Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Assigning moderators for concurrent sessions

One of the parts I enjoyed most in serving as Education Program Committee Chair was in working with the oral session moderators. This is an area in which the committee became actively involved. In addition, this provided opportunity for interaction and networking in preparation for the conference.

As people submitted proposals to the conference system they were asked if they were willing to moderate a session. Some people had no recollection of this step in the process and were surprised when I contacted them to see if they were still willing to serve as moderators. But many were willing and excited to serve in this role. I think this volunteer process was good, but unfortunately missed those who did not indicate interest in giving a presentation and who may have benefitted by playing this role. In making assignments, I primarily looked at association membership since, as you recall, oral assignments were made by association. Because people had submitted presentations I also had a sense of what their interests were and tried to use these in making assignments as well.

When I met with the committee prior to completion of the assignments we agreed that it might be beneficial to provide a moderators guide to all moderators. This was intended to increase confidence of those who may have been playing this role for the first time and to provide consistency since each of the participating associations has their own culture around presentations. One of the committee members took responsibility for developing the guide. The committee reviewed and approved it for use.

The initial communication with the moderator was simply a reminder of their previous indication of interest in serving in the role and to check their availability for a particular session. If they agreed to serve, they were sent the session time, topics and abstracts and a copy of the moderators guide. The presenters were copied on this so they were aware of the expectations, and many moderators and presenters began communication by email immediately, introducing themselves and preparing for the session. Closer to the time of the conference, the biographical information provided by the presenters in the submission system, was sent to the moderators, again with a copy to the presenters. In the email, the source of the information was provided and presenters were encouraged to share additional information that they thought would be of interest to the audience. At this time presenters and moderators were also aware of time constraints so they were also able to prioritize information to provide maximum presentation time.

These communications were very well received by both presenters and moderators. Many individuals expressed appreciation for this information once we arrived at the conference. There also seemed to be more of a sense of community and collaboration – people were aware of the roles and the importance of those roles. They also knew each other, at least virtually, so looked forward to seeing each other in person. This created a very positive atmosphere for the educational programs. In addition, it gave moderators and presenters ownership in this aspect of the conference. There are always going to be a few things that don’t go quite as planned, but these individuals were empowered with the committee members to do what needed to be done to make the program run as smoothly as possible.

Final communication with moderators followed the conference. The message included a thank you, but also asked for participant numbers, observed movement between sessions and asked for their recommendations regarding number of presenters or other concerns that might be addressed in the final document. Nearly 50% responded. Many seemed extremely pleased to have been asked and this provided a nice closure to their activity. It may have increased responses to some extent to have let them know this email would be coming.

Recommendations for the future:

  1. I liked the way moderators were assigned. If the conference moved toward topical tracks, moderators might be assigned by the committees that make the selections and could moderate multiple sessions.
  2. Communication with moderators and presenters is important and worth the time it takes. Make it happen!

If you have questions or would like further information about this process or the final report, please contact me at

