Tag Archives: redesign

Complacency? Bah, humbug!

Normally when you go to a professional development conference, you expect to come away with a wide array of new ideas, new resources and new inspiration to help you improve your performance and your sense of accomplishment. These well-paid speakers, many of whom seem to have recently published a book that you feel compelled to buy, do a great job of letting you in on the secrets that they and they alone have discovered. And some of their secrets turn out to be really helpful. Others – well, they might work for someone else in the audience, but just aren’t cutting it with me. So imagine my surprise when two very different speakers at a conference I’ve been attending this week gave the same message. They delivered the message in very different ways – different contexts, different examples, different presentation slides. But the message was loud and clear, and nearly identical from both: “the greatest threat to your organization is COMPLACENCY.”

 Why? Why now? Why me?

 After nearly three years of developing and carrying out a redesign of Michigan State University Extension, I was thinking we could do with a little stability for a while. We will be officially declaring the redesign done and finished later this month. My sense is that we’re all a bit weary of everything we know about our organization getting a remake, whether it’s our administrative structure, our way of building and managing relationships in communities, our use of technology, our program priorities, our ways of planning and reporting, or our method of delivering professional development. Enough already! It feels like we’ve been taking anti-complacency therapy for the past three years. Do we really need another session of it now?

 I realize there’s truth in the message I heard from the speakers this week. Perhaps a more positive way to put it would be to say that we need to depend on the creativity of everyone in our organization to continue to improve the work we do and how we do it. One thing about education professionals is that we’re always tinkering with our craft. I used to think that once I got my lecture notes and labs set for a course, I could just walk in each semester, quickly update the syllabus, order the same textbook and then deliver the same thing I had the year before. I don’t think I ever was able to do that. There was always something that I wanted to change in a lecture – something I had learned from research findings or from colleagues just HAD to be added to a lecture. Some illustration that I found was far better than what I had used before. And sometimes a lab exercise just didn’t make sense any more so I threw it out and started over. I can’t say that I did a complete remake on the entire course from one year to the next. But there always seemed to be something that could stand some improvement.

 And maybe that’s a sign of not being complacent. Maybe I’ve overreacted to the speakers’ messages this week. Once we declare our redesign “DONE,” perhaps we will find tweaks, adjustments, improvements or just some creative inspirations that will improve our work. Maybe avoiding complacency doesn’t always require a complete remake. Maybe it’s just making sure that you give your creative juices a chance to express themselves in a new way in doing something you’ve done before and that is very familiar.

 And maybe I’ll always be asking myself “are we being too complacent to be effective in our mission?”


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Lynda.com access extended through Oct. 2012

Embracing technology as a tool in extending the reach of our programs and expanding the information we make available is one of the core principles of our Michigan State University Extension redesign process. Sometimes I know I get a bit nervous when called upon to learn something new. And I always assume there’s a lot more I could do with this software than I know how to use. In these cases, “embracing technology” is more like a weak handshake than a hardy hug. Fortunately, MSU Libraries, Computing and Technology offers some help to put you and technology on friendlier terms.

 In a previous Spotlight article, I mentioned lynda.com. MSU provides this online resource to MSU and MSU Extension staff members free of charge. You can access lynda.com with your MSU NetID.

 Software training on the site covers everything from Access to YouTube. Do you have trouble using track changes in Microsoft Word? There’s a video that explains that. Don’t know what it means when someone asks you to send a “high res JPEG”? View a video to help you with photography terminology. You’re bound to find an answer to at least some of your technology challenges with this extensive selection of instructional videos.

 The great news is that MSU has extended access for another year through Oct. 15, 2012. So click on train.msu.edu/lynda and learn something new!

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Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute showcases program highlights in webinar

One of the core principles of our Michigan State University Extension redesign process has been the need to embrace technology as a tool in extending the reach of our programs and expanding the information we make available. Not surprisingly, other organizations we work with are trying to learn how to use technology as well and some have asked to learn from our experience. A good example is the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC), which has asked for advice as they seek to use webinars and Web conferences to connect county commissioners across the state. One of the best ways to learn the use of technology is to use it, and this week some of our colleagues in the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute provided a webinar on programs in the institute for the Agriculture and Tourism Subcommittee of MAC (chaired by retired Kalamazoo County Extension director Ann Nieuwenhuis).

