PRO-DAIRY, a joint venture of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, aims to improve New York State’s dairy industry through education and research.
PRO-DAIRY recently expanded its offerings, launching a series of online courses for students across the country and around the world. Rob Lynch, DVM, dairy herd health and management specialist, and Kathy Barrett, senior extension associate in the Department of Animal Science, direct this well-received program and speak to its success.
Why did you decide to develop online courses?
Our primary audience will always be farmers across New York State. But milk production takes place around the world and we wanted to extend our resources.
We launched the online courses in 2017 but lifted the attendance limits once COVID-19 hit since everyone was searching for learning opportunities while in-person events were canceled. We had 100-120 participants in each course!
How do people hear about your courses and what motivates participation?
Farmworkers and farm service providers in the dairy industry are always looking to expand their knowledge and better their practice. At the end of each course, we provide students with a certificate of completion. Most students are busy working on the farm during the day so the online format gives them the flexibility to complete the course on their own time.
What is the format for each course?
We have 16 different courses—from the basics of calf and heifer management to forage quality, reproductive health, milk quality, and transition cow management. Some courses and certifications are also available in Spanish.
Each online course is about 7 weeks long. Students access a virtual classroom through an online learning platform called Moodle, and spend about three hours per week on discussions, readings, homework assignments, and quizzes. Every Thursday, students can meet for a live webinar to ask instructors questions directly and interact with peers in real-time. The networking opportunities provide immense value to the courses.
What’s your favorite part of the online courses?
It’s so enriching to engage with the participants taking the course and the weekly presenters we bring in to teach the lessons. We love hearing from students and learning about what they liked and disliked about the courses to continuously improve the offerings. We’re also reaching a larger audience online versus in-person, which is so cool to see!
What’s been the response so far?
Students love the courses! We have a completion rate of around 60% to 80%, which is much higher than the average of online courses, which is 20% to 30%. Many students tell us that the online format has been especially important during the pandemic which disrupted learning and interaction with others.
“Many seminars and conferences were cancelled because of COVID, and PRO-DAIRY filled the gap. The online course gave me access to reliable and applied field knowledge, and I was able to improve my practice’s strategy for reproduction and calf management.”
- Shinta Suwa, Yamamoto Herd Management Service Inc.
What are your goals going forward?
We want to improve the course structure and respond directly to the feedback we received from students in course surveys. We want to create smaller working groups to encourage discussion and we also hope to offer shorter courses on more focused topics.
Caroline Stamm is a student writer for the Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science.
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