goal by giving students extra input while interacting with the supplied lab material and hopefully inspiring curiosity in students. I do worry that including AR in laboratories would distract students by allowing their phones out but one goal I have for all of my classes is to prepare students in workplace competencies such as figuring out how to work in the face of distractions (such as the cell phone).  I also need to work out if including AR puts students safety at risk- this is always a concern when working around animals and allowing distractions is a further concern.

I haven’t heard of many professors integrating AR into many classes especially laboratories but it is fairly new and still quite expensive [2]. I do see effort expended to integrating virtual reality (such as through headsets) in higher ed frequently discussed. For example VT has a virtual reality program with the library. I think that virtual reality is a cool technology especially for laboratories but I don’t see it being feasible on farm which is how I would prefer to teach animal science laboratories. I would like to use virtual reality in place of real world experiences if I was unable to bring students to a location such as a commercial farm or a place that could pose  health hazard to students or if a location is physically inaccessible to my students.

Does anyone have experience working with AR and any insights to share? What do you think of my idea?

  1. Editorial Team EdTechReview. (2017, July 4). Augmented and Virtual Reality Are Revolutionizing Education and Student Learning. Retrieved from  https://edtechreview.in/data-statistics/2844-augmented-virtual-reality-education-classroom-learning
  2.    Roll, N. (2017, July 12). More Than Just Cool? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/07/12/vr-and-ar-more-just-cool

Integrating active learning with multiple perspectives helps students to succeed

I have had a variety of great higher education learning experiences that have guided me on my path to pursuing my PhD in Animal science at VT now. I had the opportunity to attend on full scholarship the 2 summer semester program of the Midwest poultry consortium where I earned a certificate in poultry science and decided to go to graduate school. These classes were great, not only because they were tailored to exactly what we all wanted to learn about- poultry science- but also because they also used integrated learning experiences with multiple expert professionals working together. In my first summer semester we had afternoon labs in avian physiology: where we worked with quail, took EKGs of chickens, and fed food coloring to laying hens to see how it impacted the yolk color of their eggs; and poultry processing and food science: where we learned about the slaughter process by following the entire process with our own bird, we then learned how products were created and ate a lot of great turkey. The next summer our afternoons were filled with simulated research in nutrition, and doing diagnostic necropsies with real submissions under the supervision of the diagnostic lab staff. All of these activities served to reinforce the morning lecture contents and to provide a new environment that is reflective of the real world in poultry science. I hope to bring this style of teaching to my own classroom and to hopefully impact a student the same way I was impacted. I know it is extremely challenging to successfully integrate such lab and lectures so I am trying to adopt a course coordinator approach to teaching the introductory courses to expose students to many experts and opportunities at the university. Ideally this approach would set students up for identifying areas of interest and forming connections to get involved in research or other opportunities related to those interests. As an instructor I would never be able to accomplish this for students alone.

Poultry Science just became open access

Poultry Science is arguably the most prestigious journal for research involving poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, pigeons, and sometimes ostriches and emus- that are used for agriculture). It is the official journal of the Poultry Science Association which is a U.S. based scientific society that is committed to the advancement of the poultry industry. As of January 1st, 2020 both journals Poultry Science and the Journal of Applied Poultry Research have become open access through a publishing agreement with Elsevier.

The Journal has been around since 1921 and currently is published monthly and internationally known. It is in the top 10 journals in agriculture and number 1 for poultry research according to impact factor rankings. Poultry Science has sections for specific disciplines such as: nutrition and metabolism, breeding and genetics, production and management, physiology and reproduction, molecular biology, welfare, and processing and products, all tied together by their focus on poultry.

As Poultry Science has just recently transitioned there are no statistics associated with the response from the contributors and readers of the journal. The Poultry Science Association say that they are transitioning because

It provides the highest level of visibility for published works and facilitates increased citation and further dissemination of the information, all of which aligns with the vision of PSA to be the world’s most respected resource for poultry sciences. Also, expectations of the academic community and publishing trends are moving in the direction of free availability (no cost to the reader) of research findings, especially when funded by government entities.

They are also transitioning all previously published articles in Poultry Science to open access. These digital articles go back to the 1930s.

