The Farm at Butler as a Hub of Learning

Using a Campus Farm to Cultivate Environmental Literacy, Scientific Reasoning, Civic Action, and Place Attachment and Meaning

As part of two NSF-funded projects entitled, Cultivating Scientific Literacy and Action through Place: Expanding the Use of a Campus Farm as an Interdisciplinary Learning Hub, The Farm at Butler is being transformed into a hub for research and education through the creation of sustainable agriculture research modules in Butler courses. As part of this effort, students conduct real-world research that contributes to our understanding of the impacts of urban agriculture on environment and society. In 2016, the CUES and the STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute (SEIRI) at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) received nearly $300,000 from the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop, implement, and assess a cohesive program of place-based experiential research modules centered on the theme of sustainable agriculture in four Butler undergraduate physical and natural science courses. In 2019, the CUES received an additional $600,000 from the NSF to further research the efficacy and impact of farm-situated place-based experiential learning across Butler’s curriculum—expanding the project to five additional professional disciplines: pharmacy and health sciences, pre-service teacher education, business marketing, communications, and religious studies. Both of these grant-funded projects, innovating the way campus spaces are used for community-engaged civic education.

Each course introduced and compared environmental, social, and individual aspects of the global/industrial and local/sustainable food system to give students a context to their research. After this introductory material, students conducted real-world research on The Farm at Butler and at other urban farms related to their disciplines. Each semester, research findings from each class are presented to the Indianapolis community and data is provided to urban farmers in Indianapolis. Throughout this project, SEIRI is quantifying impacts of the modules to 1) student course engagement, environmental science content knowledge, scientific reasoning, place attachment and meaning, and civic mindedness, 2) faculty teaching and research, and 3) interdisciplinary collaboration across Butler’s campus.

The program was piloted in four undergraduate courses from 2016-2019:

  • ENV200 Introduction to Environmental Studies, Professor Jesse van Gerven
  • BI230 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology–Fundamentals, Professor Travis Ryan
  • BI408 Ecosystem Ecology, Professor Sean Berthrong
  • CH465 Environmental Chemistry, Professor Elizabeth Davis

The new grant continues research on three of these four courses (omitting BI230) while expanding the development and implementation of curriculum in five additional STEM and non-STEM disciplinary courses:

  • NW207, Ecology and the Natural Environment, Professor Travis Ryan
  • RL384, Ecotheology, Professor Brent Hege
  • ED317/ED418, Teaching Science and Social Studies Methods for Middle School Childhood, Professor Catherine Pangan
  • MG480, Strategy Capstone, Professor Lawrence Lad
  • ORG358, Social Responsibility and Community, Professor Lindsay Ems
  • RX499, Sustainable Healthy Nutrition, Professor Jane Gervasio

Additionally, as part of the project, the PIs facilitated a Faculty Staff Learning Community that included faculty from Political Science, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Desmond Tutu Peace Lab, and Art History. Data management and statistical analysis in some courses is supported through complementary curriculum developed by Professor Rasitha Jayasekare.

This unique curriculum is founded in place-based, experiential learning (PBEL) theory where hands-on learning through research is underpinned with the specific geography, ecology, sociology, and politics of a place. PBEL strives to connect ‘place’ with the self and community to help students develop stronger ties to their community, enhance their appreciation for the natural world, and create a heightened commitment to serve as critically engaged citizens. PBEL is recognized as an effective pedagogy to enhance student content knowledge, course engagement, critical thinking skills, and civic mindedness, particularly when situated within a place to which students attach meaning, such as school gardens or campus farms. In 2019, the research team published a farm-situated PBEL pedagogical framework to guide future curricular developments in local farm spaces.

To ensure consistency, each course module contains three parts: a farm sensory reflection, a personal food exploration, and an activity introducing social and ecological aspects of food systems. Faculty can choose from a selection of pre-developed introductory activities (1–4) below or create their own.

Details coming soon…

In 2020-2021, 14 Butler faculty and staff participated in a faculty-staff learning community (FSLC) to explore best practices for the implementation of farm-situated, place-based experiential learning in a variety of disciplines. Outcomes from the FSLC included curricular modules for each participating class and documentation of pre-work, session activities, and post-work for the year-long FSLC.

Principal Investigators:

  • Julia Angstmann, Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability, Butler University
  • Brandon Sorge, STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)
  • Grant Fore, Research Associate, STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute, IUPUI

Postdoctoral Fellow:

  • Francesca Williamson, Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability, Butler University

Farm Manager:

  • Tim Dorsey, The Farm at Butler, Butler University

Doctoral Student:

  • Amber Rollings, STEM Education and Innovation Research Institute, IUPUI

Teaching Faculty Associates:

  • Sean Berthrong, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Butler University
  • Elizabeth Davis, Department of Chemistry, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Butler University
  • Lindsay Ems, Department of Communications and Media Studies, College of Communications, Butler University
  • Jane Gervasio, Pharmacy Practice, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
  • Brent Hege, Department of Philosophy, Religion, and the Classics, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Butler University.
  • Rasitha Jayasekare, Department of Mathematics and Actuarial Science, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Butler University
  • Lawrence Lad, Department of Marketing and Management, Lacy School of Business, Butler University
  • Catherine Pangan, College of Education, Butler University
  • Travis Ryan, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Butler University
  • Jesse van Gerven, Interdisciplinary Program in Science Technology and Environmental Studies, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Butler University

NSF logoThis material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Numbers 1609219 and 1915313.

Program: Improving Undergraduate STEM Education, Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation

Investigators: Professors Julia Angstmann (Butler), Brandon Sorge (IUPUI), and Grant Fore (IUPUI)

Award # 1609219, Grant Amount $296,377 Project Dates 9/1/2017–8/31/2019.
Award # 1915313, Grant Amount $ 599,850, Project Dates 7/15/2019­–6/30/2022.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.