August 2005 // Volume 43 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB4

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Using a Nutrition Web Site as a Resource for County Educators: Evaluating Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service's Experience

Abstract
The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Nutrition Web Site was evaluated by Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service County Extension Educators in terms of Web site characteristics, information sections, information formats, and uses of the information immediately after and 6 months after an in-service training on the Web site. Immediately after training, educators appeared to be most interested in quickly using Web site information in educational programs. Six months after training, educators appeared to begin to use the Web site as a source of current information that could be used to address immediate consumer questions and be used for news releases.


Janice Hermann
Professor and Nutrition Education Specialist
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, Oklahoma
janice.hermann@okstate.edu

Amber Carson
Graduate Student, Department of Nutritional Sciences
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, Oklahoma

Glenn Muske
Associate Professor and Home Based Business Specialist
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, Oklahoma
glenn.muske@okstate.edu

Kathryn Keim
Associate Professor, Department of Clinical Nutritional
Rush University
Chicago, Illinois
kathy_keim@rush.edu


Introduction

The Internet has emerged as an economical and timely means of disseminating information and providing education to many segments of the population. The Cooperative Extension Service currently uses the Internet as a means of providing in-service training to Cooperative Extension Service professionals (Muske, Goetting, & Vukonich, 2001; Kelsey & Mincemoyer, 2001). In addition to in-service training, Internet sites can be used as a resource to provide current information and educational materials to Cooperative Extension Service professionals.

The purpose of the project described here was to evaluate the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service (OCES) Nutrition Web Site by OCES County Extension Educators immediately after and 6 months after an in-service training on the Web site. The evaluation sought to provide insights into Web site characteristics, information sections, and information formats educators found most helpful. Such information can be used to enhance the effectiveness of the Web site. By gathering input both immediately and 6 months after implementing the site, a deeper understanding of the educators' needs and long-term uses were possible.

Background

The OCES Nutrition Web Site was developed by the OCES State Nutrition Education Specialist to provide updated and timely nutrition information and education materials to OCES County Extension Educators. The site contained five major information sections, including "Nutrition Basics," "Lifecycle Nutrition," "Nutrition and Health Promotion," "Special Issues" related to nutrition, and "Hot Topics." The information was provided in a variety of formats including "Text," "Handouts," "Fact Sheets," "News Releases," "PowerPoint®" presentations, and "Brochures." Some of the material could be used to help educators conduct education programs while other material could be used in various media outlets.

Methods

An in-service training, "Navigating the OCES Nutrition Web Site," was provided to OCES County Extension Educators. Training was conducted in two formats, computer lab and one-on-one. Twelve educators received group training in a computer lab on the Oklahoma State University campus. An additional 22 educators received one-on-one training via the telephone. All participants were volunteers and received the same instruction packet to aid them during the training. Each packet included step-by-step instructions, including images, of how to operate all features of the Web site.

Educators who participated in the group in-service received their instruction packets at the beginning of the training. The in-service leader walked participants through each step of navigating the Web site. The in-service leader's computer screen could be viewed on a projector screen located at the front of the computer lab. Participants performed each step on their own computer terminal as it was demonstrated.

Educators who participated in the one-on-one training received their instruction packets in the mail prior to their in-service appointment. Phone calls with participants were an average of 1 hour in duration. The in-service leader walked participants though each step of navigating the Web site while participants performed each step on their own office computer as it was described. The same in-service leader conducted all trainings, both in the class room and via the telephone.

An evaluation questionnaire was developed to identify the educators' preferences regarding Web site characteristics, information sections, information formats and uses of the Web site information. The face validity of the questionnaire was tested by having a team of experts review the questionnaire prior to its use. Participants completed the first questionnaire immediately after the training. Six months after the training, all participants were contacted via the telephone for their second evaluation of the Web site using the same questionnaire.

"Web site characteristics" was a phrase used to describe characteristics of the Web site, including "Navigation," "Content," "Speed," "Links," and "Graphics." Participants ranked the Web site characteristics in order of importance, from 1 being the most important to 5 being the least important.

"Information sections" referred to the five Web site information sections, including "Nutrition Basics," "Lifecycle Nutrition," "Nutrition and Health Promotion," "Special Issues" related to nutrition," and "Hot Topics." Participants ranked the Web site "Information sections" in order of importance, from 1 being the most important to 5 being the least important.

"Information formats" described the different formats in which information was provided on the Web site, including "Text," "Handouts," "Fact Sheets," "PowerPoint®" presentations, "News Releases, " and "Brochures." Participants ranked the information formats in order of importance, from 1 being the most important to 6 being the least important.

"Uses of the information" was a phrase used to describe potential uses of the Web site information, including "Educational Programs," "Handouts," and "News Releases." Participants ranked the "Uses of the information" in order of importance from 1 being the most important to 3 being the least important.

Data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS version 10.0, Chicago, IL). Mean rankings were calculated for each "Web site characteristic," "Information section," "Information format," and "Uses of the information." Independent t-tests were conducted to determine if there were any significant differences in mean rankings between those who participated in the group training as opposed to the one-on-one training. There were no significant differences between the groups, therefore data from the group training and one-on-one training were analyzed as one group. Paired t-tests were conducted to compare mean rankings immediately after the training with mean rankings six months after the training. The level of significance was set at p<= 0.05.

Results

Web Site Characteristics

There were no significant differences in the mean rankings of "Web site characteristics" from immediately after to 6 months after the training (Table 1). Overall, the mean ranking order for "Web site characteristics" from most to least important was "Content," followed by "Navigation," "Links," "Speed," and "Graphics."

