Winter 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW2

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Overcoming "Techno-Fear"


Elizabeth Babbitt
Extension Home Economist
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Essex County
Hathorne, Massachusetts

Jill Desmarais
Extension Home Economist
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Middlesex County
Concord, Massachusetts

Christine Koehler
Extension Home Economist
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Bristol County
Segreganset, Massachusetts

Barbara Lacy
Extension Home Economist
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Franklin County
Greenfield, Massachusetts

Marjorie M. Merchant
Professor, Extension, Family and Consumer Economics
University of Massachusetts-Amherst

"Put on your parachutes and take the plunge!" was the message of an inservice training, Becoming Futures Literate: An Introduction to Electronic Technology, sponsored by Cooperative Extension-University of Massachusetts. Immediate and six-month evaluations revealed that most staff are willing to overcome "techno-fear" and integrate various technologies into their work.

Becoming Futures Literate was originally designed to meet needs expressed in an assessment of the Massachusetts home economics staff. As the agenda developed, it became clear that the workshops would benefit all staff. The 45 participants included county administrators, state specialists, state program directors, and county agents from three New England states.

Participants selected three of five workshops. Topics included: interactive videodisc technology, telecommunications, using the computer to produce quality Extension program materials, using video, and time-saving techniques via computer for Extension paperwork.

Immediate evaluations revealed that 93% of those responding had improved their attitudes toward using electronic technology, 74% had increased their knowledge of technology, and 100% planned to start using technologies they weren't currently using.

Written comments attributed such remarkable attitude change to the tone set by the enthusiastic, down-to-earth keynote address; the well-organized workshops based on the needs and interests of participants; and the overall, nonthreatening, hands-on format of the day. Finally, the conference took place at a time when Massachusetts Cooperative Extension was moving into increased, innovative uses of new technology.

Positive results continued to surface during a six-month, follow-up evaluation. Requests for additional equipment and staff development training were expressed to administrators. Participants began exploring resources such as magazines, videotapes, or courses. And, a direct result of the inservice was C.U.R.S.O.R. (Computer User's Support Organization), a support group offering both training and idea networking to all Extension staff. C.U.R.S.O.R. meets every six weeks at various locations in Massachusetts.

Workshop participants using new technologies reported they worked more efficiently and produced better quality work, although, "much time was spent initially to save time later." Additionally, some staff have linked together on projects, helping themselves and each other explore further uses and ways technology can aid Extension work.

Although Becoming Futures Literate was considered a success, there's more work to be done! The potential exists for increased educational opportunities as technologies evolve. Futuristic Extension staff should take an active approach, and look for ways technology can help to disseminate information and educate while maintaining the grassroots popularity that has characterized Extension programs.