Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance

VESTA develops world-class distance learning program with Mediasite to sustain growth in the Mid-American grape and wine industry.

Vesta

The Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) is a partnership of educational institutions, state agricultural agencies and industry that provides grape and wine education in Middle America. After experimenting with classroom technologies that resulted in frustrated students and staff, VESTA applied for and received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to purchase the Mediasite webcasting platform.

Mediasite lecture capture now supports VESTA's traditional classroom learning and on-location laboratory experience, serving both established and aspiring wine and grape industry professionals who beforehand had limited access to educational opportunities without expending enormous personal resources. With Mediasite, VESTA has developed a training program that rivals its competitors on both U.S. coasts.

At a glance

  • Educational institutions partner with wine and grape industry to provide workforce instruction to sustain growth

  • Initial distance learning solutions interfere with course objectives and provide inefficient information delivery

  • Mediasite enables alliance to reach geographically dispersed students with effective, interactive course content

  • Mid-America's premier wine and grape education program gains competitive edge over similar U.S. programs

Challenge

Tremendous growth in the Mid-American viticulture industry had prompted stakeholders to explore a collaborative education program that could sustain that growth. "Mid-American states were experiencing 400 to 800 percent growth in the wine and grape industry, but had no way to develop a knowledgeable workforce to support that growth," said Michelle Norgren, director of VESTA's regional center. In 2003, leaders at universities, two-year colleges, state agricultural agencies, vineyards and wineries in Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma and Illinois founded VESTA with a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Combining classroom learning with hands-on laboratory experience, the alliance began to develop a workforce that could enable the Mid-American wine and grape industry to keep pace with competitors on the East and West Coasts.

Instructors were recruited from across the nation, and VESTA launched its first semester of courses. Because instructors were so geographically dispersed, VESTA provided them a real-time text chat feature with which to conduct class. With enrollment reaching 20 students per class, this format resulted in huge amounts of wasted student and instructor time. "The technology we initially employed did not fulfill our course objectives," said Norgren. "We needed a better way to deliver content, and it had to be compatible with students in rural areas using low-end dial-up internet connection."

Solution

In 2006 VESTA partnered with Redlands Community College in Oklahoma, a Sonic Foundry customer that had just built a small recording studio for its Mediasite system. A regular attendee of the Sloan-C Asynchronous Learning Conference, Norgren had seen but not operated Mediasite until she visited Redlands, and she realized immediately the vast impact the Mediasite webcasting platform could have. "When I saw Mediasite - the power that video would offer and the asynchronous course management - I knew it would evolve our classes into the 21st century," said Norgren. "The other systems I had encountered in previous jobs weren't as intuitively friendly as Mediasite."

During the first NSF grant cycle, VESTA arranged to fly instructors to Redlands, where they would record a semester of lectures in less than two days. When it came time to re-apply for the grant, Norgren included the purchase of Mediasite for three of the four partner institutions and a system upgrade for Redlands Community College. NSF awarded the grant to VESTA and later named the alliance an NSF Regional Center of Excellence. "We always envisioned ourselves reaching out and becoming a regional center, and we knew Mediasite could help."

With all four partner institutions now equipped with Mediasite technology, the alliance saw potential for significant expansion and growth. "Mediasite enabled instructors to go out into the field and capture video instruction on location," said Norgren.

Result

Transparent access to wine and grape education in Middle-America was impossible just a few years ago. "Aspiring grape and wine professionals no longer have to travel cross-country for high quality instruction. They can get it right in their own kitchens," said Norgren. "Before, everyone in the Midwest was geographically place-bound. People would have to up and move to California to get the same instruction."

The Mediasite platform automatically records and encodes presentations at multiple bitrates with varying video qualities. This allows all students, regardless of their location or Internet access quality, to watch a presentation optimized for their connection. VESTA students, many of whom live far from urban centers, have no trouble accessing and watching course content from their homes or offices.

Norgren briefs instructors on Mediasite recording, and "in a matter of 10 minutes, the instructors have mastered the system, and I'm in another room," she said. Many instructors are viticulture professionals and not educators by training, so Norgren and her staff coach them on teaching techniques. "With Mediasite, we don't have the additional burden of teaching instructors how to teach online. Mediasite is very user-friendly. It's almost invisible for how we're using it." Nearly half of all courses are now available as online rich media presentations.

The increased effectiveness of VESTA's online courses has resulted in higher quality student-teacher interaction and knowledge retention. "Mediasite prompts students to stay on task," said Norgren. "More importantly, students are able to go back and watch pieces they want to review."

Professor of enology Zoran Ljepovic, a quality control consultant in California for Constellation Wines, U.S., said shy or reserved students are more comfortable participating via Mediasite than they are in traditional classrooms.

More than 477 students from 36 states have participated in VESTA courses, and three students have taken online courses while living in Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Most students are non-traditional - the average student age is 40 - and one student is learning at age 85. Although its partner institutions receive tuition and course fees, Norgren said VESTA has experienced enormous gains. "The return on investment is our ability to produce a program that is light-years away from the other grape and wine education programs out there," said Norgren.

VESTA is experimenting with various innovative Mediasite applications. Norgren recently traveled with a portable Mediasite system to record each instructor's introduction to his or her course. The presentations are accessible via links within the online course catalog, so interested students can get a sneak peek at course content directly from the professor. VESTA also plans to record short learning modules that will help industry professionals face specific challenges, such as black rot.

"Mediasite allows you to think outside of the box, and VESTA is by definition always thinking outside of the box," said Norgren. "Mediasite has made us a premier online program for grape and wine education."

About The Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA)

VESTA is a NSF-funded partnership between the Missouri State University system, two year schools in Iowa, Illinois, Oklahoma, state agriculture agencies, vineyards and wineries with a 21st century vision for education in grape growing and winemaking. The goal of VESTA is to establish programs of study in viticulture and enology through collaborations with educational institutions, government and industry tailored specifically for the Mid-America region. A unique partnership of universities and community colleges in Missouri and neighboring states provides students access to coursework that is delivered online thereby enabling learning to occur anytime, anywhere. Additionally, the VESTA program provides opportunities for students to participate in hands-on field experiences through partnerships developed with area vineyards and wineries, thus providing students with laboratory experience in their location.