Monday, October 28, 2013

Galaxy IV - Presentation Assignments

Keys to success – use appropriate tool, develop organization scheme, assign presentations/posters in most logical way This piece sounds very straightforward. Once you know presentations that have been accepted you just go in and assign them to time and you’re done. There is a little more to it. Right? For Galaxy IV, the review process was delegated to the associations involved in the conference. I don’t know all the details, but somehow they were provided with access to submissions and then responded with which ones they accepted or rejected to the program chair. This seems like a very straight-forward approach and allowed each of the associations to utilize their existing review process. It appears that then accepted oral presentations were placed in the program in blocks assigned to the associations. Accepted poster presentations were still coming in when I assumed responsibility for the committee and were not coming in based on any particular order. The responses came from the presenters in the form of acceptance. Many had been assigned to a poster session. Earlier I mentioned the problem with submission, which resulted in poster presentations continuing to come in until after we arrived at the convention – definitely not a good situation. The poster presentations received early were assigned locations on the dates they had been assigned based on the category selected by the author at the time of submission. I do not know how I could have completed assignments without the use of Excel or some other similar sortable, searchable tool. Originally, oral submissions came in an excel spreadsheet with presentations listed on worksheets by association. Posters were sorted by assigned session. My first task was to go into the spreadsheets and add additional authors. I also determined consistent institution names based on how Extension referred to itself on its webpages. Appropriate abbreviations were then determined which were used to identify individuals in the registration entries. Finally, sheets were created for each of the oral presentation concurrent sessions and assignments were entered there. This version ended up being most effective for assigning moderators, recording room assignments and keeping notes related to session communication. Categories were not included in all listings of the original information that I received so this was another piece of information that was collected from the submission system and added to the spreadsheets. Once I thought all the poster entries had been received, I made location assignments for each poster session. The first thing I had to do was search for duplicate corresponding authors once it became evident that these existed, so that the posters they were presenting could be located in close proximity to each other. I color-coded the background of these as an indication that there was duplication and in some cased triplication. Then I searched based on categories. I had not visited the conference site, but was told there were posters to the left and right divided by tables in the exhibit area so I devised a scheme that used an L or R to designate the side on which the poster was to be displayed along with a numerical assignment. Numbers began at 1 in the innermost front posters and in the display, the numbers increased as you proceeded to the back of the exhibit. Numbers were assigned by categories with care to place categories close to accommodate presenters with multiple posters. These were easily then entered into the program which was available on the conference website. Lessons Learned: #1 – Use an appropriate tool. I do not know how I could have completed these tasks without Excel. You may have a similar tool that works for you, but it is important to have something that you can use not only for assignment, but for the questions you will receive related to presentation assignments. Being able to sort and search made assignment and responding to others much easier. I have worked with some associations that permit associations and presenters to indicate acceptance within the system. This is desirable, especially where multiple entities are making selections. It would be good to identify who makes what changes along with a time stamp. Ideally, the selection committee will serve as a filter and provide communication used to determine the final program. #2 – You noticed above that oral presentations were assigned by associations and poster presentations were assigned by topic. There were many complaints that topics in the oral presentations did not relate well to each other. And people expressed pleasure in being able to browse the posters and follow similar topics. This contributes to my recommendation to the committee that in the future, topic areas be selected by the education program committee in communication with the associations, associations assign representatives to serve on topic review committees and assignments be made based on topic rather than association. This not only allows for stronger consistency across topics in presentation space at the conference, but would provide opportunity for a committee to include invited guests in addition to peer-reviewed presentations to better address the needs around their particular topic. Next – Assigning moderators for concurrent sessions

Monday, October 14, 2013

Galaxy IV - Educational Programs

Keys to success highlighted in this section – teamwork, established expectations for communication!

I just completed my role as Education Committee Chair for the Galaxy Extension Conference. Some people have asked about the role and how I managed to pull it off. To give you a sense of the magnitude of the role, this committee was responsible for overseeing a total of 304 oral and 437 poster presentations. Of the oral presentations, 250 were refereed with review occurring by sponsoring professional associations, 11 were exhibitor sessions, 29 were sponsored by committees or associations, 4 were pre-conference workshops and 10 were 2-hour Super Seminars. Acceptance rates were 40.85% for oral presentations and 68.39% for posters.

I came into the role three months prior to the convention. This was less than ideal. The person I replaced had computer problems and other issues that challenged their record-keeping. Most of the concurrent sessions had been placed in the program. There was a list of other sessions that appeared on neither the accepted or rejected lists. Eventually I ended up contacting each of these and for the most part they were intending to present so had to be accommodated in the program. So, I had to do some shuffling to add them into the program. The association- and committee-sponsored presentations were not included either. Getting information on these and getting them placed in appropriate positions was also challenging. For some reason the steering committee determined at the last minute to keep pre-conference workshops separate from the other educational programs which created challenges in receiving and communicating information to program participants. Poster submissions had not been placed in order, but I was given the list of posters for inclusion in each of three days of exhibition. One of the first actions I took was to post these lists on the conference website. This initiated a flood of emails and calls from people who had received acceptance, but were not included on the list. This flood continued until the poster presentations were complete at the conference. So, not only did I arrive late into the role, the situation was a tangled mess.

I am a strong believer in continual evaluation and improvement, so am always looking in situations for the lessons for future application. In this case, the committee appeared to exist in name only. When I tried to pull them together I learned they had not met in quite some time and many members never even bothered to respond when I tried to contact them. So my first lesson (teamwork) is to involve the committee early and thoroughly. Every member does not have to be involved in every facet of the activity, but if there were one or two members that had been involved in the acceptance process and in positioning the presentations, they could have aided in the provided continuity. In fact, they would have been stronger candidates to take on the role of committee chair than I was, in terms of providing continuity and thorough understanding of the process from submission to presentation. In the end, the committee member that was recommended to take on the role was not even planning to attend the conference, so could not have fulfilled the role.

