October 31, 2008

University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agents in the eastern part of the state are trying to connect local producers to UK College of Agriculture specialists in a more efficient way by offering real-time access to live educational presentations through Centra Symposium, a web-based program.

UK Agricultural and Natural Resource Agents Tad Campbell and Ray Tackett, from Robertson and Floyd counties respectively, are working with Bob Coleman, UK extension equine specialist, to deliver Horse College to producers through this pilot program. To their knowledge, this is the first time Centra Symposium has linked producers to university specialists in the state.

The idea formed during a meeting of agricultural and natural resources agents from northeast Kentucky. The agents wanted to help producers gain information from university specialists while keeping costs to a minimum. After almost a year of planning, Horse College was offered via Centra for the first time Oct. 13. The pilot will continue for two weeks.

"If we can utilize technology to present timely, valuable information to producers, then Centra could be a beneficial tool locally," Campbell said.

For the pilot program, area producers preregistered to attend one of four area host sites in northeast Kentucky. Coleman gave his presentation at one of the sites while producers at the other three were able to view the presentation and listen to him speak.

"He (Coleman) is in such huge demand that I don't think it would be possible to get this kind of saturation and coverage without projecting it out," Tackett said.

During the presentation, participants from each of the sites were able to ask Coleman questions through the program's text chat feature. Coleman was then able to answer many of those questions during the session, and for those that went unanswered, Coleman will send a response by mail to the producer. Some of these questions will also be compiled in a Horse College frequently asked questions fact sheet at the end of the college.

"We want producers to know that we appreciate them and are there to answer their questions," Coleman said.

This program holds many benefits for producers and specialists. All sessions are recorded and saved for a couple of months after the initial presentation, which allows producers to go back and view the program if they miss a meeting. By having four different host sites, producers have the convenience of attending the site closest to them, which reduces time lost and travel expenses.

Specialists can deliver information to producers more efficiently and on a much broader scale. It also has the potential to dramatically lessen the time they spend on the road.

"To reach the same amount of producers without Centra, I would have had to be at each site at least four times. So it cuts my travel down from 16 nights to four, which is pretty significant," Coleman said.

While Centra can be used to support traditional extension programs, it is not meant to replace them, and not all extension programs will be able to use Centra. The college will continue to conduct educational programs that require more hands-on presentations and demonstrations and ones that involve multiple specialists through traditional methods.

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