Spring 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA3

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Waste Management Education

Waste management issues have become pervasive and emotionally charged in recent years. As a first step in meeting the pressing educational needs inherent in this multifaceted problem, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service has chosen to ensure that its county agents have the necessary knowledge and tools to be active partners in local waste management solutions.

John G. Richardson
Extension Specialist, Educational Programs
Associate Professor Department of Adult and Community College Education,
North Carolina State University-Raleigh and R.

David Mustian
State Leader, Evaluation
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
Professor, Department of Adult and Community College Education,
North Carolina State University-Raleigh.

Waste management issues have become pervasive and emotionally charged in recent years. Statements such as "not in my back yard" and "not in my elective term" are commonly heard from the public and politicians. Rules, regulations, financing, and ecosystem costs as well as societal and emotional concerns are constant reminders that a complex problem exists.

Extension has identified waste management as one of its National Initiatives, recognizing the need for an array of educational programs focusing on the many different aspects of waste management. As a first step in meeting the pressing educational needs inherent in this multifaceted problem, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service has chosen to ensure that its county agents have the necessary knowledge and tools to be active partners in local waste management solutions.

Waste Management Training

Extension's initial response was to structure intensive training for agents from half of North Carolina's counties through a Waste Management Institute. Planning for the institute started in the Fall of 1989, and training began in January 1990. One agent selected from each of 48 county units participated in this intensive educational process and technical training program. The institute included five sessions with an average of three days training per session. The sessions spanned a five- month period.

The training included discussion of basic hydrology; interactions between soils, water, and pesticides-fertilizers; and agricultural, residential, industrial, business, and municipal water and waste management systems. Attention was given to economics, regulations, and public policy issues of waste management. Educational programing principles such as community decision-making processes, development of networks between public and private entities, and the formation of objectives and teaching strategies were integral parts of the total training experience. Technical and social scientists and other experts from North Carolina State University and other public and private organizations provided the content through lectures, demonstrations, printed materials, and field study.

As a result of this training, each participant was expected to develop a database for his/her county and to integrate new knowledge into a realistic plan of action for a comprehensive waste management educational program.

Participant Evaluations

In an evaluation of the institute immediately following its completion, 42 participants completed a questionnaire to measure the value of the training. The questionnaire was designed to assess change in technical competencies and perceptions of the value of the integrative program planning experience. Participants also rated the training in terms of the time it took versus the value of the information gained as well as their willingness to recommend the training to another agent with similar responsibilities.

A t-test statistical analysis was used to determine differences in individual evaluations of the training by level of formal education, years of service, and job classification. No significant differences in assessment were found among participants with B.A. degrees, versus those with master's or Ph.D.'s. Agents with less than 10 years' service were significantly more positive in ratings (p<.05) of the value of time spent than those with more than 10 years' experience. Agents serving as county Extension directors gave significantly higher ratings (p<.05) to the array of topics presented than other agent participants. Agents tended to give a more positive assessment of the integrative program planning process and the overall value of the training than the county Extension directors (p<.10). When asked if they'd recommend the institute to another agent with similar responsibilities and experience, agents with more than 10 years' experience viewed the overall institute experience more favorably than those with less than 10 years.

Follow-Up Survey

In the Spring of 1991, 44 participants responded to a follow -up survey to determine their opinions of the institute after one year. The results of this survey indicated only a slight change in their assessment of the value of knowledge gained for the performance of their job. The survey scale was 1 to 5, 1 indicating a very low value and 5 indicating very high value. The mean rating following completion of the institute was 4.05. The follow-up assessment, using the same scale, indicated only a slight drop (mean 3.87) from the previous year. In a t-test analysis of the follow-up data, no significant differences in the perceived value of the information gained were found between any classifications of participants.

An analysis of the participants' educational plans developed during the institute indicated their intention to work in one of nine major subject areas:

  • Agricultural pesticide container disposal.
  • Solid waste stream reduction.
  • Collection and recycling of reusable materials.
  • Animal waste and land application.
  • Municipal and industrial sludge application to land.
  • Household hazardous waste management and collection.
  • Septic system requirements and management.
  • Overall waste management, regulations, rules, and issues.
  • Networking and coordinating agencies and volunteer groups.

Although agricultural agents gave somewhat higher ratings to the integrative program planning process required for the institute, this didn't result in more action on their part. Indeed, agents from nonagricultural program areas indicated significantly higher (p<.05) actual use of their plans than the agricultural agents. No differences were indicated between county directors and agent participants in implementation of their plans.

The follow-up survey also sought to determine whether the participants and/or their staffs expanded their waste management program emphasis during the year after the training. The results showed a highly positive impact on educational programming among both individual participants and other staff members. While the participants developed educational plans focused only on one subject area during the institute, they reported placing emphasis on more than four subject areas (mean 4.84) a year later. They also indicated receiving educational programming help from other staff in most areas (mean 4.70) as a result of the institute involvement.

Participants further reported that a mean of 2.84 program areas had received at least some programming emphasis by their staff before the institute. Following the institute, they reported expanded emphasis either by themselves or others in the unit in a mean of 4.66 areas.

Implications and Conclusions

The results of the follow-up survey show the value of the Waste Management Institute in preparing agents for educational programming in waste management. The results also indicate that training a selected group expands educational programming both among the participants and their fellow staff members. The study demonstrates that intensive training initiatives can have an impact on issues-based programs such as waste management.

The findings suggest that experienced Extension staff are more comfortable in addressing new issues and problems and in their ability to develop educational programs for those issues. Less experienced agents valued the opportunity to gain knowledge and also receive guidance in integrating the new information into educational programs. Thus, newer staff may need more individualized help and guidance in the integration of technology and educational processes to develop programs than more experienced staff.

A second implication of this study is that those who express generally positive attitudes toward educational plan development may not necessarily complete actual implementation of their plans. Conversely, those who have less positive attitudes toward plan development may, in fact, still act on them. This finding suggests the need for follow-up to training programs that include planning activities since a plan is of little value if it's not implemented, regardless of the good intentions of the planner.

Analysis of the success of the initial training resulted in a second Waste Management and Water Quality Institute during the Summer and Fall of 1991. At the conclusion of this second institute, 29 participating agents gave the training a positive rating of 4.53, indicating the training program continues to be on target in meeting agent needs.