Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Sunday's Opelika-Auburn news included a listing and a description of WWII veterans who live in Auburn (part 1 and part 2). Looking at the list was like looking at a list of Who's Who for Auburn University and the cities of Auburn and Opelika. These men and one woman (Ann Barr who is known for her leadership in 4-H) served in WWII and then became leaders in our town.

Today, we pause to reflect on the sacrifices that our service men and women have made. I am so very grateful for their service.

I am also reminded of the many sacrifices that men and women are currently making to serve our country. My brother served in Iraq for a year (late 2004-late 2005). For now, we are thankful that he is living with his family on their blueberry farm and serving the guard full-time in Alabama.

When he was in Iraq, he would hurriedly write emails as there was always someone waiting to read and send emails when he finished with the computer. Below is one of his emails he sent us that demonstrates the sacrifices that our armed forces and the Iraqi police face everyday.

(2005) Yesterday, Tuesday morning, our Civil Affairs section had a convoy to the local city. They were going to survey a site for a new school. The rear gunner, who man's a .50 caliber machine gun, (a very large weapon capable of shooting through a truck engine) radioed forward that a car was approaching fast from the rear. Our convoys travel at about 60 to 70 miles per hour on the open road. So this car was really moving.

The standing operation procedure (SOP) is to fire on any vehicle that is displaying overly aggressive behavior. The gunner did not fire. The Lieutenant in charge of the convoy did not give the order to fire. He saw that the car was a new car and something told him this was not what it seemed. Instead he pulled the convoy over.

Inside the car was an Iraqi policeman. The police man pointed at a bridge ahead and said "R.P.G. boom, boom". About that time the front gunner who mans a squad automatic weapon (SAW) radioed back that there were men around the bridge with rocket propelled grenades (RPG)and light machine guns. The convoy had stopped about 300 meters out. The range of an RPG is about 250 meters.

The Iraqi policeman had spotted the militia setting up the ambush and had turned around to leave the area. He met our convoy, turned around again and caught our convoy to warn them about the ambush. He knows our SOP and knew that he could have been killed by us trying to warn us. He knows that someone in the militia knows where he lives and may try to kill him and his family for warning us.

Tonight is Prayer Meeting in many churches, please add him to your prayers. Please pray for this man's safety, family and soul and thank God for this man. Some Alabama National Guardsmen owe him their lives.

Say a prayer or a thought for the Alabama guardsman who made the decision not to shot. He saved the Iraqi policeman who saved the convoy. And of course, a prayer and a thought for the Iraqi policeman.

To the families of fallen soldiers, please know our gratitude. To soldiers who are currently serving our country, thank you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Measuring the Effectiveness of Blogs

John Dorner asked several questions about how to measure the effectiveness of blogs. He asked about counting visits, number of people using feeds from the blog, etc. In an effort to find out how effective his blog is, he is trying out a rating widgets where readers who visit the site can rate his blog.

Web metrics
Some metrics, like Technorati and Google Analytics, are useful metrics. On the ACES website, we use WebTrends. It gives comprehensive web statistics, including length of stay on the web site.

Larry Lippke started an eXtension wiki entry that describes the problems with using web statistics in the same kind of way that we use the traditional Extension methods for counting face-to-face communications. Two snippets from the wiki are:

"...Web statistics can only reflect the information that is kept in the log files of the web server.

...It cannot, though, suggest that a 10,000 reduction in face to face contacts is explained by a 10,000 increase in some web statistics measure; those are apples and oranges."

Effectiveness and influence: Can these be measured in web metrics?
My goal in blogging is not to gain great popularity on the web community, but rather it is to help Extension professionals see the relevant benefit of technologies. So the number of visits and feeds hitting my site are not nearly as important to me as knowing if I am helpful.

An indication of the effectiveness of my blog is the type of feedback I get--whether the feedback is from a comment, a link on another blog, or a comment from a personal contact. As John Dorner points out, unfortunately, the comments on the blogs come from only a small portion of the readers. If we look at the comments only, we are greatly underestimating our effectiveness. You really don't know how effective you are in online (and offline) conversations. Traditionally, Extension evaluates the effectiveness of a whole program, not necessarily the effectiveness of individual influence and the effectiveness of news articles and newsletters.

There are several examples I could use that indicate our effectiveness where we have failed to capture--simply because we are unaware of our influence--our individual influence. The most recent example happened last week when we were discussing email phishing with office administrators who make up the Alabama Extension Support Personnel Association. In an effort to give a little more information and resources to the participants, I specifically mentioned the email scams post from John Dorner (North Carolina). John was not aware I would point to his material, nor did he realized that I had read his post and thought it was helpful.

