Recent Blog Posts

teaching and feedback

In a post earlier this summer we talked about Extension materials and resources (such as factsheets, bulletins, curriculum, webpages, and other published media like videos and webinars) and the critical role they play in programming. We focused on how the review of such material by peers can help ensure their quality and ultimately make such material and us better. If you missed that post, please see the recently updated Peer Review Guidelines.

Our Extension teaching is an equally important element of our programming effort and its review by peers can help us become better educators too. Extension teaching involves engaging with audiences individually and in groups, face to face and via media. We engage others in a variety of approaches ranging from informal facilitation to formal classroom-type instruction.

OSU’s Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) takes teaching seriously. Enough so that all teaching faculty receive formal evaluation by peers. To address this requirement in Extension, all A&P and faculty educators and specialists are to arrange for at least one peer evaluation of teaching annually. See the recently updated guidelines here.

What’s the goal? To get better. That means we can’t be afraid to offer constructive and useful feedback as a peer reviewer and identify specific suggestions for improvement. As an instructor, we need to seek out peers who possess a level of expertise needed to provide helpful feedback. Among all the colleagues you have observed engaging with others, who do you most want to emulate? Who has a reputation for being an outstanding teacher? One change that should make finding your next peer reviewer easier: Your annual letter from a peer of an equal or higher rank is not required but should be the practice to the extent possible, especially for faculty pursuing promotion.

Let’s get serious about evaluating our teaching, whatever form our Extension teaching may take. Be a reviewer who offers up valuable feedback. And be a teacher that seeks out high-quality insights.

You have heard this before, one of the neatest things about Extension work is that it is a team sport. Teams typically include a wide range of players serving in a variety of roles from administrative associates to state-based faculty. Working together our various Extension teams partner up with other teams that might be community-based, industry-based, or part of other similar Extension-type organizations.

Something else I really appreciate about Extension work is that our efforts are varied and wide-ranging. We focus on a specific problem a homeowner is facing whether it is an issue with their lawn, a tree, or flying insects in the landscape. We work on a statewide basis to help people understand how to prepare more nutritious foods for their families. There are so many more examples and in each of them, we work together as a team to carry out the Extension mission, each of us in a particular role that is so important to the effort.

In my role I read about so many of these efforts in faculty dossiers, annual performance reports, program highlights, weekly newsletters, etc. But, there is something completely different about seeing Extension work firsthand, and I had the chance again this week to feel the excitement of the Extension work we do.

I have read about Jim Jasinski’s work (he was recently promoted to professor - see his CV here) but hearing from Jim firsthand as we rode through the fields at the Western Agricultural Research Station in South Charleston really brought his Extension efforts to life for me. In our brief visit, I sensed his enthusiasm and passion for his work. I also heard about challenges and the need for patience (especially this year). Through our visit, all of Jim’s dossier pages I had read previously were really brought to life and I felt better able to help Jim and his efforts as a member of the larger Extension team.

And that really is my goal. How can I help you today?

steam train

Not long into my first assignment as an Extension professional, I was ‘elected’ by my peers to the role of ‘president’ of CD. Looking back, I should have been listening more closely for the train whistle in the distance. Little did I realize the opportunities it would bring and prepare me to serve again in different roles for different organizations (Ohio Epsilon Sigma Phi – ESP and the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals – NACDEP). One thing about Extension work, there’s never a shortage of acronyms or opportunities to serve and grow.

President of CD sounds like a powerful position, but I later learned this role was charged primarily with coordinating Extension CD awards. It didn’t matter, I was new and I was excited to get involved in the community of professionals to learn more. The role was part of the board of what was then referred to as the Ohio Extension Agents’ Association (OEAA). OEAA was the predecessor to the Ohio Joint Council of Extension Professionals (OJCEP).

We’ve come a long way since then. And we have been able to do so because of the way we have worked together. OEAA didn’t have a place for Extension support staff or ‘administration’ but today OJCEP is a community that welcomes all Extension professionals. This professional community represents organizations that exist to serve every type of Extension focus (e.g. ANREP, ESP, NACAA, NACDEP, NAEPSDP, NAE-4HA, NEAFCS, and TERSSA.)

OJCEP is organized, supports professional development and provides ongoing support for all of us in Ohio much in the same way as the national JCEP organization exists for all Extension professionals across the U.S. Through your involvement you have opportunities to grow personally and professionally. There are countless opportunities to lead and learn how to lead. You can submit your best work to be judged by peers via formal recognition and awards opportunities. Conference and professional development opportunities are also available as well as scholarships to help defray their costs and other similar activities you may pursue.