A second lesson (established expectations for communication) would be to have a well-documented, clearly defined submission system that could also provide greater continuity. The system used appeared to provide automatic submission reports at many levels. Some people received notices that their submission was received and assumed this meant they were accepted for presentation. Others whose submissions were rejected for oral presentations were accepted for poster presentations resulting in conflicting notices that also created confusion. Finally, the process for taking information from the database to an abstract format was not as easy as it could have been.

Finally, it would have been helpful if a well-developed timeline had been established with all involved in the process (more established expecations for communications). There were challenges associated with communication around other parts of the conference, so individuals said they did not think it odd when they did not receive communication regarding their submissions, beyond their initial acceptance. Even having associations ask their membership check the website and lists was ineffective. If dates for anticipated communications had been established along with clear instructions for contact, this would have helped would-be presenters know when they needed to follow-up.

Next – more on presentation assignment processes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Promoting Webinars with Penn State Extension’s Calendar

In my last blog I mentioned that you could select “webinar” when posting an event to have it appear on the webinar list on the statewide Extension calendar.  Then….. I went to find it.  Not only did I find it difficult to find, but I’ve also looked at numerous webinar postings and most of those were not using it either.  So, the audience for this post is limited to Penn State Extension, and the purpose is to show you how to select webinar when posting events. 

When you are entering an event in the Extension calendar system, you need to select the “Edit” tab and select “Categorization.”  Under the first heading, “Event Type(s)” scroll down (nearly to the bottom of the list and select “webinar.”  Make any other necessary selections and then click on the Save button at the bottom of the page and you are done.

Happy posting!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Extension Calendar Observations for 2012

Many of you know that in the past year I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how we market extension programs.   Although my primary emphasis has been on the use of Cvent, I also have been considering how we use the Extension Calendar to market our programs and events.  As the year comes to a close, here are some of my observations that you might consider as you add programs for the coming year as well as some interesting facts and figures.
These recommendations are based on an average of 98 calendar entries reviewed each month between June and December. [1]  In general, I found an average of 140 potential issues each month, but am pleased to report this has declined from a little over 2 issues per entry in June to 1.58 issues per entry in December. 
What are the issues?  Here are the top three I’ve seen along with an explanation of how they might be avoided.
#1 – Using PDFs for registration or to provide additional information.  PDFs are often slow to download from computers and are useless with mobile devices.  Instead of a PDF, enter the information about the event into the calendar entry page.  This will make it easier for your potential audience to see the information.
#2 – Issues related to content.  There are several ways the content of your entry can impact the likelihood of attendance by your potential audience.  What you present and how you present it is important.
First, answer the basic questions:  
·         Who is the intended audience?
·         Why should they attend?  What should they learn or be able to do after attending?
·         What do people need to do to attend?  This includes advance registration.  Be sure to indicate how people should register and indicate if there is a registration date.   Any registration cost should be stated.  Also, let people know if the event is free.
·         Where is the event being held?  Most of the time this is covered in the address section.  However many of our events are online these days.  Be sure to tell the attendee what to expect when they go to a link.  For example:  “You will want to log-in to  to participate in the webinar.   This meeting room will be monitored beginning 10 minutes prior to the program.”  Also, with webinars, it might be useful on the meeting screen, if you leave the meeting room open, to post a message indicating the topic, date and time of the next session so that if someone goes there to test the link, they will know they are in the right place.  In the college calendar system, you can also select webinar in order to have the event appear on the Extension webinar calendar.
·         Who do I contact if I have questions or a problem?  It is also good practice to include a name and contact phone number in case participants have difficulty accessing the program.
Finally, don’t provide extraneous information.  Just provide the information that is relevant to that particular calendar entry.  If you are working with an event that has multiple meetings/locations across the state (i.e. ServSafe, Better Kid Care), you may refer to a calendar landing page for other events, but don’t try to list these on this particular entry.   If you don’t have a calendar landing page and need one, discuss it with your program team and EPL.
#3 – List a contact person.  We are a people organization, so include a contact person, email address and phone number so potential participants know who to call if they have questions.  Some offices are having email go to an office email account.  This is fine as well, but be sure the link that is used is descriptive.  For instance, if the contact for the event is the Beaver County Extension Office, use Penn State Extension – Beaver County Office rather than just Penn State Extension.  Along these lines, if you are working with another organization, it is okay to indicate that in the content of the calendar entry.  However, the contact person for our Extension calendar should be someone affiliated with Penn State Extension.
Finally – for some stats from the entries I viewed – only 43 counties and 22 programs posted entries on the Extension Calendar during this timeframe.  The Private Forests program and Lebanon County team take the prize for posting, having at least one entry every month between June and December.  Missing only one month during this time frame were Adams County, Equine Programs and the Start Farming Program. 

