June 2013 // Volume 51 // Number 3
Take Time for Titles
In "Take Time for Titles," I talk about the importance of taking time to craft effective titles and provide a number of examples. In "June JOE," I highlight articles dealing with research as a topic in and of itself; with not only knowing your audience, but also using that knowledge to actually inform your outreach methods; and with the role of stories in Extension work.
Change Is Inevitable: How Field Specialist Positions Can Help Meet the Challenge
After nearly 100 years, Extension has achieved a great deal. However, shrinking budgets from our traditional funders require us to think of new ways to address the needs of tomorrow and target programs that demonstrate impact and outcomes today. The field specialist model enables Extension to better address specific critical issues, leverage talent and resources, and develop collaborative partnerships that foster non-traditional funding opportunities while complementing the work of the county-based educator. The field specialist position may very well be the driving force in the 21st century Extension model.
Participate in the JOE Discussion Forum on "Change Is Inevitable: How Field Specialist Positions Can Help Meet the Challenge"
Ideas at Work
Popcorn and a Movie—Opening Diversity Conversations Across the State
Building the cultural competencies of Extension educators to work effectively with increasingly diverse audiences has become an important goal and a timely focus for professional development. Yet reduced budgets and reductions in staff are challenging the ability to provide professional development in the traditional face-to-face delivery method. This article describes the use of diversity-focused video documentaries followed by open discussions conducted over videoconferencing to multiple county sites. The majority of participants rated this format as a good strategy for diversity education.
Growing Youth Food Citizens
How can youth be educated and empowered to become responsible food citizens? Evidence from a university-community partnership with youth in Michigan is presented to illuminate participatory approaches to youth engagement in food systems. We found that youth have valuable knowledge to enhance our understanding of food environments. At the same time, obstacles such as an ethos of individualism may stand in the way of youth seeing themselves as food citizens capable of improving their food environment. Cultivating youth food citizens must take into consideration youths' particular knowledge, while also helping them uncover their social responsibilities.
Embracing Scientific and Engineering Practices in 4-H
The 4-H Science Initiative has renewed efforts to strengthen 4-H programmatic and evaluation efforts in science and engineering education. A fundamental component of this initiative is to provide opportunities to youth to aid in their development of science process skills; however, emerging research stresses the importance of engaging youth in authentic practices of science and engineering. Refocusing 4-H efforts on a sociocultural framework of science education that emphasizes a participation-oriented framework towards learning scientific and engineering practices ensures 4-H programs are affording youth high-quality learning experiences.
Digital Badges in 4-H
The awarding of digital badges has become pervasive across social media systems. Digital badges are visual representations of individual accomplishments and/or competencies and skills. If done properly, the awarding of digital badges following the recommendations of the 4-H Recognition Model may attract a new generation of 4-Hers and convey to others the value of the 4-H experience.
Introducing Inmates to Extension Through Financial Education and Experiential Learning Tools
Research shows that in order to reduce recidivism rates in prisons, financial education and other life skills should be a mandatory topic in our prison systems. By creating a learning environment conducive to the specialized needs of this audience, an inmate's ability to set goals, recognize wants and needs, maintain bank accounts, create a budget, manage debt, and use credit wisely can be achieved. By introducing interactive, experiential learning tools from Extension, the educator can open doors to financial discussions, questions, and collaborations that are easily adaptable to prison life or to future home lives.
Growing Community Capacity in Energy Development Through Extension Education
New energy policy, industry regulation, and market investment are influencing the development of renewable energy technologies, setting the stage for rural America to provide the energy of tomorrow. This article describes how Extension's renewable energy programming was implemented in two Ohio communities to engage elected officials and residents in learning applied aspects of renewable energy development. Through outreach and education, Extension can assist communities in making informed decisions about renewable energy projects. Reflecting on the impacts from renewable energy programming delivered in Ohio, the authors recommend that Extension systems across the country engage communities in renewable energy education.
