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1408 PD: Meet your new digital extension agent

Published on 29 September 2008

If you didn’t attend a webinar hosted by a collaborative team of extension agents in August, you missed seeing the approach extension experts predict will likely be used to broadcast much of their information and expertise within five years.

More than 110 producers watched a live webinar August 18 which featured Dave Byers, a consultant from Virginia, and extension agents Mike Hutjens from the University of Illinois and Randy Shaver from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Presenters discussed feed and milk marketing strategies, feeding strategies for high-priced corn and alternative feeding options for corn and soybean meal. Attendees watched a webcast slide show with live narration from the presenters and then asked questions in web conference afterward. The webinar was broadcast using Adobe’s Acrobat Connect program.

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“The technology is going to revolutionize how we do extension meetings worldwide,” says Mark Varner, an extension dairy scientist at the University of Maryland. “It will allow people in this country and worldwide to participate in the same virtual room at the same time.”

Varner says the technology does eliminate face-to-face contact, networking and “coffee break talk.” Those were customary opportunities many used to ask follow-up questions during traditional extension meetings, he says. Yet Varner points out two of the upsides to webinars.

First, Varner says webinars allow attendees to interact with each other and experts in ways not previously possible. For example, during a live presentation, attendees can chat another individual attendee or group of attendees to discuss the presentation’s content. Webinars are also a little different for presenters who must talk at a screen instead of a live audience. It’s a difference that extension personnel will be getting more comfortable with, says Donna Amaral-Phillips, an extension organizer and moderator during the most recent webinar.

“It’s a change, and change always comes with a little bit of stress,” Phillips says.

But she agrees with Varner on the benefits of webinars. They both say they cut costs and make extension information more easily accessible, both live and recorded, Varner says.

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“We gain the ability to tap into resources across the U.S. that we never would have had the ability to tap into before. And we can use those resources to improve dairy farm businesses,” Phillips says.

Since the live event, recordings of the webinar have been downloaded nearly 175 times, and the Internet-posted slide show presentations have been viewed more than 750 times. Post-webinar interest, as manifested by downloads and slide show views, has surprised extension organizers, Varner says. Surveys from attendees also indicate enthusiasm for the new technology. Eighty-eight percent of attendees said they would attend future webinars.

The availability and penetration of broadband Internet connections in rural areas is the technology’s current limiting factor. Attendees with a connection speed lower than DSL would have difficulty connecting, Phillips says.

But Varner believes that as more producers discover the access to information available with a faster connection, more of the webinars will be held in the future.

“This will be the way things are done in five years,” Varner says. “And it is fun to be one of the pioneers.” PD

Go to http://www.extension.org/pages/Archived_Dairy_Cattle_Webinars to download the archived webinar or view the webinar’s slide shows online.

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Walt Cooley
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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