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

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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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