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This is the fourth in a series of posts on Extension in the year 2050. The posts discuss themes that emerged in a conversation about the future of Extension. So far, I’ve written about contextualized information, the trend toward open and working within networks.

I've been struggling with this post for a couple of months. Post-literacy emerged as a theme in the conversation referenced above, but I'm still trying to make sense of it. Is it purely hypothetical as it is described on Wikipedia?

"A postliterate society is a hypothetical society in which multimedia technology has advanced to the point where literacy, the ability to read or write, is no longer necessary or common" -Wikipedia

Is post-literacy old news? Are we already living in a post-literate society as Marshal McLuhan described it almost 40 years ago?

What's the relationship between print literacy, media literacy and digital literacy? Is post-literacy emergent or, as mentioned in the conversation below, has reading in America been dead for 90 years?

I'll continue making sense of post-literacy because I believe it is an important theme in the future of Extension. As part of academia, much of Cooperative Extension's information delivery and virtually all of it's library is alphabet-based. What happens if the majority of people become incapable or, at least, uninterested in consuming information through reading? Academia can exist (does exist?) talking only to each other, but Extension, by definition, must converse with "the public," and "the public" has largely devalued alphabet-based information.

13 minutes before the start of the 2016 NFL Draft, a video was released of offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil smoking marijuana through a gas mask. The morning after, several analysts talked about how the fact that there was video of the incident influenced the public perception. They noted, correctly in my opinion, that had this incident been detailed in an alphabet-based medium, without the video, the public would have largely dismissed it.

This is more than "seeing is believing." It's more like "seeing is caring."

If so much of Extension continues to alphabet-based, can we remain (become?) relevant? Is there any hope of moving away from alphabet-based information if Extension remains part of academia?

Over the past year, I've had the good fortune to get to know Jessica Beckendorf. Jessica approaches her work with great energy, empathy and sense of community.

I was excited to find a post on the Military Families Learning Network blog in which Jessica and her University of Wisconsin Extension colleague Sandy Liang, describe their work with the County Veterans Service Officer in their community to build capacity to address PTSD and Criminal Justice Response to Veterans in Crisis.

Here's a follow-up blog post from Jessica and Sandy.

I've written before about how important I think networks are to the future of Extension. The work Jessica and Sandy are doing, work that builds the capacity of a community to deal with complex issues, is a great example of Extension working in a networked way. Their willingness to play a supporting role, to connect people and organizations, and to encourage community ownership of the project are all indicative of a network mindset.

I was anxious to talk with Jessica and Sandy about their work. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Jami Dellifield and Amanda Raines from Ohio State University Extension - Hardin County are spreading the word about the positive impact Cooperative Extension professionals could have just by being aware of how to interact with someone dealing with a mental health issue. They are encouraging Extension educators and agents to attend Mental Health First Aid training.

In the conversation below, Amanda and Jami make a compelling case. When you hear about their experiences and think of the difference you can make just by being able to recognize when someone might be dealing with a mental health issue, it's difficult to disagree. What do you think? Have you had an experience like the ones Jami and Amanda described? Share your thoughts in the comments.


One of the most common questions I get about social media and working out loud is, "How do I keep my personal and professional life separate online?" I have to admit that, while I understand the question, I've never been able to relate to the feeling behind it. I've always seen my work life and personal life as intertwined. I held my newborn daughter in my arms while hosting a classical music program on public radio (she was our first and very quiet, something I can't say for the two boys that followed). I've tried to bring my passions to my work and to make my work personal.

Victor Villegas has found ways to bring his interests in technology and aeronautics to his work with Oregon State University Extension. He has even combined his passion for music with his interest in drones as the DroneSinger.

Victor and I talked about bringing our personal interests to our work in the most recent Working Differently in Extension podcast. We also talked about his drone parody songs, his involvement in unmanned aerial systems in agriculture, drone regulation and more. Enjoy!

