Continuing to label young professionals as 'techies' and not ask older generations to learn new technology would have detrimental affects on Extension's future.

Continuing to label young professionals as ‘techies’ and not ask older generations to learn new technology would have detrimental affects on Extension’s future.

I was born in 1982. That puts me on the tail end of the Gen X generation, and the cusp of the
Millennial generation. I definitely have qualities of both and by no means consider myself to be a digital native (i.e. I didn’t even have dial up internet until I was a junior in high school). But once my career began in Extension seven years ago, I was immediately labeled a ‘techie’ since I was among the select few young professionals in the organization.

Over the past few years, somehow this label continues to be slapped onto every new (young) hire that joins Extension. This perpetuates the “us vs. them” culture that we have in Extension surrounding technology integration into our work.

“They’re young and know this stuff. I’m too old to catch up. Might as well let them do it.” 

But the reality is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Knowing how to use an Instagram account does not equal being knowledgeable or successful at teaching an online audience, or sharing educational information in a digital format.

Here are 3 reasons why everyone in Extension should be spending time integrating technology into their work; and they may not be the reasons you’re thinking of:

1. Our clients have had technology integrated into everything they do for years. It’s time Cooperative Extension caught up. Gone are the days of being in denial and thinking, “my clients aren’t using it.” Yes, they are. Even the most rural of areas will be connected within the next five years, if they’re not already. So stop using this as an excuse.

2. Digitally native generations will soon be the majority of the workforce. Even if Baby Boomers remain in leadership positions, the majority of boots on the ground will be individuals who were once deemed as the ‘techies’ in the workforce by older generations. They inherently have technology integrated into their personal lives. They already expect it to be integrated into their work. We have the opportunity now to lead the charge, provide direction, create knowledge, and jump start that movement now before leaving it all for them to figure out later.

3. Culture perpetuates culture. If we continue to label young professionals as technology experts, then there’s a pretty decent chance Millennials will repeat this with Gen Z in about 15 years. And then the cycle continues; but with different tech-speak.

Now, the reasons mentioned above do not mean that an Educator should be a one-stop-technology-shop. We have a terrible habit in Extension of expecting our staff to be anything and everything. Including educational technology in our work does not equal requiring program staff to single-handedly create videos, manage social media accounts, record podcasts, and create infographics. However, we have an unprecedented opportunity to establish networks within our organizations or Universities that include program staff, ed tech specialists, IT professionals, graphics designers, and digital media specialists now for Extension professionals to seamlessly collaborate with later.

Ways all program staff should be working with educational technology:

  • Participate in Learning Networks such as this one to find out what technologies Extension colleagues have successfully used in their work. Learning Networks also provide a built-in support network and coaching.
  • Collaborate on projects with Extension colleagues who are more knowledgeable with technology. We need more collaboration within and outside of Extension anyway.
  • Pick a couple technology tools or digital/online educational methods that you’re most interested in or comfortable with to avoid overwhelming yourself. Most interested in podcasts but loathe the thought of having an Instagram account? Fine, leave the social networking to someone who is more interested in it.

The younger generations will know they’re not ‘techies’, are we up to the challenge now to accept that reality?