April 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB1

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Using Video of a Master Farmer to Teach Others

An inexpensively produced videotape of a master dairy farmer showing how he manages his dairy farm had a significant educational impact on other dairy farmers. A survey of farmers who watched the video showed that every dairy farmer identified something important they learned from watching it. Sixty-nine percent of them adopted one or more new practices in their business. Keys to successful video production were an articulate master farmer who uses innovative production practices; an inquisitive team of university faculty asking questions as they toured the farm, and careful preparation and use of audio and video equipment. Inexpensively produced videos of masters in other fields may have similar impact.

Jim G. Polson
Associate Professor
Ohio State University Extension
Wooster, Ohio
Internet address: polson.1@osu.edu

Many enjoy visiting with a "master" of something in which they are intensely interested. Chances are, this "master" had their rapt attention. If they were fortunate, this person took them under his or her wing and told them their trade secrets. Some of the advice may have stayed with them throughout their lives. Unfortunately much of what is shared orally is lost. Until recently it hasn't been easy to capture such experiences in their entirety and pass them on to others.

A team of Ohio Extension agents and specialists recently spent a morning with a "master" farmer. His 600 cows produce as much milk per cow as any herd in the country. He has not always been a milk producer. He has adopted a number of practices that many traditional producers have never considered. He lives in a remote area of northern New York which makes it difficult for others to see firsthand what he is doing. Fortunately, a specialist captured the entire interview using a video camera and wireless microphone. He did some minor editing to the video, duplicated it, and shared it with a number of Ohio milk producers with surprising results.

The reaction of Ohio milk producers to the video greatly exceeded expectations. Sixty-nine percent of the producers who borrowed the video adopted one or more new practices they saw on it. Every milk producer was able to identify an important piece of information learned as a result of watching it. Several weeks after they watched it almost three-fourths of the producers were still able to identify additional specific practices they were considering adopting. More than half of the producers watched the entire two hour video twice or more.


Annually since 1992, a team of Ohio State University Extension agents and specialists has visited and interviewed farmers setting dairy industry trends. The 1997 study trip included stops with leading farmers, Extension workers, and industry representatives in western and upstate New York. Although interviews were recorded on video every year, poor audio quality worked against sharing the video with others. In August 1997, each person meeting with the group was asked to wear a wireless microphone that fed sound directly into the video camera. This dramatically improved the audio and produced a video product that could share with others.

It is important to note that these interviews were spontaneous, casual, and unstructured. The taking of video was clearly secondary, if not incidental, to the visits with these people. The only exception was when a faculty member would approach the person and ask him or her if they would wear the wireless microphone. None seemed bothered by the microphone or video camera.

The interaction of the master farmer and the faculty team was crucial to the quality and success of the video discussed here. The keen interest of team members in what was said and depth of carefully chosen questions drew out the "master." The faculty also went out of their way to "make room" for the videographer.

Phil Helfter, a milk producer in Potsdam, NY, was featured on the video. Much of his credibility comes from the fact that his 600 cows produce 32,000 to 34,000 pounds of milk per cow per year, which makes his herd one of the highest producing dairy herds in the United States.

Helfter hasn't always been a milk producer. He previously worked as manager of John Wayne's beef cattle herd. Coming to dairy farming from the outside, he wasn't bound by traditional thinking and traditional ways of doing things. Helfter looks at things from a different perspective and tries approaches others might not even consider. He enjoys the challenges of managing a large dairy herd. Barker (1989) says, people who create new paradigms are usually outsiders. They are not part of the established paradigm community. To find the new paradigms developing in your field, look beyond the center to the fringes, because almost always, the new rules are written at the edge.

Helfter is widely read and articulate. He spoke with considerable authority and tended to the dramatic to make his points. He reported, "reading the Journal of Dairy Science forwards and backwards."

Video Technique

Most of the literature on producing and editing educational video focuses on producing highly structured video incorporating certain educational components. Beaudin and Quick (1993) did an extensive literature review and developed a 15 point instrument to aid the reviewer in evaluating an instructional video's content, instructional plan and technical production. Ludlow & Duff (1997) list important steps in creating original video production. The video produced is significant because, while the producers did not follow many of the guidelines in those studies, the video still was an effective teaching tool. That is important because this type of video is easier and considerably less expensive.

Generally, the amateur videographer "let the camera run" hoping not to miss anything important. He was as inconspicuous as possible, keeping a comfortable distance from the producer, and frequently holding the camera in front of his chest rather than in front of his face.

The camera was an 8mm camera with Hi8 capability and image stabilization. The camera was handheld during the three hours that the visiting team walked around the farm and interviewed the producer. In the future, the picture should be sabilized with a monopod. The team member selected what to edit, but editing and duplication were done by university professionals.

