Experiential learning is an integral part of agriculture education (Cheek et al., 1993). This teaching approach, which emphasizes the role of experience in the knowledge acquisition process (Kolb, 1984), is regularly used in horticulture courses and curricula. Experiential learning leads to better content retention and student performance in introductory horticulture courses (Bauerle and Park, 2012; St. Hilaire et al., 2009; Uchanski et al., 2015). Additionally, experiential learning enhances lower- and higher-order learning (Craver and Williams, 2014) and promotes skill development (Mahoney et al., 2015) in advanced horticulture courses. Experiential learning also aids in recruiting students into subsequent horticulture courses (Pritts, 2017). These benefits are consistent with findings in other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, where experiential learning positively influenced student learning and engagement (Freeman et al., 2014).
Previous research has shown that hands-on activities can have widely different impacts on student learning (Holstermann et al., 2010) and satisfaction (Henderson et al., 2018). Thus, to ensure educational quality, it is important to evaluate hands-on activities to identify which ones promote student learning and which need further refinement. Text mining is a tool that could be used for this purpose. Text mining consists of analyzing text data to gather insight into individuals’ preferences, feelings, and opinions (Hu and Liu, 2004). It uses set theory operations and labeled word lists (lexica) to categorize written language in an objective and scalable manner. Although this data analytics practice has become commonplace among businesses and marketers (Haywood and Mishra, 2019; Kim and Chun, 2019), text mining has limited use by horticulturists. Considering horticulture courses routinely generate text data from student assignments and evaluations, this is a missed opportunity. The present paper illustrates how text mining can be used to gauge student perception of experiential learning activities and inform teaching practices in a horticulture course.
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Top 10 terms associated with trust, joy, and anticipation in student essays about hands-on activities in a protected agriculture course at the University of Florida during Spring 2018.