Although this group of Extension staff did not know John, they liked the idea of referring to an Extension-written piece. Why? I can only guess, but I believe it is because they already trust fellow Extension professionals to give them relevant, non-biased information. John should know (his management should also know) that he is influential and relevant in his blogging. Is this a quantifiable measurement? No, nonetheless very important.

Also, other Extension bloggers (I have a partial list of them in this post) are becoming more recognized. I was speaking with a group of animal science program team members when I mentioned social networking tools and specifically pointed out Shepherd's Notebook. These experts easily recognized their colleague in Maryland and saw that they need to consider her Extension blogging efforts.

Blogs and newsletters: A simple comparison
For arguments sake, let's compare printed newsletters with that of a blog. Blogging within the Extension arena is only one component of an Extension program; newsletters are just one component of an Extension program. What kind of statistics do you have about the value of newsletters? Do you know if the recipients are reading them? Do you know if the readers are using the information in the newsletters? Some of the same questions of the effectiveness, reach, and impact of newsletters pertain to blogs.

Do we expect from a single newsletter article that Extension can change behavior of our audience? Though, we do expect that a whole Extension program to invoke change. The most effective way to change behavior (adopt new practices) is with personal influence. Albeit, one-to-one contacts are expensive in the traditional context. Individual conversations are where we have the greatest influence. My favorite IT influential conversation was over dinner when Kevin encouraged blogging among colleagues. Kevin's online influence is just as effective. Read the responses to Kevin's threat to quit blogging.

The value of blogging: engagement and participation
The value of blogging has more to do with expanding our teaching and engaging activities. With blogging, we communicate our expertise and engage our clientele. How do newsletters invoke conversations? Through web communications, anyone who prefers to watch, read, and listen in on these conversations can. How do newsletters expand the reach beyond the recipients of the newsletter?

Through blogging we can engage other experts--those beyond land-grant schools and the educational arena. My personal favorite is when I posted the IT multitasking article and Sinan Aral, a NYU Stern School of Business faculty member, who researched, along with MIT professors, the relationship between IT multitasking and productivity. Recognizing that I referred to his research, Sinan Aral thanked me for my interest in his research and pointed me to more interesting research in the relationship between productivity and diversification of information. Can we engage others in traditional newsletters?

The value of blogging: opportunities to enrich learning
Blogging offers a lot more opportunity to direct people to more resources. This was done appropriately by two North Carolina horticultural agents who directed their readers to the more detailed publication in their blog post on how to water your garden wisely. (Note: we can easily refer to references that are not Extension generated.) Try doing that in a newsletter--you would have to mail the publication along with the newsletter.

What if the North Carolina agents want to refer to something that is not printer-friendly, as in a video on how to build an efficient home irrigation system. Can they do that in a newsletter?

If blogging is done with all of its capability, blogging becomes conversations engaging other experts (some outside of the Extension land-grant institutions) and clientele. These conversations lead to deeper understanding and other possible considerations. And, if done in a way that invokes participation, then we have greater opportunities for individual influence.

We have traditionally counted number of contacts through face-to-face contacts, number of newsletters, etc. We can use web metrics to understand a relative measure of our web activities, but not equate them to counting heads. As conversations develop and relationships develop through blogging (and other social networking tools), we can ask specific individuals how we have impacted their decisions. This seems to me where we need to put our focus of evaluation.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Blogging Policies for Extension Professionals

A friend of mine sent me this Inside Training article, "Blog Patrol". The article which is directed at the corporate world made me wonder if Extension organizations have developed policies specifically for employees who decide to blog.

There are no specific blogging policies at our university and Extension System. My guess, though, blogging falls under "appropriate use of computer resources." I am blogging as employee, using an, and using university resources to connect to the blogging service.

Although blogging is a great way for Extension professionals to share their knowledge and expertise, only a few are blogging at that moment. Because we, as an organization (ACES), have not encouraged individual blogging, most people have not given any thought to blogging. Interestingly, we were one of the first Extension organizations to have a news blog. It is maintained by one individual in the Extension communications unit. Only a couple of different groups have begun blogging in specific topic areas (i.e. home horticulture).

I am wondering in other Extension services, is blogging encouraged, discouraged, or not even discussed? What kind of support is given to bloggers? Does your institution provide blogging services within your organization's web site? If there are policies on blogging, what are they?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

How to use a news reader

This post includes step-by-step instructions and examples (as of today) of Extension blogs that demonstrate how blogs can be used by Extension professionals.

