Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The best wine course I have ever taken (And it was distance-based)

I just completed the best wine course I have ever taken. Ever. The course was titled Wine Production, and is the second of the five courses that comprise the UC Davis Winemaking Certificate Program. The UC Davis Winemaking Program "combines academic theory with real-world commercial application" to provide industry professionals, home winemakers, and wine enthusiasts with the "knowledge, confidence, and practical skills ..." required for goal attainment. The five 10-week-long courses are led off by Introduction to Wine and Winemaking, a course that was waived in my case because of my WSET certification. My first course was, as a result, Wine Production, the subject of this post.

Course Design

As I perceived it, the course had two major knowledge delivery components -- Institution-led and Organic -- which were overseen and directed by Program Administration and the Professor and facilitated by the University's online learning platform. The Institution-led knowledge delivery component consisted of elements provided to the students by the Professor and included:
  • Lectures -- one topic per week, two pre-recprded lectures per topic with accompanying power point presentations and professor notes
    • The Concept of Wine Quality
    • Wine Production begins in the Vineyard
    • Grape and Must Processing
    • Overview of the Winemaking Process
    • The Alcoholic Fermentation
    • Problem Fermentations
    • The Malolactic Fermentation
    • Post-Fermentation Processing and Stability
    • Microbial Stability and Winery Sanitation
    • Wine Aging and Blending
    • Wine Sensory Evaluation
  • Reading Assignments -- Required readings from text book (Jackson: Wine Science) plus two to four articles from the peer-reviewed American Journal of Viticulture and Enology (AJEV); recommended readings from a second textbook (Boulton et al., Principles and Practices of Winemaking) plus two to four additional AJEV articles.
  • Case-Based Exams -- one every two weeks. Based on actual winemaking problems that were brought to UCDavis by wineries. Statement of the Case and then four to 6 questions arising. In most cases required additional substantial research in order to provide required answers.
  • Class Participation Assignment -- Topic provided by the professor for online student discussion. Presented in the weeks when no case-based exams were due. Discussion questions were based on the following broad topics:
    • Terroir
    • Red Cap Management
    • To yeast or not to Yeast
    • Unfined and Unfiltered
    • Are oak barrels important for fine wine production?
  • Office Hour -- Bi-weekly. Live virtual classroom where Professor lectures for 30 minutes on pertinent topic and then opens up the floor to chat questions from the students in attendance. Questions submitted during and post the presentation are answered fully. The entire event is recorded and posted into the learning environment so that students who did not attend would still have access to the information shared.
  • Additional Resources -- 
    • Wine Production Glossary
    • Basic Acid Chemistry
    • Sulfur Dioxide in Wine
    • Excel Graphing Tips
    • Optional Wine Aging Experiment
The Organic knowledge delivery elements of the course comprised of those areas where learning sprouted from the topics raised and the experiences of the participating students and was facilitated by the online learning environment:
  • Introduce Yourself Forum -- allowed students to provide some background info on themselves and their objectives. Based on my analysis of the responses, there were: 42 students in the class (31 of whom were from the US and the remainder from Canada, England, Turkey, and Portugal); 29 males and 13 females; eight winery owners, five winemakers, one viticulturist, two lab techs, three winery "worker bees," and 10 others.
  • General Chat -- in this forum, any student could raise any topic for discussion by the group. A total of 108 separate topics were opened on this forum.
  • Class Participation Assignment -- this is included in both of the broad knowledge delivery components because while the topics are raised by the institution, the information and dialogue is driven by the students. In the cases where additional clarity was required, the professor did interject.

Why was this course so great?

Because it fulfilled the promise of distance learning (DL) which was undelivered by many DL courses that I have taken in the past. It was great because it provided a multitude of avenues by which students could acquire knowledge and, rather than allowing those avenues to lie fallow, seeded them with starters, continuously monitored for progress, and provided direction along the way as necessary. It was great because it competently tested the students' knowledge acquisition with case-based assignments that required careful thought, extensive research, analytical thinking, and a comprehensive understanding of the topics covered to date in order to effectively answer the questions. It was great because of the tools and resources made available to the students and the mix of media provided for professor/student interaction. It was great because of the knowledge and experience locked up in the students and shared freely in the General Chat forum. It was great because Program Administration performed flawlessly in getting me from the position of a prospect to having a seat in a classroom (Because of the high demand for the Wine Production course, I had to wait for four months after acceptance before I set foot in a "classroom" but once I was given a class start date, a series of well-timed and informative communications got me set for the start of class on April 7th.). It was great because the Professor was eminently qualified to teach this course and was empathetic and interested in our knowledge acquisition. It was great because the Professor did not allow a personal tragedy to impact the schedule that we were working with (even though it would have been perfectly understandable). I could go on and on but I am sure that you have gotten the picture by this time.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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