Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 13, Issue 1 - June, 2020

Using Webinars to Provide Continuing Education Opportunities for Master Gardener Volunteers

Edmunds, B. , Commmunity Horticulture Faculty, Oregon State University

ABSTRACT

A webinar series was developed for the Oregon Master Gardener program to help volunteer educators meet new statewide continuing education requirements. Results from participant surveys indicate that webinars are an effective method to share research-based information with Master Gardener volunteer educators. Participants also indicated that they would apply the knowledge gained to their own gardening practices and in their work as Master Gardener volunteers. Survey comments also suggest that a recorded webinar may engage volunteers who cannot attend in-person continuing education events due to work schedules or other limitations. 


Introduction

In 2014, the Oregon State University Extension Master Gardener program adopted the national program standards for Extension Master Gardener programs. These standards include the requirement for a minimum of ten hours of continuing education and professional development annually to remain active in the program (Langellotto et al., 2015). In Oregon, county faculty and staff are responsible for identifying suitable classes taught by outside organizations and/or delivering continuing education classes. Currently, most continuing education classes are offered as face-to-face events with some fee-based online short courses available. While these events provide high-quality training, in-person and fee-based classes may be difficult for some Master Gardeners to attend due to timing, travel, and/or financial reasons. 

 

In 2017, the author developed a webinar series specifically targeting the continuing education needs of Oregon Master Gardener volunteer educators. Webinars have been used effectively in other Extension programming including organic agriculture and small farm programming (Formiga et al., 2014; Wardynski et al., 2018) but to the best of the author's knowledge there is no evidence of a published evaluation of a webinar series dedicated to Master Gardener continuing education. 

 

Methods

Webinar topics and speakers were selected with input from the statewide Oregon Master Gardener coordinator and county Master Gardener programs coordinators. The specific goals of the series were to:

  1. promote newly published Oregon State University Extension publications on topics that are relevant to the questions that Master Gardeners receive from the public,
  2. increase awareness of emerging pest and disease problems that Oregon Master Gardeners may encounter locally, 
  3. provide an opportunity to share results from ongoing Oregon State University horticultural research projects, and
  4. encourage Master Gardeners to implement the sustainable practices shared in the webinars in their own gardens. 

 

A social media marketing map developed by Christensen, et al. (2015) guided advertisement of the series. Within Oregon, every webinar was promoted through direct email to county Master Gardener program coordinators and via a non-profit partner organization, the Oregon Master Gardener Association. Depending on relevancy of the topic, webinars were promoted in other states through the national Extension Master Gardener Coordinators working group and the Western IPM Center newsletter. Past webinar participants were added to the list of recipients of a monthly electronic newsletter (delivered via Mailchimp) that promoted the next webinar in the series. The series was marketed across social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) and tagged with topic-relevant hashtags and names of related partner organizations. 

 

All webinars were delivered using the Zoom communications platform and webinar management practices described by Dettenmaier & Locklear (2018) and Robinson & Poling (2017). In 2017 and 2018 technical support was provided by eXtension.org through OSU Extension’s premium institutional membership. The 45-minute webinars were delivered live with speakers sharing slide presentations followed by a 15-minute moderated question and answer session. The webinars were recorded and posted on a publicly available YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/drbrooke77/playlists) for repeated viewing and for those who could not attend the live event. 

 

Reach and Impacts

In 2017, the author coordinated five webinars reaching five hundred and twenty-four live attendees from twenty-two Oregon counties and nineteen states. There were over 4,198 recording views (as of January 1, 2019). In 2018, eleven webinars had 1,786 live attendees from twenty-seven Oregon counties, forty-one states, and Canada. There were over 6,245 recording views of the 2018 series (as of January 1, 2019). 

 

An electronic evaluation survey was emailed to webinar attendees within three days after the live webinar and was open for 25-30 days. Evaluation comments of the 2017 sessions indicated that webinars were a welcome method to provide advanced training for Master Gardeners. Answers to an open-ended question asking for general comments indicated that the webinars allowed volunteers who were still working full-time to complete the continuing education requirements without taking vacation hours and that the information was relevant to their work as a Master Gardener volunteer. 

 

The survey instrument was improved for the 2018 series to better document impacts. The revised survey was modeled after the impact evaluation of the eOrganic webinar series (Formiga et al., 2014). Summarized across the eleven webinars in 2018, ninety-three percent of question respondents (n=368) indicated that the webinar either significantly or moderately improved their understanding of the topic. Ninety-one percent of question respondents (n=385) indicated that they would implement the knowledge gained from the webinars to their work as a Master Gardener volunteer educator. Seventy-three percent of survey respondents (n=384) indicated that they would change their personal gardening practices based on the information presented in the webinar. Of the respondents who marked ‘no’ to this question (n=104), only one of these respondents disagreed with the webinar findings. The remaining (n=103) either didn’t have that particular type of garden or had already implemented the gardening practices described in the webinar. 

 

Conclusions

The use of webinars effectively provides needed continuing education units to statewide Master Gardener volunteers in a standardized format. The webinar format may be especially useful in county programs where a volunteer’s ability to travel can be a limiting factor. An additional benefit is that webinars contribute towards a more inclusive Master Gardener program by offering recordings with closed captioning and the ability to play on-demand. Evaluation comments indicate that offering flexible continuing education opportunities in multiple formats may also have positive effects on volunteer retention by providing an alternative way to participate and warrants further evaluation. Overall, the webinar series has been a positive addition to the Oregon Master Gardener program and will continue to be refined to meet volunteer needs. 

 

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to express gratitude to Gail Langellotto (statewide coordinator, Oregon Master Gardener Program), Mark Locklear at eXtension.org for technical support, and all of the Oregon Master Gardener county coordinators who provided support and input in the development and delivery of this programming. The author also appreciates all of the presenters who shared their expertise and time to support this program. 

 

References

Christensen, A., P. Hill, and S. Horrocks. (2015). The social media marketing map (Part 1): A tool to empower the digital leaders of Extension. Journal of Extension 4TOT3. 53(4). Retrieved from: https://www.joe.org/joe/2015august/tt3.php

Dettenmaier, M.R. and Locklear, J.M. (2018). Start-to-finish techniques regarding the practicalities of producing purposeful and impactful webinars. Journal of Extension 6TOT2. 56(6). Retrieved from: https://www.joe.org/joe/2018october/tt2.php

Formiga, A. K., A. Stone, D. Heleba, J. McQueen, and M. Coe. (2014). Evaluation of the eOrganic Webinar Program. Journal of Extension 4FEA5. 52(4). Retrieved from: https://joe.org/joe/2014august/a5.php

Langellotto, G.A., Moen, D., Straub, T. and S. Dorn. (2015). The first nationally unifying mission statement and program standards for Extension Master Gardener programs at land-grant universities. Journal of Extension 1IAW1. 53(1). Retrieved from: https://www.joe.org/joe/2015february/iw1.php

Robinson, J. and M. Poling. (2017). Engaging participants without leaving the office: planning and conducting effective webinars. Journal of Extension 6TOT9. 55(6). Retrieved from: https://joe.org/joe/2017december/tt9.php

Wardynski, F.A., Isleib, J.D. and C.L. Eschbach. (2018). Evaluating impacts of five years of beginning farmer webinar training. Journal of Extension 6RIB6. 56(6). Retrieved from: https://joe.org/joe/2018october/rb6.php