I applaud the Poultry Science Association for transitioning to open access and I hope that it is appreciated by the public.

Embracing Inclusive Pedagogy in MY Classroom

The biggest hurdle for me to overcome in adopting inclusive pedagogy is how to holistically integrate the principles into my class in Animal Science in a meaningful way. I will concede I like the idea of implementing “ground-rules” related to creating a brave space for the classroom community, but I am concerned that starting conversations on tough subjects, not explicitly course content will detract from the sense of community within my classroom. One such example is addressing the history at our own institution.  At VT the Smithfield Plantation used to keep slaves, the university does not openly discuss this painful fact. Yet there are locations on campus – mainly near the farms on plantation road- that have names in homage to the old plantation such as the Smithfield Horse Center (where many of the students in the department of animal and poultry sciences will visit during their degree program). If I were to start a dialogue with my students about why the center is named as such how does that benefit my goal of teaching students about the science of managing equines? I understand and applaud the goal of making students into better citizens of the world by facilitating discussion around the history of VT and embracing the discomfort of acknowledging the horrible legacy that plantations have on individuals of color especially in the realm of agricultural sciences- but I struggle with how can I meaningfully integrate these principles into my class. I know that I could always post a historical information page or document onto my canvas page and have students read it and discuss it but is that enough to truly prepare students to become citizens of the world? Will it mean anything to them?

I fully appreciate the values embodied in the theory of inclusive pedagogy, but I struggle to rationalize how to integrate them within the existing framework of a typical Animal Science curriculum. The more I learn about pedagogy and reflect on my own experiences the more I realize that I want to throw out the handbook when I reach the point that I am able to teach and ideally create my own classes.

-SE

Veterinarian Suicide- How we prepare pre-vet students in Animal Science

Veterinarian suicide has been in the news recently as the tragedy it rightfully is (Link); however, this is not a new problem. In 2018 the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) released a press release following a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) research article which found that suicide among veterinarians was higher than the general population during a time frame of 1979 to 2015 (Link)(American Veterinary Medical Association, 2018). There are many reasons being blamed for the higher rate of suicide- crippling debt, limited job prospects, difficult job tasks, unhappy customers, etc. But the fact remains that veterinarians are killing themselves at an alarming rate- one suicide is already too many regardless of the population.

This issue has hit close to home to me as many friends and my sister are in the veterinary medical profession, but also because 85 % of the incoming freshman in 2018 to the Animal and Poultry Science department at Virginia Tech declared their intended interest was pre-veterinary medicine (VT APSC, 2019). That means in an average class size of 200, there are 170 students that intend to enter the veterinary medicine field- this is normal in animal science departments across the country. As an educator and mentor to these students this terrifies me, we are training students to enter a career field that may drive them to suicide.

There are programs for veterinarians and vet students to be exposed to well being practices and companies that employee veterinarians have made financial commitments to teach coping skills with the goal to reduce suicide (American Veterinary Medical Association, n.d.). I wonder if the Animal Science discipline, of which veterinary medicine is one small part, has a responsibility to dealing with this crisis. Currently, before vet school little discussion about suicide is provided to students. Do Animal Science faculty members have a responsibility to talk with pre-vet students about suicide? Should undergraduate faculty members who served as mentors to these students have a responsibility to stay connected to these now veterinarians and continue mentoring? The crisis of veterinarian suicide is heartbreaking and horrible, I think that animal science departments should be considering their role in mitigating veterinarian suicide.

References:

American Veterinary Medical Association. 2018, December 21.  AVMA combating suicide amongst veterinary professionals [press release]. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/News/PressRoom/Pages/AVMA-combating-suicide-amongst-veterinary-professionals.aspx

American Veterinary Medical Association. n.d. Wellbeing and Peer Assistance. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/PeerAndWellness/Pages/default.aspx

Virginia Tech department of Animal and Poultry Sciences. 2019. Animal and Poultry Sciences 2019 Departmental Review. Blacksburg, VA: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The personal impact of stereotype threat

As I mentioned in my introductions post I am hoping to become a faculty member in the future. I am aspiring to do this for a few reasons: 1- I love chicken intestines and that’s a little too weird outside of academia, 2- I am passionate about research and training students which is the hallmark of a faculty position but also because 3- I was told that I wouldn’t be able to get a faculty position. As my friends and family can attest I am quite stubborn so being told I can’t do something will motivate me quite extensively. Upon reflection one of the large reasons I decided to pursue a graduate degree was because a teacher of mine told me I wouldn’t be able to get one. I don’t know why they chose to say that to one of their students; but I have come to think that they said it because they probably didn’t see a female faculty member while attending university.

