Wave of the Internet Technology
By Aimee Heald
The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture began riding the wave of the Internet more than ten years ago. Computers have changed much since then and technology now is moving even more rapidly. Technology will continue to play a significant role in the way the College communicates with Extension agents, producers, industry professionals, and the public.
Linking the College with the Counties
It was a real problem: how the main campus of UK could communicate daily with the 120 county Cooperative Extension Service offices located across the state. Long distance phone calls were expensive, mail service was too slow, and driving was out of the question.
While today the obvious solution would be to use electronic mail (e-mail), more than 10 years ago standard e-mail programs did not even exist. So UK wrote its own program and became one of the first states in the United States to set up its own e-mail system.
“We ( College of Agriculture data center personnel) wrote a program that allowed our staff to read and send e-mail,” said Robert Fehr, electronic technology coordinator for Agricultural Communications Services.
Five years ago, when standardized e-mail applications became available, the data center no longer needed to write its own.
In addition to e-mail service for all Kentucky counties, UK provided a way for each county to have access to the Internet. Three years ago, each county established dial-up access to an Internet service provider and began using the Internet to send and receive e-mail through the use of a modem.
Each county now has its own home page on the World Wide Web. Support technicians with UK Cooperative Extension Service provide help setting up and maintaining the pages and they keep the links between UK and the counties up and running.
Internet access also allows counties to receive weekly news releases from the electronic edia and news section of Agricultural Communications Services. Also, their educational publishing section puts all publications on the Web for anyone to view.
The Internet also is helping Kentucky and many surrounding states stay on top of all the latest weather conditions and trends.
When the National Weather Service ended the agricultural weather program three years ago, an obvious void in weather information was created.
“In Kentucky , we were able to pick up what was left of that program and get it going on our computers,” said Tom Priddy, UK agricultural meteorologist and director of the Agricultural Weather Center . “Now we're providing service not only to Kentucky , but to the entire Midwest .”
When Priddy took the challenge of moving the weather center to the World Wide Web, his idea was to put up links so people could call in with questions about weather and how it was going to affect their lives. The idea quickly moved in more directions than just contact links. The site now offers forecast maps for each county with up-to-the-minute and future weather details.
“We took a slightly different approach, because there's a lot of weather out there on the Internet,” Priddy said. “We wanted all Kentuckians to get the weather for their county in one click or bookmark. We want everyone to benefit—teachers needing educational programs, people who really love weather, or producers who need to know the weather to make timely decisions about their crops.”
Priddy was asked recently to put up a special section on the Web site about the Kentucky drought.
“I think we're coming to the point where we'll be able to provide a point-specific agricultural weather forecast for anyone in Kentucky ,” Priddy said. “In fact, when you provide an ag weather forecast, you're providing a forecast to anyone. Farmers, roofing companies, and government agencies all need to know some of the same things about the weather.”
There is little doubt that the traditional classroom has changed drastically in the past few years, from the physical setting to the methods used to instruct. Technology has played no small role in these changes. The College of Agriculture offered its first online course—a college-level class for credit offered via the Internet—in the 1999 spring semester, moving UK to the forefront in the use of Internet technology for teaching.
Five students enrolled in ASC 380: Feeds and Feeding, a class to introduce animal sciences majors and pre-veterinary medicine students to the basic concepts and problem-solving skills involved in the feeding of domesticated animals. The class is also available in a traditional, on-campus section and through correspondence study.
The instructor gives the Web site address to the students in the online section and assigns them a user ID and password. Once they have successfully accessed the site, the students find visually appealing materials that include slide shows, as well as audio files that allow students to hear lecture and other instructional information. Students follow the course outline through the semester, completing the required assignments, quizzes and tests.
In addition to the online materials, students purchase the required textbook. They also receive in the mail a feed sample kit which allows them to see, touch and smell the different types of feeds about which they will study and be tested.
Craig Wood, distance learning coordinator for the UK College of Agriculture, said that the way students learn is changing, and instructors must learn to change the way they instruct to accommodate these learning styles.
“We're seeing students who learn very differently today,” Wood commented. “They learn with a lot more things coming at them at one time, and that's probably a product of growing up with computers and video games. A 50-minute lecture for some students is very boring, because it has a tendency to be static. With online courses, we have several ways for students to learn and study the material.”
Because no instructor is present, testing is conducted a bit differently. “The online tests are built into the software. Students will take quizzes along the way and get an immediate response to their answers, so they will know how they are progressing,” Wood said. “The scores are formed and logged into a grade book. The instructor has access to the grade book and can see how each student is moving along.”
The major tests are proctored and the students must take them at specified locations such as a public library, school or a county Extension office. During the semester students can interact with their instructor by e-mail, fax, telephone, or U.S. mail, asking questions about test results or other course concerns.
A new online course in equine management will be available for the 2000 spring semester. The class also will be offered to the horse industry as a certification course in equine management, although it will be scaled back some from the University credit version. When farms sign up workers for the certification, they'll know which concepts are being taught and the worker can apply the knowledge on the farm with the real animals.
“This course won't have a required textbook,” Wood said. “All the information will be online. There will be streaming video (video that shows up-to-the-minute events as they happen) and some ‘virtual reality' components. For example, we'll have a horse there on the screen. The student will be able to move the horse around with the mouse, just by clicking. Obviously, it won't be the same as actually taking hold of the real animal, but it will be a good tool.”
Wood is sure students will start to demand more online courses, and not just college students. The courses can be used by anyone who wants to improve his or her position in life. Students, teachers, county agents and many more will benefit from online classes.
Agripedia— www.ca.uky.edu/Agripedia (today's
Agripedia was created to allow students enrolled in agriculture classes access to a wide variety of resources across the country. It's really like an online encyclopedia that presents facts, figures, demonstrations, examples, and graphics about the concepts, vocabulary and practices of agriculture in a multimedia format.
“The goal of Agripedia is to provide a central place for students to get information about agriculture,” said Lori Thomas Porter, Agripedia's coordinator. “Agripedia is built around class material that would be useful for on-campus students in agriculture classes. But it also provides an excellent source of agricultural information for younger students, agricultural producers, county Extension agents, and others.”
Agripedia succeeds in integrating traditional classroom lectures with audio clips, graphics, text and animation as an effective supplement to college-level courses.
While Porter designs the Web site to maintain consistency, she works closely with the instructors, who provide the content. She also updates the site daily and checks links bi-weekly.
Agripedia is designed so that beginning or advanced agricultural students can use the information. Not only does Agripedia provide supplemental class material, it is also available to the students at their convenience. An added benefit is that students can learn and use technology they will need in their careers.
Original funding for Agripedia came from a USDA Higher Education Program Challenge Grant awarded to the UK College of Agriculture. What began as a set of instructional notes for GEN 100: Issues In Agriculture has grown to include notes for more than 20 classes, a glossary of agricultural terms, special sections for kids, and a large list of helpful agriculture links. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently chose Agripedia for its Information Technology Spotlight and Infoseek Web search engine gave the site its best rating—three stars—in a search for agricultural information.
Putting it All Together
The Internet has changed the way we communicate, educate, conduct research and disseminate information. We can do things faster, more economically, more efficiently and more accurately than ever before. And despite technology's many advances, things continue to change at breath-taking speed. We don't know where it will all end, but UK 's College of Agriculture is sure to keep pace. It should be an interesting ride.