Problem Solver

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IN 2004, Extension directors and administrators from around the country realized the Internet and new technologies were going to play a vital role in the future of the Cooperative Extension system. As a result, they decided to create eXtension (pronounced e-extension), an interactive learning site that aims to deliver objective, research-based, credible knowledge to help growers solve problems in real time. “Its goal is to bring the resources of the U.S. Cooperative Extension System, found in nearly every U.S. county, to existing and new audiences via new technologies,” says Terry Meisenbach, communications and marketing leader of the eXtension Initiative.

eXtension In A Nutshell
• Offers peer-reviewed, research-based, unbiased content development and educational delivery.
• Focused on answers to users’ questions, problems, and life events, eXtension provides education in various formats, including frequently asked questions, brief fact sheets, Ask the Experts, chat sessions and discussion groups, decision support tools, Web conferencing, streaming video, distance diagnostics, and educational modules.
• Educational programs are aggregated rather than duplicated, meaning that users get customized answers to their questions – not a mountain of duplicative and somewhat related information.
• eXtension is organized into separate data management and delivery platforms, allowing rapid updates of information and access by users with any Internet-ready device.
• Educational programs and services are peer reviewed and consistent with standards and protocols to ensure the information is valid, concise, and easy to use.

The initiative is formed around communities of interest that include groups of individuals who share interests in common topics. Then, Cooperative Extension experts from land grant universities formed communities of practice. “These communities of practice work collaboratively to develop content found at www.extension.org,” Meisenbach says. “Content is peer reviewed and continues the objective, credible, and research-based traditions of traditional Cooperative Extension.”

eXtension is funded by an assessment that all directors and administrators pay based on their Smith-Lever (federal formula funds) funding, as well as by a federal grant program, New Technologies for Agricultural Extension.

There currently are approximately 60 different communities of practice on the site, including All About Blueberries, Apples, Bee Management, Grapes, and Wildlife Damage Management. Meisenbach says new communities of practice are being added all the time. eXtension also is using resources like Facebook and Twitter to interact with eXtension users and incorporate their input into Extension projects. “We welcome any and all to come to eXtension and become part of any of our communities,” Meisenbach says.

Ann-Marie Vazzano was managing editor of American Fruit Grower magazine, a Meister publication.

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