Each person was asked to wear a wireless microphone that fed sound directly into the video camera. Permission was obtained from Helfter before duplicating and sharing the video. The three hours of video was edited to just under two hours, five copies made, and offered to farmers.


In December 1997, a small note was included in a quarterly newsletter sent to 300 milk producers telling them about the video and how to borrow it. Those borrowing it were asked to return it with a check for $3 to cover mailing costs.

Seven requests were quickly received and five copies of the video were sent. Borrowers were asked to return the tape within three weeks, along with a check. The other two producers were placed on a waiting list. Feedback about the video started immediately. Several Extension agents reported, "Producers really enjoyed the video." The response that alerted the team that the video might be something special was a call from a milk producer's wife. She said, "Can we keep the video a little longer? My husband has been showing it to all his friends . . . I am not even sure where it is . . . it is the hottest thing going out here right now." Sometime later, one county agent sent an e-mail regarding the video that said, "Hats off to you. It appears you have done something that really flipped the switch of our dairymen!"

Soon "the grapevine" was generating requests from producers and others who had not received the newsletter announcement about the video. Six additional copies of the video were made and all were placed in circulation with the originals. Because people were still waiting, another five copies (16 total) were made and distributed. The video was not publicized again after the original announcement. By the middle of April, field work began and the groundswell of requests died down. Although interest and activity around the video was known, it was unknown what kind of educational impact the video had. In all, 21 people borrowed one of the 16 copies of the videotape.

Data Collection

A 10 question survey instrument was developed to evaluate the educational impact of the video. A panel of Extension faculty reviewers assessed face and content validity. "Bennett's Hierarchy of Events" (Bennett, 1982) was used to guide development of the questions.

Bennett's "Hierarchy of Events"

"Bennett's Hierarchy" as shown in Table 1, is a logical ordering of educational inputs and outputs. At the highest level, "7. End Results", participants' personal and working lives change as a result of participating in the educational activity. At level 6 participants' change a practice as a result of participation in the educational activity. As one goes down the hierarchy the degree of change in the participants lessens. Also, there is a shift from the "outcomes" of the learner to the "inputs" of the educator. At the first and lowest level, educators commit "inputs" of time, money and other resources. It usually is more difficult and requires more resources to engage participants in educational activities that make changes at the upper level of the hierarchy.

Table 1
Bennett's Hierarchy of Events

5. KASA (knowledge, attitudes, skills, aspirations)
1. INPUTS (staff time, money, resources)

Questions were designed to determine the level of change based on Bennett's Hierarchy. The highest level of change anticipated was level 6. To determine that, "What practices, if any, have you adopted as a result of watching the video?" was asked. Three questions were asked to measure changes in knowledge, attitudes and aspirations as a result of watching the video: "What was the one most important piece of information you got. . .? "Did you change your attitude about any of your current practices . . .? "What new goals, if any, have you set . . .?"

The survey was sent to the 21 people who had borrowed the video between January and March 1998. Nine non-respondents were contacted by telephone. Twenty-one usable surveys wrre received: 16 milk producers, 2 dairy farm employees, 2 dairy nutrition consultants and 1 Extension agent for a 100% return rate.


Sixty-nine percent of the producers who borrowed the video specifically named one or more practice changes they adopted as a result of watching it. Several weeks after watching the video, three-fourths of the producers identified additional specific practices they were still considering adopting.

Three questions were designed to identify level 5, KASA (knowledge, attitude, skills or aspirations) changes on Bennett's hierarchy. Every producer watched the entire video once or more and identified "an important" piece of information they got from watching the video. Thus, 100% of the milk producers made a level 5 change based on a gain in knowledge.

In addition, eight of the 16 producers changed their "attitude" about some of their current practices as a result of watching the video. Eight also listed specific goals (aspirations) they set as a result of the video. Interestingly, only two producers changed both their attitude and set specific goals. Therefore, fourteen different producers (88%) changed an "attitude," "goal," or both. Thus, the video made a major impact on level 5 changes in knowledge, attitude and aspirations. No attempt to measure "skill" changes was made.

Sixty percent of the producers reported watching the entire two hour video more than once. This is particularly interesting considering that milk producers frequently work 60 hours a week or more.

While they had the video, almost three-fourths of the producers showed it to others. Those reporting shared the tape with four additional people, including two employees. Thus approximately 70 people watched the video.

To learn more about producers' decision-making process, this question was asked: "If you changed practices, who did you discuss the changes with prior to adopting them?" Eight of the 11 persons (74%) who had adopted a new practice discussed it with someone else prior to adopting it. A ninth person identified "vet" as someone he had discussed a practice with but he did not indicate making any change in a practice so perhaps after discussions with his "vet" he decided not to adopt the practice.

