Reviving the Range School: Range Science Training for Colorado Extension Agents

Progress report for WPDP21-017

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $60,007.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G352-21-W8617
Grant Recipient: Colorado State University
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kevin Jablonski
Colorado State University
Co-Investigators:
Retta Bruegger
Colorado State University Extension
Anne Overlin
Colorado State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

In Colorado, county-based Extension agents are a vital source of information for their communities. However, these agents are counted on to cover a growing range of topics with reduced resources. In a series of needs assessments and listening sessions conducted since 2014, Colorado ranchers and other land managers have identified range management education as a fundamental need. Unfortunately, because many Extension agents do not have training in the principles of range management, this need goes unaddressed in large portions of the state. At best, questions are passed on to regional Extension Specialists, who do not have the time or resources to cover the range management education needs of the entire state. At worst, landowners are forced to make management decisions without access to accurate, science-based information. In either scenario, a crucial opportunity to improve management is lost, and Extension suffers a decline in relevance in rural areas of Colorado. With this project, we will address the identified needs of land managers by providing range management education to Extension agents across the state of Colorado. Regardless of their background or education, all participating agents will obtain the tools to effectively address range management needs within their community. We will achieve this by reviving the Colorado Range School, a highly successful range management education program that has been dormant for a decade. The curriculum will consist of a series of topical webinars, culminating in a 1.5-day workshop/field day in four regions of the state. With a target of 60 Extension agents completing the program, we expect to reach 25% of all agents in the state, including the majority working on natural resource issues in rural areas. Ultimately, this project will serve as a springboard for improved range management outreach and extension and a revived Range School for the broader public.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Develop and finalize the Range School curriculum by July 1, 2021. Activities: Integrate input from existing needs assessments, local Extension agents, producer-advisors, and successful programs in other states.

Objective 2: Successfully enroll 60 agents in the program by January 1, 2022. Activities: Create and distribute a 3-minute promotional video, promote program via Extension administration and regular regional and statewide meetings.

Objective 3: Increase range management knowledge by delivering five 1-2 hour topical webinars at least three times each by May 1, 2022. Activities: Design materials, schedule with enrollees, conduct webinars, record webinars.

Objective 4: Increase range management knowledge, including field-based skills, by delivering four workshops/field days by November 1, 2022. Activities: Work with local offices to schedule and organize. Conduct workshops and field days.

Objective 5: Evaluate project outcomes to improve Range School by March 1, 2023. Activities: Analyze quiz results to analyze topic choice and presentation. Distribute and analyze post-program evaluation. Integrate findings into curriculum and planning.

Objective 6: Ensure continuity of network and learning community by hosting regular Q&A sessions with statewide/regional range staff, including three Q&A events by April 30, 2023. Activities: Solicit questions for Q&A beforehand. Advertise Q&A. Host Q&A online Q&A.

Timeline:

PI Jablonski has a PhD in Rangeland Ecosystem Science and has taught all of the subjects covered in the program to undergraduate and graduate students at CSU. Co-coordinators Bruegger and Overlin both have master’s degrees in Range Science and have led numerous workshops, field days, and public education programs relevant to range management. The design of the webinars and face-to-face events will be based on the lessons learned from their teaching experiences.

Webinars will be a combination of lectures, videos, exercises, and “flipped classroom” education. The workshops/field days will consist of a combination of pedagogical techniques appropriate to the subject matter. For example, we are excited to incorporate “peer-to-peer” learning into the workshop using the Peers to Pros 360 model, which we think will be useful not only for education of the agents but also for modeling a technique that they can integrate into their own programming. Indeed, much of the program will be designed to model such techniques. The field days will provide hands-on experience in plant identification, assessment of soils, and ecological interpretation.

As Extension employees with existing connections across the state, we will have no trouble reaching out to Extension agents to enroll them in the program. We have already introduced the project on system-wide Zoom calls and have a list of agents who are excited about attending. PI Jablonski is one of the current leads of the CSU Extension Livestock and Range Planning and Reporting Unit, and co-coordinator Bruegger has just finished a three-year term.

The work of the project leads will be the primary inputs on the project. Additionally, there will be system-wide support from CSU Extension, from assistance in promotion from Regional Directors to planning support from local county staff. PI Jablonski is based on the CSU campus and has taught online courses, and so has extensive resources for creating and conducting the online webinars. The financial assistance from WSARE will ensure that these various resources can be most effective.

A Gantt chart that illustrates the project timeline is attached.

Education

Educational approach:

After initial curriculum development and feedback from agents, we have scheduled 5 training sessions in each month from January-May. Later in the spring we will schedule regional 1.5 day field workshops for summer 2022. Overall, our approach is to deliver to agents a basic understanding of range science (while making space for more advanced learners to move beyond that) and build a community of practice that improves connections between campus and non-campus extension faculty and staff, including among staff with little training in range science.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Session 1- Introduction to Colorado Rangelands and Range Science- January 18, 2022
Objective:

Provide an introduction to basic concepts of range science and an introduction to Colorado rangelands

Description:

After curriculum development, surveys and discussion to solicit feedback, and program enrollment, we held the first of 5 online training sessions on January 18, 2022. The main aim of this initial meeting was to introduce basic concepts in range science (abiotic vs biotic factors, heterogeneity, disturbance, resilience, and resistance) and describe some Colorado rangelands with which the agents may be familiar. The second aim was to continue to grow our community of practice that we established through those initial feedback efforts.

Outcomes and impacts:

While 51 agents are signed up for the course, 32 attended this first session, with the others planning to watch the recording due to conflict. The 32 included several who had not previously signed up, as we are not strict on that. We expect attendance to continue to grow. We began the session (as we will in each) with some questions about the subject matter to gage initial knowledge. There were 5 questions, and the average score was 47% correct, with percent correct for individual questions ranging from 9% ("The ability of an ecosystem to absorb disturbance without a change in function is known as"- resistance) to 73% ("Ecological sites are determined by"- climate, soils, topography). At the end of the session we reviewed the questions and all were confident in answering all of the questions correctly.

After a 45 minute lecture plus questions, we went to regional (west/east) breakout rooms for more in depth discussion of individual range ecological sites. Then we returned for review, questions, and discussion. All in all, it was a very positive first session. The recorded session is available on the course website at https://rangemanagement.extension.colostate.edu/education/range-school-for-extension/

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Online trainings

Participation Summary:

51 Extension

Learning Outcomes

32 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
32 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Year 1- Beginning in fall of 2021 (and with some minor covid-related delays) we began designing a curriculum with input from CSU Extension agents via surveys, polls, and in-meeting discussion. We then enrolled 51 (and growing) agents in the program, and scheduled online trainings from January-May, with plans for field days in summer 2022. We held the first training session on January 18, with participants improving from 47% comprehension of the main topics taught to 100% by the end of the meeting. We also developed a course resources and readings page that will, at the end of the project, develop into a permanent resource for agents. https://rangemanagement.extension.colostate.edu/education/range-school-for-extension/ The bulk of project work will occur in Year 2.

Information Products

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.