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NATIONAL WEB SITE OFFERS ACCESS TO LOCAL RESOURCES

by: Bonnie Coblentz
MSU Ag Communications

Mississippi State -- Mississippi State University Extension Service clientele have access to a new national resource that offers information and innovative resources beyond what is possible online at MSUcares.com.

In late February, eXtension.org went live as an online educational partnership between 74 universities. The interactive Web site offers a wealth of knowledge in 16 content areas, known as communities of practice. Three more areas are in development, and more are being added each month.

“The theory is you take some of the best of the best around the country and make it a one-stop resource for everyone,” said Julie Sexton, Extension curriculum specialist and Mississippi liason to eXtension.org.

Within each subject area are combined calendars of upcoming events, fact sheets, frequently asked questions -- 33,824 as of the first of April -- and an opportunity to choose a certain state and ask a specialist a question.

“We know that people are turning to the Internet more and more for information,” Sexton said. “The ultimate goal is to have a community of practice for each subject area.”

Sexton said http://extension.org has a large site available to the nationwide public, and a separate, members-only side for Extension Service personnel. This non-public side offers in-service training, a national listserv, and discussion boards for employees to network, discuss issues and trade solutions. To date, 170 MSU Extension Service employees are registered users on this site. Visitors seeking information do not need to register, and all the information offered is free.

Will McCarty, an Extension associate director, is the administrative advisor of the cotton community of practice.

“Visitors to this site can learn all aspects of cotton production, from growth and development to management, insect control and more,” McCarty said. “It is a tremendous resource because it offers in one place all this cotton information, and access to expertise from all the cotton-producing states.”

Jane Clary, Extension health education specialist, is on the national team working to create a community of practice on families, food and fitness: preventing obesity. She received a grant to work with several Southern partners on this project.

“We have to have 100 frequently asked questions ready and must have our ‘ask the expert' section prepared before this can become an official community of practice on the eXtension Web site,” Clary said.

Those creating this community of practice have goals for people who use it that include improving diets, increasing physical activity and maintaining body weight in a healthy range and avoiding excess weight gain. The information presented will focus on key behaviors associated with achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.

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