Developing a New Undergraduate Agricultural Safety Course

Assessing what students know, understand, and can do at the beginning and end of a course is important. Meaningful assessments align course content with student learning outcomes. Pre/post-assessment data provides evidence of students’ knowledge gain. Using the Understanding by Design model to develop learning outcomes, a 1-credit hour Special Topics – Agricultural Safety course (AGM 4730) was used as a case study to validate the need for a 3-credit hour Agricultural Safety course (AGM 3050).


Data indicates a high rate of injuries and death in the agricultural industry. The fatality rate on farms in the United States in 2016 was 21.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, with tractor rollovers being the leading cause of those fatalities.1 Machinery and power-tool-related injuries are the primary causes of injuries seen on farms. These types of injuries include, but are not limited to, bruises, sprains, fractures, cuts, punctures, traumatic brain injury, slips and falls, and crushes.1 The need and desire for an undergraduate agricultural safety course were identified; a 1-credit special topics course, Agricultural Safety (AGM 4730), was developed and taught in the fall of 2019. For three sequential years, the 1-credit hour seminar course was taught using a different mode of instruction (2019 in-person, 2020 online, and 2021 blended). Creating assessments to determine the success of an entire course, individual lecture, or laboratory session is important for assessment purposes and can help determine how to improve a course to disseminate information more effectively and improve student achievement. While creating the assessments, several elements should be considered to ensure that instructors align the assessments with the course learning outcomes, also referred to as performance objectives. The frequency and level of questions on the assessment should be based on Bloom’s Taxonomy.2 To evaluate student learning outcomes in the Agricultural Safety course (AGM 4730), pre- and post-test assessments were analyzed over three years to determine how the course content and the assessments were designed to maximize student achievement and to validate the need for a 3-credit course to improve the learning experiences of students at Clemson University.

Description of Teaching Activity

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service created a “CU Safe” program called “Growing Safe Tigers.” One of the components of this program is an Agricultural Safety special topics course taught to undergraduate students at Clemson University. The special topics course component of the CU Safe program was utilized to evaluate the alignment of the course content with the course assessments and assignments, in addition to creating a 3-credit hour course focused solely on different elements of agricultural safety. The content taught within the CU Safe program focuses on machinery-related safety topics, including areas in tractor operation and general tractor safety, rollover protective structure (ROPS), personal protective equipment (PPE), power takeoff (PTO), all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and utility task vehicle (UTV), mower and small outdoor power equipment, and power hand tools. The Agricultural Safety course (AGM 4730) was taught once a week as a 1-credit-hour seminar course in the fall semesters of 2019, 2020, and 2021. There were seventeen students enrolled in 2019, eighteen in the 2020 class, and eight students in the 2021 course. Due to the course appeal, significance, and importance, it was redesigned into a 3-credit course that debuted in the fall 2022 semester as AGM 3050 – Agricultural Safety. In addition to the pre- and post-test data that was collected to demonstrate the high acquisition of safety knowledge, the learning outcomes for the 3-credit course were updated with concrete action verbs that aligned with Bloom’s Taxonomy.2

The course description for the 1-credit course AGM 4730 was “Students develop the knowledge, awareness, and attitude necessary to become an effective supervisor, manager, employer, employee, and educator of safety topics in the agricultural industry. Students will learn how to engineer and enforce strategies to promote a safe work environment.”3 The course goals and student learning outcomes are as follows:

“The overall goal for the course is to increase awareness of safety procedures, maintenance operations, and changes to students’ habits of safety operation to:

  • Increase awareness of small and large equipment safety operations.
  • Improve accessibility to resources needed to practice safe operations of such equipment.
  • Increase awareness of daily operations of large and small equipment maintenance.” 3

The course description for the 3-credit course AGM 3050 was for students to “develop the knowledge, awareness, and attitude necessary to become an effective supervisor, manager, employer, employee, or educator of safety topics in the agricultural industry. Students will learn how to develop and implement strategies to promote a safe work environment and become familiar with various regulations and standards. The goals and learning outcomes for the course are as follows:

“The overall goal for the course is to increase awareness of safety procedures and maintenance operations and provide the fundamentals needed to develop and manage safety programs that meet regulatory requirements and industry standards. The objectives are to:

  • Describe agricultural systems safety and other related fields.
  • Contrast safety regulations and emergency response procedures by improving accessibility to safety resources.
  • Develop, implement, and manage safety training material for employees, youth, and students.”4

Course Assessments

In the AGM 4730 course in the fall of 2021, when the course utilized a blended learning style, students began the course by taking a pre-test consisting of thirty questions. The pre-test included thirty-one multiple-choice questions and nineteen true/false questions. After each weekly lesson, students had a quiz to reinforce the information covered in the lecture. The quizzes consisted of four to ten prompts, formatted as multiple-choice and true/false questions. At the end of the course, students were administered a post-test, which consisted of thirty of the pre-test questions in addition to twenty questions from the weekly quizzes that related to the content taught in the course. The post-test was formatted as multiple choice and true/false questions. Students were also required to complete a Farm Safety Audit project individually. All students were presented with the same scenario as “having recently been hired as the state Farm Safety Audit Agent for an Agricultural Safety Firm. The owner of the firm researched the injury reports and determined a need for the State of South Carolina.” Each student visited a different property and was required to contact the cooperating farm they selected to schedule the safety audit. Once the student scheduled the farm safety audit, the project involved additional steps to mimic the role of a Farm Safety Audit Agent.

