April 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA4
Readers' Views Regarding the Electronic Journal of Extension: Results of Subscriber Surveys
JOE subscribers were electronically surveyed in 1996 and 1998 to determine use and usefulness of the Journal. Results showed that Web access of the Journal doubled in 1998; that in both years feature articles were accessed the most; and that readers feel the ideas and information in the Journal are useful and will be used some time. Positive features included easy and quick access, archival search, downloading, and networking with authors. It was concluded that the electronic JOE has engaged Extension personnel in scholarship and fills a useful role for the profession.
The Journal of Extension began publishing in electronic format in June 1994. There were compelling economic and technological reasons for this move. The printed version, which had endured for 30 years, became increasingly difficult to sustain economically through subscriptions, either individual or group. An electronic text-based journal distributed via the Internet appeared to offer a viable and less expensive alternative. Following a successful one-year pilot phase, the decision was made to go electronic. Financial support was based on a strategy of voluntary subscriptions by state Extension services (1862 and 1890).
In theory, an electronic journal that is accessible through Internet-based information systems offers Extension professionals (and other consumers) the opportunity to engage in scholarship that can make them more effective and efficient in their work and improve the quality of their programs. In September 1996, two years into electronic publication, a survey of Journal subscribers was conducted to determine use and perceived usefulness. A second survey was done in July-August 1998 using the same items as in the 1996 survey for comparison purposes.
Comparable items in the 1996 and 1998 surveys were (a) Extension responsibility, (b) location, (c) how the Journal was accessed, and (d) Journal section last accessed. One other item was slightly different although the intent was similar, namely perceived usefulness of the article last accessed in Extension work (1996)/perceived usefulness of the Journal in Extension work (1998).
The 1996 survey instrument was e-mailed to all electronic IDs on the Journal's subscription list (N = 2,037 subscribers). Response options were e-mail, fax or surface mail. Therefore, the responses had to be individually entered into a database for analysis. The 1998 survey instrument, in contrast to the 1996 survey, was placed on the JOE home page for electronic response and instant tabulation. All electronic IDs on the Journal subscription list as of July 10, 1998 (N = 2,777 subscribers) were notified and requested to complete the survey by August 15. A reminder was issued on August 11. This simplified procedure was more user-friendly and made data entry and analysis easier.
Data from the two surveys are presented in Table 1. The number and percent of responses in item categories are indicated. Almost the same number of subscribers responded: 534 in 1996; 526 in 1998. These numbers represent 26% and 19% of the total numbers of subscribers in 1996 and 1998, respectively. The smaller percentage of responses in 1998 is due to a larger subscriber base.
There were fewer categories offered in the 1996 survey instrument than the 1998 instrument. Agents and specialists accounted for about two-thirds of the responses to both surveys. Nearly one-tenth of the responses in 1996 and over one-fifth of the responses in 1998 were from administrators. Respondents in 1998 also included program leaders, paraprofessionals, and volunteers. The other category includes non-Extension respondents.
Subscribers' Responses to Surveys of the Electronic Journal of Extension.
|Frequency and Percent|
|1996 Survey||1998 Survey|
|Number of respondents/%
|Method of Access|
|World Wide Web||154||32.9||325||63.5|
|Local bulletin board||27||5.8||11||2.1|
|Journal Section Last Accessed|
|Research in Brief||14||10.0||104||21.1|
|Ideas at Work||20||14.3||94||19.1|
|Tools of the Trade||17||12.1||26||5.3|
|Perceived Usefulness of Article Last Accessed|
|Provided general information||171||42.1||171||35.2|
|Provided information might use
|Provided information could be
|a: Choice not available in survey instrument.|
Responses to the surveys came from 47 states, selected union territories, and several foreign countries, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, South Africa, and Uruguay.
Method of Access
Progress toward web access of the Journal is seen from the near doubling of this method in 1998 (63%) over 1996 (32.9%). Almanac was a significant access mode (30%) in 1998. In contrast, e-mail dropped from 29.5% in 1996 to zero in 1998, and Gopher from 11.1% to 0.8%. The local bulletin board is a low-use method and declining.
Journal Section Last Accessed
The feature articles section continues to be accessed the most, with over one-half of respondents reporting it as their last access. The differences in distribution of responses among the other sections suggest a range of reader interests.
Perceived Usefulness of Article Last Accessed/Journal
This item had a slightly different intent in the two surveys. In 1996, the focus was on finding out usefulness of the article last accessed, while in 1998 this was changed to a focus on the Journal per se. Therefore, the responses to item categories, which were not changed, have a different connotation - specific versus global. However, as a general barometer of usefulness, the responses suggest that readers think the ideas and information in the Journal are generally useful and will be used in the future in their work. Less value is placed on immediate use of Journal information.
Comments and Suggestions
Comments by 203 respondents in the 1996 survey indicated that 72.9% liked the electronic Journal and used it, 20.2% didn't like it and didn't use it, and 6.9% lacked the capability to use it.
The 1998 survey included an open-ended item asking for comments and suggestions about the Journal. Thirty-six subscribers responded. Some interesting points were brought out.
- Nearly two-thirds of the respondents felt the electronic version of the Journal had several positive features such as easy and quick access, archives search, and downloading to disk or print for convenient storage, reference, and reading. Electronic contacts with authors and professionals connected with the Journal were also a distinct advantage. Some subscribers commended the instant feedback feature of the survey results as innovative and gratifying to respondents, giving them a feeling of inclusiveness and reward for participation.
- Eleven respondents, on the other hand, indicated continuing preference for the printed version of the Journal and said they were not reading or utilizing the electronic version at all or very little. Principal reasons included convenience of scanning and reading a printed copy at one's leisure, in different situations (home, travel, etc.), and whenever they found time.
- Four responses were from Australia (2), New Zealand (1) and Brazil (1). All were complimentary of the Journal. One of them indicated e-mailing the Journal to eight colleagues, and felt that they were doing the same.
- A master gardener/woodland manager volunteer who also served as the county office's computer person indicated scanning every issue and extracting what was useful.
- One respondent felt the Journal provided readers a sense of the national scope and diversity of Extension programs.
- One respondent suggested linking JOE articles to search services such as Psychinfo and Education Index and Electronic Journal Center. This would enhance the Journal's prestige, engage a wider and larger readership, and result in citations and use by other professionals.
The results of these surveys suggest that the JOE is fairly well accessed and used by Extension personnel and others in the U.S. and selected foreign countries, and is perceived as useful in Extension work. It is difficult to gauge the true value and utility of the Journal from limited studies of this nature. However, it can be said that the electronic version of the Journal has had a positive impact in engaging Extension personnel in scholarship and continues to fill a useful role for the profession.