Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Denny, Marina D.

Committee Member

Newman, Michael E.

Committee Member

Downey, Laura Hall

Committee Member

Lemley, Stephanie M.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Agricultural Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


School of Human Sciences


Since the mid-19th century, agricultural museums and living history sites, first in Scandinavia and then in the United States and Canada, have provided historical, cultural, and, sometimes, scientific information about farming to visitors. Many of these visitors have been school children on field trips. Assessment of this learning, however, has been scant, particularly within the free-choice style inherent in these types of educational venues. At the same time, assessment of free-choice learning, often analyzed through the Contextual Model of Learning (Falk & Dierking 2000), has taken place at educational sites like zoos, natural history museums, and science centers. This study, conducted in January of 2022 at a middle school in northern Indiana applied a two-group, mixed methods approach that analyzed knowledge gain and student attitudes about free-choice learning in an agricultural history unit. Both groups learned through traditional classroom methods of lecture, visuals, and an activity, while the treatment group participated in a virtual field trip to an agricultural museum but with a virtual component because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Results demonstrated that, while the comparison group and treatment group scores between pre-testing and post-testing improved significantly, there was no statistically meaningful

difference between groups. In addition, there were no meaningful differences in attitudes regarding the unit between the groups. Correlations between test scores and the questionnaire of student attitudes revealed few differences, the most significant being a significant negative correlation between feedback and scores in the comparison group. Qualitative questionnaire prompts answered by both groups and select interviews with treatment group participants were used to help explain the quantitative results. These explanations focused on a lack of novelty involved with virtual field trips for younger, technologically astute students, and, consequently, less emotionally connected and less motivated learners.