 The webinar achieved much more than helping MAC members to learn how to participate in a webinar. It also provided a great overview of current projects and priorities within the institute. Wendy Powers, AABI director, served as the facilitator, and then Beth Stuever, Bruce MacKellar, Beth Franz, Jerry May, Marilyn Thelen, Brenda Reau, Nancy Thelen, Phil Tocco and Rebecca Finneran provided details on programs and resources in the institute. It’s a great overview of what our colleagues in AABI have accomplished and what they are working on. To view a recording of the two-hour presentation, go to http://breeze.msu.edu/p3c604jf1e9/. Beth Bishop prepared a separate recording on the Enviroweather program as an additional resource and it is available at http://breeze.msu.edu/p55e0jzhue2/. Thanks to all for putting together such a great illustration of what’s new at MSUE in agriculture.

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Don’t miss next Monday’s MSUE Redesign call!

We will have a special edition of the biweekly Michigan State University Extension Redesign webinar next Monday, Oct. 24. We will devote the entire hour to an interview with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Interim Dean Doug Buhler to catch us up on all of the changes going on in the college. An agenda of topics will go out later today or Friday, and it will go out to the entire CANR list of faculty and staff in addition to the MSUE list. Given that folks from across the college are invited, we will likely exceed our record for numbers of participants in an MSUE webinar, but the technology should be able to handle everyone who wants to join. As usual, the link for joining the webinar is http://breeze.msu.edu/msuerestructureupdate/. Please log in with your MSUE Net ID.

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Charging for one-on-one programming

During our September 26 Redesign webinar, we shared information about the draft policy that is being developed on cost recovery for programs in our new structure (you can advance to this section of the September 26 webinar by moving to the 31:50 time mark in the webinar). During the webinar and afterwards, colleagues have shared questions and concerns that are quite welcome and helpful as we think through this policy and design it well. One of my greatest concerns is that we apply this policy consistently throughout the organization. As with any policy, we ultimately must rely on the judgment and integrity of everyone in Michigan State University Extension to apply the policy consistently and yet remain consistent with our other values and policies as well. We are still refining the policy and communications about the policy, but I thought it might be helpful to share a perspective that I didn’t share during the webinar.

 Some see the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and some see MSUE as the stewards or safeguards of the land-grant mission at MSU. My personal opinion is that President Simon holds that responsibility, and having listened carefully to her speeches and having read her communications over the past six years, I am convinced as ever that she is not only committed to our land-grant mission, but she is its chief advocate and proponent. Still, some see changes such as our move to apply fees for repeated education and visits with individuals – whether farms, businesses, families or communities – as an erosion or even abandonment of the land-grant mission. I would argue that this policy is not about the mission. We are stewards of public investments to have access to the resources, experts, research and extension programs, that equip us to translate research into practice. This remains at the core of what we’re doing in our programs – whether we are delivering to one individual or to a group of hundreds through online programs. The issue is about applying those public investments fairly and judiciously to public needs and then applying private investments to the application of these publicly funded resources to private interest needs.

 Reflecting back a few decades, the education mission of MSU was highly subsidized by public funds. In the 1960s, the state of Michigan appropriations covered 65 percent of the cost of MSU’s academic programs. Private funds – tuition and fees – covered the other 35 percent. As public investments have weakened in the past four decades, the burden of that funding has shifted more and more to the private interest that benefits from education – the individual students. Today, tuition and fees cover 65 percent of the cost of MSU’s academic programs and public funds cover the remainder. That has been achieved through a series of increases in tuition and fees. If the Board of Trustees had not increased tuition over that time, the ability of MSU to fulfill its education mission and to deliver the quality of education expected from the state’s land-grant university would have been undermined. From the perspective of someone who paid tuition in 1965, the university seems to have moved away from its principle of remaining accessible to the children of all of Michigan’s mothers and fathers. From the perspective of someone paying tuition in 2011, the university seems to be operating like other universities, trying to balance accessibility to all with the need to ensure the integrity of the university with funds need to operate a 21st century university. And as tuition and fees have increased, MSU has become more aggressive about increasing the amount of financial aid available for those who are qualified to study at MSU, but whose resources otherwise limit them from attending.