"What one or two changes in the video would have made it more useful to you?" was another question asked. None of the producers said anything about the two hour length or the quality of the video (picture) even though it was shot using a handheld camera and distributed with very little editing. Five people felt the sound needed to be improved. Part of this was caused by 20 minutes or so of our interview being conducted near a milk parlor where a very noisy compressor was running. Also, with the producer wearing a wireless microphone it was frequently difficult to hear the questions and comments of those interviewing him. In the future, a character generator to write out hard to hear questions and comments will be used, so people can read them at the bottom of the picture.

Appropriate Changes?

Eleven of the 16 producers identified one or more practices they adopted as a result of watching the video. Most adopted one or two practices, but altogether they adopted 7-8 different new practices. That is a lot of different practices for one producer to explain on one video to the point that others would choose to adopt the practices.

Not everything a "master" does or says is scientifically based. This is a dilemma the team faced in reproducing and sharing the video. For example, contrary to many research studies, Phil Helfter uses bulls with some of his animals and the video clearly showed that he runs bulls through his milk parlor. Thus, it is not surprising that one milk producer's practice change was, "Started using a clean-up bull to lower calving interval." Another producer wrote, "Use of herd bull does not hurt genetics." The first producer may not encounter problems, but the statement of the second producer is clearly contrary to research. (Troyer, 1990; Cassel, 1993)

Phil Helfter's system works for him and with his industry leading production it is hard to argue that what he is doing is inappropriate. But it is very unlikely that all his practices will work for others. One does need to be careful not to explicitly or implicitly endorse "masters" who make recommendations or are using practices that may mislead or cause harm to others.


There are "masters" in many fields who have important things to share and teach. Miller and Honeyman (1994, p. 47) reported that the most important individual item in the effectiveness of a video is, "real-world application of content is stressed by the instructor." A video of a master explaining his or her trade should excel in practical application.

It is highly desirable to have two or three knowledgeable and interested people interact with the primary subject. They put the person at ease and provide the stimulus to draw out the primary subject, so he freely shares what he knows. This video involved eight faculty members. That is a large group for shooting a video and only worked because the group was very cooperative.

Having a large group means that some questions will come from people a distance from the subject wearing the microphone, significantly reducing the quality of the audio. In response, the videotape has been reviewed and questions identified that are hard to hear. A character generator will be used to insert those questions on the bottom of the picture and make new tapes so people can read what is being asked. Others may want to capture more of the audio on the original tape by using multiple microphones or different kinds of microphones.

This study shows it is not necessary to be a professional videographer or have expensive equipment to shoot video that is potentially useful for educational purposes. However, it is important to have some experience shooting video and follow some basics of video production. It also is helpful to have a camera that is a "step above" typical consumer VHS or VHS-C. A camera with at least Hi-8 or S-VHS capabilities is desirable.

Other key production items include an abundant supply of high quality videotape, plentiful batteries for the camera and microphone, and a wireless microphone, or other means of getting quality audio. A monopod or tripod may also be helpful. Ludlow (1997, P. 204) makes a key point: "Careful planning is definitely essential when preparing to videotape a one-time-only situation that cannot be reproduced . . . or when using a location that requires a considerable travel time and distance."

This experience has shown that a video can impact viewers. Additional study is needed to determine how best to market such videos. This example shows also that a simply produced video of a master in a field can have a major impact on the lives of those who view it. However, one must have the equipment "in hand," and know how to use it or the time of gleaning from a master will be lost in the winds of time.


Barker, J. (1989). The business of paradigms. (Video) 2nd ed. Burnesville, MN: Charthouse Learning Corporation.

Beaudin, B. and Quick, D. (1993). Instructional video evaluation (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED366308).

Bennett, C. (1982). Reflective appraisal of programs (RAP): An approach to studying clientele-perceived results of cooperative Extension programs-rationale, Guide, Workbook. Ithaca, N.Y.: Media Services, Cornell University.

Cassel, B. (1993). Research herds verify genetic theory. Hoard's Dairyman. Aug. 25, 1993. p 611.

Ludlow, B., & Duff, M.. (1997) Creating and using video segments for rural teacher education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 406106).

Miller, G., & Honeyman, M. (1994). Videotape utilization and effective videotape instructional practices in an off-campus agriculture degree program. Journal of Agricultural Education, 35(1), 43-48.

Troyer, B. (1990). Effect of knowledge of due date on subsequent lactation yield, and economic comparisons of various ratios of AI to non-AI matings within herds. Unpublished master's thesis, Michigan State University. East Lansing.