Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Top 3 Reasons to Invite Guest Speakers

Thank you all for your attention and engagement with our guest speakers in class.  We do have many more coming in during the course of the semester, so the question begs, "Why all these guest speakers?" 

Reason 1: Internationalize
Let's go back to the original idea of the class.  We're trying to learn about global agricultural education in its many forms across the globe.  How can we do that without traveling?  One of the strategies to accomplish our learning goals is to invite in guest speakers, many of them from the Penn State community, to share their global experiences.

Yesterday we heard from a student's perspective about Zamorano University in Honduras.  It's hard to imagine an ag university where you get a demerit for walking on the grass, or where you have to wear a uniform at all times.  By inviting Loren in, we get to glimpse into the world of Zamorano without having to travel there.

Reason 2: Real Life Examples
We spent much of the first part of the semester learning about agriculture, education and agricultural education.  We also looked at diffusion of innovations and many different barriers to receiving an agricultural education - gender, location, literacy, race, language, etc.  The idea behind examining real-life examples is to go from our abstract classroom knowledge and apply it to real-life situations.

For example, we had Blaze Currie here from Agricorps.  Many of you asked poignant questions about the program i.e, "Is a year long enough?" and "Is language a barrier?"  These are great questions that really showcase the decisions that have to be made in real life.  Perhaps a longer time would be better, but then no one would sign up.  And sure, technically the official language is English, but other tribal languages may also be spoken.

It's a long way from the critical world of academia to a small school in rural Liberia.  How does a program such as Agricorps balance what they know in the abstract with what they think will work in real life?

Reason 3: Context
I think it is easy to sit in a classroom at Penn State and say that "culture" is a reason why some programs work and other programs don't work.  It's actually very shaky ground to "blame"culture, especially when talking about underdevelopment.  That's a viewpoint that was very popular in development work in the 1950s and 1960s, and has since been recognized as very damaging.

Bringing in a guest speaker can help us to understand the unique cultural context of different places.  For example, we had Dr. Nicole Webster come in yesterday to talk with us about her Fulbright experience developing a student organization at UNICA in Nicaragua.  After learning about how the lingering effects of the Sandinistas on Nicaragua, it was easy to see why student organizations were not a part of the culture of UNICA or any other university in the country.  This is a fabulous example of why context matters.  It would have been very easy to blame the lack of student organizations on culture, but really there is an underlying historical rationale that makes a lot of sense.

Why is this knowledge useful?  Well, if you wanted to bust into Nicaragua and start an FFA organization or 4-H Club you would certainly want to know about the context before you got started.  Dr. Webster's example provides us with the idea that you might have to dig deep to find the answers - history and politics, in this case.

Let's use the information presented by our guest speakers to our best advantage.  Think about the elements of the programs our speakers talk about in terms of what you've read and learned about in this class. 

Remember that this class is not just about critiquing examples, but it is also about building.  We hope to create positive change agents, so we strive to provide you with some real-life examples of programs that "work". 

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