AnnouncingFAO Manual on Aquaponics available now in resources!
FeaturesPricingSupportSign In

22.6 Aquaponics in Higher Education

4 months ago

10 min read

Higher education programs need to be adapted to meet the expectations of the new millennium, such as long-term food security and sovereignty, sustainable agriculture/food production, rural development, zero hunger, and urban agriculture. These important drivers mean that higher education institutions involved in the areas of food production can play a key role in the teaching of aquaponics through both capacity development and knowledge creation and sharing. Additionally, it is clear that the interest in teaching and learning aquaponics is increasing (Junge et al. 2017).

At universities and colleges, aquaponics is usually taught as part of agriculture, horticulture, or aquaculture courses and the context for course content development in higher education is specific to each institution's internal and external dynamics. The main challenge in designing courses at higher education level is the interdisciplinary nature of aquaponics, as prior knowledge of both aquaculture and horticulture is essential. While some studies investigated the use of aquaponics in education (Hart et al. 2013; Hart et al. 2014; Junge et al. 2014; Genello et al. 2015) and a number of on-line courses are available, a course outline for aquaponics at the tertiary level at a main-stream does not yet exist, or at least hasn't been published. For tertiary level aquaponics courses to be implemented in the EU, the Bologna Process, which underlines the need for meaningful implementation of learning outcomes in order to consolidate the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), needs to be followed. Learning outcomes are (i) statements that specify what a learner will know or be able to do as a result of a learning activity; (ii) statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand, and/or be able to demonstrate after completing a process of learning; and (iii) are usually expressed as knowledge, skills, or attitudes (Kennedy 2008).

Table 22.4 and Example 22.7 introduce two conceptual frameworks for teaching aquaponics. Both courses are considered to be worth 5 ECTS credits (European Credit Transfer System), which correspond to a study load of approximately 150 h.

Example 22.7 Project [email protected], an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership in Higher Education (2017–2020)

The core task of the project is to devise an aquaponics curriculum (150 h of student’s workload corresponding to 5 ECTS credits and a supplementary entrepreneurial skills module (60 h), which will be taught by means of blended learning. Blended learning (combining digital media and the Internet with classroom formats that require the physical co-presence of teacher and students) offers alternative pathways to gain knowledge and involve students in creating content. This also improves the preparation of students for their lessons, and fosters their motivation, so that interactions with the teacher can be devoted to in-depth learning and the development of practical skills. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are particularly valuable for teaching aquaponics as they enable effective presentation of systems and processes, such as simulation modeling (graphic, numerical) of the parameters (weight of fish/feeds input/surface area of aquaponic beds, etc.). Students taking the [email protected] course will use e-portfolios (Mahara programme) to document their progress in learning. The curriculum will include the following modules:

Module No. of hours
1 Aquaponic technology 8
2 Aquaculture 12
3 Fish anatomy, health and welfare 8
4 Fish feeding and growth 10
5 Nutrient water balance 5
6 Hydroponics 13
7 Plant varieties 10
10 Integrated pest management 8
9 Monitoring of parameters 8
10 Food safety 12
11 Scientific research parameters 10
12 Design and build 16
13 Urban agriculture 10
14 Vertical aquaponics 8
15 Social aspects of aquaponics 12

The use of blended learning to teach a unique multidisciplinary curriculum will enable HE students from a variety of different academic disciplines to join together physically and virtually to gain professional and transversal skills desired by employers. They will gain advanced skills in the circular economy, environmental and ecological engineering, and closed-loop production systems (energy, water, waste), using aquaponics as an example of good practice. At the end of the project in 2020, the module guide and curriculum will be made available on the project website (, along with a toolbox of innovative didactic techniques appropriate for teaching aquaponics, a textbook and teaching materials, and a best practice guide for teaching aquaponics. The aquaponics curriculum and supplementary entrepreneurial skills curriculum will be freely accessible as an interactive online aquaponics course.

Table 22.4 Proposed aquaponics course outline at university level (5 ECTS). The flexible framework contains two key topics (hydroponics and aquaculture) and is clustered into six learning areas

