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Innovation and collaboration leads to practical online learning environment

by Kim Fontaine

As long as health and environmental concerns are at the forefront of the conversations around our dinner tables, the global demand for sustainably grown organic food will continue to rise. One real challenge in organic farming is how one effectively manages pests and weeds without chemicals. Farmers need to better understand how nature works and develop customized systems based around the ecological relationships of their land.

In response, an online course called Weed Control in Organic Agriculture (Plant Science 234) was developed through collaboration between the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education (CCDE). The Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC) provided an initial investment and the College of Agriculture and Bioresources ran its first offering in January 2011, then partnered with CCDE the following year.

Brenda Frick, course instructor and an organic consultant with a PhD in Weed Ecology, values the mix of both producers and students who enrol in the course.

“This class brings together people with different backgrounds and perspectives, and integrates their ideas,” she says. "Farmers bring real-world experience and discuss how it all works in the ground. This gets the students thinking about the science and they feed off each other. There's a real synergy when farmers and students work together to look at practical scenarios; it’s a win-win situation for both groups.”

The interaction between students and producers has become such an exciting part of this course that it is currently undergoing a makeover to increase this sort of interaction. Frick is collaborating with CCDE Instructional Designer Jordan Epp to explore ways of making the course less text heavy, with more interactivity and media-rich content.

“Jordan is finding ways to use the online tools to build a more interesting course. We’re looking to build a collaborative online community among all the students. Our goal is to increase engagement and build more upon each other’s strengths to further everyone's understanding and competency.”

Approximately 15 credit students and 10 producers make up a typical winter class; approximately 20 credit students make up a typical summer class. The new upgraded version is scheduled to launch in January 2013.