Sunday, June 24, 2007

Extension in Web 2.0

The Virtual Extension Specialist in Journal of Extension is a good start to introducing the change in Extension's role on the Internet. According to Charles Ray, the virtual Extension specialist creates a web site that serves a focus, takes on the identity of the website, uses a web site as the primary contact, abandons paper print focus, becomes a lead of navigator of information for clients, and continually builds the web site as the Extension program.

Charles Ray and his colleagues should be congratulated for producing a comprehensive web site that provides continuous changing information that is meaningful and helpful to the wood products industry. In describing the virtual Extension specialist, Ray's most important points are that:

  1. we do not guard our information,
  2. we generate our information for the web, not for print media, and
  3. we should not we depend on ourselves to generate information.

Extension is Not the Only Expert
Jason Young describes this last point best by saying it is impossible for us to know everything.

"There is always someone that knows more than I do about a given subject. And only by those sharing what they know am I able to successfully accomplish many of the tasks placed before me. Sure, I have to know a fair amount, I have to have the fundamentals, but I can no longer be successful in the business I’m in based solely on what I know.

...Information always finds a way to be known."

Jason ends his post with a reason that local agents should also join the Web 2.0 world with "It isn’t about what you know, it’s about what you can figure out."

Content can be created and is created by anyone. Content creation is about inclusion. We are not the only experts. Seeking knowledge from other Extension professionals, other land grant faculty, other University (non-land grant) faculty, other experts--such as health professionals, community leaders, horticulturalists, bankers, etc., and citizens is imperative for keeping our knowledge current, solving problems, and providing education.

Sharing and Collaborating in Web 2.0
Rather than carefully controlling the flow of information, we should be willing (and able) to open information systems so we can both 1) seek knowledge from various sources and 2) "share far and wide our knowledge".

Sites like Penn State Wood Pro (I could name several others, including the eXtension web sites) have produced valuable information and become a central hub for information in a topic area. Today, there are many technologies that provide Extension professionals (not just specialists) to develop web sites like Penn State Wood Pro.

But, more importantly, there are new web technologies that can move Extension into a more collaborative and community presence, adding value and depth to our knowledge and our ability to share knowledge. Extension colleagues (and a few government professionals) around the nation are using eXtension's wikis to collaborate and mesh information. A few Extension professionals have edited entries in Wikipedia. The eXtension web sites also include opportunities for online communities to communicate through chats and "ask the experts".

Many Extension web sites are "come to me sites". Most Extension web sites produce information in a way that was intended for print. The Web 2.0 era has created an environment where internet users are more social and find useful information through their social contacts on the web. They expect more interaction, more linking, and more dynamic products. They expect to get information in any form. They want learning that is interactive and inclusive. They too want to share their knowledge. They want conversations.

Listed below are some popular, and useful, social networking tools, that Extension professionals should be learning and using:
(Note the technologies marked with an * are ones that I and several other Extension professionals are participating in.) There are others. Leave a comment for those I have left out.
These web technologies provide opportunities to share knowledge, receive feedback, learn, have conversations, and build relationships in multitude of ever-changing online communities. This way of sharing and creating knowledge creates a "go to them" web presence.

The web now is no longer about directing our information, it is about collaborative augmentation, remixing and assembling information into forms that the original authors never pictured (paraphrased from Jason Young). A product that has been added to, changed, and remixed by many is a better, more easily understood, and richer product than its original.

Although there are many examples, the YouTube video Shift Happens and its Slideshare version which is a presentation on the globalization from an educational standpoint is an excellent example of a product of inclusion and sharing. Karl Fisch created the original as a presentation for in-service training for teachers at a high school.

As the result of sharing and repackaging the product (by many), the video and presentation is extremely effective, informative, and useful. It has been viewed 2 million times. AND, it still can be remixed, changed, and specialized for your specific needs. Karl Fisch has announced that there is now a wiki where people can reference materials, add more facts, improve the information, and continue the conversation about Shift Happens. (If you have not watched the video --watch it!). This is a wonderful example where one person had an idea, produced it, shared it, and through the process of sharing it, the product became more meaningful and useful.
Information AND knowledge are commodities.
To fully participate in Web 2.0--in the flat and seemingly chaotic web structure--we have to remove some of the constraints we have, like the traditional modes of operation of controlling our content, communications, and presentations. The traditional form of teaching from one instructor to many students does not effectively work with Web 2.0 participants. To try to control communities by feeding them information is futile. We are wasting our time to create only "come to me" environments. We, Extension professionals, will be much more effective by joining, participating, contributing, sometimes leading, and forming online communities.

Extension in Web 2.0
Larry Lippke asked a few months ago, how do we deliver education in the flat world? and how can we make sure that we satisfy the structure of higher education and the new opportunities of the non-hierarchical structure of the flat world? We have to change our philosophy about controlling our information. Learning Management Systems, evaluations and assessments have their place in Web 2.0. We have to rethink these systems and change them so that they fit our needs in the flat web world. We cannot change the flat world to fit these systems.

