November 1, 2012

Texas A&M, Mississippi State Collaborated On Research In IT Use In Ag Education

Texas A&M University Professor Gary Wingenbach says he’s excited to be going back to Mississippi State University this weekend “to watch the Aggies put a beatdown on the Bulldogs!” While there, the former Mississippi State faculty member will seek how his team in Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications at Texas A&M and his colleagues in Starkville can increase academic collaboration across state lines. Wingenbach himself collaborated with Mississippi State researchers in 2001 to study information technology (IT) education and web-based research methods in agricultural education.

Gary Wingenbach

Gary Wingenbach

At Texas A&M, Wingenbach teaches international agricultural development courses to undergraduates, as well as graduate writing and research methods courses. Prior to his stint at Mississippi State, he taught at West Virginia University and he says if there’s one thing he became aware of when moving from one university to the next, it is the importance of interstate collaboration. “Collaborations shouldn’t stop at the border,” he says. “Faculty need to collaborate across state lines, whether researching and/or communicating issues such as disease, natural or man-made disasters, or the advances of scientific discovery – it’s important to share research and grow the discipline.”

IT, the managing and processing of information, and especially the Internet have made such long-distance communication more convenient than ever, but when Wingenbach himself collaborated with colleagues at Mississippi State, the technology wasn’t quite where it is now. “Today we have Skype,” he laughs. “Back then it was just the telephone if we wanted real-time communications with others outside our state.”

Wingenbach and his colleagues studied the use and perceptions of information technology in agricultural education and the use of Internet-based research data collection methods. “Back in the early 2000s, that was a big deal,” he recalls. “Using web-based survey methods was new back then.” The researchers surveyed both agriculture and non-agriculture high school teachers to ascertain their perceptions on the factors that affect the IT workforce in Mississippi.

“Most of the factors they identified had to do with training and equipment,” says Wingenbach. “The results showed that Mississippi teachers lacked sufficient training in software and computer programming to successfully compete in educating future IT workers.” He says the study showed that more needed to be done for Mississippians to become savvy in the ever-changing world of IT.

The researchers found the problems were the lack of both teacher and student training in IT, and the lack of funds to get proper equipment. The study produced recommendations including: more emphasis placed on IT concepts in teacher training, both pre-service and in-service professional development; obtaining and maintaining information technologies comparable to that used in industry; and forging relationships with business and industry to provide on-the-job training opportunities for students pursuing careers in IT.

Wingenbach participated in another project with his colleagues at Mississippi State to study the use of paper-based survey data collection methods versus Internet survey methods. “This study was at the forefront of web-based surveying, which is now commonplace,” he says.

The researchers surveyed members of the American Association for Agricultural Education (AAAE) and asked for their views on which type of data collection method they preferred, traditional paper-based methods or web-based surveys. “The results showed more data was collected in the first week using the Internet,” Wingenbach notes. “But to really gain as many responses as possible, paper surveys should be sent out to those who didn’t respond to the Internet survey. So it turned out that a combination of both methods was most successful. And this is still true today, although so many of our colleagues now use web-based surveys only.”

The study also looked at AAAE members’ perceptions of using computers and the Internet for research and education purposes. “Female members were more favorable toward using web-based survey methods than were males. And older male professors had higher computer anxiety levels. The older they were, the more computer anxiety they had and the more limited were their views about web-based anything. I think that has changed now; I’m a professor and I use information technology all the time.”

Wingenbach says he enjoyed his days teaching at Mississippi State and hopes to rejuvenate his academic collaborations with his colleagues there. “When I left there, I wished I could’ve taken all the people I knew and brought them with me,” he says. “The culture there is very similar to Texas A&M because, all across the state, people are so warm and friendly. Unless, of course, you’re from that ‘school up North,’” he laughs. Said school is Mississippi’s State’s biggest rival, the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). “You can’t even speak the name of that school in Starkville,” explains Wingenbach.

He says although he misses his department at Mississippi State, he is happy with his move to Texas A&M. “I thouroughly enjoy my department here,” he notes. “The students at Mississippi State are every bit the same character and quality as Texas A&M Aggies, but Aggies have a much deeper understanding of undergraduate traditions here than what I witnessed at Mississippi State. I really look forward to helping Aggies explore their horizons, learn new things, and take what they learn here outside the university environment.”

Wingenbach says he especially enjoys his work with Aggies in study abroad programs. “We took students to Guatemala and Namibia,” he says. “We partnered with non-profit organizations in both countries, giving students practical experiences related to international agriculture issues. These programs are my main focus now. I’m working to help students acquire high-impact learning experiences. I think Texas A&M’s efforts to develop and broaden students’ high-impact learning is one of its best ideas ever.”

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Media Contact: Lesley Henton, News & Information Services at Texas A&M University; (979) 845-559

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