Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blogging: Stepping into the learning process

When he commented on the article, Individual Adoption of Change, Eli Sagor gave excellent advice on how to encourage Extension professionals to begin blogging. First, he had observed that blogging may be intimidating.

Typical blogging is a kind of writing (not just a technology) that is not familiar to most Extension folks. And people may feel uninterested (or scared) about trying to build an audience. What if nobody cares what they write? This might seem humiliating to some.

Fear of the unknown--trying new technology or writing to a crowd that may not read your work is a real deterrent. Before I began blogging, my fears were that I might offend someone and that I might make grammatical or stylist mistakes in my writing. At this point, no one has openly admitted that I have offended them. I keep reminding myself that everyone has something to say, including those whose views are different from mine; they have not spoken, yet.

I have published posts that contained writing errors. Most people forgive and overlook these mistakes. Another mistake is that I have accidentally selected the "published" button before I was ready to publish. This required me to hurriedly copy the information in the post and then delete post. Those reading my posts via news readers have not commented about getting a feed that they could not access. Once again, readers are forgiving.

Eli also suggests that we help Extension professionals step into blogging by creating blogs on the project activities and committees. Interestingly, we (Computer Technology Unit and eXtension) have used wikis to keep up with projects and committees. Blogging with a committee reduces risks and helps individuals become comfortable in publishing their writing and learning the technology (which is not difficult).

1. We all serve on committees. Why not use blogs for updates between meetings? This is a chance to try blogging to a known, familiar, small group--more palatable to some than sending out prognostications to the whole wide world.

2. Blogging to track project progress, record rationales behind important decisions, etc. This is a chance to get familiar with the technology without pressure to build an audience. (My own example, set up exactly for this reason, is at http://myminnesotawoods.wordpress.com/.

Another tip in blogging is to blog as a group. Solo blogging is very time consuming. Sharing the responsibility and asking someone to quickly read over materials before posting will give new bloggers some confidence. Additionally, more detailed tips for blogging can be found in the article, Tips from a New Blogger.

Eli also points out that blogging is not very valuable without using feed readers. AMEN!
Another big problem is the lack of familiarity with feed readers. Blogs are fine, but without RSS, if the blog isn't updated very frequently, it's dead. So, how to increase adoption of feed readers? I use Pageflakes and have thought about using pagecasts to let others read feeds that I have set up.
Sometimes, people need a few applicable examples. Therefore, I created an Pageflakes account (www.pageflakes.com/aadrian/) and shared news feeds that might be useful to Extension professionals. These shared pagecasts are not complete, but serve as a beginning point to identify applicable blogs for some Extension professionals. I found these feed sources in Extension, industry, and my del.icio.us network. Just for fun--I also added a pagecast for Auburn sports fans.

In addition to these feeds, searching for relevant blogs in Technorati could also be helpful. Beth Kanter showed us how to do this in an eXtension web conference, titled “Ten Steps to Web 2.0″.

Using a news reader is imperative to embracing social networking tools. Kevin Gamble explains it as a way to "exponentially increase the amount of new information".

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!

"Exponentially increasing the amount of new information" may seem scary to some. However, another way of thinking about reading news and web material through a reader is to see it as an efficiency.

After awhile, reading through a news reader becomes habit forming. While many people start their office day reading emails (and cleaning out the SPAM), I start my office day reading twitter updates, wiki edits, new bookmarks from my del.icio.us network, and my favorite blogs in Google Reader.

Instructions to using Google Reader can be found on How to use a news reader Reader and in the video called RSS in Plain English.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Individual Adoption of Change

How to we motivate others to take advantage of Web 2.0? How do we encourage "to go to them"?

A plethora of theories and research is available on behavior change and a technology adoption. Predicting what makes individuals adopt change, a new practice, and a new technology is not easy, is not very accurate, and is nebulous. Simply, there are no easy answers.

A sampling of factors that are important to individuals changing practices, adopting technologies, and changing behavior are listed shown in the graphic. No relationship lines are drawn to each other, although many are related to each other. How would interpret these factors? Are some factors more important than others? Which factors can you change to help influence an individual to adopt technology, a new practice, or an organizational change? Which factors are missing?


How we should create change? Does your gut feeling tell you that we should focus on certain factors? What has worked in the past with invoking change? How have new practices been diffused quickly?

Understanding the Individual
First and foremost, individuals have to believe that the technologies and new practices will bring them benefits that are greater than what the process of adoption and implementation will cost them. Costs in this sense are not only economic costs and costs in time, but also costs of effort, learning, and fear of failure.

Other factors, such as organizational support, peer buy-in, and individuals believing that they have the ability to implement the change or the technology, are important.

