Pennsylvania State University's College of Agricultural Sciences has a long history of helping to fulfill the university's land-grant mission by providing educational outreach to dairy farmers and other producers in Pennsylvania and beyond.
Now, utilizing the latest educational technology and methods, the college is poised to offer "Dairy Production & Management," the world's first dairy-related "massive, open online course" (MOOC).
Already, 5,000 people in 157 countries have signed up to take the eight-week course, which will launch March 7. Students in Africa, Asia, Australia-Indonesia, Europe, South America and North America will participate. They will be offered a broad and comprehensive rundown of all aspects of dairy management, such as genetics, nutrition, reproduction, animal health, farm economics and sustainability of dairy production systems.
Faculty in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, representing the departments of animal science, veterinary and biomedical sciences, plant science and agricultural economics, sociology and education, will present lessons in dairy genetics (one week); forage, production and pasture management (one week); dairy nutrition (two weeks); dairy reproduction (one week); metabolic disorders and herd health (one week); milk quality and milk hygiene (half week); dairy farm management and economics (one week), and dairy production and the environment (half week).
The primary target of this MOOC, carried online by Coursera, is individuals interested or currently working in the field of dairy production or science, according to course coordinator Alexander Hristov, professor of dairy nutrition. The course will deliver fundamental knowledge and best practices related to sustainable dairy production systems in their broadest sense.
"This MOOC is aimed at an audience that includes professionals directly or indirectly involved in dairy production — such as farm managers, employees and consultants — livestock producers, educators and students currently enrolled or interested in animal and dairy science," he said.
"The lessons will be available on demand, so after the course is launched March 7, students will be able to access the lessons at any time they want at no cost, or for a minimal fee, if they are interested in the certificate option."
The reward for developing the world's first dairy production and management MOOC and improving dairy production around the world is potentially huge, Hristov noted.
"It will not be a monetary payoff," he said. "The return to the university will be minimal, but promoting animal and dairy science around the world — expanding our mission internationally — is a noble endeavor."
He explained that dairy production is vital for the survival of billions of people. "Globally, around 150 million small-scale dairy households, equivalent to 750 million people, are engaged in milk production. This course will provide the student with information to better understand dairy production systems and their role in feeding the world population," he said.
It would be difficult to overstate the nutritional value of milk to the global population and why producing milk efficiently and sustainably is so important, Hristov said. Milk provides humans with more than 16 essential nutrients and 8% of a child's daily energy needs.
For more information and to register, visit the course's website.