Canvas and Field Experiences: Engaging Blended Learning for Faculty Development

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Participants will learn how our blended faculty development Academy was established, the Canvas attributes used in developing the modules for the Academy, how we constructed field experiences centered on Canvas modules, and how the field experiences assisted Academy Fellows in designing their e-Learning case study for students.  


Dr. Strong is an Associate Professor in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications (ALEC) Department at Texas A &M University. Dr. Strong's research focuses on technology-enhanced learning and cyber learning technology delivery applications.
Dr. Nicole Stedman –Dr. Stedman is a professor of leadership in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at the University of Florida, where she currently serves as the Associate Department Chair and Undergraduate Coordinator. Her PhD is in agricultural education and communication from UF with a specialization in leadership development teaching courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She has served as the University of Florida’s Faculty Senate Chair and as a Board of Trustee member. She is an active scholar publishing and presenting her work and has partnered for $2.2 million in funded grants. She has been recognized for her teaching with awards from the University of Florida (2010, 2013), the American Association for Agricultural Education Southern Region (2013), NACTA Teaching Fellow (2011) and Scholar (2015) and the APLU Regional Excellence in College and University Teaching (2016). She is active in her international work with professional trips to Ireland, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Belize, England, Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. While her research is grounded in critical thinking pedagogy, she has worked to collaborate on a model of Emotionally Engaged Thinking (EET), a model which promotes the use of emotion as a catalyst for decision-making. EET is being studied for its impact on student learning, complex and contentious decision-making, and leadership development.

Extended Abstract


The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded this innovative project to engage faculty via blended learning environments in colleges of agricultural and life sciences who teach courses focused along the food production value chain. Universities are charged with developing graduates’ competencies, both in technical and soft skill areas (National Research Council, 2009). This grant involved thirty-six (N = 36) faculty who participated in a newly developed online faculty development academy called “Preparing Organizational Leaders in Agriculture” (POLA). These participants were recruited from across the southern U.S., representing 11 universities.

Production agriculture is particularly susceptible to weather-related disasters; including drought, fires, flooding, freezes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Teaching students about the role of leadership in how individuals and organizations in production agriculture respond to these disasters will better prepare them for developing solutions for future agricultural challenges. Unfortunately, this content is not typically included in faculty preparation, as time is spent in their specific technical area. By creating online professional development opportunities for faculty, they will be better prepared to integrate leadership, change management, and teamwork skill areas into their courses, so ultimately better preparing their students will be better prepared to lead their future organizations when faced with a disaster. Selected faculty became POLA Fellows upon completion of academy.

The short-term outcome of the project was POLA participants were more confident in their abilities to develop and implement eLearning case studies in their teaching. A medium-term outcome was participants will adopt the use of eLearning case studies that integrate leadership frames with technical content in their courses. The long-term outcome was the inclusion of Canvas and field experiences would improve the quality of baccalaureate instruction to help meet current and future national food and agricultural sciences workplace need.


The Academy began with a synchronous webinar to provide an overview of the project and expectations. Seven modules were delivered using the University of Florida’s Canvas eLearning management system. The modules were organized as a Canvas course and POLA Fellows were enrolled as “students” in Canvas. Modules were developed using best practices for online education and reviewed using the Quality Matters for eLearning rubric. Modules were designed to be approximately one hour in length including an online lecture, readings, discussions, and quizzes. The seven module topics were (a) Impacts of Agricultural Disasters; (b) Using Leadership as a Lens; (c) Structural and Human Resource Leadership; (d) Symbolic and Political Leadership; (e) Contextualizing a Leadership Lens (f) Creating e-Learning Case Studies; and (g) Teaching with Case Studies. Fellows had two weeks to complete each module. The culminating assignment for participants in the Academy was a concept note for the case study they planned to develop. POLA Canvas case studies have the potential to be used beyond the POLA Fellows in classes across the country in colleges of agricultural and life sciences. 

Field Experiences

Once POLA Fellows were chosen, the project team selected three locations based on the best opportunities for observing positive leadership, cost efficiency, and relevance to the courses taught by POLA Fellows. The three locations were areas in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas impacted by recent natural disasters. Project team members were divided in teams to travel to these locations and conduct advanced planning to lay the groundwork for the field experiences for participants. COVID-19 cancelled the North Carolina field experience.

