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Serving: IA
A woman member of the Conservation Learning Group being videotaped. Photos courtesy of ILF
VIRTUAL DELIVERY: Video is proving to be effective and popular; the Conservation Learning Group is expanding new content based on this experience.

Conservation groups' online know-how boosts programming

Iowa Learning Farms: Use of online information is successfully replacing in-person conservation field days.

Like so many other educational institutions and outreach groups, both the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! programs have stepped up online efforts since the closure of schools and pause on in-person gatherings related to the pandemic. Something that puts these groups ahead of many is a long, successful record of producing online content as core elements in program delivery.  

Both programs are part of the Conservation Learning Group at Iowa State University Extension. The CLG teams are expanding content from a position of experience. With nearly 750,000 collective YouTube views and distribution of some 4,000 DVDs with original videos, ILF and Water Rocks can rightly claim a substantial interest level for their content. 

“Some of these videos have been particularly popular across the years, and continue to attract interest,” says Jacqueline Comito, CLG director. “We recently received a request for permission to publicly show our Incredible Wetlands video, which was produced in 2014.” 

“Incredible Wetlands” was recognized with the 2014 Award of Achievement for Documentary by the Iowa Motion Picture Association. The 23-minute video explores the biologically productive and diverse nature of wetlands, and the vital role they play. This video’s YouTube views recently eclipsed the 40,000 mark. 

“Wetlands are incredible ecosystems that help cleanse our water, promote wildlife diversity and contain intense natural beauty,” Comito says. “When we consider current statewide efforts such as the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, this video is as relevant now as it was in 2014.” 

Other popular videos from CLG include “No-Till Planter Conversion,” which has garnered 131,600 online views and has been included on over 1,700 DVDs distributed at field days and conferences. And the Culture of Conservation series has been downloaded 52,600 times and provided to schools and public libraries on 2,200 DVDs. 

Creation of video content is the stock and trade of CLG. ILF has produced over 115 educational webinars since 2011, featuring experts in fields from agronomy to conservation to forestry and beyond. 

Virtual Field Day series a success 

“When we suddenly found ourselves prohibited from conducting in-person events such as field days, we were able to apply what we already knew from webinar and video production to quickly launch our Virtual Field Day series,” says Liz Ripley, ILF conservation outreach specialist. “The events have been well-received, and we have actually seen a substantial expansion of our field day audiences. While we can’t wait until we can safely get back to field days in the fields, it is very likely we will also continue a virtual program as well.” 

Virtual field day
VIRTUAL REALITY: The Virtual Field Day series produced by Iowa Learning Farms has seen a substantial expansion of audiences with more viewers online. 

Adhering to its commitment to delivering high-energy, educational content for youth, Water Rocks launched its Water Rocks Unplugged and Water Rocks Out of the Box programs in April, aimed at helping homebound students continue to learn and experiment through short, entertaining videos. 

“Water Rocks has been making music videos and other educational video content for years, but these pieces were usually foundational materials and resources to support our in-school programs,” says Ann Staudt, Water Rocks director. “These new programs changed the perspective a little bit, making the video content the core lesson rather than playing a supporting role. We had to quickly learn to do a few new things, but it was definitely made easier by what we’ve done in the past.” 

Producing webinars and podcasts 

The webinar catalog also grew to support the ILF mission to reach stakeholders in agriculture, conservation and natural resources. Starting April 1, ILF has produced a new webinar each Wednesday at noon. The team is scheduling speakers for September webinars and will keep the weekly cadence at least through year-end. 

Since the launch of weekly events, webinar attendance has increased. Since April 1, about 50% of participants are new attendees and about half of the 1,200 registered viewers are unique.  

Providing relevant information 

Downloads of the Conservation Chat podcast from CLG has increase in recent months. With an archive of 52 episodes, the segments have been downloaded nearly 13,000 times. 

“For nearly 15 years, video content has proven to be a very effective tool for CLG, and our accumulated experience with this medium has positioned ILF and Water Rocks to quickly respond to emerging requirements and restrictions in ways that have been a boon to our outreach efforts,” concludes Comito. “We are unsure how the coming months will shake out with respect to in-person events, but the CLG teams are well-equipped to continue online efforts to meet constituent needs.” 

Pierce is an ISU Extension program specialist with Iowa Learning Farms. 

TAGS: Education
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