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November 14, 2008   Email to Friend 

Katie Jackson
(334) 844-5887
November 14, 2008

AUBURN, Ala. -- The Auburn University Department of Agronomy and Soils is developing online courses for a distance education graduate degree program that can help professionals refresh their scientific knowledge and even earn master's or doctoral degrees.

Dennis Shannon, professor of agronomy and soils, is leading the effort to establish this degree program, in part as a response to interest shown by professionals in conservation, natural resource and environmental agencies, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, with whom he interacts.

Through these contacts, he learned that professionals in various lines of work were interested in taking classes and earning advanced degrees, but full-time jobs and distance from AU or other institutions offering such courses prevented them from doing so. That was the catalyst for Shannon to start a distance education program in his department.

In order to investigate the need for a distance education program in agronomy and soils, the Distance Learning and Outreach Technology office at AU helped Shannon conduct a survey of graduates of the College of Agriculture and those working in agriculture or environmental professions in the state to determine interest in taking distance learning courses from Auburn. Response was positive, confirming the demand for such a program.

"The courses we are offering will be of interest to people who want a basic background in soil science, such as those in city, state and federal government agencies that work with soil and water issues and do not have a first degree in agriculture," says Shannon.

In addition, the courses can be useful to professionals in other fields of work. For example, a class Shannon teaches--soil resources and conservation--offers valuable information to people working in such fields as construction and environmental management because it addresses everything from soil erosion to soil and water quality to stormwater management.

The proposed graduate program is awaiting approval by university administrators and trustees and by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits higher education institutions in the Southeast. Shannon said he hopes to officially enroll the first students in the distance education degree program by fall 2009, but meanwhile, he got a jump on things this fall by teaching his soil resources and conservation course via distance learning.

Two more courses, basic crop science and basic soil science, will be offered spring semester 2009, an experimental methods course in summer 2009, and turf management, soil chemistry and Shannon's soil resources and conservation course again fall semester '09.

Agronomy and soils is the third department in the College of Agriculture to offer distance education courses, joining poultry science and fisheries and allied aquacultures, but it will be the first to offer them as part of a full-fledged graduate degree program.

Leslie Keeler, distance learning specialist in the Auburn University Distance Learning and Outreach Technology office, has been working with Shannon to get classes online and under way.

She said the classes offered through this program are pre-recorded as video or audio sessions and may include PowerPoint presentations and virtual laboratories. These classes will be available online so they can be downloaded by a student to watch at his or her convenience.

The students will still interact with professors by e-mail, phone or video conferencing and will be able to submit assignments online.

"As part of our mission as a land-grant institution we are supposed to reach out to the public and this is one of the ways that we can reach out across the state and even beyond Alabama's borders," says Keeler.

Anyone interested in taking an upcoming course or learning more about the future degree program can visit www.ag.auburn.edu/agrn/distancelearning/ or contact Shannon at (334) 844-3963 or shannda@auburn.edu.

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