October 13, 2008

Harnessing the Contribution Revolution for Extension

According to Harvard Business Review author, Scott Cook" "Every day, millions of people make all kinds of voluntary contributions to companies--from informed opinions to compution resources--that create tremendous value for those firms' customers and, consequently, for their shareholders." He explains: "The users can be customers, employees, sales prospects--or even people with no previous connection to the company. Their contributions can be active (work, expertise, or information) or passive and even unknowing (behavioral data that is gathered automatically during a transaction or an activity)."

Cook dubs this customer engagement as The Contribution Revolution - supporting volunteers in building your business. Highlighting success stories from gruops like Goggle, eBay and Hyatt, he explores where contributions can help companies grow and why people contribute to these companies.

We in Extension may not consider ourselves companies or in-business. However, I am conviced that our emerging and successful programs will benefit from this Web 2.0 revolution. In fact, I keep asking why we should embrace social technologies in Extension. This article provides one fairly convincing answer. Check it out.

October 6, 2008

Off to Web 2.0!!


So we are off and running within the web 2.0!! A few responses to the final questions follow:

What were your favorite discoveries or exercises? I really enjoyed the push to explore technologies that otherwise sit, dust collecting, on my to-do shelf. The little gems of web-info that I uncovered in-text (e.g., fodey.com) were great.

How has this program assisted or affected your everyday work? Of course, I am trying new things here and there. More important, I am thinking more holistically about our use of the internet for Extension programming. For example, I discovered (and have since thouroughly enjoyed) Animoto somewhere in this course. That week, I posted a family mash-up. But, I later tried a quick Extension program promo...thinking how great to have something like this running on our site or at the beginning of class as folks pile-in, or a mash-up of pictures of their class emailed afterward? (See the result below.) Then, I introduced Chery Day to Animoto...and she began trying it out.....

Were there any unexpected outcomes or take-aways that surprised you? I am pretty surprised at my lingering inability to get what Twitter is all about.... But mostly, I am consistently surprised with how easy the insightful developers are making use of really advanced and cool technology.

What could we do differently to improve this program? Overall, I think there should be integrated incentive to visit others' blogs...interact with them. Admittedly, I have barely surfed the things others are gathering/doing with this course.

Although it would add something to the workload, it might also be useful to ask participants to apply lessons learned to their Extension Programs - a sort of real-world project experience.

If another enrichment course of this nature were offered in the future, would you try to participate? Sure...especially if I can get something like an MP3 player again!

October 3, 2008

Understanding Digital Natives

If anyone out there is reading this (last week, I noticed that the blog surfaced on the second page of a UMN search for IT), you might enjoy "Understanding Students Who Were ‘Born Digital’" from the Inside Higher Ed News. This is a compelling review of a new book that describes the role of education technology for a nation of youth immersed from birth in the suff of microchips.... From the article:

"Technology is never a panacea. And technology on its own can do nothing; it’s just a tool for teachers and students to put to work in support of how they want to teach and to learn. A realistic expectation is that technology may be able to help support your pedagogical goals, but it’s not going to (nor should it) do anything on its own."

The bigger question here: Will Nate start using this blog beyond the scope of his Extension course? Not sure...but it is looking more and more useful.

October 1, 2008

Not Enough UM Connecting


I went the advanced (slightly) route - set up a practice meeting and played with the display settings. I am a fan of the whiteboard.

The few times I have been involved in UMConnect meetings, I have surmised that one of the first questions we in Extension should regularly ask ourselves is "Do we need to travel for an in-person meeting?" UMConnect and similar technologies enable so much of the same work to happen without the requisite road-time and gas guzzle. In some cases, I would even venture the hunch that tools available in UMConnect can make the work more visible, focused...efficient. (Not that in-person meetings are bad....)

Like Moodle and the Google Suite, I suspect UMConnect will significantly change the way we do our work as disperse teams. I also embrace the potential to host webinars that feed into asynchronous Breeze Presenter presentations.... Some of my NRE colleagues are already pros at hosting workshops simultaneously in three or four locations via UMConnect. COOL Stuff. But most of my colleagues and participants still do not use it regularly - Connect-Shy, I guess.