Why use a news reader
My first tip in Tips of a New Blogger is that you should first start using a news reader. Beth Kanter lists using news readers as step 5 in Extension Web 2.0. She indicates you should first find people and blogs that you want to keep up. Larry Lippke says that the online world is already using news readers so let's join them.

The use and popularity of wikis, blogs, and syndication feeds has become the norm through which many people retrieve the information they are looking for. They use Google to search for what they want, not someone's prescribed navigational structure. They use Wikipedia to learn about subjects, even though Wikipedia itself may not be the real repository of the information, but a "tour guide" of sorts to finding it. They subscribe to syndicated feeds of content to keep abreast of recent developments.
Aggregating your news in one place makes for an efficient way to read news. Lee of Common Craft explains it best in a short video called RSS in Plain English. The news reader provides for quick glance and allows you to make a decision to read or not read the posts. Kevin Gamble explains that he uses a news reader so he can greatly increase the amount of information read in a short period time.

...most of the time they say, "I don't know how you have the time to read all that stuff." Of course, the answer to that question is easy-- these tools save me time. I'm a knowledge worker, and these are the tools of the trade. How else could you possibly keep-up if keeping-up is a major part of your job?

"...I can condense all that reading to a single feed and save a bunch of time." The smart knowledge worker is thinking, "I can create hundreds of these feeds with intelligence, and triple or quadruple or exponentially increase the amount of new information I'm processing." And that is huge!

Google Reader as my news reader
I happen to choose Google Reader as my syndication feed reader. You can choose any reader, such as the Internet Explorer 7 reader or another online feed reader. I chose Google Reader because my news feeds will always be available to me. If I use the IE 7 reader, I have to be at my computer in my office to read the feeds. There are other readers online (e.g. If you feel compelled, try them out.

I am using Google for lots of things--blogging (, hosting my domain (, and storing, editing, and sharing online documents (Google documents and spreadsheets). Therefore, Google Reader is my choice.

Using Google Reader
1. Create a Google Reader account on

2. Now open a blog that you would like to keep up-to-date on the news and information represented from that blogger.

3. Look for the subscription address for the blog of your interest. The feed url can be found by looking:

a. for the orange and white wave feed logo, Subscribe (Atom). Click this button to load the feed page. You will copy the url from this feed page.

b. for words that say "Subscribe to me", Click this link to load the feed. You will copy the url from this feed page.

c. for the orange and white wave button in Internet Explorer 7. This button is usually located between the home and the print bottom on the IE toolbar. Click on orange and white wave button. Sometimes you are given a choice between Atom or RSS feed. I usually choose Atom feeds. You will copy the url from this feed page.

d. for the words "Subscribe to: Posts ...." Click on this link. You will copy the url from this feed page.

4. Copy from the subscription address (the feed web page) url of the feed web page.

5. In your Google Reader account, paste the url in the "Add subscription" box.

This feed will display in the area below the subscription box. The posts that you have not read will be displayed in bold on the right window of the page. You can decide quickly to read or not read the post. After reading the posts of interest, select "mark all post read" to clear your reader of the news items you are not wanting to read.

For the most interesting posts that you might want to remember and refer to later, mark with a "star". You can also share posts. I will not go over the details of sharing in Google Reader because at this time I use to share my bookmarked pages. Also, you can manage the feeds into categories that make sense to you.

Example Extension Blogs
Here are a few suggestions of some blogs that might interest Extension professionals. With each blog, I have given a hint as to where to find the url that you will use to copy into Google Reader subscription.

Larry's Ponderings about how Extension can use social networking and other technologies. Look for "Subscribe to ATOM feed or Subscribe to RSS 2.0 feed?"

Anne's Spot about tips for using technologies and whatever else I think the Extension community might find interesting. Look for the orange and white Syndication Feed logo.

Scouting Around about scouting and whatever technologies John Dorner wants to talk about. Look for the orange "Feed" button.

HighTouch about using social networking technologies. Look for the orange and white wave Syndication Feed logo.

Lead2020 shares his visions on leading. Look for "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)" at the bottom of the blog.

Trends and Issues in Extension about University Extension, Outreach and Engagement. Use the IE7 orange and white wave syndication feed button.

At Home with Extension FCS News from Polk County about family consumer science information in Polk County, North Carolina. Look for the box "XML" button under the calendar.

Shepherd's Notebook is a blog for the sheep and goat industry authored by Susan Schoenian, Sheep and Goat Specialist for Maryland Cooperative Extension. Use the IE7 orange and white wave syndication feed button.