Many of us get frustrated when people don't adopt technologies, even after we tell them all of the wonderful benefits that the individuals will get from using these new technologies. It is not that there is anything wrong with the technology or with the people who are potential adopters. We are probably taking the wrong approach to invoke change. In our attempts, we try to simplify how individuals make their decisions. We believe that describing all the benefits of a technology should invoke adoption--they should take our word for it. Simply, providing information and education is not enough.

These are the same problems that Extension professionals have when they believe a new agricultural practice, a change in financial behavior, or a change in health behavior would be in the best interest of our clients. In Cooperative Extension, our mission is to improve the quality of life through education. However, "how and when" we provide education is probably a better predictor of invoking change, than feeding the educational materials and information linear or in the schedule that fits our needs.

Invoking change effectively whether the change is a new technology, an organizational change, or a new practice starts with an understanding how and why individuals make decisions. Remembering the one making the decision to adopt a new technology or a practice is the individual. Furthermore, the "how and why" differs for each individual and may differ in time for each individual.

If we are serious about invoking change, understanding whether individuals are ready to change is also important. James Prochaska and colleagues infer that communications, motivational attempts, and education efforts should match the stage of readiness. Someone unaware of a problem and a potential solution should receive different information and motivational communications than an individual who is at a later stage, such as someone who is contemplating the change. We will be more effective if we first seek to understand where individuals are in their stage of change.

Malcolm Gladwell describes in The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference examples of trends that spread like epidemics. Both, in bad and good practices, it is through individual influences that make the difference in the progression of an innovation. The word of mouth effect can be quite powerful. He calls the people who have significant effect on the trends called Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Gladwell and Everett Rogers, in Diffusion of Innovation, describe environments and beliefs as important factors in creating change.

The most effective way to invoke change is by working with individuals. We have read the classic hybrid corn case in Rogers Diffusion of Innovation's and the examples in The Tipping Point. I think that Joshua Porter in Bokardo says it best when describing building social sites.
Strong social sites build value one user at a time. If one user finds value, then they’re much more likely to tell others or invite their friends.

Using Flickr as the example, Joshua indicates the importance of giving individual attention to the earliest of adopters.
"...the early success of Flickr resulted from that personal attention, that personal connection that someone on the other end cares about what’s going on. A full-time community manager is crucial to providing this level of attention."

Constant communication, connection, support, and individual attention were the keys to driving the success in the early days of Flickr. Also, Joshua describes in the seventh point, "An Over-Focus on Social Value'" that the importance of the value of the technology to the individual should override the overall value of developing a community.

These examples and theories should give us some possible ideas for strategies in pushing technology adoption: giving the earliest adopters individual attention, striving to understand what is valuable to them, helping them choose technologies that meet their needs, having constant conversations with them, and supporting them individually. In the earliest stages of technology adoption within a community or an organization, utilizing the connectors, mavens, and salespeople is also important.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Parents: Worried about kids online activities? Join them!

"Wired Shut", by Annie Finnigan in August 2007 Family Circle provides practical advice to parents who are worried that their children are too dependent and distracted by online technologies. The advice sounds like the same advice I give professionals.
  • Join them!
  • Create your own blog.
  • Create a Facebook or MySpace account.
  • Use text messaging and instant messaging.
  • Ask your teen to teach you these technologies.

Most of these technologies are easy to learn, and if you don't know how to get started, ask your child.

The article also provides a good discussion of advantages that teenagers and tweens have by learning to communicate and use their creativity using these connecting tools.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Blogging: Build your professional reputation

Martin Weller describes the benefits of blogging for university faculty in Encouraging educators to blog. In doing so, he made some excellent points about improving and expanding the professional reputation of faculty. One point seems particularly relevant to Extension professionals--both at the local and state level.
If your subject area is not one widely engaged with blogging then this represents a good opportunity to establish yourself as one of the lead experts.

He also describes two benefits of blogging in the context of teaching.
  • Link to teaching – the type of content used in courses is increasingly diverse, and one model for including up to date information is to have feeds from a number of blogs incorporated in to teaching material.
  • Eating our own dog food - increasingly students are encouraged to use blogs in courses, and so we should be demonstrating how they can be effective.

Of course, Martin also has other excellent posts on social networking and education. An everyday, modern learning experience describes a series of conversations that included blogging, email, and Facebook. Some of the conversations involved people who trusted and professionally respected each other, though they had never met. Some of the conversations involved the professor and a student. Informal learning led to formal learning.

The most compelling observation was:

iv) I didn't feel like a student or a teacher at any stage, it was a peer dialogue, through which learning occurred.

Martin describes this example as trivial. It is not trivial. Through conversations that included respect, each person guided another to look further, to learn something new, and to dig a little deeper. In my opinion, that is not trivial. Although the learning is and will not be traditionally or structurally measured, this process of learning is important.

