The How, When and Why of Forest Farming: Building and Using New Internet Based Infrastructure to Advance Learning and Practice in the Northeast
The project will build on-line learning communities in forest farming (FFLCs), which is an agroforestry approach to land use and natural resource management in the Northeastern US. The FFLCs will be comprised of Extension educators and landowners who interact to learn how to practice forest farming effectively, and to generate knowledge for prospective forest farmers to use. The FFLCs will be organized around an on-line course entitled The How, When and Why of Forest Farming (HWWFF). The HWWFF course currently is being constructed by a group of 12 Extension Educators (EEs), six from New York State and six from Pennsylvania, together with project leadership. The course will be comprised of eight to ten modules that users can select from and package to suit their particular interests and needs. We have established an internet based communication platform for interacting to develop the course, and presently we are fine tuning this methodology. Once the prototype on-line course is constructed, we will pilot test it with the EEs who participated in building it, and an additional 20 educators (6 from NY, 6 from PA and 8 from other Northeast states) and 80 landowners in the region. We will use feedback that we generate from this process to finalize the modules, and to create guidelines for using the course to facilitate on-line LCs. The completed course will be made available to the public through a forest farming Portal that the project will create to coordinate access to information about forest farming throughout the Northeast.
Of the 32 Extension and other farming and natural resource educators who participate in developing and testing the on-line forest farming course, 20 will also successfully facilitate internet-supported forest farming learning communities that will include 80 small farm operators and other private forest owners and 30 educators will incorporate the use of the web-based curriculum into their programs.
Of the 80 land owners who participate in developing the on-line forest farming curriculum, 70 will initiate or expand trial forest farming practices, monitor them, and report on-line to their educator-facilitated learning communities on their progress and performance. Fifty (50) will cooperate with Extension and other educators to facilitate the training of many additional land owners using the distributed learning course.
Once the project commenced in April 2004, we began recruiting Extension Educators (EEs) from NY and PA to participate in the start-up workshop and throughout the project. As planned, we conducted a two day workshop at the Agroforestry Resource Center (ARC) of Greene County Cooperative Extension in the foothills of the Catskill mountains. Twelve EEs attended, six from each state, together with the project leadership team (LT). The workshop served to introduce EEs to the type of product that the LT has in mind developing into an on-line course, by reviewing the HWWFF module that members of the Team had developed for the USDA National Web Based Learning Center. EEs were introduced also to the type of internet-based working and learning environment that the LT has in mind for constructing the HWWFF course together. We also developed an action plan for Year 1 of the project, which involved outlining the content of the course, identifying key resources to draw upon in creating the course, and linking each EE and LT member with responsibilities for specific units of the course.
After the workshop the LT’s web based instructional technology specialist created an on-line forum for our group work, using a MOODLE platform. Nick-named IMFIRP (Internet mediated forest farming instructional resource package), the forum had numerous features that were customized for our project based on our action plan. Experience with IMFIRP signaled however, that a simpler platform was likely to serve our group better, comprised as it is of varying levels of familiarity with internet based communication and inclinations to use it. The discussion board-based platform that we have created more recently appears well suited to our needs and current capacities. As the group gains comfort with interacting via this media, and as the course units that we are in the process of constructing become further developed and refined, we anticipate further customizing this forum as needs and opportunities become evident.
Presently three project working groups are focused on constructing the following units for the HWWFF course: 1) Site assessment, 2) Enterprise evaluation and marketing, and 3) Nuts and berries. Each EE is a member of at least one of the working groups; some have membership in two. An LT member leads each working group, and each includes a second LT member. Working groups collect and create resource material for respective course units. Once material for these three units is well in hand, EEs and LT members will form new working groups that correspond to additional course units on particular forest farming products. Following approximately two month’s work on these, working groups again will be reconstituted around three or four more product categories to complete the units of the course.
Working group members draw upon their own professional knowledge, information resources they are familiar with in their work, and the original HWWFF module for sources of prospective content for the course. A rich variety of material already has been identified and/or is being created. We are creating video, power point with voice-over, still images with captions, bulletins, articles and links to convey forest farming content to prospective users (educators and landowners).
Early in 2005 we will begin recruiting additional educators to pilot test the course with EEs already engaged in the project, so that they may fit this activity into their schedules for Fall 2005. We will recruit 20 additional educators, 6 from NY State, 6 from PA and 8 from other Northeast states, who will become familiar with the content and design of the course, and learn how to use it to instruct and facilitate groups of land owners in learning about forest farming.
Once we have decided on the educators who will participate, we will recruit 80 land owners to sign up to participate in one of the on-line courses that groups of educators will facilitate and monitor. EEs will identify landowners in their spheres who are likely to contribute and benefit.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Although it is too early to report on outcomes related to specific project goals, our efforts so far have resulted in stronger professional relationship between agroforestry-related professional at Cornell and participating Extension Educators in NY and those in PA. The individual forest farming project that each participant has been involved in locally will and already has begun to have greater than local impact as information about these projects is shared among us. For example, two participants (Mudge at Cornell and Beyfuss at CCE in Green County, NY have both recently completed local courses on Forest Farming, at Cornell (Fall Semester, 2004) and at the Agroforestry Resource Center (Summer, 2004), respectively. Each course included a student FF site assessment and planning exercise. The pedagogical experience gained by the instructors through these two experiential learning exercises are now contributing to the development of the HWWFF Site Assessment and Planning module currently under development for this project, and the entire group of 17 project participants has a broader range of collective experience to draw on in developing local programming in FF. Similar synergies among project participants are, and we anticipate will continue to contribute not only to the specific goals of this project but to the overall quality of FF outreach in NY and PA.
Co-Coordinator, content and evaluation
Department of Natural Resources
Ithaca, NY, NY 14850
Office Phone: 6072555994
Co-coordinator, course content
School of Forest Resources
7 Ferguson Building
Penn State University
University Park, PS 16802
Office Phone: 8148630401
Co-Coordinator, web technology
Information Technology Unit
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Roberts Hall, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853