And we ain't seen nothing yet! For all the uber techies in this mix, I suggest you peruse the UMN Digital Media Center for new tools that periodically come online. Today, I found an online mind-mapping tool http://dmc.umn.edu/objects/mindmap/. A few weeks ago, I encountered therein a UMN tool for creating virtual worlds - something like SecondLife. Imagine meeting Extension work team member avatars in a virtual environment? I admit this one is still beyond me....

September 29, 2008

The IM Vacuum

So, I am now Jabbering and Twittering. I have my Facebook set-up to update my Twitter status, and vice-versa. I was nearly AIM, and thought hard about whether or not to get my cell phone all connected into the mix. But the big bummer in all of this is not a single one of my contacts is Twittering, Jabbering or otherwise IMing. So, I am out there alone, status updating or not.

I think this experience (apparently on the frontier of the Extension professional internet) underscores my musings on the Web 2.0. IM technology holds all sorts of potential for inter-work team and programming efficiencies. For example, I imagine e-hollering for my colleagues - "Are you available for a quick brainstorm?" - creating and entering a chat room, and holding a brief e-meeting. On the other hand, I appreciate the ability to host periodic promotion or post-workshop Q/A sessions with participants. But, alas, none of this is possible when these folks are not signed on to the technology.

Like my own experience, I suppose use comes through useful introduction - get a good reason to try it out, find out you like it, keep using it? Perhaps I can play a role in this process through creating good reasons.... In the meantime, I encourage others to join me on the Twitter or invite me to a Jabber chat.

September 25, 2008

Social Networking from a New Facebook User

I am the Co-PI of a recent grant (soon up for resubmission) in which my role is the development of online social networking/scientific sharing tools. Many of the other co-authors were cautious about taking this too far. "Getting online with these kinds of cool technologies will distract them from the out of doors." was the common response. Rather, I think the personal adaptability and connectivity of social networking applications encourages people to pursue their passions -- essentially creating the cool stuff we can now share with people all over the world in cool ways.

Nonetheless, I was a personal skeptic. Then, I recently took the plunge (the absolutely simple plunge) of creating a facebook profile. And it has been wonderful. Over the course of a month or two, I have reconnected with high school and college friends, found community members of like interest, been invited to community gatherings. But I mostly enjoy immensely the chance to re-create my profile according to mood, current circumstance, and quickly surf my friends lives.

Personally, I find the challenge of social networking is growimg comfort with making my world public. I hesitate here and there with allowing this or that person into my online world. Others have exclaimed caution against entering this place where their co-workers or children have profiles. However, I find that the applications allow me such easy control of who I connect with and what I show them. No worries from my experience.

Often these days, I find myself using wall-to-wall communication in Facebook rather than email to touch-base quickly with colleagues.

Productivity from Behind the Schedule

A wannabie GTD afficianado, I am a huge fan of online productivity tools. I frequently use Google docs, Doodle and Meeting Maker. My wife and I have a conjoined online to-do that keeps us on-track in the non-work life. Slideshare and Jing are on my radar as useful for the future.

This week, I used both netfiles and Senduit to pass along some 10mb and larger PPTs with a contractor. These files typically clog our email systems and get booted from others. So, it is nice to hand them off without trouble. An ESE colleague and I have also used netfiles to co-update a workshop agenda.

Finally, I will make a plug for IGoogle pages. This is a customized view of outlook that can contain windows to virtually anything you find productive or personally interesting. From one view, I can scroll through two of my email accounts, Google Reader account, search Dultuh Craigslist, search google maps, etc. It is easily my most efficient addition to the tech suite.

September 5, 2008

Exploring Wikis

I have now added the Extension's E-Learning Wiki to my favorites...something to explore more deeply later, especially the text on online learning. As a child of Star Wars (a proud three-time Darth Vader for holloween kid), I also enjoyed the Wookiepedia. The sheer volume of collaborative information on this site amazed me...a testiment to the social expertise of interested groups of people.

