Extension cuts costs by using technology wisely

By Kaitlyn Byrne
MSU

Office of Ag Communications

 

The Mississippi State University Extension Service uses creative technology, including video conferencing and webinars, to cut costs and reach more people with research-based programs.

Connie Templeton, distance learning analyst with the Distance Education team in the Extension Center for Technology Outreach, said a combination of video conferences, webinars and online training modules help Extension agents reduce costs for meetings, workshops and classes.

“Thirteen years ago, Extension employees came to the MSU campus for all meetings,” she said. “The agents’ time to travel and the cost to attend meetings was significant, and the administration wanted to see if using an interactive video conference system would help with efficiency of the employees’ time and budget. Now agents can present to clients and colleagues all over the state and to other states with little time and travel costs.”

Templeton said the team uses different services to provide clients with convenient access to educational instruction and programming.

A large percentage of the distance education programs are delivered with interactive video conference technology, which allows live, two-way communication. This technology makes it possible for Extension personnel to increase the number of clients they serve and reach a wider audience through programs and meetings.

“All participants can see and hear each other, and they can interact with each other in real time,” Templeton said. “Interactive video conferencing is a face-to-face class or meeting that is made possible by technology and allows two or more people in different locations to interact using cameras, monitors, computers or handheld devices, such as iPads, iPhones and Android smartphones.”

Templeton said the team also facilitates webinars. Webinars allow participants to log into a web server and see a presentation while interacting with the presenter and other participants using online chat features.

In addition to video conferences and webinars, Templeton said the distance education team offers online training modules, which are prerecorded and posted online for viewers to access any time. The content is separated into different presentations. Participants are tested on the information for certification.

“We offer numerous and varied trainings throughout the year, including childcare trainings, which encompass resource training for parents and childcare training for childcare center directors who need certification,” Templeton said. “We’ve also done a Master Gardener training series each spring and the Mississippi Homeplace Producers’ Sale, which was broadcast live across the nation.”

Steve Hankins, Distance Education coordinator for the Extension Center for Technology Outreach, said they also connect instructors and students for about 12 graduate classes per academic semester over interactive video conferencing.

“Many graduate courses are offered through the MSU Extension Service because county Extension agents are required to have a master’s degree within five years of their hire date,” Hankins said. “Classes are broadcast from campus to the counties where the agents are assigned. This allows graduate students to take classes without having to leave their jobs to travel to campus.”

Hankins said technology helps the Extension Service reach the more people, and the ultimate goal is to provide quality education.

“The main thing is we try not to let the technology overpower the message. We still want to be people-oriented,” he said. “We try to match presenters with the technology that best fits their teaching style. That’s how we view our job — we are here to help presenters disseminate information more efficiently.”