We realize the return on investments we make in our professional communities (whether we decide to engage by program area or Extension overall, and at state or national levels) much in the same way we realize our investments in our personal relationships and communities. In short, we get what we give.

Now is the time to renew or join the membership (see Sabrina’s email sent Oct 1). You also have a chance to join the community on October 12 at the next regularly scheduled OJCEP meeting to be held via Zoom at Meeting ID: 943 6108 5213 and Password: 489924

And don’t be afraid of the train whistles in the distance.

running the distance

I find it hard to believe that we are pushing into October. Really? October? What a year 2020 has been so far. This week I had a chance to hear Extension administrators from across the U.S. talk about how we’ve been able to adapt over the past several months. With every story shared, I was reminded of just how resilient we can be and it felt good to know that being an Extension professional provides us the opportunity to be part of something bigger.

It looks and feels like the larger environment in which we operate will continue to look the same for the foreseeable future. The university has shared plans through spring semester 2021. Given what has been shared, it makes sense to approach our work over the next six months in the same way we have approached our work since March.

That said, if you have not already, I encourage you to briefly reflect on what you have learned since March and use this knowledge to sketch out a plan of work for what remains of 2020 and into 2021. What would you include? Think about these five:

  1. scheduled and proposed engagements (e.g. formal teaching, facilitation opportunities, field visits, etc) with a short description of the anticipated audiences for each
  2. creative and scholarly efforts, both planned and currently in-process (e.g. curriculum, webinars, videos, etc)
  3. professional development opportunities to be pursued and specific professional development needed (e.g. inservices, webinars, virtual conferences, etc)
  4. those things you can stop doing (make the list and put them in some semblance of order)
  5. that one big thing (e.g. what big project or systemwide initiative might you want to work on if you had a bit of ‘extra’ time?)

Regardless of your position, how might you work with your colleagues in drafting a collaborative plan that includes specific roles for everyone in your office? How might you sketch out your county-level collaborative plans that engage support staff, program staff, and field specialists, for example?  Maybe think about your specific contributions to statewide teams and your other collaborative efforts that might engage new and different audiences.

If nothing else, the past several months have served to remind us what we are capable of enduring. Okay, none of us asked for that, but thank you for the workout. Now that we have grown stronger, how do we work together to make the most of the opportunities on the horizon?

Infographic describing parallel construction, by Pat Brinkman

Fall is for football and going back to school (well, normally). It is when the days get shorter, the dew gets heavier, and Linus waits patiently in the moonlit darkness for the Great Pumpkin. It is also when faculty promotion and tenure committees come together to review the accomplishments of their faculty peers.

I have had the opportunity to sit in on four different committees in the past couple of weeks. The committees ranged in size from 3 members to 30. Each was guided by their department’s Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure documents or APT. The APT aligns with Volume 3 of the Office of Academic Affairs Policies and Procedures Handbook; and other policies and procedures of the college (e.g. FAES APT) and university to which the department and its faculty are subject. If that sounds like pretty serious business, it is because it is.

Working in ways worthy of promotion requires personal and professional growth. One thing I’ve learned is that we have an abundance of opportunities for personal and professional growth. Department of Extension faculty enjoy a support structure that involves peer-to-peer coaching, annual dossier reviews, and a seemingly never-ending list of potential collaborators and opportunities to pursue. Extension faculty pursuing promotion benefit from our P&T committees comprised of programmatic diversity and a variety of Extension position types too. Whether serving as chair, coach, procedural oversight designee or committee alternate, their peers take the various committee roles quite seriously.

This year, the Extension Promotion Committee was chaired by Gary Gao and included Ed Lentz and Myra Moss as members (this committee of professors reviews our professor candidates). The Extension P&T Committee reviews our associate professor candidates, dossiers of candidates being considered for a faculty appointment, and courtesy appointments. The committee this year was chaired by Pat Brinkman and included:

  • Jim Bates
  • David Civittolo
  • Julie Fox
  • Jason Hedrick
  • Mark Light
  • David Marrison
  • Jeff McCutcheon
  • Chris Penrose
  • Brian Raison
  • Eric Romich

In concluding her three-year P&T committee term, Pat recently described how to better connect one’s various efforts and accomplishments throughout the dossier using a concept referred to as parallel construction. I think of this like threads. Because it is not unusual for your overall dossier submission to contain 100 pages or more, such threads help the reader better see your contributions…in teaching, curriculum, creative and scholarly outputs, funding, and service. Because of our use of this technique, the quality of our faculty, and the dedicated work of our promotion committees, our dossier submissions have become known within the college as being some of the highest quality submissions. Thank you, Pat. And thank you to all of our dedicated colleagues involved in this year’s P&T committee work.  



