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Technology Facilitates Global Discussion about Agriculture

UPublish story by John Finn

When Kyle Schutz graduated from The College of Wooster two years ago, he did not have any immediate plans to keep in touch with his alma mater, especially after receiving a Fulbright Grant to teach English in Austria. But when his students expressed an interest in United States agriculture, Schutz harkened back to a course he had taken with Matt Mariola, assistant professor of environmental studies at Wooster, and decided to reconnect.

“We set up a Skype session with his students,” said Mariola. “Most of them lived on small farms, and they were curious about agriculture in our country. They asked questions about the price of farmland and the size of farms, particularly those with livestock, in the U.S.”

Likewise, Mariola had some questions for Schutz’s students, including what crops they grew and how farming fit the culture of their country. “Their farms are much smaller than ours,” said Mariola. “A dairy farm in Austria, for example, might have only 30 cows.”

What impressed Mariola most about the 40-minute session was the attentiveness of the students. “None of them were distracted, even those that weren't speaking directly to the camera,” he said. “They were very engaged and asked very sophisticated questions. Their English was also quite impressive.”

Schutz, who majored in German studies with a minor in environmental studies, told Mariola that his students were “really pumped” after the session. “The chance to speak to someone in the U.S. about agriculture was very exciting for them,” said Mariola. “It was an interesting and positive way to connect with Kyle’s students by using technology to reach across digital space.”

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