Sunday, August 26, 2007

What are the purposes of our web sites?

On my 1st day on the job 20 years ago, an associate director firmly said repeatedly "We provide education--we supply more than information--we provide education". This distinction is an important one.

Though, I wonder even if "providing education" adequately describes what Extension does. Extension's objective is to help individuals to learn through educational efforts to make decisions that improve their quality of life. Providing information and education are not enough to improve quality of life, we must also be influential.

If education and information are all it takes for individuals to improve their quality of life, then we would be miracle workers. We are quite good at disseminating research-based information.

If individuals learn a new process, concept, practice, or technology, does that mean that they will adopt and use the new process, concept, practice or technology? For changes to occur that improve quality of life--such as leading healthier lifestyles, improving parenting skills, increasing crop yields, and reducing environmental effects--individuals must choose among many options to make changes that are appropriate for their individual situations.

In developing programs, Extension professionals in their local communities understand the differences between information, education, learning, and influence. They walk individuals through the process of learning a new concept or a new practice. They help individuals weigh options within the decision-making process. Extension professionals know how to make a difference by not only knowing the information and providing education, but by also knowing how to influence individuals by being credible and respected and understanding the individuals.

Are our web sites providing information, education, learning, and influence? What makes us different than other information and education providers? Are we doing all we can in our web presence to influence appropriate individual choices?

Information: Extension web sites do provide quality, research-based information. eXtension demonstrates that we can provide collaborative-developed information. In our institutions, we can, however, make these sources of information more web friendly and more accessible. We can find better ways to feed information in flexible formats.

Education: What is education? Wikipedia describes formal education as:

Education encompasses teachingand learning specific skills and also something less tangible but more profound: the imparting of knowledge, positive judgement and well-developed wisdom.
Education means 'to draw out', facilitating realisation of self-potential and latent talents of an individual. It is an application of pedagogy, a body of theoretical and applied research relating to teaching and learning ....
Are our web sites and our web presence educational? Do they apply pedagogy principles? Are they only informational? Does the information on our web sites impart knowledge and develop skills?

Learning: What is learning? Is learning different from education?
Learning is the acquisition and development of memories and behaviors, including skills, knowledge, understanding, values, and wisdom. It is the goal of education, and the product of experience. Learning ranges from simple forms such as habituation to more complex forms such as play (activity), seen only in large vertebrates.
Do our web sites and our web presence draw clientele into a learning process? How do our web sites and the information contained in them contribute to learning? Are we using methods that help guide individuals to learn? Do we provide ways for individuals to learn and acquire more knowledge?

Influence: Do the learning opportunities on our web sites invoke changed behaviors? Is it our goal to influence behaviors? What are we trying to convey and provide with our web sites? Are our web sites only a support system of information for our local programs or do we want our web presence to invoke learning and changed behaviors, as well?

Your opinion? Should Extension use our web presence as only sources of information or as educational, learning devices that help individuals make decisions and develop skills? Are we already using pedagogy concepts in some of our web applications? If so, what are those and can those serve as models for other areas? Should we be creating a web presence that engages the learner through an online relationship, social environment?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New Extension Blog: Extension Mission

Jim Langcuster has created a blog specifically describing examples that fulfill Cooperative Extension's mission. Jim is also known as ACES-wikiman and the author of the first full-length Wikipedia article about a state Cooperative Extension organization.

Jim's understanding of history, sociological changes, and Extension impact will provide informative and enlightening reading about Cooperative Extension’s work and challenges.

His latest article compares the news media's challenges to Cooperative Extension challenges in staying relevant. His question is one we should all be asking.

" will Cooperative Extension, an organization nurtured within an early 20th century social, cultural and technological context, strive to remain relevant in the client-driven and increasingly socially networked world of the 21st century?"

Enjoy "Mission Extension: The Weblog"!

Extension professionals and their passion

I have often said that Cooperative Extension is one of the best organizations to work for and with. Why? Because individuals are passionate about helping people and sharing their knowledge.

4PsIt is Extension professionals' passion for their work which makes them great candidates to blog. Maggie Lawrence in her guest blog points out the most crucial element of blogging is passion. Blogging is a perfect fit for most Extension professionals.

The other elements of blogging, Personality, Getting to the Point, and Perseverance, are also described by Rick Short.

Extension professionals believe that helping those in their locale is their 1st priority. Thus, Extension professionals often question the usefulness of their online work to their local audiences because their audience may not 1) know how to find it or 2) have Internet access. These concerns are valid.

However, I truly believe if Extension professionals blog for their local audience, the word of their work will spread and their efforts will be found and shared locally. Furthermore, not being afraid to show their personality through their blog will enhance and maintain their identity and relationships with their local audience. A great side of effect of blogging is that the rest of world also reads and learns from our experts in Extension.

