Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cooperative Extension and Social Media

Chris Raines, a meat scientist who uses @ITweetMeat as his Twitter handle, explained the importance of social media use in Extension.

He makes several points about Extension and our online work. Below, I am continuing the conversation.

  • Cooperative Extension’s 100 year history and purpose is to help improve lives through education.
  • Cooperative Extension is about changing for benefitting individuals and communities.
  • Cooperative Extension bases its education on research. Research, sometimes, can appear to conflict with other research. An example where research can lead to confusing recommendations is with sun exposure. Low Vitamin D can lead to fatigue, increase cancer and cardiovascular disease risks. Researchers recommend 20 minutes in the sun without sunscreen. However, other researchers suggest that sun exposure increases skin cancer risks. We see similar conflicting research around topics like environment, food production, and health. Cooperative Extension’s strength is to make sense of research, particularly research that conflicts, and understand and communicate research in context. “Content without context is just noise.” (from @rands).
  • Cooperative Extension will continue to keep its local community ties, but has and will continue to grow an online presence. Cooperative Extension’s online presence is not a  replacement for our local, face-to-face contacts, but rather a way to build, maintain, and strengthen these relationships. Early in my use of social media, the best—and first recognized—benefit was the ability to maintain and build understanding with people I already knew.This understanding, credibility, and trust gained were and are immeasurable. Many people who don’t interact online don’t realize that relationships can be built successfully online and they often discount the value of these relationships. Those who fail to see the benefit of building relationships online are failing their organizations.
  • Just as in our personal lives, online we have different levels of relationships. Building and developing relationships online occur when we take the time to listen and interact with others—just like we expect Cooperative Extension professionals to develop local relationships—they should do this online.
  • Cooperative Extension is no longer bound by county, state, and national boundaries.
  • The game changer (Chris Raines uses the term) for Cooperative Extension is that we can now research, build content, and build knowledge with anyone in physical, online, and “expert” communities. Building knowledge activities are not constrained to land-grant faculty, but can and should be encouraged with others who share the passion and knowledge. We are no longer limited to those who are close geographically, those who we have personally met, or those communities we already familiar with.
  • Online environments give Cooperative Extension new ways to do basic Cooperative Extension work. Seaman Knapp and George Washington Carver embedded themselves in communities, by working with individuals to develop experiments and create on-site and personally learning environments.
  • Cooperative Extension’s online presence is imperative, not only to disseminate information (if we think this is all there is in social media we are doomed), but to also embed ourselves in communities, working with individuals to help with research and develop educational content.

Some Cooperative Extension educators are interacting online. The challenge is we need more Extension professionals, like Chris Raines, to participate—by listening and engaging—in online communities for the purpose of building knowledge and learning.


mistyeyed said...

I so agree. We need more professionals who engage more with others via social media and a variety of other ways. I don't think that most people even know what a cooperative extension does or have even visited their local offices.

Unknown said...

Yes, mistyeyed. That is one of our problems. Only 27% of the US population has heard of Cooperative Extension. The number is actually a lot lower for young adults who recognize our name. Hopefully, with encouragement from Cooperative Extension people online and we will have a presence where people don't have to know where our county offices are but know we provide great education and content.

Peg Boyles said...

Yes! to every point you've made, Anne.

I'd add that participation in diverse online communities and social media offers Extension educators unparalleled opportunities for learning, too.

Online conversations can expand the scope and depth of a sometimes-sclerotic "expert" understanding of problems and their solutions.

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