Note: Beth Kanter for providing Martin's link on Idealware: Blogging Online Webinar: July 24.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hierarchy for Bloggers

Daily Blog Tips post offers an interesting view on the Hierarchy of Successful Bloggers. The hierarchy describes the Blogger (the new kid on the block), to the Established Blogger, the Expert, and then the Guru.

Although the hierarchy describes bloggers who are self-employed, this progression makes a lot of sense in how Extension professionals can become known for their areas of expertise.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Importance and Influence of Conversations


Although conversations tend to be casual and free flowing, they can be quite powerful. This post is about how one individual influenced a few of us. Then how we have influenced others through other conversations. The most interesting common thread is that we were unaware how we influenced our peers--these were just conversations.

When we were having dinner after a meeting, Kevin Gamble was trying to convince the others at the table to blog. He did not know that I was already considering blogging and that this conversation was very helpful to me. The most important point made during the dinner conversation is "everyone has something to say."

From this dinner conversation, Ben MacNeill returned to blogging. Larry Lippke started blogging. I started blogging. Beth Raney has not started blogging yet, but she fully participates in our online conversations, by sharing her knowledge, interests, and expertise by using Twitter and del.icio.us. She is powerfully influential in a quiet, subtle way.

After taking a hiatus from blogging, Mitch Owen said by seeing our new blogs, he developed new incentives to blog again. As a result of his and mine conversations and reading colleagues' online conversations, Greg Parmer has returned to blogging.

Then in June, at the end of the ACE/NETC Conference, four of us--Greg, Brian Webster, Jonathan Davis and I took a hike to the top of Sandia Peak. I barely remember the conversation about blogging, but something about the conversation tipped Brian into blogging. And, Wow! he says he already has a list of 50 topics he wants to blog.

My point in describing this stream of adoption is that you never know when and how you can be influential. Conversations--both face-to-face and online--are extremely effective.

One more point, the blogs mentioned in this post offer an array of topics, perspectives, insights, and opinions. Like blogs, in general, what we discuss and how we share our knowledge and our opinions give insights into who we are, how we work, how we communicate, what is important to us, and how we make decisions.

Welcome to blogging and more conversations Brian!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Results of the Pew Internet Survey on Broadband Access

Pew Internet and American Life Project survey, released June 6, 2007, finds that in the United States
  • 47 percent of adults have home broadband access.
  • 15 percent of adults use dial-up connection.
  • 71 percent of adults use the internet at least occasionally from any location.
  • 29 percent of adults do not use a computer at home, school or at work.
  • 40 percent of African-American adults have broadband access at home.
  • 29 percent of Hispanic adults have broadband access at home.
  • 52 percent of adult in urban areas have broadband access at home.
  • 49 percent of adults in suburban areas have broadband access at home.
  • 31 percent of adults in rural areas have home broadband connections.

The most interesting point in the survey is the correlation of broadband access at home and wide range of online activities. The tables and explanation are on page 10 and 11 of the report.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Getting Started in Conversations

Where and how do Extension professionals start using social networking? The simplest advice is to "pick a spot" and jump in. Most of these tools are very easy and there are few barriers to entry and few barriers to exit. Kevin Gamble says "be the ball" because it is in the process of learning that you begin to understand the benefits of social networking for YOU.

While Amy Gahran's advice is to do some homework before you start blogging, her advice is also very relevant to any Extension professional who is new to social networking.

1. Seek. Find pertinent blogs in your area expertise and interest. Beth Kanter showed us how to do this in an eXtension web training conference, titled “Ten Steps to Web 2.0″. Watch the archive from May 24 or the archive from April 24.

2. Lurk. Read the blogs and create news feeds in Google Reader or some other news reader. While aggregating feeds into one place will make your reading experience more efficient, it also "exponentially increases the amount of new information" you process. Learn "How to Use Google Reader" (also see the archived web conferences on using feeds) to efficiently keep up with the constant flow of web content.

3. Converse. Although you are not blogging, learn to comment on other people's blogs. I often think about what impact Extension would have if our nutrition specialists and agents contributed research-based information on a regular basis on some already-very-established nutrition blogs. Certainly, there are lots of opportunities to contribute without blogging.

4. Share. When you find useful blogs and pages, share the information with others. Of course, you can share them locally, but why not share them globally in a bookmarking site, such as del.icio.us (there are others--see Wikipedia's list)? See eXtension's archived web conferences on social bookmarking.

Even if you never author a blog, by following and contributing to existing conversations, you will a) learn new knowledge and ideas, b) advance the knowledge of others, and c) share what you learned with others. Isn't that what Extension professionals do?