Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Keeping Busy!

A lot has been going on in the past week, so it’s time for an update!

Last week, we met with Cheryl Rose, who is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association for Community Service-Learning. We explained our project and the proposed centre’s vision, and she was very supportive of the idea. She gave us a lot of helpful information on service-learning as well as tips on how to approach the agricultural sector in our interviews.

Yesterday, we went to a Social Media Conference at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters, in Burlington. We listened to two speakers:

- Ian Ketcheson (Acting Communications Manager, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) discussed how blogs, youtube, wikis, and podcasts are changing government communications

- Dr. Alex Bielak (Director, Science and Technology Liaison, Environment Canada) talked about the importance of effective communication in science

We learned a lot about not only how we are being affected by technology, but different aspects of effective communication. This will come in handy when conducting interviews later this summer!

On that note, our survey for the agricultural sector is still in the works, but our student survey has officially been submitted to the ethics board! We should receive ethics clearance within 2 weeks, so we will begin distributing the survey at that point.

Until then, let's cross our fingers and hope the weather stays nice!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

After the long weekend update!

After a great Victoria Day weekend we're back in the Office of Research at the University of Guelph working on our surveys. Owen went through the rough draft of our student survey on friday and gave us some very helpful advice and suggestions on what to change, what to take out and what to keep in order to improve our survey. We are working on the student survey today as well as the sector survey fixing up the problems Owen pointed out and changing parts of the industry survey to avoid the same problems.

During the rest of the week we will continue to revise and update our surveys as well as the literature review for our final report. Our aim is to have the first draft literature review pretty well wrapped up by the end of the week as well as have our student survey go through a second look with Owen. The surveys will not be going out as early as we (the students) had thought however this won't be a problem as we are aiming to have the survey as perfect as possible! We'll have a link to the survey soon!

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Extension" in Ontario and Survey Progress

Contributing more than $25 billion a year to the provincial economy, Agriculture is Canada’s third largest industry. Yet, in Ontario, a gap between this essential industry and the consumer base has formed, resulting in constant difficulties in the agricultural sector.

Agricultural extension, as defined by wikipedia, is “the application of scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmer education.” Further dissected, extension, on its own, is the passing of knowledge from educational institutes to users of the information.

According to the Canadian Society of Extensions, extension is a system of non-formal education. As such, it is a field of professional education aimed at:
  • teaching people, in their own context and life situations, how to identify and assess their own needs and problems;
  • helping them acquire the knowledge and skills required to cope effectively with those needs and problems.
  • inspiring them to action.

The government phased out agricultural extension from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food in the 1990s, and extension officers have disappeared as a result. Although the agri-food sector is one of the most important in Ontario, government support and agricultural education/extension initiatives are lacking, if not non-existent, which results in a much larger challenge of increasing awareness.

Presently, there are a small number of extension divisions and programs in universities throughout Canada. A need for agricultural extension, especially in Ontario, still exists. With reference to the proposed Agricultural Communications Education Centre, it is our intent that extension practices be integrated and implemented to better service the industry, students and the users of the knowledge.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Search for Similar Initiatives; News Story

We have spent the last couple of days searching for any initiatives that are similar to the proposed Centre. We have found that while there are institutions throughout Canada and the United States that offer agricultural communications or journalism programs, the only opportunities that they have for hands-on learning are through internships or co-op programs. The only thing we have found that can compare to the proposed Centre is the Brock Center of Agricultural Communication at the California Polytechnic State University. Similar to the vision for the Centre, the Brock Center connects students with an interest in communications to the agricultural industry, giving journalism students a better understanding of agriculture, and agriculture students a more unbiased approach to their industry.

Since there has been a lack in any similar agricultural communications education centres, our surveys and interviews of industry representatives throughout the summer will focus on whether there is a need for or interest in such a centre.

In other exciting news, we will be submitting a news story of this feasibility study for the next issue of the Farm Journalist, the national newsletter of the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation... so keep an eye out for it!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

ECFWA Annual General Meeting in London

Yesterday we went to London with the SPARK writers, Kim, Owen and Lilian to the AGM of the Eastern Canada Farm Writers Association.
The meeting went smoothly with reports and discussion on upcoming and past events.
This year the Canadian Farm Writers Federation will be holding it's annual conference in Belleville, a request for volunteers was put forward to help host this national event. The conference will run from September 27th to 30th.
In 2011 the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists will be holding their annual congress in Guelph. Many details are yet to be established, however a tentative date of September 14th to 18th has been set.
After lunch sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and Pioneer, two guest speakers presented on interesting topics that provided us with some insight into new initiatives as well as information on how more urban areas view their food.
Sue-Ann Staff of the Niagara Vintners Inc. is the wine maker for an exciting new initiative. She presented to us the Story of the 20 bees, how she and 19 grape growers have come together to create a new company. They have chosen to go with a less traditional label, (bright yellow!) in order to grab the consumer's attention and all reports show that this will be a successful venture. They are committed to promoting 100% Ontario made wines and to being environmentally conscious.
Lastly, Wayne Roberts of the Toronto Food Policy Council spoke with us about where he believes Toronto's food demands are headed. He believes that consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the "authenticity" of their food. Once reliable, convenient sources of food are established, along with a stable price the majority of consumers will be looking to meet with and know the person who grows their food.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

What is Social Communication?

We are looking to define social communication because this concept will help us gain a stronger understanding of what communication techniques are possible and what can be offered through the proposed Agricultural Communication Education Centre. With that said, what is social communications? Social Communications is a field of study that primarily explores the ways information can be perceived, transmitted and understood, and the impact those ways will have on society. Thus, the study of social communication is more politically and socially involved than the study of communication.

Taken from

Over time we have seen great leaps and bounds in social communication. With the immergence of technology, the forms of communication have grown and continue to grow. When looking at the big picture we can conclude that there are six major forms of communication with four being technology-based. These include face-to-face communication and written communication (letters) as the non-technology-based as well as telephone, radio, television and internet being the technology-based forms. These forms of communication provide a foundation for this discussion. As we have seen, technology is continually expanded and developing. As an example we have seen the transition from being able to simply communicate verbally on the phone to being able to text message, send emails and documents and even watch videos.

Another example of social communications would be our blog, which is used to keep readers up-to-date on the progress of our feasibility study. In turn, our readers are able to provide us with feedback, which makes this form of communication very beneficial to all parties.

What is Service-Learning?

There are many different definitions of service-learning, but in essence, it is ‘learning by doing.’ According to the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, service-learning merges academic education with community service, in which both the provider and recipient gain valuable knowledge and expertise. Participants are encouraged to reflect on their experiences within these structured opportunities and to identify the connections between classroom knowledge and hands-on activities. Please click here for more information.

Further exploring this concept, three common attributes of service-learning are active learning, reciprocity and reflection. The characteristics of effective service-learning are (click here for the original site):
  • Students learn and develop through active participation in organized service that is conducted in and meets the needs of the community; and is a coordinated effort between the community and an institution of higher education.
  • The learning experience includes structured time for the students and community participants to reflect on and analyze the service experience.
  • The service activity must be connected to classroom learning and theory, and community service placements must be connected to course objectives and learning outcomes.
Many forms of service-based learning already exist. However, there are distinctions among various service and learning combinations, including volunteerism, internships and service-learning. The article describing these distinctions can be accessed here.

The proposed Agricultural Communications Education Centre would be a model of a service-learning initiative. For example, an organization could come to the Centre requiring a website designed, and capable students would be able complete the project by both using and building on their existing abilities.

Do you have any experience with service-learning? If yes, how has this experience influenced your education?