A few weeks ago on the podcast, I talked with Jamie Seger and Paul Hill about their experience on the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy's (ECOP) Innovation Task Force. On the latest episode, spoke with Dr. Keith Smith, who chaired that task force.
Dr. Smith is Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University. He served as the director of Ohio State University Extension for more than 20 years.
It was great to get a former director's perspective on innovation in Cooperative Extension. Dr. Smith is frank about Extension's need to innovate. He referenced the Innovation: An American Imperative, the call by industry leaders for policies and investments to ensure the U.S. remains a global innovation leader, in asking if its imperative that the nation innovate, why should it not be imperatve for Extension?
The increasing public distrust of science is one of the indirect threats to the future of Cooperative Extension. Obviously, an organization founded to diffuse research-based information and innovation would have an extremely hard time functioning in a country that had stopped trusting science.
Citizen science has the potential to rebuild trust in science by engaging people in the scientific process. It could also engage people in improving their own lives and communities, sharing in the work Extension often aims to do. Citizen science benefits Extension, and so Extension should be working to encourage it.
Katie Stofer, a research assistant professor at the University of Florida in the Agricultural Education and Communication department, has spent a year researching the state of citizen science in Cooperative Extension as part of an eXtension Fellowship. She shared some of what she learned on the latest episode of the podcast.
They join us periodically on the podcast to discuss the emerging technologies and issues in Cooperative Extension, and what's going on in EdTechLN. In the conversation below, we focused on the Extension Committee on Orgaization and Policy's Innovation Task Force, which Paul and Jamie both served on.
When I set up my interview with John Ivey, North Carolina Cooperative Extension agent in Guilford County, I was interested in the shared use kitchen he helped set up because it seemed innovative that Cooperative Extension would offer a facility where they might have only offered education.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. When John described how the shared use kitchen brought together much of what Extension has to offer: agriculture, entrepreneurship, community development and food safety. Add that to the impetus for the project, a finding that Guilford County was among the lest food secure counties in the nation, and you can see that Guilford County's shared use kitchen is a much more significant innovation than I had thought.
Karen Ballard, Professor of Program Evaluation at University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service joined us to talk about the virtual field trips, science fair awards and online courses that make up the Challenge. In addition, Karen shared her insights into how Extension can reach young people and be more innovative.
This morning I came across the video below in my Facebook news feed. It had been shared by one current and one former Extension educator. You can watch it if you wish, but let me save you some time. It is a highly embellished version of the story of how Francis Scott Key wrote the "Star Spangles Banner," the first verse of which became the lyrics of America's national anthem. It is riddled with half-truths, stretched truths and outright fabrications.
I didn't get very far into the video before I began to wonder about its veracity. When the narrator referred to Fort McHenry as "Fort Henry," my internal alarms went off, and I started some cursory Internet searches to check the facts of the video. It did not take long to find credible sources that contradicted many of the points of the video.
I think everyone, especially educators, and especially educators representing an organization that defines itself as research-based, has a responsibility to do at least a little work checking to make sure something is true before sharing it on social media (Assessing the Reliability of Online Information).
I understand some people want to keep their personal lives separate from their professional lives. I know it can be a serious burden for county agents to be always on duty, whether they are in the office or at the grocery store, but that's the job. Even when you are sharing on a personal social media account accessed by only family and close friends, your role as an educator is part of your persona. My mother-in-law spent her whole career in dentistry. I expect that when she shares something with me about tooth and gum care, even in a personal context, that it is based on research or the evidence she has observed in her experience.
Many Extension professionals are generalists and all are representatives of universities, so the expectation of sharing research or evidence-based information extends beyond our particular specialties. We can't just click the retweet or share buttons if we like a headline or a video fits our personal view of the world. When we do, we are not only reflecting on Cooperative Extension and our universities, but also reflecting on the importance of science, research and the truth.
Chuck Hibberd, dean and director of Cooperative Extension at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, speaks off-the-cuff about learner engagement, social learning and other subjects key to Extension's future like no other administrator I've met.
Earlier this year, I was assisting with a workshop for Nebraska Extension leaders. The workshop opened with a video message from the director. I thought it would be a standard welcome. Instead Chuck Hibberd spoke, unscripted, about conversational vs. transactional programming, addressing complex issues and the importance of networks.
We talked about some of those things, as well as learner engagement and the future of Extension on the latest Working Differently in Extension podcast.
So much of their article, spoke to things I believe about complex issues, using networks to address those issues, and Extension's potential role in those networks. The article makes it clear that the decisions people make about their health happen in context, and knowledge transfer alone is not enough to address health issues in context. According to the authors, "Successful interventions (in addressing diabetes) have focused on a range of determinants, including capacity building, community participation, community development, systems change, smas facelift, health education, food preparation, and physical activity classes."
Andress and Fitch believe Cooperative Extension is uniquely positioned to address rural health inequities on a number of fronts. I agree, but I also think Extension alone cannot solve this problem. We need to work with a wide range of organizations that can address this complex issue in ways Extension can't or could never imagine.
After a long hiatus, the Working Differently in Extension podcast returns with a conversation with Kelsey Romney, Utah State University 4-H.
Kelsey has organized 4-H leadership summits that are led by youth leaders using the web-conferencing tool Zoom. Kelsey talked about all the ways they tried to make the summits engaging and interactive, including playing games using Kahoot.
Kelsey talked about how web-conferencing increased access to the summits, especially for those kids who may not have been able to afford traveling to a face-to-face meeting. Beyond that, what really resonated with me was the fact that the summits were youth-led. I believe Cooperative Extension needs to find more places where we can step off the stage and provide the support and expertise necessary to let the people we serve talk to each other.