Emerging Technologies and Innovation – What might this mean in Cooperative Extension?


I recently returned from the Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium where one of the Keynote speakers talked about the word “emerging technologies.” Gardner Campbell (Virginia Commonwealth University) spoke on his perceptions and strategies at looking at emerging technologies.  He had great insight into the concept of using emerging technologies versus technologies that EMERGE us to a new concept in time and space (you can read more on the VCU Alt Lab experiment).  It’s typical to use new technologies to do the same things we’ve done in the past, but because its new, we call it being innovate.  For example, you can replace a desktop computer with a tablet computer and typically we’d say we were using emerging technologies.  His call to action was to ask yourself if you were truly “emerging” through your use of technology.  Was it changing your ideas and moving you forward or was it just replacing one way of working with another?  My favorite example was of the replacement of textbooks with e-readers.  E-readers would generally be called an “innovation” in the classroom using “emerging technologies” but realistically it’s just replacing one medium with another, you are still reading the same textbook.  If you really wanted to be innovative, what could the technology do to “emerge” a new type of learning in the classroom.  Could people create and share THEIR OWN textbooks?  Could they cut up, organize, reorganize, share, discuss, and produce something new? Would that change the learners ability to learn?

I thought about this concept in Cooperative Extension.  I readily adopt new technologies because of my perception of them as moving me forward in my field.   I can take my fact sheet, make it digital, make it available as a PDF, even put it into iTunes (revolutionary!) but I haven’t changed the basic of what I’m giving.  What if I took that fact sheet and added augmented reality and a user could activate a picture of a 2D horse to a 3D model? Could they place parts of my fact sheet into their own notebook or journal?  Would that create a different learning environment?  Would that be valuable?  Make me create new and better materials?  Enable my producer to grow and learn?  This plenary session really challenged me to think about our use of emerging technologies to take our programs to new spaces.  If I introduce an iPad app to a livestock producer, should I say I’m helping that producer to be innovative?  I think not.  If I introduce a producer to an iPad app I need to follow that up with not just the introduction of technology, but a assessment into WHAT that iPad app will move that producer to.  What problem was I presented with that the producer needs a new solution for?  It may be creating a more efficient producer in terms of record keeping, but is it moving them into a new direction of livestock production?  If over ten years of programming, I know that the largest problem in my area is planting at the right time, what technology innovation can I deploy that would eliminate that problem for my growers?  Teaching them to use a weather app might be great, but is there a different solution I can offer that works better?  That’s the technology solution and innovation I need to create. I can introduce my ranch managers to Google+ because it connects them to new resources, but what about harnessing the power of Hangouts to create remote diagnostics that enable them to find timely solutions to critical issues?  I’m not doing that because I don’t have a solution (yet) to implement that process that is “outside” my traditional client services.  Implementing that would mean I have to change my whole way of working!  Yikes.

The key take away for me was how was I going to use technologies to emerge something entirely new out of my programming efforts?  That also entails some amount of freedom to “tinker” with new technologies and try some new ways of working that admittedly could fail in big ways.  However, being flush with new toys and gadgets does not an innovative specialist make!  Right now I learn things to up my technology competency and for me to provide insight to my clients.  However, perhaps I need to look more closely on the barriers clients face and look for innovations that change their outcomes.  So my challenge to you -I hope you will comment – is what are some ways that we can do change the reason why we look at technologies and change them to focus on technologies that emerge us to a new level?

About Amy E. Hays

Program Specialist - Emerging Technologies. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Currently working for the Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR ) http://irnr.tamu.edu. I specialize in learning how online learners....well, learn! I use that to help build programs for the public in the area of natural resource conservation and management.
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6 Responses to Emerging Technologies and Innovation – What might this mean in Cooperative Extension?

  1. Paula says:

    Wow, food for thought….I think that in Extension going web based or using an app for implementing a program is using “emerging technology”! But in reality we may just be catching up to what others are already doing….I do think in web based learning we have to think about different approaches because learning styles differ from person to person. I may not want to login to take a course but would check an email, or follow up with a Facebook group, Pinterest post, or some other app.

    As I think about some of our web based programs such as Step Up and Scale Down, I am wondering what type of “emerging technology” would help the participant in their effort to increase physical activity, consumption of fruits and vegetables, etc. What could that look like?

    • Amy E. Hays says:


      I think you are spot on. I think that between innovation and customer service we can think of some “inspriring” models. I really would like to see when you mash up those two things what Step up and Scale Down would be. Really interesting to think about. We can teach what is good behavior but how do we inspire change outside providing more materials? Hmmmm. Write back when you think of some ways. I’m intrigued!

  2. Good post , Amy. Yes, technology is just a tool. Its value is in using it to get the result you are looking for. So, asking what you want to accomplish helps guide the decision as to what tool/s to use, and sometimes that does include some experimenting. Especially when new tools keep coming out.

    So, in the example that you mentioned, Step Up and Scale Down, the goal or outcome is for someone to lose weight using sound information backed up by research, right? Well, information is not enough, there needs to be some type of motivation. So what about using wearable technology and IoT devices to help record and track progress along with some type of gamification/rewards feedback? Support is also important, so building some type of community around people helping and motivating each other would help too. Yes, health businesses are starting to do this, why not Extension, too expensive? How expensive will it be to lose current and future clients because we are not providing these innovative solutions? Just my 2 1/2 cents. 🙂

    • Amy E. Hays says:

      I really appreciate your comments Victor! You are exactly right. I love adopting things from the bottom up. Its not just what we teach flowing downward, but what do our clients most need and how do we get them there? The answer isn’t easy, and your are right, not always cheap. The idea of wear-ables, community, motivation, customization might be the right answers and somewhere we need to try. I know Paula, and she’s the right one to try! It really moving the envelope from modification to innovation.

  3. Chelsea says:

    Amy, this really has gotten me to take a second look at how I view “emerging technology” and being “innovative.” Although many of our ideas are considered innovative in the Extension world, it begs the question, are we being innovative in comparison to other agencies that offer similar services we do? I hate to admit it but I think the answer is NO! I agree with Victor and Paula! The idea of the Fit Bit or other type of tracker should have been a natural “Emerging Technology” device Extension came out with. I wish we could devote more time and not make technology an afterthought when it comes to our programming efforts. The next generation is very technology driven (my 3 year old knows how to work my iPad and iPhone already!!!)
    You are right, we are not creating new technology ways we are just replacing old with new. I.e. a tablet for a desktop. I think that when we are planning programs, we should be including how we plan on using technology and if it doesn’t exist, then we create it!
    Another example is our Dinner Tonight recipes. We should have a way or app, for our clients to go in and select a recipe, which then creates a grocery list!

    • Amy E. Hays says:

      I think that we are going to have to not just adopt a new technology like FitBit, but think about how would this change my ability to program? Do I understand enough about it to look deeper into what the basic device does and bend it into the science we know. We can generalize that all people need X exercise a day, but for each client it’s going to be different. So we could go farther and customize their “plan” to fit them better and then help them set up their FitBit or whatever they are using to be a great way to meet that plan.

      Dinner Tonight is a great one to think about, there are so many possibilities. Developing the app might be a pricey, but we tend not to think about Apps as “programs” when maybe we could.

      I think it’s good to stretch towards innovation versus migration and just think outloud!

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