Step 1: Students traveled to a local farm of any size to identify and photograph a combination of at least fifty major, serious, and minor safety hazards.

  1. Major hazards: potential for life-threatening or serious injury with the need for immediate corrective action.
  2. Serious: injury or property damage possible with correction action needed soon.
  3. Minor: not likely to cause significant injury or property loss with correction action needed long term.

Step 2: Students created a presentation where each photograph described the hazard, and a solution was recommended to create a safe working environment to present to the farmer. The farm was not identified in the presentation and remained anonymous. A 15-point penalty was incurred if the farm was identified.

Step 3: The information was then presented to the farm owner or manager with suggestions and solutions.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

The key to planning an effective course is for the assessments to align with the student learning outcomes. Bloom’s Taxonomy serves as a guide for six levels of thinking. 2 Figure 1 helps describe each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy along with example verbs.5,6

Diagram of Bloom's Taxonomy detailing the levels create to produce new or original work, evaluate to justify a stand or decision, analyze to draw connections among ideas, apply to use information in new situations, understand to explain ideas or concepts, and remember to recall facts and basic concepts.

Figure 1. Bloom’s Taxonomy. Image credit: Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

The three lower-order levels of thinking of the revised hierarchy are remember, understand, and apply, and the three higher orders of thinking are analyze, evaluate, and create.2 The six different levels were originally created by Benjamin Bloom and collaborators in 1956 and then revised by a group of cognitive psychologists, curriculum theorists, and researchers in 2001 to be based on action words of verbs instead of the original nouns.2 The lower order thinking requires minimal procedural or content knowledge. A lower-order thinking question posed on the pre/post-test was formatted for students to respond by filling in the blank. For example: “seat-belt anchor points should be able to withstand a static tensile load of up to _____ lbs.”3 The lower-order thinking levels focus on basic memorization and describing information or defining terms rather than critically thinking about problems and analyzing issues. Higher-order thinking questions require deeper thinking and are usually open-ended questions associated with more than one answer. An example of a higher-order thinking question used on the pre/post-test required students to write a short answer response, “What choice would you have made if you saw a coworker who was not wearing proper PPE for the working conditions? Explain your reasoning.” Both assessment types are important and have their place in a course.

Understanding by Design Model

The curriculum framework for Understanding by Design (UbD) outlined by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe,7 which offers explanations and techniques of implementation to help shift the teacher’s focus from direct teaching to facilitation of learning8 was utilized to develop the course outline for AGM 3050 – Agricultural Safety. The three stages of the backward design are (1) identify desired results, (2) determine acceptable evidence, and (3) plan learning experiences and instruction. When the objectives and assessments (course exam, projects, activities, and assignments) are created before the instruction, the teacher and the students know the end goal. During the first step, it is essential to determine at what level the course topics and scaffolded information need to be attained. Information and content need to be placed in one of three categories when deciding what should be included in the course: (1) worth being familiar with, (2) important to know and do, and (3) enduring understanding.8

Traditionally, the instructor used “forward design” to plan how they would teach the course, create assessments, and finally consider the objectives of the content. However, when using “backward design,” the instructor first established the learning outcomes of the course, unit, or lecture/lab, then created the assessments and assignments to assess those objectives, and finally developed how they planned to scaffold their instruction and course activities to reach those goals. By focusing on the intended student learning outcomes for the course or individual lecture or laboratory, the instructor was able to provide a clear understanding of where student learning targets for knowledge gain and skill acquisition should occur.8

When implementing backward design using the UbD model, there is more focus on the curriculum design process. The instructor and the students could identify the purpose of how the content is taught and aligned with the student learning outcomes for the course. When students understand what they have to learn (well-defined learning outcomes) that include the level of understanding needed, it creates a learning environment driven by providing resources to students with a clear purpose of preparing them for what will appear on the assessments, thus adding more transparency for what students need to know, understand and be able to do.