[1] For other recommendations, consult “Events” on the Communications and Marketing Website ( 

Friday, October 5, 2012

ESP National Conference - Next Week!

I'm looking forward to visiting Mobile AL next week for the (Epsilon Sigma Phi) ESP National Professional Improvement Conference.  I always enjoy the opportunity to meet with colleagues from around the country that share my enthusiasm for Cooperative Extension and the difference it can make in the lives of people and the communities in which they live.   The networking will provide insight into what is new and different and what is working well and maybe not so well.  It will be good to identify common challenges and potential solutions on how we can be more effective and efficient in our work.

The national Public Issues Leadership Development committee on which I serve will be providing a session entitled "Extension's Involvement in Controversial Issues."  We have a panel including extension professionals from different levels to gain perspectives unique to their positions.  They will reflect on experiences with the 2011 Missour River flood, shale energy and drilling issues and the role Extension has played in community dialogue and action on each of these issues.

Other workshops that I hope to attend relate to creating the networked professional, local food issues, scholarship opporutnities for the 21st century and methods to better meet the needs of Latino audiences. The keynote on Tuesday promises to be interesting as Joe Sumner, Director fo the Economic and Community Development Institute at Auburn University will give a presentation entitled "Global Trends that Will Change All Our Lives.  A look at a dozen trends that are reshaping how we live, work, play and compete."

Look for my report in my next blog installment.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Developing standard processes in extension registration

One of the discussion topics associated with registration processes this week has been the need for standardization of processes across the extension organization.  In my CRM implementation reading, understanding existing processes and mimicking them in the CRM processes is recommended to improve success in achieving CRM goals.  Our processes are beginning with registration, so I begin my thoughts on standardized registration processes in extension, across a system that spans 67 counties.

Registration seems like a simple process back in my days in the county - once the event was scheduled the appropriate process for registration is established.  In "the good old days,"  when we were first putting computers on our desks, this generally meant mailing out forms and fliers, putting information in our newsletters and newspapers and then waiting for either the paper forms or phone calls so names could be added to the list of participants.  Then we added technology - lists were kept in computer files and we listed our email address to accept registration or questions about the event.  We began promoting events online.

Today, our clientele can go to our websites and register online.  As we receive phone calls or other registrations, we add them to an online computer application which now serves the role of our earlier computer file.  However, instead of adding information to a computer file we are adding it to a database that helps us know what sessions people want to take, whether they want to participate in future programs, etc.  In addition, the participants can easily forward their invitation to any of their friends via email, helping to market the program.  We still promote the program through our other communication chains, although most of our newsletters and the newspapers may be online in addition to or instead of in paper form.  Online allows easy access to links to registration.  It also opens the potential audience to people who may not have previously been on our mailing lists.  So, there are many benefits to the shift.

So, what are the variables in how registration was handled in the past and can be handled today?  We're still relying on people close to the event site to respond to questions and assist individuals in the registration process.  Staff still assist educators in meeting preparation.  Of course, the professionals involved have to become familiar and comfortable with the online registration system - so this means providing training.  This is no different than in most cases where we went from keeping registrations in a notebook to keeping them in a computer file.  Training should include how to get the information necessary from the system to know who plans to attend what training session and who has or has not paid, fix name tags, order meals, etc.  Earlier communication about what was happening - what, when, where, how - still needs to occur between those planning the program and involved in registration processes.  This may have previously occurred in office staff meetings and may now have to move to phone, email or video communications since registration staff and educators may not be in the same office.   This seems doable.

Help me with this - what are processes related to registration that you feel are unique to your office situation?  And while you're at it, how do you see them being achieved utilizing an online application?  And finally, what are potential benefits or losses to be considered in moving to an online environment?