From hotline to online handout


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Handout from CoP 2011 conference session.

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From hotline to online handout

  1. 1. -57150-457200004200525-55245000<br />From Hotline to Online:<br />Recruiting, Training and Retaining Experts for Your State<br />Dr. Liz Wells ( & Dr. Lela Vandenberg (<br />June, 2011<br />In October of 2010, Michigan State University Extension’s newly formed eXtension Institutional Team committed to changing the organizational culture and increasing comfort with and participation in online educational efforts. The title of this session—From Hotlines to AaE—captures the challenge the team faced: how to transition from the “old way” of getting practical, timely, research-based information to people to the “new way”; from answering phone calls in the office with or through a hotline, to answering online using a national database of resources. The challenge has been how to help people feel comfortable and even enjoy working online and collaborating across state boundaries. <br />One of the team’s first goals focused on Ask an Expert. The team aimed to recruit and train more experts to answer questions in this national system. These efforts have led to a dramatic increase in the number of questions answered by MSUE staff, as the chart below shows. <br />2011 (Jan-May)201020092008MSUE eXtension IDs22318813130AaE Resolved Questions390723264152<br />The following is an outline of the process begun in 2010 to recruit, train and retain experts.<br />Surveyed all MSUE staff to gather data on areas of expertise and interests, and to raise awareness of the AaE system. The survey consisted of 8 simple questions and can be previewed here:<br />Created a database of specialties, using the information gained through the survey. We have added to this data base as more people have been recruited to answer questions. The 174 staff who originally responded to the survey indicated these specialties:<br />Agriculture 65 <br />Animal 34<br />Children, Youth & Families 31<br />Nutrition & Food Safety 28<br />Horticulture 24<br />Community & Econ. Devt. 23<br />Natural Resources 19<br />Volunteerism 15<br />Insects 11<br />Leadership 10<br /><ul><li>Other 8</li></ul>Designed a one hour, hands-on, on-line training for AaE, coupled with a how-to handout sent a week in advance to give participants time to get an eXtension I.D. and set their preferences. The session begins in Adobe Connect where instructors explain guidelines, go live to a test widget to ask a test question, and demonstrate how to answer it at the AaE website. Participants are then directed to the test widget where each asks a question they can easily answer. Instructors assign the questions to each person who asked it so they experience the whole process. Links to the widget and the AaE site are sent to each participant just before the session to provide easy access and facilitate the process. After participants have answered their questions, instructors direct them to the “Resolved” link to review the participants’ answers. The session concludes with Q&A. The maximum workable number in this session is 6-8 participants. Two instructors ensures all participants receive individualized assistance as needed.<br />Targeted horticulture and agriculture with this training first, to fill an immediate short-term need. Then offered training more broadly within MSUE and to Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs) (technology fluency is an issue). <br />Added a few specialty widgets: Land Use, Oil & Gas Leasing, Gardening in Michigan and trained wranglers for these.<br />Put Ask and Expert/Find an Expert on our MSUE main page. <br />Created two handouts:<br />An AaE bookmark format for clientele walk-ins to county offices<br />A 2-page resource for Educators and front line staff on finding info in eXtension<br />Devised several expansion and retention strategies:<br />Address key issues & questions during the training: Will I get credit for this? How much time will this take? How does it help me? <br />Include a personalized comment when assigning a question.<br />Periodically review answers to questions and send personal messages to responders thanking them for their good and timely responses.<br />Seek out individuals within the organization when a specific question needs expertise not yet covered and ask if they can answer it. Then recruit them to join the Ask an Expert system to answer future questions. <br />Emphasize the option to “hand off to a wrangler” and ask them to immediately make a decision about any question assigned to them and to act on that decision by either handing off or answering.<br />Recognize consistent, dedicated responders in organization-wide communications and with annual awards.<br />