Table 1.
Mean Rankings of Web Site Characteristics

 

Immediately After Training

6 Months After Training

 

Mean Ranking SD

Mean Ranking SD

Content

1.70.8

1.70.7

Navigation

1.90.9

2.21.2

Links

3.10.9

2.81.1

Speed

3.71.1

3.61.0

Graphics

4.70.8

4.70.7

Means in a row with different superscripts are significantly different, p<0.05.

Information Sections

The mean ranking for "Hot Topics" was significantly more important 6 months after training compared to immediately after training. There were no significant differences in the mean rankings for "Nutrition Basics," "Lifecycle Nutrition," "Special Issues," or "Health Promotion" from immediately after to six months after training (Table 2).

The significant difference in the mean ranking of "Hot Topics" resulted in a change in the mean ranking order of "Information sections." Immediately after training, the ranking order was "Special Issues," "Hot Topics," "Nutrition Basics," "Health Promotion," and "Lifecycle Nutrition." Six months after training, "Hot Topics" was ranked as being the most important followed by "Special Issues," "Nutrition Basics," "Health Promotion," and "Lifecycle Nutrition" (Table 2).

Table 2.
Mean Rankings of Information Sections

 

Immediately After Training

6 Months After Training

 

Mean ranking SD

Mean ranking SD

Special Issues

2.51.5

2.91.4

Hot Topics

2.81.4a

1.80.9b

Nutrition Basics

2.81.8

2.91.6

Health Promotion

3.21.3

3.41.2

Lifecycle Nutrition

3.70.9

4.01.0

Means in a row with different superscripts are significantly different, p<0.05.

Information Formats

The mean rankings for "Fact Sheets" and "News Releases" were significantly more important 6 months after training compared to immediately after training. The mean ranking for "PowerPoint®" was significantly less important 6 months after training compared to immediately after training. There were no significant differences in the mean rankings for "Text," "Handouts," or "Brochures" (Table 3).

The significant differences in mean ranking of "Fact Sheets," "News Releases," and "PowerPoint®" resulted in a change in the mean ranking order of "Information formats." The mean ranking order from most to least important immediately after training was "Text," "Handouts," "News Releases," "PowerPoint®," "Fact Sheets," and "Brochures." The mean ranking order six months after training was "News Releases," "Text," "Fact Sheets," "Handouts," "PowerPoint®," and "Brochures" (Table 3).

Table 3.
Mean Rankings of Information Formats

 

Immediately After Training

6 Months After Training

 

Mean Ranking SD

Mean Ranking SD

Text

2.11.4

2.71.5

Handouts

2.91.2

2.91.2

News Releases

3.41.9a

2.31.3b

PowerPoint®

3.61.7a

5.01.3b

Fact Sheets

4.21.7a

2.81.3b

Brochures

4.71.1

5.20.9

Means in a row with different superscripts are significantly different, p<0.05.

Uses of the Information

The mean ranking for "Educational Programs" was significantly less important 6 months after training compared to immediately after training. The mean ranking for "News Releases" approached being significantly more important (p=0.06) 6 months after training compared to immediately after training. There was no significant difference in the mean ranking for "Handouts" (Table 4).

Although there was a significant difference in the mean ranking of "Educational Programs," there was no change in the mean ranking order for "Uses of the information." Overall, the mean ranking order from most to least important immediately after and 6 months after training was "Education Programs," "Handouts," and "News Releases" (Table 4).

Table 4.
Mean Rankings of Uses of the Information

 

Immediately After Training

Six Months After Training

 

Mean Ranking SD

Mean Ranking SD

Education Programs

1.30.5a

1.60.7b

Handouts

2.20.6

2.20.8

News Releases

2.70.7

2.20.2

Means in a row with different superscripts are significantly different, p<0.05.

Summary and Conclusion

Although difficult to make any broad generalizations from such a small sample, the data does seem to indicate some important trends. Immediately after the training, educators appeared to be most interested in quickly using the information in their educational programs. This is supported by the high ranking of "Educational programs" as a "Use of the information," along with the high rankings for "Text" and "Handouts" as "Information formats."

Six months later, although educators may still have used the Web site for program delivery, educators appeared to begin to use the Web site as a source of current information that could be used to address immediate consumer questions and news releases. This is supported by the fact that "Hot Topics" moved up to being the most important "Information Section." In addition, "News Releases" and "Fact Sheets" moved up, and "PowerPoint®" presentations moved down in importance as "Information formats."

Although not significant, the ease of site navigation was less important 6 months after training. This may be due to several factors. First, as educators became more familiar with the site, they probably were more at ease navigating through the site. Also as time progressed, educators were probably less likely to go to all sections of the site but would pick those sections they routinely visited, again negating the importance of some navigation cues needed in a new site.

Although educators certainly value all of the information provided, specialists faced with building a Web site with limited resources need to carefully consider what the primary purpose of the Web site is. Identifying the primarily use of the Web site by educators can help determine which information sections and formats will be most useful. Such information can help specialists focus resource commitments to a site's on-going maintenance and up-keep.

References

Kelsey, T., & Mincemoyer, C. (2001). Exploring the potential of in-service training through distance education. Journal of Extension [On-line], 39(2). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2001april/rb7.html

Muske, G., Goetting, M. & Vukonich, M. (2001). The world wide Web: A training tool for family resource management educators. Journal of Extension [On-line], 39(4). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2001august/a3.html