Resource Links


Here's the last of our conversations recorded at the National eXtension Conference in San Antonio. Jamie Seger, Ohio State University Extension, and Paul Hill, Utah State University Extension, are two of the leaders of the eXtension Educational Technology Learning Network (edtechln). They have done great work in providing spaces for Cooperative Extension professional to discuss new tools and in bringing new tools and technologies to Cooperative Extension.

Jamie, Paul and the edtechln have also been very supportive of the Working Differently in Extension podcast. I'm glad we had the opportunity to record this conversation about tools and trends in Cooperative Extension. I hope you enjoy it at least half as much as I did.


I had the opportunity to record 3 podcasts at last week's National eXtension Conference. You may have already heard the first, featuring John Stepper and Kevin Gamble. The last of the 3, with guests Paul Hill and Jamie Seger, will post Thursday, April 7. In between is this week's interview with Christine Geith, CEO of eXtension.

We first heard from Chris last summer, shortly after she joined eXtension. In our most recent conversation, about 10 months later, the direction she has set for eXtension is more clear. We are starting to see tangible evidence of eXtension's new focus on issues, innovation and impact. I was in the room for one day of the I3 Issues Teams "Design-a-thon," and was impressed by the overall energy in the room and with the thoughtfulness of the team members I spoke with.

Of course, energy does not always translate to meaningful work. eXtension definitely has some rough waters to negotiate. The line item in the USDA budget that has provided $1.5 million in eXtension funding has been dropped. It's also unclear to me if Extension state directors or Cooperative Extension professionals across the nation can keep up with the aggressive pace of change Chris has set.

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At the 2016 National eXtension Conference in San Antonio, I had a couple of interactions that illustrated how hard it is for me to follow through on all the good intentions spurred by the energy and enthusiasm of a good conference.

First I ran into Holly. I had met Holly 6 months earlier at another meeting. Our demonstration tables at a conference reception were next to each other, and we discovered we had some common interests in telling Cooperative Extension's story. We had a good talk and agreed that we should find time to talk more. Fast forward 6 months. Holly and I are setting up tables at another conference reception. We express our mutual regret that we haven't had the conversation we had planned. We both comment on how busy everyone is, and we say, again, "We should talk  more."

Here's the second story. After a workshop, I introduce myself to Kathleen. When Kathleen tells me her full name, I realize I have seen her name before. I keep a journal. I keep telling myself I am going to take some time to read through my notes to make sense of them, but I never do. Instead, when I lose interest in meeting or I'm waiting for my computer to start up, I randomly page through my journal. A couple of weeks before the conference, I was paging through my journal and found a sticky note with a name and email address on it. I had no idea why I had been given the note (it wasn't in my handwriting, so someone passed it on to me), or what I had promised to do with that contact information.

I'm sure you've guessed that the name and email address on the sticky note belonged to Kathleen, who was now standing in front of me. I told Kathleen about the note, and we deduced the likely place it had come from, but neither of us knows why someone wanted to connect us.

This happens to me all the time. The ideas, relationships and plans that come out of the energy and enthusiasm of a conference are quickly lost when I return to the office and the emails and the task lists of daily work. So what can I do about it?

Here's what I'm going to try. John Stepper, author of Working Out Loud, was one of the keynote speakers at the 2016 National eXtension Conference. John's book is full of practical advice for making and strengthening connections with people, and making contributions to your networks that can lead to something much bigger. I'm going to try to adapt some of the tactics in Working Out Loud to help me retain some of the momentum I gained at the conference.

The List

In Working Out Loud, John suggests you make a list of people and organizations that can help you reach whatever goal you have set. For my conference follow-up, I'm going to make a list of people I connected with, but also ideas I want to explore further and plans or projects that I realized may be possible.

Of course, making a list is not enough. I'm going to have to work the list, and to do that I need a system. My system for my Working Out Loud list is pretty simple. I created a note in Evernote for each person on my list. In that note, I keep track of what I know about them, where I can find them (email, social media, blog, etc.) and when I last made a contribution to them or received a contribution from them.

