November 1, 2006 | By: Aimee Nielson
LEXINGTON, KY.

With the combined expertise and knowledge of Cooperative Extension professionals across the United States, the eXtension Initiative is seeking to meet consumers’ needs by providing answers to questions about subjects that affect them where they live.

eXtension is developing communities of practice to address consumer questions in a variety of areas including horticulture, horses and finances, to name a few. Other communities are in the works in many areas, and eXtension’s goal is to involve Extension professionals from all 50 states.

“We are trying to serve all those people out there we call our communities of interest,” said Dan Cotton, eXtension Initiative director from the University of Nebraska. “What we know today based on the customer is that they expect to go on the Internet; they expect to ask a question; they expect to do a search; they expect to communicate and build relationships with people who have knowledge, and that’s why we are building these communities of practice.” 

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture’s eXtension team members are taking the lead in the horticulture and equine communities of practice. The equine community of practice is based on the established HorseQuest system which originated with the Extension specialists from 13 southern land grant universities to house a database of frequently asked questions for equine enthusiasts and educators.

“HorseQuest, as we know it, originated as a frequently asked question database then expanded to a few short learning modules accessible online and that’s been in production for the last two to three years, so the community of practice team has some experience going into eXtension and working together and collaborating,” said Ashley Griffin, eXtension Initiative content design leader. “HorseQuest has evolved into a national initiative for that frequently asked question system with a lot of goals to meet the needs of the equine customer.”

The equine community of practice has tentative plans to publicly launch the database sometime later this fall or early winter. Griffin said it will serve not only as a question-and-answer database but also a place to find news and events about equine activities around the 
United States. It will also offer up-to-date information about hot topics and issues that emerge, such as diseases affecting horses that require immediate attention.

“In addition, development of learning modules will be expanded into certificate programs in a partnership with My Horse University with Michigan State University and MSU Global,” Griffin added. “In that partnership, they will be collaborating to develop eXtension content and the certificate programs, so that’s an exciting venture.”

The consumer horticulture community of practice is scheduled to go live by summer 2007. UK Extension consumer horticulture specialist Rick Durham is leading that effort.

“One in three Americans is involved in gardening in some way. Whether that’s landscaping or cutting their grass, they are involved in some type of gardening at the consumer level and that’s roughly 100 million people,” he said. “We have a large database of questions and answers that we collected from across the country. … It’s a very rough database. Right now we are going in and cleaning up that database and making sure we are eliminating duplicate questions. Regionally specific and state specific information will be served out only to the people in those areas and not to everyone … there is still a lot of work to do.”

Durham said Kentucky’s GardenData.org will become a part of the eXtension system and that’s where Kentucky gardeners will go to find answers to their questions. He said it will focus on noncommercial horticulture areas.

“Specifically, we will focus on consumer horticulture, so everything from lawns and backyard plants to water gardens,” he said. “We won’t be telling commercial people how to do things or how to market their products.”

Cotton is enthusiastic about the potential for the communities of practice.

“When you look at Cooperative Extension nationwide, when you look at all the talent that we have and then you think about how we’ve been doing things separately, if you will, as individuals or as states,” he said, “the power that comes when you put all that together and build a community of specialization and knowledge and information, it’s just incredible when you think about the treasures and resources we can provide to those communities of interest.”

Cotton went on to say that it’s all about Cooperative Extension building relationships with people who need information. eXtension’s communities of practice are just more tools in a county Extension agent or educator’s tool box. It gives them access to a nationwide knowledge base, he said. Communities of practice will be available at http://www.eXtension.org.

Contact: 

Rick Durham, 859-257-3249, Ashley Griffin, 859-257-4736, ext. 283