Purdue University is retooling its online Precision Agriculture course and adding a target audience – high school agriculture teachers who prepare students to go on in what’s increasingly an information technology-centric field.
The revamped course with a focus on digital agriculture, developed with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be made available at no charge to high school agriculture teachers, starting in Indiana and then around the country. The course also will be offered for a fee through the Purdue Agronomy e-Learning Academy, which presents online courses aimed at working professionals in agriculture, agribusiness and agricultural consulting.
“We’re moving into a digital era of agriculture,” said Bruce Erickson, agronomy education distance and outreach director in the Purdue College of Agriculture and head of the Agronomy e-Learning Academy. “We’ve been in it for a couple of decades, but we’re moving faster now and in many ways our workforce is not prepared for this, all the data that we’re dealing with and the sensors and the data analysis.”
Providing more resources for high school teachers to teach digital agriculture to students who will become the next generation of farmers, agronomists, agribusiness professionals and agricultural consultants can help address that issue.
“There’s a pipeline of people that are going to be working in the future and we certainly need to get them up to speed,” Erickson said.
The overall goal of the three-year project is to provide resources for educators in secondary schools that enrich their knowledge of digital agriculture and its application, including curriculum they can integrate into their classrooms and labs. A series of learning modules packaged into a course will become part of the continuing education offerings promoted by the Indiana Department of Agriculture. The course will be built on the foundations of the Purdue Agronomy e-Learning Academy’s Precision Agriculture course.
Meanwhile, the Agronomy e-Learning Academy is taking registrations for online courses scheduled to begin Sept. 15. The noncredit courses run for 12 weeks but can be completed earlier. The courses allow individuals to work through the material when it fits their schedules.
“These courses have an appeal to those wanting to broaden their skill sets to make them more marketable,” Erickson said. “They are organized into short modules that feature annotated and engaging videos, reading materials and built-in assessments so students can track their learning. The ag industry has already embraced our online classes and has enrolled more than 2,000 students from 48 states and 38 countries since our program started.”
In addition to Precision Agriculture with its focus on technology, courses offered through the Agronomy e-Learning Academy this fall include:
* Agronomy Essentials, a fundamental crops and soils course that provides a thorough understanding of agronomy and crop production practices – even for those who do not have a background in agronomy. The course follows the growing season from field preparation, crop growth and development, and pest management through to harvest, storage, and marketing the crop.
* Nutrient Management, providing a better understanding of the complexities of nutrient management – including fertilizer sources, methods of measurement and assessment, placement, timing, rate of application, and adjusting for soils and weather.
Each course is made up of modules and has over 100 videos, accompanied by readings, links to related information and a glossary. As each module test is successfully completed, the next module opens, permitting students to work ahead. This allows flexibility to meet individual work, home and life demands. Course materials are available for the duration of the course, allowing students to review them as desired. Upon completion, course graduates receive a personalized certificate from Purdue Online.
The $300,000 “Growing the Workforce for Digital Agriculture” grant is from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and awarded under the Professional Development for Agricultural Literacy Program as part of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Sarah LaRose, assistant professor of agricultural sciences education and communication, is co-principal investigator for the project.