Extension Educators as Community Builders

In my last post, “Extension Educators as Content Curators,” I wrote about some of the roles Extension educators might fulfill in the changing landscape of digital communication. A comment on that post provided a great segue into one of those roles, the role of “connector.”

The comment that sparked this post came from Kevin Gamble. You can read Kevin’s full comment and my response here, but this is part of what he had to say regarding Extension educators acting as content curators, “I just hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that in this new world– everyone is a curator…Interacting with the content and others is the hallmark of social learning.”

I couldn’t agree more. If Extension educators are going to be relevant and have impact in online communications, we must engage people as both learners and as teachers. Which brings me to the role of the “connector.” Here is how we defined it in NDSU Agriculture Communication’s “Working Differently” initiative.

Connectors

Extension professionals already play the role of connectors. We connect people with resources within and outside of our organization. Occasionally we connect people with each other, as well. This role can be adapted and amplified in the new communication landscape. Social media makes it possible to connect individuals and resources into powerful learning networks.

Connecting learners not just with information and resources, but with each other has the the potential to build communities that will accomplish much more than cooperative extension can alone; communities that may accomplish much more than cooperative extension could have envisioned.

More than 4 years ago, I wrote about the very first #agchat conversation on Twitter.  What started as a small group of farmers, ranchers and agriculture supporters having a Twitter-based chat using the #agchat hashtag has grown into an agriculture advocacy movement. Because of the weekly (Tuesdays, 7-9 p.m. Central) chat started by Michele Payn-Knoper and the role she and others played in connecting people with each other, there is now the AgChat Foundation, dedicated to empowering a connected community of agriculture advocates.

One of the reasons I believe AgChat has been so successful is that it is a community of equals. The community has great leadership, but none of those leaders hold themselves above or apart from the community.

When I have shared the idea of engaging people as learners and teachers with some Extension educators, I’ve been stonewalled. Decades upon decades of the “professor-student” and “expert-layperson” relationships defined by higher education and cooperative extension have convinced some of us that we must remain above and apart from those we serve. If we remain so, we risk losing the opportunity to build communities with the power to make an impact far beyond what we can imagine.

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