Nothing Beats Experience Learning!

by Caula Beyl, Dean, UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

In September, I had a wonderful chance to observe experience learning in action. Each semester that Dr. Lannett Edwards teaches AS 420 Advanced Reproductive Techniques, approximately thirty students are given an extraordinary opportunity to learn the skills involved in artificial insemination of cattle. This activity occurs at the Little River Animal and Environmental Unit of the East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Walland. This is a prime example of the excellent cooperation between AgResearch and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources to bring very real and pertinent hands-on experience to students.

The dairy is the perfect location for learning the latest techniques and supports not only CASNR but also students in the College of Veterinary Medicine. This experience learning activity is a model of efficiency and planning, and many people play a key role in organizing and conducting the activity. In addition to Dr. Edwards, Animal Science assistant professor Ky Pohler, department head Neal Schrick, and graduate assistants Sarah Orr and Sydney Reese were ready with individualized help, as was Géssica Araújo, an intern from Brazil. Sarah Hargrove, an undergraduate student who had taken the class the previous year, was a volunteer who assisted with setup for the event. At another station, research associate Rebecca Payton and research assistant professor Louisa Rispoli thawed semen for loading into the straws used in the artificial insemination gun. Faculty member Jessica Shanks coordinated the ultrasound equipment. Farm manager Charlie Young was invaluable in getting the cows in place and staged for their parts in the learning process and also provided one-on-one assistance to students.

When I arrived at the dairy, I was impressed to see students actively engaged in learning and each interacting with docile and cooperative Holstein dairy cows. I had originally intended merely to observe and take photographs of students “experiencing learning,” however, as things sometimes go, I was sucked into the activity. Cow #4 was destined to become my close companion. I donned the long sleeved glove on my left hand (the non-dominant one) and listened intently while I was instructed on what to do. This is truly something that must be experienced. Reading about it in a book just does not do it justice. I was very proud to locate the uterus and had just begun to feel where the cervix was when I felt the cow bearing down on my arm. I decided then that retreat was probably a good idea, so I withdrew my arm and stepped about two feet to the side. That move is critical since the business end of the cow is also responsible for waste disposal, which #4 promptly engaged in. I was smugly congratulating myself on actually staying clean through this whole experience, when I feel a gloved finger trace a path across one sleeve. When I looked up, I saw Dr. Lannett’s smiling face, and I knew that I had been anointed!

Although that ending certainly wasn’t as I would have wished, the learning we experienced at Little River illustrates the powerful impact that real-life experiences can have to enhance classroom learning and the outstanding opportunities we offer students in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine through partnership with AgResearch and also, on other occasions, with UT Extension. What incredible resources we have at the UT Institute of Agriculture!

What is Dean Beyl up to now? Her elbow!