Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Alaskans can learn history of state's ungulates online

When Reindeer Research Program staff decided to offer an eLearning course on the history of Alaska's ungulates, little did they realize the fascinating stories they would find.

They'll be sharing those tales in HLRM 120: History of Domesticated Alaska Ungulates during spring semester. "I've been wanting to develop distance delivery courses for a long time," said Greg Finstad, associate professor with SNRAS and manager of the RRP.

Lomen Bros. reindeer, Nome, Alaska, early 1900s (Alaska State Library Historical Collections)
In an effort to make the high latitude range management courses sustainable, Finstad decided that offering online versions will be much more affordable than having students travel to Nome.

Working with Owen Guthrie, instructional designer with eLearning and a former RRP employee, Finstad and other RRP staff have found the right formula. Rather than old-style distance courses where a student works on his own, this type of class involves interaction among the students.

"It will be a learning community," Guthrie said. "There will be community discussion forums and video conferencing. By sharing the learning experience, people learn better."

The course will cover the amazing tales surrounding the introduction of reindeer, cattle, bison, elk and yak to Alaska from 1890 to the present. Students will explore the political, economic and social aspects of raising livestock on the last frontier.

Guthrie said, "When you're on the frontier and try something new some make it and some lose everything. It makes for compelling human stories."

"There have been quite a few diverse attempts to raise several species at various locations with different management techniques," Finstad said. And all was not always well. There have been some disastrous projects around the state. "There has been a history of failure but one of the huge successes was the Lomen Brothers who raised reindeer in western Alaska and shipped 1 million pounds of reindeer meat yearly to the lower 48 until the Depression did them in.

"There is a lot of history out there and we're digging for it," he said. "This will be a work in progress. RRP's George Aguiar has been interviewing ranchers around the state to get their perspectives and Darrell Blodgett has been doing a literature search and creating a Google map.

"The livestock industry in Alaska is not large but there is a rich history of diverse, strange, daring and foolish attempts," Finstad said. "We'll be looking at the history of our state through this one particular lens."

The state could have a bright future in producing more of its own meat, he said. "We have a large land base and a small population. We just need to convert some of the range forage into meat and we're good. There is huge potential."

The one-credit course begins Jan. 16 and lasts four weeks. Contact Marissa Carl for more information.

No comments: