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Howling Cow: A Case Study For Online Learning

A Real-World Case Study for Online Learners

Online learning commonly fails to provide real-world perspective, as learning through lecture videos, reading assignments, and quizzes may not allow for a true understanding of working world settings. This is why Dr. Clint Stevenson, Assistant Professor of Food Science, put a team of developers, designers, instructors and students together to create a virtual manufacturing environment for his online food safety courses.

This innovative approach was born in 2013 during hallway conversations with the managers of Howling Cow Ice Cream in the Robert H. Feldmeier Dairy Processing Plant. Gary Cartwright, director of the NC State University dairy enterprise, as well as the business manager, Carl Hollifield, were both supportive of this idea. Little did they know at the time, they would become stars in a reality TV approach to online learning.

Illustrating a Day in the Life of Processing Plant

A primary objective of the project was to place students in the shoes of a manager in a food manufacturing operation. During initial brainstorming meetings with John Gordon, Broadcast & Emerging Media Manager at DELTA, it was determined that multiple documentaries would be necessary. As Dr. Stevenson reiterated to the team, “It is essential that we simulate a day in the life of a manufacturing plant for two reasons: people don’t realize how challenging jobs in manufacturing are and many food safety accidents occur when unexpected problems happen.” The team decided to produce a documentary that follows workers in the Robert H. Feldmeier Dairy Processing Plant for several days. The documentary includes video tours of the plant, observations of the workers in action, and interviews with management to illustrate the layout and basic operation of the plant and how decisions and actions of the all workers in the plant constitute on-the-ground food safety management in a real-world setting.

Demonstrating the Fundamentals of Food Safety

After producing the initial documentary videos, the project team also wanted to include pre-requisite programs for managing food safety environmental hazards such as pest control, employee hygiene, and sanitary design. The regulations of the Food and Drug Administration require food manufacturers to obey about 80 different Good Manufacturing Practices. To demonstrate examples of these, the project team produced 12 short tours of prerequisite programs in various locations of the dairy processing plant.

“Gamifying” Food Safety

Virtual Food Manufacturing Facility title card

To optimize the user interface and promote learning in an engaging way, the project team wanted to complement the videos with a game that challenges students to interpret FDA regulations. Multimedia Learning Specialist, Ryan DeWitt, is currently putting the finishing touches on a 3D interface that allows students to see where each video was recorded. When they select a hotspot, the video begins. After watching each video, students will have opportunities to earn points while answering a series of questions. Eventually this game will be available for instructors from other universities to incorporate into their food safety teaching activities.

Now Available to Students

The Howling Cow case study will first be launched for students in FS 250 (Basics of Food Safety & Quality) and FS 350 (Intro to HACCP) in the Fall 2014 semester. Students will be challenged to multiple activities related to the Howling Cow case study, including group work, quizzes, and discussion forums.