table thead tr class="header" thCourse title:/th th colspan=2 Aquaponics /th /tr /thead tbody tr class="odd" thCourse Description:/th td colspan=2 Aquaponics is a food production method that combines hydroponics and aquaculture to form a system that re-circulates the water and nutrients and grows terrestrial and aquatic plants including algae and aquatic organisms while minimizing waste discharge. This course allows students to use the technical skills acquired to set up an integrated system. It equips them with the knowledge needed to be able to undertake and be aware of critical aspects of aquaponics. /td /tr tr class="even" thEntry Level:/th th colspan=2 BSc or MSc /th /tr tr class="odd" thUnit Name/th th 1. Aquaponics /th th 2. Aquaponics Operations /th /tr tr class="even" thUnit Purpose/th td To understand system design and management, components, and construction techniques. /td td To understand water characteristics, the microbiological and biochemical cycles (e.g., the nitrogen cycle) within an aquaponics, and interactions between water and plants. /td /tr tr class="odd" thRecommended prior knowledge and skills:/th td Basic knowledge of biology and agriculture (horticulture and aquaculture). /td td Basic knowledge of water quality, aquatic organisms, aquatic microbiology. /td /tr tr class="even" th rowspan=6Learning outcomes/th td Students should be able to /td td Students should be able to /td /tr tr class="odd" td explain the characteristics of an aquaponics; /td td explain water quality parameters; /td /tr tr class="even" tdexplain the types of aquaponics;/td td explain biochemical cycles and microbial transformations; /td /tr tr class="odd" td explain the construction techniques; and /td td identify criteria for fish and plant production; /td /tr tr class="even" td rowspan=2 describe the operational components. /td td calculate all relevant fish growth parameters; and /td /tr tr class="odd" td explain harvesting and processing. /td /tr tr class="odd" th rowspan=8 Knowledge and/or skills:/th td rowspan=8 On completion of the unit, students should be able to design an aquaponics. /td td On completion of the unit, students should be able to /td /tr tr td describe water quality criteria; /td /tr tr class="even" td analyze the main water quality; parameters (dissolved oxygen, pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate); /td /tr tr class="odd" td explain the effects of water temperature on fish and plants; /td /tr tr class="even" td explain the optimum water conditions for fish; /td /tr tr class="odd" td explain the interaction between water and plants; /td /tr tr class="even" td explain feeding strategies; and /td /tr tr class="odd" td compute the required feed rations /td /tr tr class="even" th rowspan=2 Evidence requirements:/th td rowspan=2 Students will be required to evaluate the different types of aquaponics in terms of their relative advantages and disadvantages. /td td Students will be required to /td /tr tr class="odd" td Apply a calculation for stocking density and feeding regime using fish size, water volume, and water quality parameters. /td /tr tr class="even" thUnit Name/th th 3. Plant Production /th th 4. Aquatic Organisms Production /th /tr tr class="odd" th rowspan=2 Unit Purpose/th td To demonstrate the ability to care for plants in order to maintain optimum growth and health while considering pruning, planting, and irrigation. /td td rowspan=2 To understand the growth of aquatic organisms such as fish and crustaceans and their requirements in an aquaponic system. /td /tr tr class="even" td To describe the optimal conditions for plant growth. /td /tr tr class="odd" th rowspan=2 Recommended prior knowledge and skills:/th td Basic knowledge of horticulture. /td td rowspan=2 Basic physiology of aquatic organisms, nutritional concepts, and reproduction of fish and crustaceans in aquaculture. /td /tr tr class="even" td Computer/technical literacy. /td /tr tr class="odd" th rowspan=11 Learning outcomes/th td Students should be able to /td td Students should be able to /td /tr tr class="even" td describe how to plant a plant; /td td explain the growth of aquatic organisms, nutritional principles in aquaculture, fingerling production, broodstock management, breeding/fry sex reversal; and /td /tr tr class="odd" td describe plant growth requirements; /td td explain the principles of aquaculture. /td /tr tr class="even" td identify the most suitable plants for the aquaponics; /td /tr tr class="odd" td describe seed production techniques; /td /tr tr class="even" td describe transplantation techniques; /td /tr tr class="odd" td allocate suitable plants for different seasons; /td /tr tr class="even" td define water pressure; and /td /tr tr class="odd" td flow rate and how to calculate these; /td /tr tr class="even" tdexplain how to control pests; and/td /tr tr class="odd" td explain harvesting techniques. /td /tr tr class="even" th rowspan=5 Knowledge and/or skills:/th td On completion of the unit, students should be able to explain /td tdOn completion of the unit, students should be able to:/td /tr tr class="odd" td seedling production /td td describe the functioning of RAS /td /tr tr class="even" td plant growth /td td identify the fish/crustacean species suitable for aquaponics /td /tr tr class="odd" td disease and insect control /td td rowspan=2 identify the growth requirements of different aquatic organisms /td /tr tr class="even" td harvesting /td /tr tr class="odd" th rowspan=2 Evidence requirements:/th td Students will be required to /td tdStudents will be required to/td /tr tr class="even" td Compare different plants regarding their suitability for aquaponics /td tdDescribe the role of aquaculture within an aquaponics/td /tr tr class="odd" thUnit Name/th th 5. Economics of Aquaponics /th th6. Risk Management Strategy/th /tr tr class="even" thUnit Purpose/th td To understand the processes required to set up an economically viable system /td tdTo understand the risk management elements including risk identification, analysis, responses, and control/td /tr tr class="odd" thRecommended prior knowledge and skills:/th td Basic mathematical and statistical knowledge /td tdBasic mathematical knowledge/td /tr tr class="even" th rowspan=6 Learning outcomes/th td Students should be able to /td tdStudents should be able to/td /tr tr class="odd" td explain profitability and sustainability; /td td identify the potential risks; /td /tr tr class="even" td estimate the depreciation, capital expenditure, operating expenses, sales, profit and loss statement; /td td develop a risk management plan; /td /tr tr class="odd" td explain the calculations used to determine cash flows; /td td analyze quantitative and qualitative risks; and /td /tr tr class="even" td discuss the balance of the budget; and /td td rowspan=2 monitor and control the risks./td /tr tr class="odd" td rate the financial indicators. /td /tr tr class="even" thKnowledge and/or Skills:/th td On completion of the unit, students should be able to create an economic feasibility model. /td td On completion of the unit, students should know how to create a probability impact matrix relating to risks. /td /tr tr class="odd" th rowspan=2 Evidence requirements:/th td Students will be required to /td td Students will be required to /td /tr tr class="even" td Create a feasibility model using different financial indicators based on a case study /td td Create a probability impact matrix of risk based on a case study /td /tr tr class="odd" thOutcome Assessment Activities:/th td colspan=2 Oral/computer presentation, written report, classroom quizzes. /td /tr /tbody /table