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Guest post–Educators need Education/Peer Learning

David Schmidt from the Animal Agriculture and Climate Change working group posted this column today about the SRECA meeting we had early in September in Athens and what it taught him about peer-to-peer learning.


     When I am not thinking about animals and climate, I think about my online undergraduate course that I  teach at the University of  Minnesota on Renewable Energy for about 450 students. The first few lessons in the course provide some fundamentals on the carbon cycle, life cycle assessment, and climate science. What I have found is that these undergrad students really lack the fundamentals on these topics but also that they REALLY enjoy learning about these things. They have all heard about ‘carbon cycle’ and ‘climate change’ but they really don’t understand the complexity of the science and how integrated all of these cycles and systems are. Often they have an opinion but rarely is it based on science.

     Unfortunately, after college the broad base of learning can easily stop. We graduate and then spend the rest of our career focused on a single problem or topic and become “experts.” We are learning new things all the time but only in one or two topic areas. This is good for a career but does not work when we get to the complex and interconnected topic of animal agriculture and climate change.

     However, there are many ways to learn about this topic.  I, along with a couple others from our AACC project, recently spent a few days at the first annual Southeast Regional Extension Climate Academy (SRECA) in Athens, Georgia. This two-day workshop was organized similarly to our online course. They discussed climate and weather, the impacts it was having on coastal areas, forests, crops and livestock, how to adapt to these changes, and how to best work with stakeholders on education. About 75 extension educators from about 12 South Eastern states participated in the workshop. About 20 of them had a focus on livestock. I am not sure what the other groups discussed but the livestock group had some great conversations regarding the shifts they are seeing in forages and animal production in their region and challenges they are having in education on this topic. We all learned from each other. For some reason our peers often have more credibility than the experts – although I think we have to learn from both.

     Peer to peer learning is one of the key features of live workshops that we cannot replicate with our online course- that and coffee breaks with doughnuts smile . However, we are finding that the ‘online forums’ we have in the course can offer some peer to peer learning as students share their experiences with others.With either live workshops or online courses, once they end, the peer to peer learning disappears.

     Our project is thinking of ways to encourage and facilitate peer to peer learning on the topic of animal agriculture and climate change. If you are interested in participating or exploring some options for this new venture, please send me an email at or post a comment to this blog.

(I really want to end this blog post with the tagline “Learning Better Together” but I won’t.)



David Schmidt is regional project coordinator for the project Animal Agriculture and Climate Change. It is a national project funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.