The lack of female representation in higher education has been seen as a problem for many years now- there are frequent articles about the issue of low female faculty numbers. Many universities have made strides in hiring female faculty members, over the last 10 years the number of female faculty in agriculture has increased from 12 to 23% (Cho, Chakraborty, and Rowland, 2017) but, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics 2016-2017 report only 33% of full professors are female which is below the national average (NCES, 2017). This issue has become more prominent in my life as I have progressed in obtaining degrees in animal science. At Michigan State University where I received my bachelors there were X number of faculty involved in research and teaching that was visible to undergraduate students. When I got my certificate in Poultry Science through the Midwest Poultry Consortium Center of Excellence scholarship program there were only two female faculty that taught in the program those numbers have shifted in more recent years but still remain less than half. In my master’s program at Auburn University there were only five female faculty members out of 14 total faculty positions in the poultry science department and only one of them was a full professor.

As a result of the lower number of female faculty members most of the mentors I’ve had have been men. There is nothing explicitly wrong with that except that in my case it is largely because I have not had the privilege of getting to work with many female faculty that could serve as a mentor to me. As a result I have worked to build peer networks with many of the female students I know in poultry science with the goal of providing support and sharing knowledge.

Another way this issue has impacted my life experience is the unspoken requirement that I excel at everything I do. I feel this pressure to be perfect because as soon as I screw up I feel that I will be dismissed as just another girl trying to do science. This sense creates an unnatural competitive environment that contaminates my experience working in the laboratory with my lab mates. I felt this most severely in my master’s position. When I started another female student was finishing her PhD- she was largely regarded as the most successful student to come out of that research program and had won many awards during her time there. The lab manager shared with me that I had been recommended to the research program as a younger version of that student and that another girl had just been asked to leave the program because she didn’t cut it. Knowing that made me feel an extreme sense of imposture syndrome and hypervigilant about everything that I did.(Insert citation for class paper) Looking back I see that this is a clear example of stereotype threat playing out. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the successful female in the lab and would be kicked out like the other girl before me. I started doubting my abilities and analyzing everything I did looking for differences that didn’t exist before.

Because of my negative experience I often think about what I would like to do differently when I (hopefully) have my own research program and am hiring students. I worry that I will pass on the same experience by inadvertently perpetuating the belief that any students I take on (especially female) will feel they have to be just like me. I worry about this for two reasons: mainly I don’t want any person to feel like I did during my master’s program but also stereotypes contribute to the continuation of the cycle of prejudice and discrimination that keeps society divided. (Check out this video by Khan academy that explains this much better than I could) So far my worrying has not been very productive and I have not come up with any solid suggestions for how to combat the stereotype threat I feel. I did appreciate that the article Dr. Grimes shared in the Week 5 module: Stereotype threat in work and schools: putting science into practice (Schamder and Hall, 2014). That article mentioned that those at risk of stereotype threat should understand the anxiety that they may feel as a result of stereotypes and to spend time reflecting on their values and purpose. I am a large proponent of self-reflection and encourage everyone to dedicate time to reflecting on their goals and experiences. I will definitely strive to pass this lesson on to any future students of mine.

References

               Cho, A., D. Chakraborty, and D. Rowland. 2017. Gender representation in faculty and leadership at land grant and research institutions. Agron. J. 109:14-22.

National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]. 2017. Characteristics of Postsecondary Faculty. Figure 2. Chapter: 4/Postsecondary Education Section: Postsecondary Environments and Characteristics: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_csc.pdf

Schamder, T. and W.M. Hall. 2014. Stereotype threat in work and schools: putting science into practice. Policy insights from the behavioral and brain sciences. 1:30-37.

If anyone has any similar experiences or ideas on how to prevent this from happening to others please share it with me. Thank you for reading enjoy this sassy chick pic as a break from the seriousness.

-SE