Ecology and Management of Grazing, An Online Course

Final Report for EW09-004

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $84,826.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Melvin George
University of California
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Project Information

Abstract:

Increasing use of grazing as a tool to ecologically manage weeds, manipulate habitat and reduce fire hazard is motivating changes in grazing management. The objectives of this interstate distance education project were to 1) increase knowledge of the ecology and management of grazing, 2) build skill in planning and implementing grazing management changes, and 3) motivating agencies and individuals to change management behaviors. This project uses a web-based course with interactive video technologies to provide science based, interdisciplinary training to land management professionals, government agency personnel and staff from NGOs who manage or influence the management of grazinglands throughout the state. The interdisciplinary nature of this course should make it interesting and useful to range management professionals, animal scientists, ranchers, grazing managers, agriculture and science teachers, restoration ecologists, conservation and wildlife biologists and other natural resource managers.

Project Objectives:

We were uncertain how well an online course might be used by the target audience. Our main objective was to reach agency and NGO staff.

Introduction:

Increasing use of grazing as a tool to ecologically manage weeds, manipulate habitat and reduce fire hazard is motivating changes in grazing management. This increases the need for grazing management expertise in local, state and federal agencies and organizations that manage parks, open space, and conservancies or influence the management of private land. As conservation easements, mitigation banks and other land trust instruments are used to protect working landscapes from development there is increasing demand for ecological weed management strategies that rely heavily on changes in grazing management. Unfortunately, the numbers of professionals who are trained in the ecology and management of grazing have been decreasing. This online course is helping fill the gap in grazing management training opportunities.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Melvin George
  • Douglas Johnson

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

This online course is organized in four modules that can be taken separately or in sequential order. The modules are 1) Introduction to Ecology and Grazing, 2) Foraging Behavior and Livestock Distribution, 3) Forage Quality and Grazing Animal Nutrition, and 4) Ranching and Grazing Systems.

Each module is introduced by a 10 to 20 minute documentary quality high definition video followed by a series of narrated presentations (lectures) that were produced in Adobe Presents. There are reading assignments and practical exercises. Each module is self-paced and takes 10 to 20 hours to complete.

Course content (videos, lectures, readings and exercises) is delivered via a website that is integrated with SmartSite, the UC Davis course management website. SmartSite manages registration, assignments, testing, discussion groups, emails and other course functions. Individuals who do not wish to register and take quizzes can review the materials by going straight to the course website, avoiding registration on SmartSite.

Smartsite: smartsite.ucdavis.edu
Course Site: http://www.plantsciences.ucdavis.edu/gmcourse/index.htm

Outreach and Publications

The course has been published on the web and is used by continuing education professionals and by undergraduate students. One poster was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Range Management.

Outcomes and impacts:

Eighty-two people have registered for the course and 30 have completed one or more modules with a passing grade. About 75 % were agency staff, and 25 % were NGOs, students and ranchers. The agency staff were from Cooperative Extension in Oregon and California, USDA NRCS, and state and local water quality agencies and districts. Most of the remaining students have indicated that they went through the course materials but did not take the quizzes. Five of those completing the course including the quizzes were students from Cal State University, Chico who took the course online to fulfill their range management course requirements. Chico State has been without a faculty member to teach range management for more than 5 years and budgets preclude replacement at this time. Four ranchers enrolled in the course. University of Idaho has used the modules in their rangeland management courses. USDA NRCS is planning to register a large number of their California staff in the coming year.

Course completion survey responses indicate that students who took the course found the course materials to be well organized and easy to understand. Most respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that they had questions during the online lectures that they would have asked the instructor had the lecture been presented in class. Video presentations were rated as very creative. Respondents felt that the reading assignments contributed to their learning. Most respondents took the course at home. Most respondents said that each module required about 10 to 30 hours to complete. Few completed it in less than 10 hours. Respondents ranged in age from less than 15 years old to 45 years old. Many agency students took the course to improve their understanding of grazing so that they could improve job performance or take on new duties related to rangeland or pasture management.

In 2011 a group of rangeland management faculty from eight western universities received a grant from USDA HEC (led by University of Idaho) to modernize undergraduate curricula in rangeland management and to increase interstate collaboration in teaching. One component of this project will be to set up an online clearing house where faculty can shared lecture materials, MS PowerPoint presentations and other media. This course developed for professional continuing education will be one of the first courses made available on the clearing house. A second component is to develop a “virtual exploration of U.S. rangelands” as an online course that can be used by several western universities. This course is being developed in a manner similar to that used in this project. A similar course focusing on world rangelands is also being developed under a USDA ISE grant lead by University of Arizona.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Online delivery of a 4 module online course.

Increased attention for online course delivery by faculty, Deans and Directors.

Initiation of western projects that include online undergraduate courses.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

This course shows that interstate collaboration on web-based undergraduate and extension instruction can help bridge the ever increasing gap caused by retiring faculty, including Cooperative Extension educators who are not replaced. It is not the entire solution but it is part of the solution. This project also demonstrates that there are ways to deliver information outside the over-dominant eXtension format.

Future Recommendations

Interstate collaboration on delivery of online courses is an opportunity to bridge the gap in undergraduate and extension instruction created by retirements that are not replaced due to poor budgets. However, before faculty invest much time developing interstate collaboration on curricula we need to know how interstate collaboration will work. How will faculty get credit at their university for out of state distance students? What will be the tuition arrangements for out of state/out of country students? I don’t think this works if there is a heavy out of state tuition levied on the student. Can we have a western institute that manages curriculum and delivers courses much the way an academic department might? Can each state that collaborates send students without paying out of state tuition? These and questions I don’t know enough to ask need to be considered by the Deans/Directors before we head down very far down the online course delivery road.

If the Deans/Directors can tell us how this can be administered I would be willing to work on it. How an interstate program is administered will influence how curriculum is developed and delivered. There is no point in doing a lot of work on curriculum unless we have leadership from the Deans/Directors. I know that this subject is on their “radar screen” so I anticipate some direction from them in the coming year or two.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.