Master Your Garden about home horticulture information for the mountains of Western North Carolina. Use the IE7 orange and white wave syndication feed button.

Extension Daily is the Alabama Cooperative Extension News blog. Use the IE7 orange and white wave syndication feed logo.

If none of these blogs seem to interest you, look for news feeds from popular news sites (CNN, MSN, etc.) or look for blogs of interest in Technorati and follow Beth Kanter's Steps 1 through 3 in Extension Web 2.0.

Disclaimer about the blogs listed above. I've listed these for the purpose of demonstration. Extension professionals should be reading information from lots of sources.

One more hint: Many people after hearing my description of using a news reader will exclaim that they will forget to go to the reader page. I have made Google Reader my "home" page so it is the page that is displayed when I open my browser. Now I look over my reader items before I read email each morning when I arrive to work.


My mom wants a feed reader

Extension Web 2.0

eXtension Recordings on Using Feeds

Promoting Web 2.0 for Extension (examples of Extension using social networking tools. Add your blogs, wikis, etc. here)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Work and no play, Play and no work, or Work and Play

My dad said when we were younger, "Work hard and play hard!" Not only did he teach us to work hard--very hard, but he also understood we needed to play. He and my mom encouraged our involvement in lots of activities--sports, youth and government programs, speech contests, yearbook editors, etc. Looking back, I guess because we worked so very hard, we kids embraced these other activities with great enthusiasm. These activities gave us opportunities to meet new people, have fun and "play at real life".

In today's world, do we always have to separate work and play (learning and play)? I am fortunate that I have a job that is a lot of fun. I love where I work and with whom I work. I love working with Extension professionals! In my job, I have the freedom to learn new technologies and new practices because I choose to and because these new tools and techniques can be very applicable to my job and to Extension. It is difficult for me to think of work as work and to think of learning as work.

But I wonder as we create educational programs in Extension, are we using techniques that make learning fun? Do we need to? Do we use technology to leverage our educational programs and our abilities to connect with other experts and to our clientele?

Dan Maas, CIO of Littleton Public Schools (Colorado), has an excellent post on why it is important to make learning (and work) fun and to leverage our technologies in preparing kids for real life scenarios. He emphasizes that learning and being successful is easier if we think it is fun and more like playing. He says that the "best learning moments ...happened when we were playing at real life."

The more interesting, the more authentic, the more rewarding and the more comparable to real life our educational experiences can be, I'm betting the more success we'll realize.

While Dan Maas is emphasizing that playing at real life is effective in secondary education, can't we apply that same principle to educating adults? We now have technologies which can offer so much more; we have technologies that helps us connect to others in ways never before.

...real life today is a connected, informed and participatory life. Real life in the 21st Century means that traditional barriers of time, space and money are being completely redefined.

We have abilities to have many-to-many conversations, not just one to one conversations or one to many lectures (one teacher to many students).

Anyone can choose to "listen in" on these conversations, join in the conversations, and share your conversations to others, and continue the conversations in other forms or in other groups. These conversations are linked with other conversations and these "many-to-many" linkages, chaotic and haphazard, create the grandest opportunities to share knowledge, learn knowledge, develop skills, and create relationships.

Many of us in higher education are still trapped into thinking that distance learning technologies are extensions of the traditional classroom and are mechanisms for efficiencies, convenience, and cost savings. Social networking technologies allow for so much more.

These technologies give us great opportunities for building relationships. Making connections is the first step to building relationships. Through these relationships, we enhance learning for ourselves and for our "clientele". The learning becomes more like a web, looking nothing like teacher to student lecture. Through these interlinking relationships we can give our programs breadth and depth.

Human relationships are the most valuable currency for every career and lifestyle and no matter how much things change, this is a constant.

Larry Lippke points out that Extension should "accommodate collaboration" that these technologies provide.

We also need to consider that we may not be the sole and ultimate experts on our content, but that our customers may have experience that tempers our knowledge. These wiki and blog platforms accommodate collaboration with our customers in ways never before seen, and we need to foster those collaborations.

In higher education, how can we create both structured and unstructured linkages that serve both worlds--the flat online world and the structured educational world? I don't know an easy answer. To start, we can take Kevin Gamble's advice, learn by doing it--"be the ball"--get in the middle of the action.

Start participating (some have started) by using these technologies. While we have always looked to our organizations' to direct us, build the technologies, and show us how to use new technologies, in social networking, we don't necessarily need direction. Communities already exist. We need to join them.

Besides these technologies not only offer great opportunities, but they are also fun.