POLA Fellows were invited to the field experience portion which served as the face-to-face component of the project after completing the online academy in Canvas. The field experience provided POLA Fellows the opportunity to directly interact with individuals and organizations impacted by hurricanes. Field experiences gave POLA Fellows an authentic context to create their e-Learning case studies. The final case studies will be publicly available and formatted for delivery in an online or face-to-face setting through the Global Education Lab

Based on specific technical and geographic interest, POLA Fellows were divided in two teams (10-15 participants per team), each visiting different sites to learn more about specific impacts from weather-related disasters on agriculture and collect data for individual case studies. Example data included text, interviews, video, and photographs. These field experiences were four to five days in length and included in-depth visits with a variety of purposively selected stakeholders impacted by weather-related disasters. Three project team members traveled with each group of participants to help facilitate the experience, consult on leadership concepts, case study development, and collect evaluation data. With coaching from the project team leadership specialists, participants finalized their techniques for collecting data relevant for their case study. Project team members assisted participants process their experiences and initiate the case study development process.

The blended nature of the POLA Academy enabled the project team to maximize learning, participant time, and faculty development. Mastery of the Canvas modules was only realized through the inclusion of the field experiences. Canvas was effective in disseminating the content and field experiences provided real examples of where the content not only existed but how the content impacts people affected and future leaders of organizations. Through Canvas and field experience engagement in POLA, Fellows are better prepared to view issues facing their respective disciplines through a leadership framework. Furthermore, they will be able to transfer those content and technical skills to their students, better preparing them to be successful in the workforce.


This type of project could be reproduced on a local level using ours as a guide.  The goal was to provide real-world access to information that informed the creation of the cases of which the Canvas tools prepared faculty for their field experience and to develop their respective e-Learning case study. Participants did take-on some of the expenses themselves, so there’s clearly a willingness of faculty to invest in this type of professional development.


The POLA cohort experienced an intentionally constructed blended learning environment. About half the participants said they’d used case studies before, half hadn’t. Building confidence to apply the content knowledge to creating case studies was the most impactful outcome of the field experience. A particular highlight from the Texas field experience came from the respondent who reflected “I feel that this experience has helped me think outside the box. And I would like to continue to pass on that type of thinking to my students so they don’t get confined to their area of expertise, but they know how to deal with people and how to think outside the box when they need to for particular jobs.” ​ 

The data suggest the Canvas lessons were more effective at increasing knowledge than confidence and some participants desired increased synchronous engagement with instructors and peers. It would be great to have more direct contact with instructors and fellow classmates about how they will assess whether learners have learned about leadership frames in their case studies.” The asynchronous approach is good, but scheduling more live check-ins would have been appreciated.


Participants on the field experiences participated in group interviews to evaluate reactions and short-term outcomes related to the project. A semi-structured interview protocol was shared with both teams. Team leads were instructed to adapt as needed for their individual contexts. The recording app, Otter, was used to capture audio and text files. Participants also were asked to complete a pre-field experience survey. The data showed respondents were most concerned about how to use the leadership frames appropriately in their e-Learning case studies.

Following the field experience, Florida participants reported increased confidence using the leadership frames to create their e-Learning case studies. One participant said, “After this week and going through it I feel like going from maybe 2 to an 8 in my level of confidence and taking some things I’ve seen and done and worked with to what I think I can do now.”



To address participant engagement in the presentation, we will separate participants into two groups, like our field experiences for POLA Fellows, and provide photo and video examples of what we encountered including how that was used to build electronic case studies.

Each group would then examine an e-Learning case produced from one of the two field experiences. The presenters will provide each group a laptop with the respective e-Learning case study to review and examine. The presenters will ask each group to share the e-Learning case’s background, the learning objective, the case’s content and evaluation framework. After the groups share, the authorship team will provide recommendations in what worked well for this blended faculty development Academy and how those attributes could be replicated to other contexts.


Attendees will learn how the POLA Academy was developed, the Canvas attributes used in developing the modules for the Academy, how we constructed field experiences centered on Canvas modules, and how the field experiences assisted Fellows in designing their case study. The presentation team will walk attendees through each phase of the blended faculty development Academy. The takeaways from this presentation will be using current resources such as Canvas to enhance faculty development with the intent of improving student competencies for post-graduate success.