October 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW1
Transferring Poultry Information to the Public Using the Internet: AvianNet @ Purdue University
This article describes the impact of AvianNet, a web site designed to aid the dissemination of information from the university to county educators and poultry producers. Educators most frequently use the site (33%), compared to poultry producers (19%). The number of phone calls regarding poultry needs to the authors' offices has decreased by ten-fold compared to a similar period before the inception of this project. It is believed that this decrease is a direct result of the extensive poultry database. County educators who would have previously called the authors' offices can now search under the web site's "publication" section. Direct links to hundreds of Extension publications can answer the majority of previously phoned-in questions proposed to county educators by poultry producers who do not utilize the Internet.
Perhaps one of the America's strongest attributes is the ability to feed ourselves, an asset not realized by many countries. The success of American agriculture has not been accidental, but rather has resulted from science, technology, and cooperation. Therefore, an important attribute for continued success is the dissemination of knowledge (the science) to the people, which can be applied to everyday life. There is little question that America leads the way in communication through technical journals and now with the advent of the Internet, the possibilities seem endless. Electronic media (such as e-mail, Internet, CD-ROMs, etc.) is cost effective and may be an excellent way to disseminate information from universities to county educators and producers.
The Internet was established in the early 1980's, when the National Science Foundation (NSF) decided to create a system of five national supercomputer centers to serve the research community and to link the centers to all American college and university campuses via a long-distance network (Mitchell, 1994). Since its inception, the Internet has grown from less than 200,000 networked computers in 1989 (Mitchell, 1994) to nearly 16 million (Cyber Dialogue, 1999). The NSF recently turned over the management to commercial network providers, such as America On-line, Compuserve, and Prodigy, among others. This plan has permitted numerous web sites to develop in a short period of time. Despite the abundance of web sites available on the Internet, the ease of obtaining current, pertinent, "need to know" information is marginal and searching for a particular piece of information can be an arduous, or even futile task. In addition, the frequency of updated information by many Internet sites is low and thus out-of-date. This is in contrast to most medical and national web sites, where large institutions and organizations continuously update their data banks.
The medical community has taken advantage of the surge in computer technology. More specifically, most large medical centers have publicly accessible information. Other large medical organizations, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), house some of the most comprehensive databases known. In addition, numerous medical journals are becoming available over the Internet and can be reached through the electronic world. Hence, the notion of up-to-date information has stimulated the medical schools and NIH to take advantage of the fast services offered via Internet technologies.
Similar national databases have evolved in agriculture, providing needed resources to professionals and commercial industries. For example, the Agricultural Databases for Decision Support (ADDS at http://www.reeusda.gov/adds/) for dairy, sheep, goat, swine, beef, has recently transformed many of day-to-day decisions made in farming. To date, however, there is no national poultry database; causing specialists, educators, producers, and poultry enthusiasts' to scramble for needed information on a daily basis. This is not to imply that no excellent poultry sites exist; rather, there are only a handfull of sites available offering a fair amount of high quality information.
Creation of a Poultry Information Transfer System
The goal was to create a user-friendly poultry web site, which could deliver accurate, high quality information to county educators and producers.
Results and Discussion
There is no shortage of information available on the Internet, although the information may be questioned as to validity and/or reliability. County educators/agents and poultry producers requested the creation of a high quality poultry Internet resource. It was thought that this web site would provide scientific information that would assist with "day-to-day" decisions. Therefore, the authors set out to create a high quality poultry Internet site. Because the site was developed for rural clientele, limitations (connection speeds) as stated by Samson (1998), were considered.
The site was named AvianNet (http://ag.ansc.purdue.edu/poultry). This was the first poultry web site at Purdue University and offers the following options (webpages) to users: "Welcome", "Faculty", "The ChickZone", "Publications", "Avian Classroom", "Avian Sciences Club", "Academics", "Avian Biotech Studies", "Associations", "Clipart & Multimedia", "Calendar", "Universities", "Editor's Page", and "Links".
The "Welcome" page allows users to explore various other resources at Purdue University. The "Faculty" page highlights individuals at Purdue engaged in poultry research and provides a brief overview of their research programs. The "ChickZone" provides details of the "Incubators in the Classroom" project in Indiana. The "Publications" section (n = 600+ articles) is a collection of various poultry production electronic publications (hyperlinks) from Purdue as well as those from other universities. The scope of articles varies from starting your own poultry farm to processing poultry. The "Publications" section is the most widely used resource on the AvianNet site.
