ATI Ambassador’s OER project benefits students studying cattle– from Durham, NH to Kigali, Rwanda.

ATI Ambassador’s OER project benefits students studying cattle– from Durham, NH to Kigali, Rwanda.

April 19, 2019

Drew Conroy, USNH ATI 2018 Ambassador

“I have tons of photos and I wanted to share them. I can incorporate colleagues’ information into my materials too, so it’s much more collaborative and also adds value. You also gain a lot more exposure.”

Professor Conroy in his UNH OfficeSome might say that Dr. Andrew Conroy, professor of Applied Animal Science at the University of New Hampshire, is an Open Book and they would be right! Professor Conroy is a proponent of Open Education and began using it as early as 2008. In 2018, he was selected to become a USNH ATI Ambassador and he used this as an opportunity to combine his skills, experiences and endless photos of cattle to put together Open Educational Resources (OER) for students and farmers all over the world to use in selecting and judging cattle. OER can be defined as instructional resources created and shared in ways so that more people have access to them.

Prior to using OER, Dr. Conroy had written several books, among them, The Oxen Handbook and Oxen – A Teamster’s Guide, but they had become outdated and were expensive. In fact, some were out of print. He also admits that they had a limited audience. He wanted to be able to develop a textbook that was much more relevant and with modern pictures. And he wanted to be able to share his work and expertise with more students, particularly to those who couldn’t access hard copies of his books.

In 2016, he was invited to teach five courses at the University of Rwanda. In Rwanda, Dr. Conroy explains, “Cows are currency and hold way more value to the average person, but the students there don’t have many resources for studying them - and the ones they have are old and outdated.” In Namibia, where he taught in 2008, he explained how papers and printing were too expensive and that’s if the printers were even working.

Professor Conroy in AfricaHowever, most of his students in Africa had smartphones, so he began looking for some online resources and a platform to use.  His students told them they liked and used Facebook, so that’s what he used. He was able to post his photos, share files, and correspond with the students. He said that the challenge was finding online information specifically on agriculture. He ended up putting bits and pieces together from various other disciplines: biology, nutrition, and research methods.

Professor Conroy believes in OER and thinks it’s great because, as he says, “You are not the sole publisher or writer. Other people can add to it, take away from it, and adapt as much or as little as they want to. The other great thing is it’s not static. I also wanted to make my work free and available to 4H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) kids.”

At UNH, Professor Conroy incorporates Open Education through Canvas, an open-source learning management system. “I have tons of photos and I wanted to share them. I can incorporate colleagues’ information into my materials too, so it’s much more collaborative and also adds value. You also gain a lot more exposure.”

In his course, Dairy Selection, he teaches students to evaluate cattle (not unlike being a judge for “Best in Show.”)  His OER for this include his Dairy Cattle Judging Techniques notebook, his (now) open book. Everything is current and he is able to incorporate other resources, like links and videos, and embed them right into Canvas.

Professor Conroy prefers to use OER Commons when building resources for his students. OER Commons is a digital public library and collaboration platform that offers a comprehensive infrastructure.  Users are given a template on which to work, which in a way takes the place of an editor in terms of choosing format, text size, etc., but maintains the integrity of a traditional publisher. It is free and available all over the world and truly offers knowledge and resource sharing to all those interested in learning.

When asked to sum up his experience with furthering his work in Open Education as an ATI Ambassador, Professor Conroy says, “Spending time with other ATI Ambassadors last summer was a great way to learn about other incredible ways ATI Ambassadors from across the USNH system have incorporated OER into their teaching. Furthermore, they and the ATI staff were instrumental in exploring platforms that would meet my needs in developing my own project.”

Professor Conroy has been teaching people how to handle and work with farm animals for 30 years at the college level. Broadly trained in agriculture, he teaches 7 different Animal Science courses at the University of New Hampshire, with CREAM being his most well-known course. At UNH his teaching focus is with dairy cattle, but he is broadly trained in Animal Science and is also well versed in handling goats, sheep, swine, beef cattle, and poultry. A two-time Fulbright Scholar, his teaching, research and consulting have taken him to 14 times to Africa, where he has worked in Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. His work in Africa has led to mentoring many UNH undergraduate students in research abroad, specifically on topics related to conflicts with wildlife and agriculture. Dr. Conroy is one of the foremost authorities on draft oxen in the world having written 3 books, book chapters, nearly 100 articles and consulted for numerous Charitable and Government organizations, as well as the movie industry on the use and training of oxen.
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