 MSUE has faced reductions in public investments over the same period. We do not charge tuition, and we do not benefit from the university’s collection of tuition. As we look ahead, it’s not likely that we’ll see a return to higher funding levels for MSUE in the near future. Yet the costs of delivering on the Extension leg of the land-grant mission continue to increase. As stewards of the Extension mission for MSU, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are developing other funding sources so that we can fulfill our mission. There are multiple sources of funding we need to pursue, including contracts and grants from state, federal and non-government sources, gifts from donors (individuals, companies and foundations), and fees for services that serve a specific individual need. So while charging for repeated visits with a farmer or a community or a family may seem out of line with our past practices, it is not out of line with our mission. As long as we are balancing the public investment to serve public needs and expecting private investments for serving private needs, I think we are not only consistent with our mission, but we are acting responsibly to ensure the ongoing availability of our education and applied research services.

 As part of our commitment to serve all residents, we must acknowledge that there may be some individuals who do not have the resources to pay for what clearly serves a private need. In that case, we need to develop a companion policy and set of resources – perhaps resulting from gifts from donors or sponsors – to subsidize the needs of those who lack the ability to pay. Your thoughts on how to develop and implement an explicit “financial aid” policy would be welcome.

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Revolution of Responsibility calls 4-H’ers to lead the way for positive change

So often, people look to others to take responsibility for the world’s problems. It’s easier to go about our business and let somebody else step in. But National 4-H Council is working against this attitude of non-involvement and lack of concern with a new movement for positive change, the 4-H Revolution of Responsibility. Dr. Julie Chapin, director of the MSUE Children and Youth Institute, gave a description of this campaign during our MSUE Redesign call on September 26.

 4-H youth are starting a revolution for doing the right thing – right here in our own state, where they’re making a measurable difference in their communities. Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development is guiding youth to identify problems in the community and then work on solutions to those problems through responsible action. All over the state, 4-H members are volunteering to tend community gardens, lead recycling efforts, visit senior centers and much more.

 During National 4-H Week, Oct. 2–8, you’ll be hearing about the ways 4-H youth are meeting the responsibility challenge. Various activities and events will take place throughout the state to celebrate.

 Read more about the Revolution of Responsibility here.

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MSU Extension health and nutrition staff members remain optimistic

During a recent Michigan State University Extension Redesign webinar, I just happened to mention something about “putting on our optimism shoes” when we face the challenges ahead of us. Extension educator Gretchen Hofing let me know that she and Lenawee County office manager Melissa Burns were busy planning a SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–Education) training for four counties of District 12 (Lenawee, Monroe, Washtenaw and Hillsdale) when my remark about optimism shoes got them thinking – why stop with shoes? What about hats? And how about shirts, pants, socks and scarves?

 As Gretchen relates it: “And so it came to be that at the beginning of our training day on September 19, we took some time to get to know each other, do team building and allow our creative juices to flow while making optimism scarves. During this time, we reflected on how although it has been a year with its fair share of challenges – and it wasn’t over yet – we have also had bright spots. As we move forward and things seem rough or we hit those bumps in the road, hopefully, we can take a glance at the optimism scarf that may still be in our office and remember to reflect and focus on some of the more optimistic and rewarding moments of the day or week.”

 Thanks for sharing that, Gretchen. You’ve taken a spontaneous comment and made it into something more meaningful and fun. The health and nutrition staff are pictured wearing the scarves below.

MSU health and nutrition staff members model their optimism scarves

Front (left to right): Awilda Dominguez, Heather Hampel, Candace Gardiner, Gretchen Hofing. Back (left to right): Jennie Ramos, Lisa Hartman, Winnie Webb. Photo by Melissa Burns.