The "Avian Classroom" provides viewers the opportunity to visit newly created media regarding avian biology. The "Avian Sciences Club" link provides information about a student organization created for Purdue students interested in poultry. The "Academics" section of the AvianNet connects users to undergraduate and graduate information for all the departments within Purdue University's School of Agriculture. The "Avian Biotechnology" section was created to highlight a recently funded USDA set of fellowships for graduate work in poultry at Purdue University.
The "Association" section was developed to direct users to poultry related associations, such as the Indiana State Poultry Association, the Poultry Science Association. The "Clipart and Multimedia" section provides resource of photos and slides, which can be used for educational purposes. The "Calendar" provides insight to those poultry events occurring at the state and national level. The "Universities" link provides direct connection to those schools with poultry in their studies. In fact, many of the hyperlinks used in the publication section came from these universities. The "Editor's" page was created for those needed links and connections most commonly used by the editors. The "Links" section provides direct connections to poultry suppliers, the marketplace, and governmental/regulatory sites regarding poultry.
The AvianNet site is very useful in delivering poultry information to county educators, poultry producers, and youth. The site is accessed approximately 26 times per day by a variety of individuals. As a percentage of users, educators most frequently use the site (33%), when compared to commercial producers (19%) or other networks (15%). Furthermore, the following countries visit the site: United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Germany, Norway, Taiwan, Sweden, France, Denmark, Canada, and the Netherlands.
Although not shown as part of the statistics, the number of phone calls to the authors' offices has decreased approximately ten-fold when compared to a similar period before the inception of this project. It is believed that the decrease can be traced to the site's extensive poultry database; that is, under the "publication" section there are direct links to 600-plus Extension publications. This particular resource, when provided to educators, may foster a "seek to find" answer session.
Past studies indicate that educators are receptive to Internet technologies (Lippert, Plank, Camberato & Chastain, 1998; Tennessen, PonTell, Romine, & Motheral, 1997). At the same time, educators may be increasing the knowledge base of their clientele. Specifically, Crosby & Stelovsky (1995) compared the effectiveness of multimedia technology in two laboratory classes. Each laboratory was taught alternatively, one section using the courseware and the other section using static (view graph and blackboard) presentations. Their study clearly indicated that multimedia dramatically improves the performance of subjects categorized as "sensing" (concrete) and the graphical questions match multimedia instruction better than traditional textural tests.
Further, Najjar (1996) reviewed studies from a variety of areas and found that multimedia does improve learning when the media are presented to learners who have little prior knowledge in the area being studied. Recently, the AvianNet site received the "Study Web Award," recognizing the site as a useful tool in youth educational studies.
In summary, the Internet is a very popular and powerful source of information. However, the validity of some information, as with popular press materials, needs to be sorted out before solving day-to-day questions regarding agriculture. This is why the expertise from other universities is targeted. It is felt that educators as well as the general public have greater confidence in reading materials from multiple sources.
The authors agree with Donaldson (1998) when he asks "If Extension doesn't teach Web skills like information retrieval and evaluation, who will?" As the 21st century begins, it will become paramount that people are "brought-up to speed" regarding current technologies. The way society does business today differs strongly from that 5, 10 or 15 years ago. At the same time, things that have worked for centuries should not be replaced with new technology. Specifically, there is great value in one-on-one meetings and the Internet should not replace that aspect of of Extension, but rather serve as a supplement.
Crosby, M.E., & Stelovsky, J. (1995). From multimedia instruction to multimedia evaluation. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 4(147-162).
Cyber Dialogue (1999). Telecommuting boosted in 1998 by internet and economy. (http://www.cyberdialogue.com/press.html).
Donaldson, J.L. (1998). What is Extension's itinerary for information superhighway travel? Journal of Extension, 36(6). (http://www.joe.org)
Lippert, R.M., Plank, O., Camberato, J., & Chastain, J. (1998). Regional Extension in-service training via the internet. Journal of Extension 36(1). (http://ww.joe.org)
Mitchell, W.M. (1994). Culture shock on the networks. Science, 265 (859).
Najjar, L.J. (1996). Multimedia information and learning. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 5 (2), pp 129-150.
Samson, S.A. (1998). Technological issues for improving access to internet web sites for rural users. Journal of Extension, 36 (4). (hhtp://joe.org)
Tennessen, D.J., PonTell, S., Romine, V., & Motheral, S. W. (1997). Opportunities for Cooperative Extension and local communities in the information age. Journal of Extension, 35 (5). (http://joe.org)