Smart Yard, Healthy Gulf: Using Community-Based Social Marketing to Educate Gulf of Mexico Residents on Proper Lawn Care Practices
Smart Yard, Healthy Gulf is an environmental stewardship campaign that uses community-based social marketing to educate homeowners on lawn care practices and residential nutrient runoff. The goal is to change homeowners' behavior regarding lawn care practices using simple, easily remembered messages that guide them on timing of fertilizer applications. Most Smart Yard, Healthy Gulf participants are middle class homeowners living in the Gulf of Mexico region who maintain their own lawns. The campaign is a collaborative effort with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, and the Cooperative Extension Services in the five Gulf of Mexico States.
Tools of the Trade
Improving Extension Programs: Putting Public Value Stories and Statements to Work
Extension has begun to embrace the public value movement that originated in public administration circles. The motivation appears to be driven by external accountability rather than internal interest in improving programming and results. The development of public value statements and stories can be used throughout the program cycle and for other program and professional tasks to help address internal and external cries for the articulation of public value. Extension workers should use public value statements and stories in their work on a daily basis in a variety of ways to enhance their effectiveness and the transformative impact of their programs.
Assessing Program Impact with the Critical Incident Technique
The critical incident technique (CIT) is a qualitative research method where subjects are encouraged to tell personal stories that provide descriptive data. Researchers who use the CIT employ a structured methodology to encourage respondents to share their experiences regarding a particular topic. Incidents are considered effective/successful when something positive occurs and ineffective/unsuccessful when there are negative results. This article reviews characteristics of the CIT and describes its use to collect data about how library professionals made use of information provided during a series of Extension-led financial education classes.
Using R-project for Free Statistical Analysis in Extension Research
One option for Extension professionals wishing to use free statistical software is to use online calculators, which are useful for common, simple analyses. A second option is to use a free computing environment capable of performing statistical analyses, like R-project. R-project is free, cross-platform, powerful, and respected, but may be difficult for beginners to learn. Using a graphical user interface allows new users to perform common analyses using pull-down menus and dialog boxes without programming knowledge. An example of an R-project program, performing a linear regression and producing relevant plots and statistics, is included.
Using Audience Response Devices for Extension Programming
Audience response devices (ARDs), or "clickers," have traditionally been used in the classroom to take attendance, provide testing of current knowledge and knowledge gain, and assist with review of course topics. The ARDs were used at a recent Extension conference, which provided an opportunity to test how well this tool worked. Though not used in this situation, the demographic information collected prior to the presentation could be used to alter the focus in real-time while the assessment data could potentially be useful in providing greater response for evaluation purposes. Participants overwhelmingly liked using the ARDs in an Extension meeting setting.
The Media and the BP Oil Spill
Extension personnel are frequently interviewed by the media in a relaxed atmosphere. Critical times lead to enhanced and major media attention, which requires the ability to speak calmly, quickly, concisely, and factually. Media requests will come from a variety of venues, and lengthy interviews will be reduced to a sound bite. Working with communications professionals is useful to better develop speaking skills, and their presence at major interviews can prove valuable.
Maine 4-H Afterschool Academy—A Professional Development Opportunity for Out-of-School-Time Providers
The Maine 4-H Afterschool Academy trained 369 after-school and out of school time providers in 2011. This easy-to-adapt professional development opportunity used blended learning, a combination of in-person and Web-based opportunities. Providers successfully learned concepts and practical knowledge regarding 4-H, specifically 4-H Science. In post-training evaluations, 86% of participants reported feeling more confident in incorporating science, engineering, and technology in their afterschool program. This blended learning approach eliminated some barriers Extension faculty face when designing programing for afterschool providers.
Cover Crop Chart: An Intuitive Educational Resource for Extension Professionals
Interest in cover crops by agricultural producers has increased the need for information regarding the suitability of crops for addressing different production and natural resource goals. To help address this need, staff at the USDA-ARS Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory developed a decision aid called the Cover Crop Chart (CCC). Visually analogous to the periodic table, the CCC includes information on 46 crop species within a free downloadable Portable Document Format (PDF) file. The CCC serves as a useful educational resource for agriculturalists learning about cover crops for the first time.