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Tracking collaborative efforts in the North Central States

On the biweekly Michigan State University Extension Redesign Web Conference this week, I mentioned several developments from the North Central Cooperative Extension Association (NCCEA) meeting held last week in St. Louis, Missouri, including a forthcoming workshop on grant writing for teams and efforts to develop outcome indicators that measure the broad impacts of Cooperative Extension programming on economic development, citizen engagement, and other community outcomes. I mentioned that I would provide links to the NCCEA web site and the resources there. For example, you can find a link to each of the regional logic models for each program area at the site. And you can find links to the webinar series presented by NCCEA this summer related to region-wide efforts to develop programming related to metropolitan food systems on the NCCEA home page. And the Battelle study on regional opportunities for ag-bio economic development is on the website as well. Dr. Robin Shepard serves as executive director for NCCEA and is a consummate Extension professional himself, with a background in community and natural resources development.

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Consumer Hort Team delivers a (proven) winner!

I was impressed to see the rollout of the new soil test self-mailers during this week’s MSUE Redesign call. The idea is to simplify the process by which consumers can submit samples of their soil for testing to get an accurate assessment of soil quality from their lawns or gardens. Currently, a consumer needs to pick up a soil test envelope from the county office, place a soil sample into the envelope and then drop it off at the county office along with payment for the test. We have not had a standardized price for soil tests, so some consumers with a load of soil tests to submit would shop around among our county offices to find the ones that charged the least amount for their tests.

 Now, thanks to the Consumer Horticulture Team in the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute, we have a standardized soil test envelope that can be purchased for a standard price of $20 either from the county offices or online from the Michigan State University Extension Bookstore or from retailers that choose to market the test envelopes. The envelope is already addressed and has postage applied that will ensure shipment directly to the MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab on campus. Then the results will be made available to the consumer either through an email with the specific results, or if he or she wishes, through the county office. The emailed results will link to a website that gives more information on products the consumer may want to use and application rates for their situation.

 The Consumer Horticulture Team also previewed a new 1-800 hotline that will be staffed as a call center to address questions that consumers have about gardening, lawn care and other horticultural matters. The hotline will also address questions that come via email to a central email address or through the Ask an Expert application on our website.

 It’s great to see our colleagues challenging themselves to develop a statewide system for addressing horticultural information needs of consumers, and the results are very impressive. I’m looking forward to seeing the other innovations they develop as they meet the challenge of helping us to create the Cooperative Extension system that Michigan needs in the 21st century and doing so with limited resources. Thanks to the entire team for their leadership and drive to innovate!

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eXtension earns an ‘A’ on report card

We have some exciting news to report regarding one of our principles of the redesign, “enhancing technology.” While there are many ways to measure our use of technology in carrying out our mission, one metric is the use of eXtension, the Internet-based collaborative environment where land-grand university content providers exchange research-based knowledge solving problems in real time. The 2010 report is out, and we’re surprised and encouraged by the progress we’ve made since our eXtension Institutional Team was formed in October 2009. This progress is thanks to many of YOU who are answering questions through Ask an Expert, leading and participating in Communities of Practice (CoP) with colleagues across the country, and offering national webinars to colleagues and the public. Here are some of the highlights of the most recent report comparing 2008–2010 data.

Metric 2008 2009 2010
Total Site Visits (number of individual sessions initiated by visitors to eXtension from Michigan) 25,626 54,069 66,589
Total Pageviews (number of pages viewed while at the eXtension site) 59,708 116,248 138,505
Answers to FAQs (frequently asked questions) Published by MSUE (peer reviewed and part of CoP) 35 17 58
Total Number of Questions Resolved by MSUE 152 264 723
eXtension IDs (total number of participating MSUE staff) 30 131 188

 Additionally, Michigan State University is represented by 146 eXtension members in 29 of the 47 approved Communities of Practice. And there’s more! To see the total state and institutional report for Michigan for the year 2010, go to the following website: http://tinyurl.com/eXtensionreport

 Also note that the Ask an Expert feature is now on the new MSU Extension website and Lela Vandenberg and Liz Wells are training an increasing number of individuals to respond to questions that come in through this feature as well as the Ask an Expert feature on the national website.

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