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April 15, 2021 Issues & Insights

What We’re Reading | Students get virtual taste of real-world life on the farm

University of Alberta by Bev Betkowski

Online classes during COVID-19 can feel a bit distant. But add in 48 farmers and a real-time calf birth, and things perk up considerably. 

That vivid minute-by-minute experience of watching a Black Angus cow give birth was a matter of lucky timing as Jesse Emery gave University of Alberta animal science students a virtual walking tour of his Barrhead-area farm during class. But there’s no doubt it added to the attraction of a pandemic pivot that professor Frank Robinson made to help his students feel more engaged in the shift to online learning. 

With in-person farm visits no longer an option as they had been in past Animal Science 101 courses taught in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES), Robinson used video meetings to beef up the class, with farmers like Emery giving students live, on-the-ground reports of happenings—in this case, a perfectly timed calving.

“It’s a new level of connection that goes beyond a textbook and shows this is what it’s like to be a farmer,” said Robinson.

‘It really got their attention and got them excited,” added Emery, who graduated from the U of A with a bachelor of science in agriculture and was one of the many agricultural producers from Alberta recruited by Robinson to pep up the course during the pandemic. 

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