Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Hock, Gaea A.

Committee Member

Akers, Christopher Ryan.

Committee Member

Denny, Marina D'Abreau.

Committee Member

Lemons, Laura L.

Committee Member

Kingery, William L.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Agricultural Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


School of Human Sciences


The United States has shifted from a once agrarian, to a predominantly urban society (Riedel, 2006). Currently, less than 2% of the U.S. population live on farms. Coupled with urbanization, this has contributed to the decline of an agriculturally literate population (EPA, 2013; Kovar & Ball, 2013). One strategy to alter the public’s perception of agriculture and increase agricultural literacy is implementing an educational environment that promotes agricultural activities via experience (Blair, 2009). Experiential learning has been championed by prominent educational theorists John Dewey and David Kolb. Experiential learning is conceptualized as a process where relevant experiences are the foundation of learning and which allow for deeper connections between the learner and the subject. This study was a mixed methods design conducted at three private schools in Northeast Mississippi during the Spring of 2015. Tenth grade biology students were taught six (6) lessons contextualized in agriculture, with one group serving as a control group (no teaching), one group receiving direct instruction, and one group being provided with relevant experiences to agricultural topics. Results showed that distribution of post-test knowledge scores changed drastically by intervention groups. There were significant differences in post-test scores based on students’ involvement with experiential learning (p < .001). Further analysis of the data displayed that 67% of the variance in scores can be attributed to method of instruction received. In addition, focus groups were conducted to assess student knowledge gain and perceptions of agricultural production. Focus group responses were analyzed and grouped into the following themes: 1. The interesting and dynamic nature of agriculture and the lessons 2. Stereotypical preconceived notions of agriculture 3. Desire to learn more about agricultural topics 4. The role of experiential learning (and lack thereof) 5. Increase in knowledge, awareness, and appreciation of agriculture Results revealed that the participants who experienced the hands-on approach to the lessons had a more lasting and richer learning experience than those who did not participate in a hands-on approach. The results also indicated not only an increase in knowledge among students, but a willingness for future agricultural education opportunities and a deeper appreciation for agriculture.