College of Agriculture & Natural Resources

Distance Education



Prof. Pavel Sorokin appears on screen during a video-conference between Moscow State Agro-Engineering University and UMD's College of Agriculture & Natural Resources.


Never Leave the Office

Thanks to videoconferencing technology, Prof. William Rivera taught a class in College Park from South Africa. Nothing unusual about that, these days. The twist is he taught his class in international agricultural extension and development while moderating a conference seminar in the city of Pietermaritzburg, home to the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Among the conference participants were students from countries following a path from Southern Sudan in the north through Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, with a hop to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Plus Ghana in West Africa.

 Related Articles

UMD Links NTU through videoconferencing.pdf (Summer 2010)

Veterinary videoconference on post-partum health of cows (April 2006) 

The conference, noted Rivera, a professor working out of the Institute of Applied Agriculture who has done extensive field work in developing countries, "is an example of partnership and cooperation between international organizations and U.S. universities." A lead conference sponsor was the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which helps developing countries make decisions about agricultural policy.

Rivera's 10 students on campus were nearly as diverse a group as their African counterparts. Their countries of origin spanned the globe from Nigeria to Japan plus the U.S. The students, who represented 8 majors around campus, each took the opportunity to question conference participants.


Taiwan: Professors at UMD and National Taiwan University (NTU) are collaborating on several courses taught by video-conferencing.  During the Spring 2010 semester, Dr. Wen-Hsing Cheng in UMD's Nutrition and Food Science Dept. began co-teaching a molecular nutrition class with NTU's Asst. Prof. Yi-Chen Lo and Prof. Ning-Hsin Shaw.  The course discusses how a nutrient or a diet can affect our genome and protein functions, and how these events influence our health.  Faculty and students from National Taiwan Normal University and National Pingtung University of Science and Technology also joined this program and participated in course instruction and delivery.   (See related Articles above) 

Moscow:  Moscow State University of Environmental Engineering (MSUEE): UMD soil scientists teach soil and water quality courses in English for first and second year Russian students. UM's Dr. Richard Weismiller, a soil scientist, has been holding classes with MSUEE environmental students by weekly video-conference. The goal of the program is to familiarize the students with technical and scientific terminology through conversation with a native English speaker. The intent is to prepare the students for international employment opportunities. UMD has hosted groups of undergraduate students and faculty in 2008 and UMD faculty has taught in face-to-face classes for the last five years.  Read more...


Southern Russia:  UMD has partnered with Stavropol State Agrarian University (SSAU), Stavropol, Russia, to create a Regional Distance Learning Center (RDLC) in southern Russia where access to technology and the Internet is highly varied. The RDLC hosts Internet-based and video-conference classes on veterinary sciences, and small agricultural business management. The RDLC also hosts email, listserv, and file transfer protocol (FTP) server support.

UMD professors Mark Varner, Robert Hill, and Senior Extension Specialist Dale Johnson, have been working with professors from five Russian agricultural and veterinary colleges to get the project up and running.

In addition to developing the distance learning center, the UMD team is assisting their Russian colleagues with modernizing the agricultural curriculum in Russian universities. 

The veterinary continuing education program solicits topics from the SSAU Veterinary School and the Stavropol Ministry of Agriculture Veterinary Services Division. Then, UMD finds the top expert in the field to speak at the live videoconference, with the Powerpoint presentation visuals translated in advance and the presentation translated live.

Dale Johnson traveled to Stavropol in 2007 to plan the small agri-business management certificate program, which was then offered in the Fall 2009 academic semester.

The agri-business program taught farmers and agricultural business owners to use computer software to improve business efficiency and how to identify products that will provide the farmers with the best return.

The project is funded through a grant from Higher Education for Development (HED),and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  UMD and SSAU's Russian partners are Daghestan State Academy of Agriculture,Kabardino-Balkaria State Academy of Agriculture, Gorsky State AgrarianUniversity, and Don State Agrarian University.


What is Distance Education?

Correspondence courses, or courses taught by mailing instructional material to the student, is a form of Distance Education that is still practiced in parts of the world.   Classes taught by radio are popular in some areas, but the Internet has opened a new arena of distance education that allows students to participate in classes without leaving home, or by going to a regional site to watch taped classes.   

Today's distance education courses make use of e-mail, the Internet, and video conferencing over broadband network connections for both wired physical locations and wireless mobile learning.  In some countries, the material is supplemented by television and radio programming.

Methods of Distance Learning

  • Students listen to lessons on compact discs that may be distributed by mail, kept in a library, or at a regional site.
  • Live video on the Internet: real-time comments from distance students on an online chat board displayed during the lecture, making it possible for real-time discussion between on and off-campus students.

  • Podcasts: students listen or watch video of a course as a Podcast.   The lessons can be saved on a computer, on a PDA (i.e. Palm or Blackberry) or iPod and retrieved at any time.
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