In blogging, showing your personality and sharing your passion is expected so don't be afraid to show off!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Make mine chunky

Notice: Please welcome Maggie Lawrence who has agreed to be my first guest blogger. She will be writing a few introductory tips in how to write a blog. In addition to her other duties as a broadcast journalist, she is the host of the Backyard Wisdom blog.

by Maggie Lawrence

I am a broadcast journalist by trade. That means writing should be concise and tight. Every word should be purposeful. Confront me with a 35-word sentence, I begin looking for what I can cut.

That’s probably one reason I find writing for the Web easier than some of my colleagues. I don’t have writing habits formed by years of writing scholarly articles. I don’t have a single thesis or dissertation to my name.

After more than 20 years of crafting news stories, I think in chunks.

But here’s another truth. I read in chunks. I have since I was a little girl.

I don’t believe I am the only person in the world who reads in chunks. Chunks make it easier for people to glean the information they need.

Crawford Killian, a professional writer and blogger, is just one of many who emphasize using a chunk philosophy.

Usability experts often encourage chunking text to make it more readable.

How to chunk text?

  • Cut words
  • Tight sentences
  • Short paragraphs
  • Bullets
  • Subheadings
In his book Journalism 2.0, Mark Briggs notes that "readers appreciate writers who do not waste their time."

Not only are the professionals saying this. Readers are confirming it.

Deborah Powell of the Washington Post shares comments from her readers in an April 2007 column. Powell says reader comments consistently asked Web writers "to get to the point."

As Shakespeare noted,"Brevity is the soul of wit."

But if your writing lacks substance, the readers who find your blog won’t be back.

Amber Simmons noted recently on "A List Apart" that online writers are still learning the difference between copy and content. Simmons offers this observation.

"Content is thoughtful, personable, and faithfully written. It hooks the reader and draws him in, encouraging him to click this link or that, to venture further into a website. It delivers what it promises and delights the attentive reader."

In a way, it’s another type of chunk when we talk about web writing. Content without the chunks or meat of the story is just copy filling a page.

Useful links, illustrations and photos can add meat to your content.

But I think the most crucial element of satisfying content is passion. Passion is just one of the four Ps of blog writing that Rick Short talks about in his blogging seminars. The other three Ps:

Get to the Point
Include your Personality
Perseverance—keep on blogging.

Strive for passion and the other Ps. You will give the readers chunks that make a story satisfying.

Combine that with tight purposeful writing, and I think your readers will come back for more.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Writing for the web

We know that individuals read web information differently than they read printed information. In fact, individuals don't read on the web, they scan. In searching tips on how to write specifically for the web, I found these suggestions.

  • Use short paragraphs. (1, 4, 5)
  • Use bulleted lines or lists. (1), 4, 5)
  • Write concisely, reading on the web takes about 25 % longer. (1, 2, 5)
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Use shorter words when possible.
  • Use one idea or concept per sentence.
  • Use active, instead of passive words.
    • Write the introductory paragraph, like a conclusion, concisely summarizing the article. (4, 5)
    • Use subheads, particularly in the later parts of the page. (4, 5)
    • Use 1 column format--not newspaper-style, such as 2 and 3 columns. (4)
    • Consider that graphic placement on the web is not the same as in printed documents.
    • Readers tend to skip graphics when reading. If they look at the graphic, it
      is either before or after they have read most of the content. (4)
    • Refrain from using pdfs. (3)
    • If you are concerned with individuals' reading experience, do not use pdfs. PDFs do not behave like web pages. From Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption, a user explained that
      • "... It's not the speed. It is like having a solid thing rather than a fluid thing." (3)
    • Do not open a new window for a link. Let the individual decide, unless you are referring to a pdf or application document (i.e MS Word document). (6)
    • Understand that individuals do not always choose the best option; they choose the first reasonable option because it is convenient and there is little risk in choosing a "wrong" option. (1) After all it's the user's choice.


    (1) Chapter 2: How we really use the Web from the book Don't Make Me Think, posted on Advanced Common Sense written by Steve Krug.

    (2) How Users Read on the Web from Jakob Nielsen's, posted Oct. 1997.

    (3) PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption from Jakob Nielsen's, posted July 14, 2003.

    (4) Article Level Page Design: What Matters Inside?

    (5) Content & usability: Writing for the web from web site, Webcredible, posted August 2005.

    (6) Beware of Opening Links in a New Window from web site, Webcredible, posted February 2005.

    Monday, August 6, 2007

    Measuring Blogs

    Today's Daily Blog Tips' post, Measuring Sticks for Blogs: Do They Matter?, describes different ways that blogs can be measured. The post lays out the different measurement tools and describes the advantages and disadvantages of using each method.

    The most important point in the article is to choose the measurement tool that is appropriate for your goals.