Hybrid Course Showcase: AGB-460 Research Methodology – Neal MacDougall

by Tonia Malone on May 12, 2010

Brief Course Overview:

Neal has been teaching the first quarter of the Agribusiness Department’s two quarter senior project class, AGB460: Research Methodology in Agribusiness, for over 12 years. The basic objective of this two-unit seminar class is to get Agribusiness students to write the first three chapters of their senior project – the Introduction (chapter one), the Literature Review (chapter 2) and the Methodology (chapter 3).

Because students can be from among five different concentrations within the Agribusiness major, there is a great variety of backgrounds in terms of specialized coursework. In general, AGB 460 instructors in the department have students develop the chapters through the writing and critiquing of two drafts.

Course Challenges:

  • Students put off doing the work to create their senior project papers. They would procrastinate and the quality of their papers suffered.
  • In the weekly lecture, students didn’t always respond to what Neal did in class. Students seemed to have the sense that they could always catch up.
  • There were varying abilities in academic writing skills.
  • Students didn’t t always choose topics for which they are prepared (in terms of their major coursework).
  • Students have no idea what is involved in writing a senior project paper and they have no past experiences in this level of writing.
  • Only two quarters to write their senior project paper before graduation and students must pass AGB-460 before they are allowed to move on into AGB-461.

Methods Used to Address Challenges:

  • Individual Wiki – An individual wiki was created for each student. Each student wiki consisted of a journal, methodology outline, literature review outline, bibliography, annotated bibliography, and critique page. Each week the students were asked to update the journal, bibliography and outline pages. Within the annotated bibliography assignments, Neal would review the content with a focus on the quality of the references used and provide brief feedback within the page. The grader would attach the rubric in the page comments for detailed feedback. Both of them graded these activities. In other wikis, students posted their drafts and were required to critique each other’s drafts using the rubric Neal provided. The rubric we added helped the students to structure their feedback to address all the requirements for their assignment.
  • Group Wiki – The group wiki gave the students a place to critique past senior projects as a group (after reviewing them individually). This allowed students to evaluate their own expectations of papers by discussing them with other classmates. A separate Subject Groups wiki area was also provided to allow students working on the same topics to share resources in a single location.
  • Discussion Forums – Peer review occurred through the Discussion Board. Within the first week, Neal had the students post topic ideas for their papers. He required the students to provide feedback and share information. There was more reflection and communication when compared to the individual assignment in the past.
  • Weekly Quizzes – Students were given a weekly reading quiz to determine students Senior Project Manual comprehension.


“If you asked me a year ago, do you think less time in class would help someone’s writing? I would have said that’s totally counter-intuitive…”

Neal was concerned about his student’s ability to deal with technical issues, but he found that they figured it out on their own. He said that his first draft documents this Winter 2010 were surprisingly very good and that there was a much higher level of performance with fewer students ignoring the assignments. After using the wiki in the hybrid course, Neal has found the wiki tool effective for his regular courses as well.

Neal believes that the process of redesigning his face-to-face course to hybrid was very effective. It required him to organize his course content and activities to meet this new timeline. He felt it created a course that was more focused and helped the students to realize that they needed to get started early. Overall, there was less procrastination and the students performed better on their papers.

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