Insect Identification Educational Volunteers Created in Train-the-Trainer Workshops in Oregon and Washington
The "train-the-trainer" model successfully created volunteer educators in insect identification. Intensive training programs prepared 71 individuals during 2 1/2-day (20 hour) training sessions. Trainees included university Extension faculty (13), agricultural professionals (13), and certified Master Gardeners (45). The sessions were intense, hands-on learning in insect identification. A post-training survey demonstrated that 1 year post training trainees had conducted insect education (86%) and provided identification services (96%). About 700 community service hours by the trainees had been conducted. The key to success was volunteers with prior training in agronomy and/or gardening, plus an established track record in volunteerism.
LEGO Parts Organization—UGH!!!
In this article, I describe a method for organizing one of the more popular Robotics Sets, NXT LEGO Mindstorms, a set used for the 4-H Robotics Platforms Curriculum and the FIRST LEGO League (FLL). LEGO Mindstorms is available in various retail configurations. And LEGO modifies the base product from year to year. The parts organization shown here is for the FLL configuration of the Mindstorms product, which consists of the LEGO Mindstorms Education Base Set (Part #9797), the Educators' Resources Set (Part # 9648), the rechargeable battery and power supply, and the LEGO NXT-G Programming Software.
SpreaderCal: An MS Excel-Based Computer Program for Spreader Calibration
A Microsoft Excel-based software was developed to help Extension professionals with spreader calibration. Small, turf-used ground spreaders as well as spinner-type spreaders used in row crop agriculture can be calibrated using this software. Spreaders used in aerial application of urea and seed rice can also be calibrated. The software calculates the most commonly sought information during a calibration such as: total swath, optimized swath according to coefficient of variation (CV), and application rate.
Using Mixed-Mode Contacts in Client Surveys: Getting More Bang for Your Buck
Surveys are commonly used in Extension to identify client needs or evaluate program outcomes. This article examines how available email addresses can be incorporated into mixed-mode procedures for surveys. When mail and email addresses are used to implement a sequence of email and postal invitations in a mixed-mode survey, response rates were somewhat lower than those for mail only surveys. Item nonresponse is, however, lower for questionnaires completed via the Web, and costs for postage were substantially lower for the mixed-mode groups (because 60% of the surveys were completed via the Web). The study demonstrates the benefit of using mixed-mode surveys.
Research Use by Cooperative Extension Educators in New York State
A Web-based survey of 388 off-campus Cornell Extension educators in New York State examined their attitudes toward research, sources of research-based information, knowledge and beliefs about evidence-based programs, and involvement in research activities. Strong consensus emerged that research is central and that educators are capable of reading and applying it. The Web is their most frequent source. Time is the greatest barrier. Educators know about evidence-based programs but do not necessarily regard them as superior. Research experience is common among educators in agriculture, much less in 4-H. New methods are needed to connect educators with faculty.
Using Stakeholder Needs Assessments and Deliberative Dialogue to Inform Climate Change Outreach Efforts
Farmers represent a large group of Extension stakeholders who stand to be affected by increased climate variability and change. Yet climate change can be a polarizing topic. In order to be sensitive to this reality, meet stakeholder education needs, and carry out the land-grant mission, we used a participatory decision model known as "deliberation with analysis" to inform climate change programming around agriculture. We designed evaluation tools for each phase of the project. This method strengthened relationships with stakeholders and enabled Michigan State University to move forward with climate change programming.
Researching and Communicating Environmental Issues Among Farmers and Ranchers: Implications for Extension Outreach
The research reported here explored environmental terminology and scale use with farmers/ranchers, and the article provides tips for Extension educators in communicating with these audiences. Following analysis and critique of various environmental scales by six cattle ranchers, a revised environmental scale was developed and tested as a predictor of conservation behavior. A mail survey was administered to 1,000 ranchers, and a 60.2% response-rate was received. Results offer recommendations in measuring environmental identity as well as insight to perceptions of terminology related to environmental issues by farmers/ranchers.
