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|Training future consumers, not just dairy professionals|
|Features - Students|
|Written by PD Staff Writer Ariel Waldeck|
|Friday, 07 October 2011 14:20|
After 36 years of teaching at Texas A&M University, Michael Tomaszewski has seen the number of universities with dairy programs decrease.
Without a dairy close to his own campus in College Station, Texas, Tomaszewski took his university’s Introduction to Dairy Science course to the Internet in 2008.Since then, Tomaszewski has seen students learn about and develop a passion for the dairy industry online.
Basic knowledge of the dairy industry is Tomaszewski’s goal for students.
“I am certainly not training dairy scientists; that is not the intent,” Tomaszewski says. “Rather, it is an introductory course.”
Tomaszewski’s goal has been reached, according to Amanda Word, a senior in animal science at Texas A&M.
“I now have a greater respect for the dairy industry,” Word says. “My range of knowledge has been expanded. I now know how milk is gathered, stored and the amount of energy and cost it takes to keep a dairy running.”
This is the only undergraduate course that is offered online from Texas A&M’s animal science department, and the resources available to improve the online course are limited. Tomaszewski says other online courses are able to include more visual graphics.
Tomaszewski and graduate assistant Richard Graves have also learned a few things about monitoring the students throughout the course.
“In the beginning, we had some students that were taking exams without taking the quizzes,” Tomaszewski says. “Now for students to progress through the course, they have to take the weekly quizzes in succession, then they can take the exam.”
To ensure students are reading through the PowerPoints and listening to the audio that goes along with the dairy presentations, some points are taught in one electronic medium.
“If they are not listening to the audio section and they are just pulling up the PowerPoint, they will miss a question on a quiz or an exam,” Tomaszewski says. “We try to make them listen to and read everything.”
The course also has a textbook, The Dairy Essentials, which is provided to students free of charge. Information used for the quizzes and exams from the textbook is not completely covered in the PowerPoints.
“Students, not out of laziness per se, tend to take an easier route, especially if it is not in their face all the time,” Graves says. “Trying to keep them honest and interested in the course has been one of our main focuses.”
The main assignment for the course is a term project. Students are given two options: Go to a dairy farm or a supermarket and survey the dairy case and ask consumers three questions.
“A lot of consumers don’t know why milk is pasteurized or homogenized or why vitamins A and D are put into milk,” Tomaszewski explains. “It is really interesting to see the comments that come back from the questions.”
Word took the course because she had experience with raising livestock. She thought all dairies were corporate-run. She learned her assumption was wrong when she went to interview a dairy farmer for her term project.
“The best part of the class, and the most educational part, was visiting a local dairy farm and interviewing the operator of a small, family-run dairy,” Word describes. “I was able to take everything learned in the class and put that new knowledge into a real-life situation.”
Students from other majors that may have never taken a dairy science course are now using this online class to fulfill their science requirements.
“We are getting a lot of non-agriculture majors taking the course,” says Tomaszewski. “This is oftentimes their introduction to animal agriculture.”
The information students are learning in this course is applied more than they ever thought possible.
“This information is something that typically affects them on a daily basis,” Graves explains. “People don’t typically register that or think about it.
It may not be everything specific to a dairy cow or the dairy industry, but at least they have a better understanding of where their milk comes from, how it gets from point A to point B and a better understanding of the dairy industry in general.”
Expanding today’s college students’ knowledge about the dairy industry will ensure that tomorrow’s consumers understand more about where their dairy products come from and how they are produced. Students also get to see a face behind this industry.
“I have come to realize that some small family dairies with little to no industry influence are still around,” Word says. “These farms may not be around for much longer if we don’t start trying to preserve the history of dairy farming.”
Nearly 350 students have taken the course since it began in the spring semester of 2008. Not one of these students may become a vet or a nutritionist, but all of them will be more educated consumers. PD