Problem and Justification: The University of Delaware Cooperative Extension has many new agent, educator and specialist staff, some hired to replace retirees and some newly created positions. Many of these new staff have not worked for Extension in the past.
In addition, many of our new and existing staff are experts in their field but have limited knowledge in the principles of adult education, particularly on how farmers learn.
Solution and Approach: Pairing a new Extension professional with an experienced Extension Professional can help foster and promote the development of new Extension staff. Through team building workshops the primary investigator and the two co-primary investigators will identify experienced staff to pair with the new Extension hires. We will provide “mentoring” guidelines to these pairs to suggest ways in which these pairs can keep connected and communicate and provide each other with support.
Furthermore, this program will also host a series of workshops that will bring experts in the field of adult education to Delaware to teach our Extension educators methods, approaches and principles of adult education.
This program will pair 5 new Extension educators with experienced Extension educators in a “mentoring” relationship. These new educators will gain confidence to improve their outreach to 50 Farmers. We will measure the results of the mentoring process.
20 extension educators will implement adult education strategies in their outreach to Farmers and measure how the new strategies result in gained knowledge for 100 Farmers.
20 extension educators from University of Delaware and Delaware State University will help coordinate tour stops to educate participants utilizing adult education principles that they have learned.
Agricultural Need: The state of Delaware is home to roughly 2500 farms with a total of over 500,000 acres with an average of 200 acres per farm. The main crops for Delaware are corn and soybeans that serve to feed the state’s largest agricultural industry, broilers. The economic impact of agriculture in the state is 1.2 billion dollars a year. Delaware is home to three counties and each county has a designated Extension Educators to serve that county. Delaware Extension also employs multiple specialists in fruit and vegetable production, agronomy, entomology, weed science and plant pathology. During the last year Delaware Extension has experienced a loss in staff due to retirement or those who have moved on to another career.
This change brings opportunity. Delaware Extension has been hiring new staff to fill those positions. Many of these new hires are new to Extension and our mission. Pairing these new hires with seasoned employees in mentor-ship will foster and promote professional development of these new hires. Farmers that I have spoken to have indicated most Extension educators focus on the “hard core data” and study design versus “how should we adopt/use the results?”
Proposed Solution: Many Extension educators have limited knowledge on the principles of adult education. They are experts in their subject area and not in educational methodology. The method commonly used by University of Delaware’s Extension educators is lecture-based with PowerPoint presentations. A Guide for Educators by Sandy Bell and Janet McAllister describes the five best practices that can lead to improved learning outcomes: provide a safe environment for learning, identify learners’ knowledge and personal views, link the content to learners’ prior knowledge, let learners work together to experiment and solve problems with the content, and give learners choice in content, process and outcomes. This project aims to educate UD Extension educators in the principles of adult education and support them to implement these principles in their work with farmers. With a better understanding of how adults learn Extension Educators will be able to provide a better learning experience that will help farmers retain the knowledge learned at workshops that will be incorporated in the farming operation. Incorporating a team building overnight retreat will motivate Extension educators to work together, to develop their strengths, to address any weaknesses and encourage collaboration.
Agriculture Service Provider Interest: The University of Delaware Extension Agriculture team consists of 20-25 educators and meets 10 times a year at our “Ag In-services”. In the past two years four new Extension Educators have been hired with two more positions waiting to be filled. I have personally been approached by 2 new hires that were interested in what I did as a new hire to effectively reach the producers I support.
A needs assessment survey was sent to everyone on the Agriculture team, multiple answers were allowed for each question with a maximum of three per question. The respondents were asked what they would like to get out of our Ag In-services. The top three answers from 116 responses were networking (n=13), updates on colleague’s programs (n=13) and identify common needs and develop programs to address them (n=12). The total number of responses of 116 was due to the fact that each team member was able to select multiple answers for what they would like to gain from our Ag In-services. They were then asked “What do you want to do at our Ag In-services that would help achieve those goals?” The top answers from 64 responses were to have a facilitated conversation and collaborative brainstorming (n=10), take a field trip (n=10) and engage with invited expert speakers (n=10). Again, the Educators were allowed to select multiple responses. The participants were asked what topics would you be interested in engaging in. The top answers from 47 response were teaching methods/adult education (n=11), technology transfer successes and failures (n=11), and tactics for discussing controversial topics (n=10).
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We plan to recruit extension educators for this project using the designated Agriculture In-service meetings to introduce new opportunities including the mentoring program, $500 stipends, and professional development focused in adult education/outreach. In the first year of this project we will develop the mentoring relationships between new (those with less than 5 years in Extension) and experienced employees (greater than 5 years of experience) which includes identifying and selecting appropriate mentors, establishing the relationship, and introducing guidelines for this program.We will use mentoring with Extension by Texas A&M as a reference for developing a mentoring program and the qualifications needed to be a mentor. I have added the PDF file to the draft curriculum section.
For the stipends, six ($500), extension educators will be able to apply for support to attend a conference of their choosing after completion of the first year; this will be used to encourage retention. The conference must be related to their field or a common need that has been identified by the Ag team to develop programs to address said needs. Or this money could also be used to kick start or be a part of other moneys to develop educational field demonstrations that address an identified area of work by the Agriculture team. The stipends will be awarded through a competitive application process and will be reviewed and ranked by the project advisory group along with the two agriculture team leaders, Carrie Murphy and Emmalea Ernst.
Our agriculture In-service meetings will provide a platform to introduce and pursue the strategies described by Sandy Bell and Janet McAllister in Sustainable Agriculture through Sustainable Learning: Improving Educational Outcomes with Best Practices for Adult Learning in our education and outreach. The five strategies are: Provide a safe environment for learning, Identify learners’ knowledge and personal views about the content, Link the content to learners’ prior experience, Let learners work together to experiment and solve problems with the content and Give learners choice in content, process and outcomes.