Reaching New Forest Landowner Audiences: Impacts of Wisconsin's Learn About Your Land Program
A new program targeting "unengaged" woodland owners was pilot-tested then expanded throughout Wisconsin. Our purposes for this article are first, to share a successful program model for targeting "unengaged" woodland owners, and second, to illustrate the integral application of evaluation to program improvement and documenting impacts. We draw from multiple years of evaluation data, including session questionnaires and post-workshop surveys. Insights reinforce the value of studying intended audiences, integrating evaluation, and maintaining flexibility when delivering and evaluating programs.
Leadership and Engagement for Natural Resource Organizations: A Case Study in Mississippi
This article describes five workshops that addressed leadership development in Mississippi natural resource organizations. Natural resources organizations were defined as any group that provided educational opportunities or interacted in some way with nature, including forestry associations, master urban foresters, and wildlife organizations. Discussions and a post-workshop evaluation gathered information on satisfaction with the program as well as strengths, needs, and opportunities for the organizations. Overall, participants were very satisfied with the program, and follow-up inquiries revealed behavioral changes. This workshop can serve as a model for addressing leadership and organizational issues in natural resource resident groups and in communities.
Factors Associated with Ongoing Commitment to a Volunteer Stream-Monitoring Program
Volunteers are important contributors to Extension conservation efforts. Volunteer water monitoring is one solution for involving people so they become educated about local ecosystems and acquire data used to detect ecological threats. The study reported here measured relationships among Wisconsin's Stream-Monitoring Program's volunteers' motivations and perceptions of program efficacy, analyzing how these are associated with intention to stay involved as stream monitors. Findings indicate four categories of motivations and three categories of efficacy related to volunteers' perception of the program.
Developing a Parent-Centered Obesity Prevention Program for 4-H Families: Implications for Extension Family Programming
Planning youth and family programming in the 21st century is daunting given family members' busy schedules. This is even more challenging when planning programs in rural areas, where there are vast distances between communities. This article discusses a research and educational outreach project that uses best practices in program development in order to create an obesity prevention program for parents of 4-H youth in a rural state. Practices discussed include the development of an interdisciplinary team, information gathered and implemented from focus groups, and the use of evaluations during the pilot-stage of the project. Implications for Extension programming are discussed.
Personal Problems Among Rural Youth and Their Relation to Psychosocial Well-Being
To understand stressors experienced by rural adolescents and their relationship to psychosocial well-being, high school students completed the Personal Problems Checklist for Adolescents and three measures of well-being. The most frequently reported problems were in social/friendship and parental domains. The most commonly reported individual problem was "Not having any privacy." Analyses indicated significant associations between problems reported and well-being. As age increased, problems reported in parental, dating, and crisis domains decreased. Girls reported more problems than boys in the parental domain, as did participants in stepfamilies. Extension and 4-H programs may help ease the effects of stressors on rural youth.
Tennessee Extension Agents' Perceptions of Performance Appraisal
Performance appraisal is necessary for summative decisions about employees, such as merit pay and promotion. The research reported here describes Extension agent perceptions of their performance appraisal system. The population studied consisted of all Tennessee Extension agents (N=312). Surveys were completed by 218 respondents, for a completed response rate of 69%. In the study, seven in 10 respondents (78.8%) felt that the current appraisal system should be improved, yet respondents also perceive that the appraisal system has improved their professionalism. Recommendations include more training for those conducting appraisals and validation and reliability studies of the performance appraisal instrument.
Research in Brief
Perceived Impact of the 2011 Texas 4-H Roundup on Participants' Development of Life Skills
This article describes the perceived impact of the 2011 Texas 4-H Round Up on the participants' development of life skills. Senior 4-H Members, at least 18 years of age, who attended the 2011 4-H Roundup were the accessible population. Participants Leadership and Life Skill Development Scores, based on Seevers and Dormody's (1995) YLLSDS Instrument, were reported, as well as the most frequently participated in 4-H events. Results indicated that participants perceived gains in positive self-perception, goal setting, and problem solving, while changes in the ability to express feelings and trust others ranked lowest in the study.
