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Online farm discussion groups help support students learning

Students of Mountbellew Agricultural College & GMIT participated in a study in Spring 2021. It examined the effectiveness of online peer-learning in supporting students in grassland management and practice change at farm level. Lecturer, Martin Mulkerrins presented the results at ESEE2021 Conference

Grazed grass is the cheapest feed available to Irish beef, sheep and dairy farmers. Yet despite extensive promotion, the use of many grassland management technologies such as grass measuring and budgeting, remains relatively low.

A study was initiated to examine the effectiveness of online peer-learning in supporting students’ knowledge and confidence regarding grassland management, and facilitating practice change at farm level.

View Poster Presentation here ESEE 2021 MAC GMIT pres (PDF)

The participants

To carry out the study, 3rd and 4th year students at the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) and Mountbellew Agricultural College were contacted  about the initiative.They self-selected to participate in a group based on their preferred enterprise of beef, sheep or dairy. Three groups were formed and discussion groups took place every two weeks during March and April of 2021.

The groups were co-facilitated by two Teagasc trained farm discussion group facilitators. In addition, lecturers at GMIT and Mountbellew Agricultural College supported the groups through:

  • regular attendance at meetings
  • setting students up on PastureBase Ireland
  • providing workshops on how to use the platform.

Participation in the groups was voluntary and had no impact whatsoever on any college courses or modules.

What the students thought

At the end of the study, students were asked to complete qualitative surveys. Of the 30 to 35 regular attendees, 26 completed the surveys.  The survey found that most students were either satisfied or very satisfied with their decision to join the groups. They were also satisfied with the format and facilitation of the groups. Some students found that the timing of the meetings a challenge, due to other commitments and clashing with farm work. 70% of students had increased the amount of grass walks completed through participation. The relaxed and interactive environment and being able to see and hear from peers was found to be beneficial.

Take Home Message

In conclusion, online farm discussion groups can help support students learning and confidence in relation to grassland management, and in many cases may help support practice change. However, these meetings are not a replacement for "on-farm" discussion group meetings, as they allow students/farmers to see more clearly how practices can be implemented at farm level.

Martin Mulkerrins, MAC/GMIT/Teagasc talks about the study in this short video clip below

The authors of the study were: Martin Mulkerrinsa,b,c, John Kilboylec, Edna Curleya,b,c, Francis Currana,b, Daniel Hessiona,b, Barry Bonara,b, Catherine Eganc, Conor Holohand, Sinéad Flannerye, Tomás Russell 

  1. Mountbellew Agricultural College, College Road, Treanrevagh, Mountbellew, Co. Galway
  2. Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Old Dublin Road, Galway.
  3. Teagasc, Oak Park Road, Pollerton Little, Carlow.
  4. AFBI, Large Park, Hillsborough BT26 6DR, United Kingdom
  5. School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.

Find information on Mountbellew Agricultural College here

More information about the ESEE 2021 Conference can be found at ESEE 2021