Photo by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski from FreeImages

Last week we talked about three ways to think of Extension. At OSU, the term Extension (broadly defined) represents a mission area within CFAES (and the engagement function of all land-grant institutions). Extension is also what we call the organizational structure comprised of roughly 800 people who have full or partial responsibilities for engaging Ohioans. And a third way Extension exists is as an OSU Office of Academic Affairs-recognized academic unit (i.e. department) within CFAES. I have realized that even when talking with the closest colleagues, our conversations about our ‘Extension work’ can get a little clunky.

I like simple. I like when things work. I believe life should be fun, at least a little bit. So, I have been thinking and talking to others more and more about how we use the term ‘Extension’ and specifically what we mean when we use it.

Deep-thinker and long-time friend and colleague Greg LaBarge has been on a similar mission and walked the same path a bit with me again this week as this topic was part of the Department of Extension faculty meeting discussion on Wednesday. In Greg’s mind, a key difference between the Department of Extension and other more ‘traditional’ academic departments is that we engage a wide variety of partners in addressing issues rather than teaching within a discipline area for undergraduate/graduate degrees. In addition, Extension scholarship is collaborative and action oriented (and often multi-disciplinary in nature). That said, both have a role in preparing people to engage with others to address all types of community and societal issues, concerns, opportunities, etc - the essence of the land grant mission.

Now a bit more on the Extension organizational structure. Within that structure we have colleagues whose academic ‘home’ or tenure initiating unit (TIU) is not Extension (e.g. Animal Science, Horticulture & Crop Science, Human Science). In addition to their Extension program responsibilities, these colleagues are also typically expected to teach classes (i.e. in academic-speak, engage in resident instruction and advising) and maintain a research program as well. The rest of us within that organizational structure enjoy a 100% full-time ‘Extension appointment’ in the academic home that is referred to as the Department of Extension. What we do sets the ‘standard’ for Extension teaching (and engagement), scholarship, and service. In what ways are you setting the bar for Excellence in Extension work today?

Extension Organizational Chart

In a previous post, I talked about wearing two different hats. You know this is not unique to our work. Depending upon the day of week and your audience, you might be wearing your Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator hat, your committee chair hat, a hat that fits you as a peer reviewer, or the hat you model when taking on one of your stewardship roles.

Why so many hats you ask? For one, our work affords us the opportunity to serve in many different roles. Whether we spend time at a desk, in the woods, in a field, or knee-deep in rows and rows of an Excel worksheet, it's people work that we do and we relate to them in a variety of ways. Our work also involves engaging with others at a variety of levels, each level with its own unique hat.

I was once told by now-professor emeritus J. David McCracken that an Extension professional is a ‘missionary of sorts’…and this makes total sense to me when I think of the land-grant mission. At this level, Extension is very much a ‘mission-area’ of every land-grant institution. When you consider the implications of this statement, we might say that every employee of OSU (and every other land-grant institution) could be considered an Extension colleague – and we are all on a ‘mission’. This is Extension at the highest level.

Extension could also be thought of as a formal organization. Extension from this perspective involves an org chart which includes a variety of positions (and variety of hats). Viewed through this lens, Extension involves ties and connections throughout the formal organizational structure.

If mission area and organizational structure aren’t enough, consider Extension as a department within the formal academic structure of OSU. The Department of Extension is one of literally dozens of departments (each defined by their Pattern of Administration) within the 15 different colleges that comprise the larger university. As a department, Extension has tenured and untenured faculty and staff wearing a variety of Department of Extension hats as they carry out their work throughout Ohio.

So many ways to think of Extension. See now why it is so hard to describe your occupation to others?!? What can you do to help create a greater clarity?

kids practicing teamwork

Each of us are born with natural talents. When we practice them, remarkable things can happen, and we can truly inspire others. It is our deliberate focus on practice and knowing how to improve that makes us better. We can make Extension better when we invest in ourselves (through practice) and in others by helping them know how to improve with constructive, helpful feedback and coaching.

One of the many things I love about Extension is that we have countless opportunities to practice and help others get better, from convening and facilitating to more formal instruction (expect more posts on the various ways we engage in the future). When presented with opportunities that can be evaluated via a structured approach, we can use the Evaluation of Effective Extension Teaching (EEET) tool. And when we have a peer (or peers) available, we can invite them to provide constructive, helpful feedback and coaching through the formal Peer Evaluation of Teaching letter format.

