Evaluation in the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN) requires a blend of quantitative and qualitative vantage points: we learn as much from our metrics as we do from observations, feedback, reflective discussions, conversation analysis, and, well, a good story. So while we often take our numbers straight-up, we wouldn’t be able to tell a complete story of June without mixing in a little allegory, some metaphor, and here and there, a dash of hyperbole with those numbers.
In June the MFLN offered its first-ever virtual learning event (VLE). The Personal Finance concentration area hosted Money Behavior: How People Make Financial Decisions. This three-day learning event of four webinars, six presenters, and two hours of Q&A attracted almost 700 participants who collectively earned 1,197.5 continuing education units from the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education.
During the course of the VLE, there were highly unusual internal connectivity issues with the Adobe Connect system. Anyone who has participated with online webinars understands that there are often minor hiccups involved. We wished we had just these. But we didn’t. We won’t recount the list of challenges we faced over those several days, because this story is about numbers, not about technology.
Despite rolling connection drops, room changes, locked-out guests, stuck slides, failing audio, and mounting frustration all around, we had nearly 700 participants! They kept coming back! They hung in there! A few were angry, most understood, many laughed. The chat pod conversation was more lively than it’s ever been. Participants were interacting directly with each other, sharing their own resources, asking and answering questions—all measures of high-level engagement and indicators of a co-constructed knowledge environment.
Jerry Buchko, an MFLN Personal Finance and Network Literacy advocate, even took over the reins and led the presentations while our own presenters clamored to overcome the technical challenges. The number 700 wasn’t just a great participation metric; it tells a story of our participants’ loyalty and patience; it tells us we offer valuable professional development that military family service providers need; and it reminds DoD and NIFA that their funding partnership dollars have really funded a community of military family service providers who learn and work together on the ground and online.
June, Metaphorically Speaking, or: War-gaming the VLE
MFLN leadership staff experienced the same connectivity issues as participants and presenters, but also needed to ensure that the VLE remained viable. With the help of back-channel chatrooms, texting, phone calls, mass e-mails, personalized e-mails, troubleshooting documents, some really smart people, some really calm people, an orientation toward customer service, a commitment to our work, and the ability to think fast on our feet, we problem-solved through our first-ever VLE to enable the delivery of high-quality educational content to 700 participants! Later, at the Department of Defense, eXtension champion Betsy Graham described our efforts as “war-gaming.” We were problem-solving in real time, playing out different scenarios, trying to foresee the nuances of a problem we didn’t know the extent of. “War-gaming” or not, we sure do like the notion that the way we instinctively work in the learning network (lack of sandbox notwithstanding) resonates so well with the Department of Defense.
June Hyperbole: Sky-high Participation Numbers for the MFLN!
Ok, it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that MFLN participation numbers have reached the sky (as I understand it, 328,000 feet—the Kármán line—marks the boundary between atmosphere and outer space). But with the help of those 700 VLE participants, the MFLN reached quite a milestone in June: Since the start of the MFLN in 2010, we’ve had 7,007 participants attend our live MFLN webinars!
So that’s our June story, figuratively speaking. What a month! (And that’s an understatement!) Here’s to many, many more months of the same!