Real-world science applications such as experiential learning, case studies, internships, externships, field trips, and practitioner interviews are used frequently to enhance student problem-solving skills in the classroom (Kolb, 1984). Experiential learning can also help students interact with the course material (Keeton and Tate, 1978) and can be used as part of the undergraduate curriculum to provide students hands-on, real-world experience in the classroom. Experiential learning fosters higher retention of knowledge as compared with lecture-style teaching (Specht and Sandlin, 1991; Van Eynde and Spencer, 1988). Several studies have demonstrated that experiential learning improved learning and enhanced skills (Eyler, 2009; Paul and Mukhopadhyay, 2005). Learning through hands-on activities is important for horticulture and other applied disciplines, particularly while teaching a relatively new technology or management practice (Grover and Stovall, 2013). Montgomery and Millenbah (2011) also found that students in outdoor settings learn better than those in indoor settings.
High tunnels, hereafter referred to as hoop houses, are temporary plastic-covered structures used to extend the growing season by keeping the temperatures relatively warm during the winter (St. Hilaire et al., 2009; Walker et al., 2012). These structures typically do not have supplemental heating or cooling, and are particularly popular among small producers and homeowners because they can provide opportunities to boost income and sustainability through additional production during winter. However, planning and management of production in hoop houses requires problem-solving and analytical skills. For example, producers must evaluate the type of hoop house covering to be used to maximize yield and the related physiological impacts on plant growth. Learning hoop house production techniques, therefore, also requires higher levels of critical thinking and analytical information processing (Millenbah and Millspaugh, 2003).
St. Hilaire et al. (2009) described the benefits of involving students in the construction and operation of hoop houses to provide experiential learning and practical agricultural skills to plant science majors and non–plant science majors alike. We add to this educational research by including students’ assessment of group work and their own participation in the activity. An agricultural science research project was designed to assess the impacts of hoop house glazing on environmental factors such as photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) and internal/external temperatures. This study involved an evaluation of the educational value of hoop house construction through self-assessment by the student participants. This exercise provided students with hands-on experience in hoop house construction and data interpretation. The objectives of the study were to evaluate students’ perceptions of the value for measuring environmental conditions important for hoop house production, students’ perceptions on the educational value of the exercise and method of class content delivery, and students’ perceptions of their participation in the group activity and group dynamics.
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