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Minnesota West Ag program to go online during fall harvest

Minnesota West Community & Technical College ag instructors Jeff Rogers (left) and Rolf Mahlberg will offer agriculture classes online for five weeks during harvest beginning this fall.They hope to keep students involved in production agriculture during busy times on the farm while still getting their education. (JULIE BUNTJER /DAILY GLOBE)

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West Community and Technical College agriculture instructors Jeff Rogers and Rolf Mahlberg are gearing up for a new fall schedule for students -- to continue their education online during the busy harvest season.

The college has been innovative in online coursework, and by extending into the agriculture curriculum hopes to encourage more people to enroll in classes if they know they will have time to do fall fieldwork.

The program is set up to get students into class at the beginning of the school year, introduce them to the subject matter and then, when harvest arrives, send them out to their farms and complete on-site assignments. After the five-week online program ends (and hopefully harvest will be wrapped up), the students will return to the classroom for the remainder of the semester.

"With online as an option for five weeks during the middle of harvest, we think we can really support that student to be engaged in production ag or in their ag business career," said Mahlberg. "Then, on a wet day or when they're able to get caught up, they'll be able to access the lessons and assignments and be able to engage with us as instructors in something that supports both their education and their career."

During last year's lengthy harvest, Rogers said it was a challenge for students to get their field work done and still make time to be in the classroom.

"Our freshmen that we have this year that are coming back as sophomores -- they're looking forward to it," Rogers said. "They're excited to know they're still going to be earning credits next year during harvest but it's going to be flexible for them through the Internet."

All of the college's agriculture classes will go online during the five-week period. Students will be able to access video clips, lecture-based materials, complete online tests and take part in online discussions.

"Education isn't going to stop for that five weeks," said Mahlberg. "We'll still be here; we'll still have our office hours if a student wants to meet with us."

Students will do on-farm labs during the five-week online course. As an example, Mahlberg will teach a class in machinery management this fall that will require students to do tasks such as machinery calibration, machinery adjustment and field loss estimations.

"There's this tremendous reservoir of things to do on the farm where they're not predictable for me as a teacher," he added. "There's this wonderful way to support the classroom. We certainly will engage (students) online during those five weeks."

Minnesota West offers an online option for many of its general education classes, and providing that option to agriculture students seems the next logical step.

"We want to be viewed as progressive," said Mahlberg. "We love face to face (teaching) more than just about anybody. We really like our ag students, but we do not want to be viewed as (being) status quo. Ag moves forward, so does the media that the education is delivered with."

Nearly 20 different courses are offered at Minnesota West for students interested in an agriculture-related career, including classes in livestock production, crops and soil science, ag marketing and farm management. Students can take one of three tracks, earning an agriculture diploma if they plan to go into production agriculture; an Associate of Applied Science degree; or an Associate of Science degree.

People interested in enrolling in the agriculture program at Minnesota West, or learning more about the online option, should call Amber Luinenburg, campus marketer, at 372-3499, or e-mail

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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