College Of Knowledge Reborn As Online Education

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RootZoneManagementCourseRaising the bar on production quality requires constant training. With the cost of travel to industry events increasing, however, it can be difficult for growers to keep their teams’ skills up to date. Fortunately, the internet provides opportunities for education without ever having to leave the greenhouse.

The Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Floriculture program, for example, has launched the first in a series of affordable (just $99), self-paced online courses. Material is based on the original face-to-face College of Knowledge courses offered in the 1990s and 2000s. These courses provide basic training to commercial floriculture growers in Michigan and beyond in the most efficient and lowest-cost way possible.

We asked Dr. Kristin Getter, a floriculture outreach specialist with Michigan State University, for more details about the new program and online education for growers.

Greenhouse Grower: Why repurpose the College of Knowledge material in online courses? Were growers asking for this?

Getter: Yes, growers had been asking about MSU offering the College of Knowledge classes again, but the classes were out of date (data shown in the course was from the 1990s) and it had become very expensive to offer the classes face-to-face because of the increase in travel costs. We repurposed the old classes by updating the information and offering them online.

Greenhouse Grower: Who is your target for these?

Getter: Our target is new growers with very little formal classroom training. Really, these are right for any new greenhouse employee that will be involved in the care of plants.

Greenhouse Grower: How do growers register for the course?

Getter: The course is hosted on a national extension website. To register, you must sign up for this course via MSU’s cashiers website. The course is $99. Once you pay for the course, the eMailed receipt will include instructions on how to access the course.

Greenhouse Grower: What has the response been so far? Are you seeing enrollment from outside Michigan?

Getter: Right now, most of our enrollment has been outside of Michigan. This past year, in addition to Michigan students, we’ve had enrollment from Iowa, Wisconsin and Virginia.

Greenhouse Grower: What courses are you offering?

Getter: The first course in the series is Floriculture Root Zone Management. The objective of this course is to provide the latest practical information on managing the root zone of container-grown greenhouse crops.

The course covers material on irrigation water, including water sources, water quality, water treatment, and irrigation timing and methodology; growing media, including the physical and chemical properties of media, as well as substrate components and amendments; and nutrition, including how to select fertilizers and how to monitor nutrition.

The course consists of many recorded mini-lectures, self-assessment quizzes and links for further information.

Greenhouse Grower: What other courses will be offered through the program and how often will you roll out new ones?

Getter: My goal is to introduce one per year. This year, I should be rolling out the module that covers temperature management. The 2015 module will cover light.

Greenhouse Grower: Convenience is obviously a plus but are there any drawbacks to the online format?

Getter: Convenience is a huge factor, as the student can take the course at his/her pace anytime of the day. The drawback to any self-directed online course is handling questions. If students don’t understand something, I can’t get questions answered immediately. But I do provide my contact information so they can eMail or call me if they have a question. I am not always immediately available to answer the eMail or phone call, but I certainly try to give quick responses.

Other Online Courses

Michigan State isn’t the only online resource for grower education these days. Two additional courses hosted on Campus.Extension.org include:

• The Introductory Employee Training Program for Greenhouse Crop Production. This course, offered by Texas A&M’s Dr. Charlie Hall, is a one-hour video that goes over the basics of working in a greenhouse, including safety.

• Small Scale Commercial Greenhouse Production is offered by Dr. Steven Newman from Colorado State. This course is aimed toward new greenhouse professionals who want to enhance their knowledge of starting and operating a commercial greenhouse enterprise.

Another alternative is Oregon State University’s online degree in General Horticulture — recommended for students already working in the horticultural industry, allowing them to build on existing knowledge in biology, plant science and soils. The program introduces the latest technology and trends in the field.

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.
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