The educational program will consist of two overnight team building workshops, one per year, to build relationships, increase collaboration, encourage creativity and improve communication. Team building exercises will include games such as Three Truths and a Lie, Scavenger Hunt and Pictionary. The exercises will enable the participants to learn more about their co-workers and get their creative juices flowing. This process of creative thinking can then be demonstrated as a way to think outside of the box to create a better educational program.
In addition, the use of storytelling, hands-on, interactive group based modules will be used to engage the participants. We will utilize all three Extension offices located throughout the state for this program. Educators for each topic will be brought in to conduct training during in-services. The following topics will be included:
Mentoring, Needs assessment strategies, Teaching methods/adult education principles, How farmers learn, tactics for discussing controversial topics, Technology transfer, evaluation/verification tolls and grant writing.
In addition to identifying participants in the mentoring program,the first year of this program will include the educational component of adult learning as well as assessing the participants for the mentor program. We are going to use the book Facilitating Learning with the Adult Brain in Mind: A Conceptual and Practical Guide by Kathleen Taylor and Catherine Marienau as a guide for the participants to gain knowledge on how adults learn. In the mentoring program, we will focus on pairing the identified mentors with a new employee. Again, we will use the Texas A&M Mentorin in Extension as a guide in what the expectations are for mentoring. In the second year, we will implement and measure how the new adult learning methods have increased new knowledge or skill in farmers?
In addition we will host a yearly tour with our Delaware State University extension educators to help facilitate collaboration among the institutions. Four years ago Delaware Extension hosted an agriculture tour with both Universities. Participants visited local farms or niche businesses that used locally produced farm products. The result of the tour created camaraderie among the group and collaborative work. I personally have been working with the Delaware State Small Ruminant Specialist on programs since the group tour.
Again we will use the models developed by Sandy Bell and Janet McAllister in A Guide for Educators. The workshop series will use a tool designed to measure assessing the workshop format and activities, skills gained (knowledge before and after), attitude change and expected behavior change. Furthermore, each Extension educator will develop a verification tool for growers who attend their programs events.
20 Extension educators will participate in 15 workshops addressing the principles of adult education.
September 10, 2020 – Introduce the professional development series and new mentoring program (possible speaker to introduce info that we can “chew on” either in Sept or Oct)- Dan and Katie SARE
October 8, 2020 – Networking/Team sharing, Introduce mentoring program, identify pairs (mentees include Jill Pollok, Jake Jones, Blake Moore, Hillary Gibson, John Emerson, David Owens. position, others who might be interested)- ask for volunteers to mentor and then follow up.
November 12, 2020 – Team brainstorming to identify ag community needs, process to develop programs to address these needs- Bill McGowan
December 12, 2020 – Virtual Ag team potluck, Mentor pairs split off and meet, Announce and select “holiday” professional development reading. Program sharing.
January 28, 2021 – SARE Grants Review- Nevin Dawson
February 25, 2021 – “tap and talk” with book discussion. Each person was able to purchase a book from a book list dealing with adult education. Everyone is in the process of reading the book of choice. Spoke about the stipend and the stipend rubric.
March 11, 2021 – Speaker on Teaching Methods/Adult Education- Seth Wilner
5 Extension educators will participate in the mentoring program for new extension hires.
Mentee/Mentor pairs were established and have begun working together.
Mentee – Mentor
Jake Jones – Georgie Cartanza
Hillary Gibson – Emmalea Ernst
Blake Moore – Tracey Wootten
John Emerson – Jarrod Miller
Jill Pollok – Amy Shober
David Owens – Gordon Johnson
20 Extension educators will participate in an overnight team building experience.
2021 plans were cancelled due to Covid and we are currently working on 2022.
20 Extension educators will participate in a farm tour with Delaware State University and identify fellow educators to collaborate programs with. Extension educators will help coordinate stops to educate participants utilizing adult education principles they have learned. Following the stops they will discuss the principles and how similar methods can be used in farmer outreach.
2021 plans were cancelled due to COVID. We are working to do a virtual team share with Delaware State University and other Agriculture agencies, i.e., Farm Bureau, FSA, Farm credit, Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation District.
6 Extension educators will apply for a professional development stipend of $500 to attend a conference in their related field of study or sue that money to develop an educational field plot for demonstration purposes. .
The team is currently working on the stipend application and rubric and have placed it in a Google Drive for all participants to edit and share ideas.
20 Extension educators will implement new curriculum with alternative education methods.
The team is developing a survey to send out in August. It was also placed on Google Drive to allow for edits and team sharing.
20 Extension educators will use verification techniques to assess education methods to improve curriculum.
The team is developing a survey to send out in August. It is also available on Google Drive to be available for edits and team sharing.
5 extension educators indicate increased confidence in their area of expertise as a result of participating in mentoring.
20 extension educators report that they implemented an adult education strategy in their outreach with farmers.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Performance Target Outcomes
Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers
SARE outreach activities will be shared to individuals through county agriculture mailing lists and beginning farmer email lists. Educational workshops/meetings will have information on SARE available for attendees: Annual Spring Crop update workshop, Small Ruminant Field Days held in the spring and fall, Delaware Agriculture week in January of every year and the fall Beef Quality Assurance workshop. In addition, a SARE booth will be set up during conferences that are held in our state: Delaware Agriculture week, Delmarva Dairy Day and Produce Safety Conference. I will also participate in grant reviews and the annual summer and winter meetings.