Thursday, October 29, 2009

eXtension 2.0-- Interaction, Participation and Community


A key part of our success in the online world is to take the lessons from our experiences as extension educators and create similar tools online. Extension work has never been solely about delivering research-based information to the public; it has always been about creating communities of people engaged in learning together and encouraging people to teach each other. This is the foundation of 4-H clubs, women's extension organizations, farmer groups, and so forth. The central processes of successful extension work have been creating active learning situations that engaged people, fostering participation in teaching and learning and creating community. This presentation explores the tools and methods for creating these processes online.

A Model for Successful Web Services

Fogg and Eckles (2007) outline a model that they identified as common for successful web services. They note that there are three phases—discovery, superficial involvement, and true commitment. Within each of these phases they note that web designers have created multiple processes that facilitate specific target behaviors. By engaging web visitors in these behaviors, they move people from discovery to commitment.

Active and Interactive Learning

Although the first level of interaction with material on a website may be to read the information, it is possible to do a lot more. To engage people in thinking about ideas and trying out new practices, it is often useful to create opportunities for them to interact with the material. For example, you can have people test their knowledge about a topic by taking a simple quiz. Newspapers and magazines are filled with quiz games that you have to flip to the back to find the answers. Surveys or polls are another easy way to get people to interact with information. This gives people an opportunity to see how others think about the same issue. With the use of audio and video it is possible to develop a wide range of interactive experiences including games, simulations, illustrations, demonstrations, analysis tools, stories, puzzles, explorations, and more. Mayo and Steinberg (2007) propose a bold scheme for the United Kingdom in which the government would develop a platform for using government-generated data about all types of activities (e.g., health data, economic data, crime information, etc.) so that citizens and companies can use the data to create their own new analyses, guides, and so forth. Translating this idea for land-grant universities would mean providing not just the results of research, but the data themselves.

Participation

"I think that participation is the saving of the human race. Participate in games, puzzles, fun, storytelling and when you're grown up participate in education….. It's the key to the future of the human race-- participation. " Pete Seeger, 2008.

eXtension should engage people to participate with others around the topics and issues. This could mean using blogs and wikis for forums in which to address current topics and controversial ideas. One way to address myths and misconceptions is to actively engage in thoughtful dialogue about these ideas. Our web presence should be a place in which the public can rely on thoughtful analysis and critical thinking about topics. We should invite the public into helping to develop ideas, thinking, and new solutions. This should not be a one-way broadcast.

Nielsen (2006) offered the following suggestions for increasing user participation: make it easy to contribute, make contributing a side activity, allow users to edit templates or material rather than create from scratch, highlight quality contributions and contributors.

Community

One of the hallmarks of successful extension work has been the creation of learning communities that persisted over time. Whether through 4-H clubs, women's organizations and farmer cooperatives, effective extension work has brought people together to learn. The most robust and effective learning has always taken place within groups of people who learned from one another. Success in the online world will require a similar attention to the creation of communities. Creating communities online requires that we attend to issues of community building. This is not a teaching or information process, it is a social process. Success in community building either F2F or online requires attention to issues of creating a welcoming environment where people are treated with respect and people are encouraged to share ideas and information. Studies of successful online communities indicate that people participate for social reasons-- to meet and get to know people, to have fun, to be appreciated for their ideas and contributions, and to gain visibility (Butler, et al., 2008). Long-term success in creating sustainable online communities will require much attention to community building.

In short, the development of eXtension should continue to develop richer interactive learning opportunities, more avenues of participation and more community building efforts.

References

Butler, B., Sproll, L., Kiesler, S., Kraut, R. (2008). Community effort in online groups: Who does the work and why. (pp. 171- 193). In S. Weisband (Ed.). Leadership at a distance: Research in technologically-supported work. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum. Available online: http://opensource.mit.edu/papers/butler.pdf

Fogg, B. J., & Eckles, D. (2007). The behavior chain for online participation: How successful web services structure persuasion. In Y. de Kort et al., (Eds.), Persuasive Technology (pp. 199-209). Heidelberg: Springer Berlin.

Mayo, E., & Steinberg, T. (2007). The Power of Information. Retrieved from http://www.commentonthis.com/powerofinformation/ on June 19, 2008.

Nielsen, J. (2006). Participation inequality: Encouraging more users to participate. Retrieved from http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html on June 19, 2008.

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