I believe wIkis hold so much use potential for both inter and extra-organizational group work. Like other technologies explored in this course, however, I also find it tough to engage colleagues and participants in using. As noted by Amy, the UMN Wiki is a bit complicated, tough for many inexperienced users to grab-hold. More deeply though, I often encounter colleagues and participants who do not immediately jive with the social nature of wikis. They want to stick with 'track changes' where the original document and their contributions/suggestions are cleanly compartmentalized/visible.

Grabbing-hold of the concept of truly social authorship takes some getting used-to. I think the growing use of Wikis will challenge our core concepts of authorship, contribution, etc. I imagine the creative use of wikis will explode as these age-old paradims shift.

August 29, 2008

Podcasting in a busy week

This week has been hurried, time pressed for homework. Nonetheless, I was able to fish a bit for environmental science education-oriented podcasts...and there are many. Of the 200+ results returned for a podcast alley search for 'environmental education', I was impressed particularly by Nature Notebook and EarthNews Radio. The former is a short intro to nature facts. The latter is a snapshot of environmental issues. There are also good resources like Grist updates, etc.

Overall, I am intrigued with podcasting...but not sure how to really make use of the technology. They are indeed easy to create (at least in a mediocre way). But, the market is increasingly competative for podcasts. And, I am not sure how often people really listen to them. Personally, I have an IPod completely packed with music. I tried the podcast subscription...but never listened. I am also aware of a couple Extension programs that heard similar feedback when they explored the possibility of using podcasts. It seems like there is a lot to learn about effectively marketing these casts...perhaps from Mark Seely?

August 18, 2008

A Little Video

Once upon a time, I read an interview of the person who manages Google's open-source applications business - blogger, google reader, picasa, etc. He said that long ago he ran out of room to store the information flow that comes his way over the internet everyday...so he looks for technology that allows him to throw interesting ideas in the "cloud" of cyberspace. They are there if he needs them, easily retrievable but not a drain on his mental or human resources.

I completely appreciate the ability to store, share, print, mashup, etc. my visual media - the beauty of web 2.0 video/audio/picture technology. For example, it is wonderful to quickly store, organize and share photos from workshops. I easily upload, build into slide-shows and share family pics on the blog.

Last year, we purchased in ESE two stocked and easy to use video kits that are available to program teams that want to shoot and use video.

Finally, I am now a growing ANIMOTO addict. This may be a useful way of building professional-looking promotional shorts for our programs? In the meantime, I play with the family photos.

August 14, 2008

Exploring RSS Feeds

I am an addict on the mend. RSS was such a wonderful invention to efficiently keep me abreast of new content on useful sites - everything in my case from academic journals to the hometown newspaper. Once aboard google reader and surfing the various feed search engines, I quickly became addicted - trying hard to scan hundreds of new posts daily, weekly. Over time, I have been able to cut back to the most useful few...and a check once weekly or so.

Addictions aside, I have found RSS to be so useful for networking purposes. In the case of the blog created by students in my course (see last post) it enabled easy promotion of their content - a real and wide audience. We are currently capitalizing on RSS to enable efficient regional office ride-sharing and national knowledge sharing.

One of the things that I really appreciated about Google Reader is the analytics available - my ability to easily see where I spend my time. As noted in my case, RSS can fairly easily result in information overload for users...or a tough time getting information into the flood effectively for producers. Personally, I am working to better understand ways of bubbling information to the surface of the flood.

August 4, 2008



I am a happy blogger. Using the U-Think platform, I involved a group of graduate students in co-authoring the Research and Issues in Science Education: Challenging our Minds and Methods (http://blog.lib.umn.edu/meyer179/umdenvironmentaleducation/) blog for a course on science education research. Though I learned a few things and would definately craft the assignment a bit differently next time, it worked very well. The students used the technology with little effort. We were able to share the blog with EE professionals across MN. And I learned a lot about blogs through the process.

Around a year after our son was born, my wife and I also used Google's Blogger (http://www.blogger.com/) to create a family blog. With parents in Oregon, Philadelphia and various points between, the blog enables us to make quick and frequent updates. It also provides us a sort of free-organized archive of family memories, and the ability for family to participate in the conversation.

From these experiences, I see a lot of potential for blog technology in Extension programming. They are so easy to use for both staff and participants, inexpensive in both time and $$, and fluid to many uses.