The future is where virtual Extension professionals have an online identities and Extension has online presence in organic-forming online communities.The Extension professionals contribute through many different social networks their knowledge of unbiased, research-based information. The Extension professionals are sometimes leading, always sharing, and always learning.

The Web 2.0 is not about a change in technology, it is about a change in philosophy and a change in the way we operate. It is about openness, communicating in flat sense, linking, sharing, and participating in a "go to them" kind of world.


James E. Robinson, III said...

Excellent post.

How do we continue to encourage the Extension community to "go to them"?

Jrn said...

Great list of social networking tools. Gotta tell you, though, that I am so intrigued with the idea of podcasting, and feel it has such potential to reach out and share the information we have with whoever wants it, wherever they may be. Combine that with a blog, wiki, flikkr account... seems like a perfect way to reach out to colleagues and clients alike. Course I haven't had the time to do so yet :)

James E. Robinson, III said...

@jenn: the beauty though, is that once you make the time and just do it, it is captured and available for many others to reap the benefits as well. Not to mention the learning opportunity for yourself should someone else opt to reply/respond/amend whatever you have shared.

Podcasting is great; wish i had loaded up more for the NETC flights...oh my..

Greg said...

Trust and respect is all about relationships, which is why I believe your words are so critically important to Extension work. The balance of working *with* people in the communities and then sharing what was learned with everyone is a monumental one, but one we are uniquely positioned to handle.

To augment your list of Social Networking tools, I'd like to offer a link to wikipedia's list . Choosing which tools to use is a matter of targeting your audience, in much the same way that a good Extension worker is able to relate with people he lives amidst.

I hope your influence over people helps get them thinking. While I'm not fond of self-promotion, my response to your post has been up for a few weeks...Everyone Comes Around At Their Own Pace.

Unknown said...

Jenn, I had forgotten about podcasting. It is a useful tool, as well. Podcasts are great to use while I am traveling and multitasking.

Also, Jenn once you start using these tools and become accustomed to using them in a shared sense, you may start wondering why we haven't recognized the benefits of sharing and having others amend our work sooner.

James, I think the key is first to educate our own professionals in how to use these tools for their own benefit and in that process they will begin to go where the action is. For instance, Facebook and My Space are very popular with kids --this would be places that Extension needs to go where the kid are.

James, I want to follow this post with some "What can we do now" about entering Web 2.0. I think that your information on microformat feeds would be something useful for web developers to start considering.

Unknown said...


Thanks for your comment. I am glad you mentioned trust. It is through these tools, I have learned to trust my colleagues in our states and have begun to see different perspectives, not only in technology uses but in terms of leaderships, partnerships, and organizational culture. It is through these kinds of conversations that we can be very effective in Extension programming.

I also believe social networking offers tools that Extension professionals who are passionate about helping and educating will find to be “just up their alley”. These are the kinds of tools many Extension professions will find to be a good fit.

The Wikipedia's list is a great listing for people to consider. As Virginia Morgan says: "pick a spot and learn."

I do think that decisions to adopt technologies are individual choices, but people have to first become aware of opportunities before they decide to join or not join, adopt or not adopt. Lots of factors go into the decision to adopt technologies--individually people weigh the importance of advantages, disadvantages of adopting new methods or technologies.

Many of our Extension professionals are not aware of the opportunities and it is up to those of us who see these advantages to show them. I don't foresee every Extension professional using every tool. It will be up to the individual to decide which one fits his/her needs and the needs of their clientele.

What we have to remember too, is Web 2.0 is not about adopting technologies, it is also about changing the way we communicate and our philosophy of control of our materials and of our knowledge. That too means that individuals buy into the notion of social networking, AND the organization as a whole changes its philosophy.

Kevin Gamble said...


I really enjoyed your post. I tried to respond last night through my phone and couldn't get past the captcha. Of course, last might my comments were brilliant, and tonight I don't have a clue what I had to say. :)

I'm just wondering how you're going to follow-up this post? I hope you haven't written the definitive piece, and that we'll get to hear some more what you're thinking.

Unknown said...

Hey Kevin,
Sorry about the problems with the captcha. I am not sure how to get around it on your phone.

I'm not sure how exactly I am going to follow up. This post has been in my head for awhile and was prompted from questions we are getting here about making adjustments to our web presence. There are no easy answers.

From the social networking perspective, individuals just need to go out and "play ball" and get involved--"pick a spot and start".

From a web management standpoint, there are no easy and quick answers. For sure, though uploading every page as it was printed is not the answer.

I need to start that follow up piece soon :)

Ken Balliet said...

Fantastic blog that carries home a message that is very difficult for extension educators to really here. Kudos to you! I've sent it to all my colleagues.

Ken Balliet, PSU

Unknown said...


Thanks for the kind comments. Interestingly, the catalyst for my writing this post was the Journal of Extension article, The Virtual Extension Specialist by Charles Ray--one of PSU's faculty.