October 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW1

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Collaboration Builds a Successful Recordkeeping Course for Small Businesses

To reach a new audience, Ohio State University Extension, Athens County, collaborated with area business related agencies to promote a small business computer recordkeeping course. District and state specialists were also involved to provide individualized teaching to the various experience levels of the participants. Based on a pre-test/post-test instrument, the twelve participants indicated an increase in understanding for each of the eleven competencies designed to improve recordkeeping skills and productivity.

Christopher D. Penrose
Instructor and Extension Agent
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Internet address: penrose.1@osu.edu

Janet M. Hollingsworth
Instructor and Extension Agent
Family and Consumer Sciences

Ohio State University Extension
Athens County

Since 1991, Ohio State University Extension has provided computer recordkeeping courses for farmers using Quicken software. In 1994, consumer science agents began incorporating personal finance topics into their programming efforts. In 1995, the consumer science and agriculture agents in Athens County, Ohio, targeted small businesses as an unreached audience for a computer recordkeeping course (particularly female-owned or operated small businesses). In small businesses, the production of goods and services may limit time available for recordkeeping, even though it is recognized as a critical function for the success of the business. The objectives of this workshop were to simplify recordkeeping, stress its importance, and reduce the time involved.

Various methods were used to inform potential participants about the recordkeeping course. Ohio University in Athens provides continuing education programs to the community through a service called "Communiversity." Communiversity agreed to co-sponsor the recordkeeping course and in turn an announcement was included in a quarterly publication sent to all homes and businesses in the county. In addition, the area Enterprise Development Corporation, which assists in establishing and maintaining small businesses, also co-sponsored the course which provided another approach to inform potential course participants. Traditional methods such as newsletters, radio shows, and press releases were also used to publicize the course. Half of the participants indicated that they learned about the course through the "new" collaborative methods.

Twelve participants representing eight businesses enrolled for the three-day course. Three businesses were traditional farm operations and five businesses were off-farm operations that included manufacturing, retail, and construction. This mix of clientele posed a challenge for the course instructors because the teaching material was originally designed for farmers. New teaching examples were developed by the agents for both farm and non-farm participants.

Computer experience of the participants ranged from none to 10 years. With a state computer specialist, district farm management specialist, and two county Extension agents teaching the course, there was enough flexibility to teach individuals at their skill levels. For example, one agent spent a majority of the time with an inexperienced participant, while more experienced participants were provided advanced training, including updated software and a more powerful computer. Throughout the course, the district farm management specialist maintained continuity with the entire class by teaching material applicable to everyone.

Program success was measured by a pre-test/post-test instrument. Participants were asked to rate their understanding of 11 competencies related to computer recordkeeping. The 11 competencies included: (a) a general understanding of computer recordkeeping for a small business and personal finances, (b) establishing accounts, (c) establishing and using categories and classes, (d) developing tax reports, (e) using the calculator with the computer, (f) making entries, (g) reconciling bank statements with the computer, (h) entering split transactions, (i) using the computer for budgeting and payroll, and (j) using the "quick-keys" for short-cuts.

A five-point Likert-type scale was used with 1 = the lowest level of understanding to 5 = the highest level of understanding. The overall level of understanding was 1.86 prior to the workshop and 3.85 upon completion of the course, indicating an increase in understanding of computer recordkeeping competencies by the participants. In addition, mean scores increased for each of the 11 computer recordkeeping competencies.

Success of the program was not only measured by knowledge gained, but by the type of clientele reached. As mentioned, this type of program with an emphasis on small businesses had not been offered by Extension in this region. In addition, a targeted group was reached in that 10 of the participants were female.

The fostering of partnerships occurred through joint efforts to help make the course a success. Collaboration with local organizations provided the opportunity to offer a program to clientele that had not been previously exposed to Extension programs. The collaboration of local, district, and state Extension employees used expertise that will help the participants learn and incorporate their recordkeeping skills to improve productivity in the home and workplace.