EVOLUTION OF WEB-BASED COLLABORATIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS IN HORTICULTURE
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Once limited by the ability to navigate from topic to topic by browsing linked pages, the power of the World Wide Web as an information-sharing, extraordinarily rich learning environment was unleashed by the successive developments of dynamic, database-driven Web pages, text indexing search engines, powerful accessory applications, and cross-platform compliant tools. The Web was adopted by extension educators in the mid-1990's because it was a cost effective solution to the dilemma of distributing high quality printed information to clientele quickly and without the associated costs of colour printing, inventory maintenance, handling and postage. The capability for 24-7-365 availability of printed educational materials alone resulted in millions of dollars of cost savings to the Web-enabled groups. With the advent of modern applications driven largely by the commercial segment of the Web, extension specialists and educators made rapid strides in the adoption of technology for fulfilling their mission to educate their students and clientele. Wikis, blogs, podcasting, Web conferencing, and other advanced tools have changed teaching and extension Web sites, and in fact, have allowed these professionals to expand their missions. An unspoken truth has begun to cloud a story that would be rated otherwise an unqualified success. Fewer professional horticultural educators are employed in extension and university positions, academic horticulture departments are decreasing in number worldwide, and the shortage in the number of horticulturists with production-oriented training is both real and critical. The development of collaborative teaching and extension programs that allow for distance-independent creation, maintenance and delivery of extension information and academic instruction represents an asset as well as a driving force to insure future technological advancements in the field of horticulture. However, significant barriers including traditional funding paradigms and "ownership" threaten to undermine potential advancements, but these threats can and must be overcome.
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