The EEET system is coordinated by the Extension Learning and Organizational Development (LOD) team led by Teresa McCoy. A variety of forms are available for download and provisions have been made to enable evaluation of your online teaching events too. I encourage you to try this formal approach to feedback on your virtual/online Extension teaching if you have not already. Simply request this through LOD several days in advance of your event and provide (if possible, but not required) names and email addresses of your program participants. You can learn more here. I am excited about the improvements to the EEET system currently being discussed and hope to report more on that in the coming months.

OSU’s Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) requires peer evaluation of teaching. Each unit describes their process for peer evaluation of teaching in their OAA-approved APT document. One thing I’ve learned in studying this over the past year is that we have a variety of references to our formal Peer Evaluation of Teaching approach – and as you might imagine, these references are not all consistent! For example, are one or two letters required annually? Should peers be of higher rank or is the same rank okay? Can my supervisor serve as my peer reviewer or not?

How we approach our responsibility to get better is up to us. Similarly, our approach to evaluating each other (i.e. peer evaluation of teaching) is up to us. The peer evaluation approach we decide upon will be described in our APT document and shared systemwide. Leading this effort is high on my to-do list. If you have thoughts or suggestions to make this work better, please let me know.

Remember, our goal is to get better.

Posted In: A&P, Faculty
Tags: EEET, Peer Evaluation of Teaching, LOD, APT, OAA
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cell phone - Cory Gaskin-Digital Trends

This past week I had the opportunity to hear the wisdom of Kirk Bloir, our 4-H Youth Development state program leader, talking with 4-H professionals and members of the Extension Leadership Team. I appreciate his ‘big picture’ mindset and ability to connect so many seemingly disparate pieces in ways that help make sense, especially in these tumultuous times. Like so many others in our organization, he has a special ability to feel where others are and meet them where they are.

He shared a variety of things in the context of our positive youth development efforts, and I found them so relevant and applicable to all Extension work. His underlying foundation is a belief in people and a never-ending optimism for the future; the same mindset that draws me and you to be Extension professionals. Because we are all about acronyms (you know, acronymnal appreciation is a prerequisite for Extension survival) he shared a new way to think of COVID: Creating Opportunities for Virtual Innovation and Determination.

The way we have collectively taken advantage of the opportunities to engage virtually speaks to our creativity and innovation. Let’s not slow down here. The tools, systems, and platforms to take us to the next level will eventually catch up (just imagine where we’d be if Thomas Edison had sat idle in his lab for power lines to be installed all across America). Not knowing what lies ahead, now more than ever we need to focus our determination on what we bring to people and communities.

Now more than ever we need to talk with each other and our Extension supporters about these things:

  1. Who are we?
  2. What do we do?
  3. What makes us special?
  4. Who are our partners?

These conversations are about you, your teams, your offices, your program areas, and about Extension. And in COVID we are afforded the opportunity to re-invent how we engage with others. All of us.

In the words of Kirk Bloir, “we have been responsible, nimble, and innovative… we need to remain optimistic…and continue to adapt”. Pick up the phone and talk to an Extension colleague you don’t talk to often. See how they are doing. Do the same with one of your program stakeholders. Talk about the future we can help create.

100th anniversary logo

Our work is people work. We do it in partnership and collaboration with others. There is no doubt that our professional relationships have been in some way impacted since March. Have you stopped to think about all the different colleagues you haven’t seen face to face? I miss the routine of getting up and going to the office. I miss seeing the people I know and others who are part of the institution, each connected in their own way.

Yes, we have more time (who else has struggled with knowing the date and day of the week?) How are we spending it? Specifically, what steps have you taken to cultivate and nurture communication lines internally and externally? What happens if we neglect the need to maintain these lines? Our team strength and ability to succeed depends on the strength of our relationships with program partners, teammates, and co-workers throughout the organizational, reporting, and supervisory structures.

I think it was a few weeks ago that we talked about how we’ve adjusted the way we work in the Age of COVID. As we continue to adapt our approach to Extension work, have you made time to think about what you are doing differently and how you have continued to grow as an Extension professional? How have the changes we have and continue to face impacting what you are trying to achieve? 

Working now in the Age of COVID, how have you re-examined your role, your professional goals and the progress you have made and communicated these things to the people that matter most to your success? How have you revised your plan of work for 2020? How have the past several months informed what you might do in 2021? How often have you involved colleagues and supervisors in such conversations? We have been growing for over 100 years. What do you have planned?

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