Female and male college students holding ropes and getting ready to work on a farm.

Biosecurity Education Goes Virtual with Learning Series

Joanna CummingsAgriculture Education, Livestock diseases

We are witnessing in real time the spread of a virulent, infectious disease known as COVID-19 among the human population. Livestock and poultry are susceptible to infectious diseases as well, and the impacts can be devastating for anyone raising farm animals. The most effective strategy for protecting farm animal health is to prevent or reduce the chances of introducing a disease into a herd or flock.

A new virtual learning experience is helping youth in agriculture discover biosecurity, the preventative measures that protect farm animals from the spread of infectious diseases. The Healthy Farms Healthy Agriculture (HFHA) Project’s Biosecurity Learning Module Series is for students in grades 6 to 12, FFA and 4-H participants, college students studying animal science, and other agriculturally related youth groups.

The goal for the modules is to create a new culture of biosecurity advocates. Focusing on youth can stimulate a “trickle-up” effect that will help influence the adoption of good habits by adult farmers. Successful examples of this type of education include children asking their parents to stop smoking, to recycle, and to wear seatbelts.

There are six modules in the series. The topics include:

  • What is animal biosecurity – an introduction to biosecurity concepts.
  • Routes of infection and means of disease transmission.
  • Finding sources of disease transmission – students become “biosecurity inspectors”.
  • Farm biosecurity management plan – students learn how to develop a biosecurity plan.
  • Public speaking for biosecurity advocates I – students create a persuasive public presentation.
  • Public speaking for biosecurity advocates II – students learn how to deliver a persuasive speech.

Click here to interact with the learning modules on the HFHA website.

HFHA Project Director Julie Smith, DVM, PhD, manages a USDA grant that supports this biosecurity initiative. She stated that “students in agriculture need access to high quality online educational opportunities now more than ever. Our biosecurity modules offer the flexibility of teacher-guided instruction, or students can learn at their own pace and convenience.”

Discovery learning is key to the design of the learning modules’ interactive curriculum. Students are presented with questions or tasks to complete in which they might not know the answers. They are also given supplemental information that introduces biosecurity concepts, and helps the students make logical decisions. A printable guide is available for instructors with additional ideas and activities, career suggestions, and sets of homework and quiz bank questions.

Complementary activities in the form of “kits” were developed by project collaborators Kris Hiney, PhD, at Oklahoma State University, and Betsy Greene, PhD, at the University of Arizona. SCRUB Kits: Science Creates Real Understanding of Biosecurity, link hands-on learning experiences with STEM education, by combining science and fun activities to engage youth in grades 6 to 12.

Click here for the SCRUB Kit activities on the HFHA website.

Two paths are available for interacting with the biosecurity learning modules: one offers a self-guided experience for students, and a set of teaching tools and resources for instructors; the other is a two-course set for students, awarded with certificates of completion, in the Fox Valley Technical College online course system at https://www.wisc-online.com/courses

A dedicated team of content experts—including four veterinarians—brought this project to fruition:

  • Jeannette McDonald, DVM, PhD, team leader and a distance education designer from Wisconsin.
  • Susan Kerr, DVM, PhD, livestock extension specialist and 4-H educator (emerita) at Washington State University.
  • Jeanne Rankin, DVM, animal health disaster preparedness and response specialist at Montana State University.
  • Julie Smith, DVM, PhD, research associate professor and grant project director at the University of Vermont.
  • Tommy Bass, M.S., agricultural education and animal and range scientist at Montana State University.
  • Rebecca Sero, PhD, evaluation specialist at Washington State University.

The Healthy Farms Healthy Agriculture Project is part of a larger multi-institutional collaboration among several universities across the United States, composed of a multi-disciplinary team of animal health and social scientists, game-theory researchers, economists, and experts in policy development, education and risk communication. Known as the Animal Disease Biosecurity Coordinated Agricultural Project (ADBCAP), this USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded grant project is directed by Dr. Julie Smith at the University of Vermont. The project is seeking to better understand and influence human decision-making and behavior in livestock production. The goal is to facilitate the creation and adoption of policies and practices that collectively reduce the impact of any new, emerging or foreign animal diseases and pests in the United States.

This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), under award number 2015-69004-23273. The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA or NIFA.

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About the Author

Joanna Cummings

Joanna Cummings received a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from The Pennsylvania State University (PSU), with a specialization in vegetable crop and greenhouse production. At PSU, she was a research technician on no-tillage vegetable crop experiments, and a greenhouse assistant in the All-American Selections Research Gardens. Her career in the agriculture industry includes field research, work with dairy and vegetable farms, and as a greenhouse manager, estate gardener, landscaping and market garden entrepreneur. She transitioned to the science communication field after receiving a master of science degree in environmental communications from Antioch University New England. At Antioch, Joanna was a field botany laboratory teaching assistant, manager of the herbarium, and editor of the department's student newsletter, Notes and Niches. She currently works with Research Professor Julie M. Smith as a communications professional in the University of Vermont Animal and Veterinary Sciences Department. She is the webmaster for the Healthy Farms Healthy Agriculture website.