Discussion of Outcomes

The objectives and goals of the AGM 4730 1-credit special topics course were written primarily as lower-order thinking with “increase awareness” at the “understand” level on Bloom’s Taxonomy because it was first designed as an introductory course to teach background information of safety knowledge. From the analysis of the pre-post assessment, all the questions on the written test were lower order thinking, primarily at the remember and understand levels of the taxonomy. For example, one of the assessment questions was “PPE stands for:” which required memorization of the acronym Personal Protective Equipment. The course also included a “Farm Safety Audit” project where students captured photographs at a specific agricultural enterprise location to identify safety hazards and provide a solution to the issue. The project was focused on higher-level thinking, where students appraised or judged a situation to determine the severity of the safety issue and then design a safer working environment and recommend solutions to improve the safety protocol for the agricultural enterprise they observed. The “Farm Safety Audit” project was also included as an assessment in the newly designed AGM 3050 3-credit hour course. Students in the 1-credit hour course also engaged in hands-on experiences by using their safety knowledge and skills, practicing and demonstrating how to use power tools. The redesigned course goals and learning outcomes from the 1-credit hour course to the 3-credit included revision of learning outcomes, the inclusion of more hands-on experiential learning activities, and the use of a blended learning instruction style.

Reflection of Outcomes

Based on the analysis of the questions in the pre and post-test and with the alignment to the student learning outcomes taught in the Agricultural Safety special topics course (AGM 4730), more emphasis was placed on diversifying the level of thinking on the written assessments to include higher order thinking questions and prompts in the 3-credit hour AGM 3050 course, which assisted with obtaining approval of the course syllabus through the University curriculum committee process. The revision of the learning outcomes to be clearer in verb choice also benefited students by being direct in what the learner will be able to know, understand, and do as a result of their learning. For example, revised student learning outcomes included the students being able to: “Describe agricultural systems safety and other related fields, contrast safety regulations and emergency response procedures by improving accessibility to safety resources, and develop, implement, and manage safety training material for employees, youth, and students” as seen in the AGM 3050 course syllabus.4

The blended learning instruction style was utilized in the 2021 AGM 4730 course. The blended learning style consisted of posting videos and lecture presentations prior to the scheduled time, in-person class time with hands-on experiences, and then assigning a quiz after the lecture period to assess the content that was taught. Pre-test and post-test data collection, in addition to student feedback, indicated students’ acquisition of content knowledge occurred at high rates with a positive experience. Based on student feedback, the blended learning format was preferred due to the number of times students encountered the information and how the format allowed for individual review of the lecture material along with in-person interaction with the instructor and the course content. The blended learning instruction style was implemented in the new AGM 3050 course. Most students indicated they felt the hands-on experiences were beneficial to their learning. Additional experiential learning was added to the 3-credit hour course to include the use of power tools and demonstrations with safe load, tractor safety, rollover protection systems (ROPS), grain bin rescue, and power takeoff (PTO) safety.

It is recommended that clear SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive) goals for each lecture topic be created to outline the intended learning outcomes of the course for both students and the instructor.9 Once the course content and student learning outcomes are defined, the assessments and assignments can be altered to align closely with those objectives. The improved objectives aligned with the course content were implemented in the new 3-credit Agricultural Safety (AGM 3050) course to prepare students to work in and create safe working conditions for all those involved in the agricultural industry. Acquiring knowledge and skills in any course is important, but it is even more important in this course, where lives can be saved.

Discussion of Potential Adoption in Other Courses

The overall intention of this case study was to highlight how new courses can be created to better prepare students with knowledge and skills to be used in internships and upon graduation. Instructors who wish to create a new course can use this case study of the creation of the AGM 3050 – Agricultural Safety course as a reference. It is important to follow Bloom’s Taxonomy and the UbD framework during the process to aid in the approval process of the course and its syllabus, in addition to clearly communicating the learning outcomes to the students. Once the course learning outcomes have been generated, formatting them into performance objectives using Bloom’s Taxonomy will allow both the student and instructor clear guidance on how to achieve the course goals. Afterward, assessments to measure knowledge and skill acquisition can be developed along with lesson plans, assignments, and assessments to scaffold learning for students to reach the intended learning outcomes. Data from assessments can indicate areas to improve the course or where additional courses may be needed to effectively prepare students in their content areas and majors to prepare them for future careers.

References Cited

  1. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Agricultural Safety. Atlanta (GA): Center for Disease Control and Prevention; 2022 Aug.
  2. Armstrong P. Bloom’s taxonomy. Nashville (TN): Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. 2010.
  3. Massey H. AGM 4730 section 004 agricultural safety fall 2021 syllabus. Clemson (SC): Clemson University; 2021 Aug. p. 1–4.
  4. Massey H. AGM 3050 agricultural safety fall 2022 syllabus. Clemson (SC): Clemson University; 2022 Aug. p. 1–4.
  5. Ascough R. Learning (about) outcomes: how the focus on assessment can help overall course design. Canadian Journal of Higher Education. 2011 Nov;41(2):44–61.
  6. Krathwohl D. A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: an overview. Theory into Practice. 2010 Jun;41(4):212–218.
  7. Wiggins G, McTighe J. Understanding by design. 2 ed. Upper Saddle River (NJ). Pearson; 2005.
  8. Bowen RS. Understanding by design. Nashville (TN): Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching; 2017.
  9. Wolf A, Akkaraju S. Teaching evolution: from SMART objectives to threshold experience. Journal of Effective Teaching. 2014;14(2):35–48.

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