eXtension’s Critical Success Factors/Metrics #3

In this, and subsequent, eXtension UPDATE articles, we will focus on each of the nine Critical Success Factors/Metrics developed in late 2011. While there are some metrics on which we will not be able to report at this time, we will fill these gaps in 2012 as we move forward. Note that in some cases, data will reflect periods prior to 2011.

Critical Success Factor 3: Collaboration with colleagues in other institutions and organizations improves quality of educational products.

Explanation: This Critical Success Factor/Metric focuses on more systematically capturing the extent to which the collaborative development of content improves the quality of educational products and the number of collaborative educational products developed through eXtension.

Metrics data: For those Extension professionals who have embraced and adopted eXtension, the results have been profound in terms of improving their individual effectiveness and the quality of their educational products and programs. Efforts will be made in 2012 to collect additional data on this Critical Success Factor/Metric.

Based on 37 interviews with Extension professionals from 20 states at various eXtension sponsored events and state Extension conferences (see eXtension Voices at http://www.youtube.com/user/eXtensionInitiative?blend=1&ob=video-mustangbase), the following results indicated that:

• eXtension has brought together new people and new partners across states and agencies, many of whom did not know each other, to address common problems of clientele
• eXtension has provided new ways of thinking and sharing information
• eXtension has provided an opportunity to address a broader audience nationwide, allowed us to pool resources nationally, improved access to information across state lines, and provided access to new clientele
• eXtension has strengthened content because of national collaborations
• eXtension has filled gaps in content expertise across state lines
• eXtension has improved our use of social media

Results from the eXtension Transformation Study (see the full report at http://create.extension.org/node/3016), echo the eXtension Voices data. Key conclusions from the study included:

• Enhanced teamwork and professional contacts. eXtension has changed the way that Extension professionals think and act about working together. A majority of individual Community of Practice members commented on how they now spend time working in teams rather than individually. This has also lead to an increase in their own expertise as a result of creating educational content in a Community of Practice. Working in multi-institutional and state teams have made them more aware of research and educational activities occurring in other states and countries, has allowed them to make new contacts with other experts they may never have discovered (within other universities as well as other agencies), and has improved the scope of their educational outreach efforts. As one Community of Practice member commented, It’s given me the opportunity to get to know colleagues in the same area…who I would never have collaborated with before. Finally, working in eXtension has allowed them to work past some of the traditional boundaries between land grant universities to work together on content.

• Increased utilization of new tools/technologies. eXtension has provided the technical expertise to allow individuals to learn and explore new tools/technologies that are not readily or easily accessible on university campuses. As one Community of Practice member noted: eXtension has pushed some of the Community of Practice members to work with new technology such as the wiki, Breeze conferences, and the FAQ system. eXtension has made available a whole new set of tools/technologies (e.g., webinars, chats, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs) that are broadening and enhancing Extension’s capabilities to reach and interact with traditional as well as new digital audiences.

• Broader content and outreach. Because of interactions within and among Communities of Practice, educational materials are broader in content and are being made available to a wider audience than could have been achieved through an individual institutional/state focused effort. As one Community of Practice member commented, Community of Practice members found that participating in a collaborative work environment stimulated their outreach efforts because they were not responsible for being the sole source of all information. This comment appears to emphasize the notion that Extension professionals involved in eXtension are realizing that we can leverage the resources of the entire system to meet the needs of state and local clientele by working collaboratively together.