I think I could do the same for the people, ideas and plans from the conference, make a list and work the list.


One of the ideas that affected me most from Working Out Loud is the idea of small contributions. Small acts like subscribing to someone's blog, following them on Twitter or sharing something they wrote can be of value. These small contributions can make other people aware of you, can elicit responses from them (although you need to be OK with them not responding) and can lead to bigger contributions and even collaborations.

I'm going to make small contributions to those people I connected with at the conference, but I am also going to make small contributions to the ideas and plans I began to form there. I often get paralyzed by focusing on how much I have to learn to fully explore an idea or on how much work would need to be done to fully realize a project. I'm going to give myself permission to make small contributions to the ideas and potential projects that came out of the conference.

A small contribution to an idea might be as simple as adding a resource I found or a small insight I had to that idea's note in Evernote. A small contribution to a project might be adding the name of a potential collaborator or spending a few minutes thinking about next steps for moving the project along.

These small contributions will add up, I hope, and lead to bigger contributions. The small contributions will allow me to keep the idea or project active in my mind.

Peer Support

I'm just wrapping up my experience in a Working out Loud circle. John Stepper adapted the tactics from his book into Working Out Loud circle guides that allow a group of 4-5 people to share their Working Out Loud experiences. The groups meet for 1 hour a week for 12 weeks. Participating in a circle has been a great experience. It has given me a safe space to share my struggles in the process, helped me when I'm stuck and, most importantly, made me accountable for working my list.

I'd like to adapt this idea to keep the momentum from the 2016 National eXtension Conference or from any other conference you've attended recently. The idea would be for 4-5 of us to get together for 1 hour each week, talk about the conference connections, ideas and projects we want to work on. I'm not sure how many weeks this experience would last, but we could test that together. If you are interested in a Conference Follow-Up circle and/or if you have a suggestion for a better name, let me know in the comments or contact me.


John Stepper, author of "Working Out Loud," received a really positive reaction to his presentation and workshop at the 2016 National eXtension Conference in San Antonio. I was lucky enough to sit down with John Stepper and Kevin Gamble, who is bringing working out loud to Cooperative Extension, for a conversation on working out loud, Extension, generosity, relationships and more.

I've been participating on one of the working out loud circles Kevin is facilitating, and it really has been a rewarding experience. The practice of intentionally seeking out connections, making small contributions out of generosity and working to strengthen connections has changed the way I work. It has encouraged me to record more Working Differently in Extension podcasts and to post more often to this blog. Finally, working out loud has lead to new connections, conversations and collaborations. I hope you'll find the conversation below helpful, and that you'll seek out your own path to engaging with working out loud.

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The latest Working Differently in Extension podcast is full of ideas that are interconnected. Social learning is at the core of my conversation with Justin Smith, Bryce DuBois and Jason Corwin, but that concept leads to thoughts about assessment, facilitation, communities and, for me, Cooperative Extension's role in helping human networks address complex problems.

I'm afraid my attempts to sort out all of these connected thoughts might have impaired by interviewing skills. I'm not sure this podcast will help you better understand how Justin, Bryce and Jason used mind-mapping to assess social learning, but it might introduce you to some new ways of thinking about Extension work and, hopefully, create some valuable connections in your mind.

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On the latest Working Differently in Extension podcast, I talked with Aaron Yoder, Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, about wearable technology. Aaron has been involved in projects that use wearables to monitor health and safety. He's the leader of the eXtension Wearable Technology Learning Network.

I recorded this podcast using Zencastr, which records me and each of my guests separately on our respective computers, then uploads each audio file to my Dropbox. Zencastr will even mix the files together in post-production, so I don't have to edit them together.

I'm hoping this will produce a much better sound than on previous podcasts, where the audio was taken from the YouTube archive of a Hangout On-air. What do you think? Does this podcast sound better? Let me know in the comments. Thanks!

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