Whatever It Takes: A Comparison of Youth Enrollment Trends in the 4-H Livestock and Non-Livestock Programs
The study reported here compared participation and retention of youth enrolled in livestock and non-livestock 4-H programs. Participating 4-H members completed an assessment tool regarding their experiences in traditional 4-H programs, reasons they did not participate in such programs, and their experiences within 4-H. The researchers examined whether more frequent participation in 4-H programs was associated with youth retention in county 4-H programs. The authors identified the benefits youth receive from remaining in 4-H, as well as factors distinguishing between those youth with an affinity for traditional programs and those who choose to participate in non-traditional 4-H activities.
Assessing Youth Perceptions and Knowledge of Agriculture: The Impact of Participating in an AgVenture Program
Agricultural education programs such as AgVenture have been established to educate youth about the importance of agriculture. The study reported here examined the direct impact that one agricultural education program, specifically AgVenture, had on youth perceptions and knowledge of agriculture. Youth's perceptions and knowledge of agriculture were examined using a pre-test and post-test instrument administered to fourth grade students who participated in the AgVenture program. It was concluded that the AgVenture program was significantly associated with student knowledge. Student perceptions were also affected by the activity.
Lessons in a Box Make a Difference for Head Start Youth
This article examines the health education implications of targeted nutrition lesson plans at Head Start programs in south central Minnesota. The Head Start program in Mankato and the University of Minnesota Extension collaborated to deliver and evaluate a nutrition education program directed at preschool children and their families. Nine lesson plans on various nutrition topics were developed and delivered to Head Start preschoolers. The program goals were to increase nutrition-related knowledge among children, improve healthy eating patterns/preferences, and increase physical activity. The evaluation intended to determine program effects and participant changes towards healthy eating habits.
Credit Card Usage among Older Adults: Assessing Financial Literacy and Pressures
The research reported here assessed the financial literacy of older adults living in rural communities, current use of and attitudes towards debt, and debt pressures. Those surveyed exhibit low credit card usage and responsible payment practices. Most never use credit to pay medical expenses. Respondents display a financial literacy level similar to the Jump$tart Coalition's 2008 college sample. While the financial situations and well-being for most are positive, those with financial pressures face some negative outcomes. Increasing financial literacy and teaching basic budgeting to a targeted segment of older adults have the potential to increase well-being and family relationships.
Rain Barrels: A Catalyst for Change?
Over the past 4 years, rain barrel programming for residents has been implemented in both Northern Virginia and New Jersey as a method for educating the public about stormwater management and water conservation. Program participants demonstrated a significant increase in knowledge of water resource issues. Follow-up surveys showed 58% of New Jersey respondents and 48% of Virginia respondents adopted at least one additional best management practice at home. Results show that the enthusiasm for rain barrels can be used as an opportunity to educate and enable residents to be water resource managers on their own properties.
Simple Lawn Irrigation Measurement Training for Master Gardeners and Homeowners
For municipalities across Oklahoma and the southern United States, maximum domestic water usage occurs during July and August, and up to 50% of this water is used outdoors. There is a need to conserve water resources through reduced outdoor irrigation. The objective of the Extension project described here was to teach Oklahoma Master Gardeners a simple technique to effectively measure lawn irrigation output through simple irrigation audit workshops. Seventy-six Master Gardeners participated in three simple irrigation audit workshops across Oklahoma. The results suggest that simple irrigation workshops can significantly increase Master Gardener knowledge of home lawn irrigation system output.
First Impressions: An Effective Approach for Community Improvement
A long-term impact study was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the Community First Impressions Program. Thirty-two (32) targeted communities located in West Virginia and Pennsylvania were surveyed; 18 (56%) responses were obtained. The majority of communities reported the program led to positive changes in community and economic development. Impacts were realized beyond program recommendations as communities self-evaluated, built new networks, and sought additional resources for community-driven development. Government leader turnover and lack of funding and citizen initiative were cited as challenges. The findings have implications for community capacity building, specifically leadership development, resource development, and engaged citizen's strategies.