COVID-19 Accelerates Digital Learning Alternatives for 1890 Extension

Thursday, August 13, 2020

On March 12, the SC State University 1890 Research & Extension management team made a difficult, yet necessary decision to suspend its Extension programs and activities. COVID-19, a novel virus and pandemic, was severely threatening the health of South Carolinians. With fears mounting, a rise in confirmed cases and reports of fatalities throughout the state, the 1890 management team suspended its high-touch Extension programs to reduce any potential exposure to staff and Extension clientele.

With the near future unknown, 1890 Executive Director Dr. Louis Whitesides and Acting Associate Extension Administrator Edoe Agbodjan began contemplating Extension’s impact in a COVID-19 environment.

“There were just too many uncertainties at the time, and there still are factors of which we are not aware,” said Whitesides. “We just knew at that time our constituents needed us. They needed a familiar and trustworthy partner to help them through a devastating time, a time when accurate and relevant information was needed,” he continued.

Aware that most working South Carolinians telecommuted at home, and children and young adults, alike, were learning lessons on mobile devices at their kitchen table, the pair recognized that the existing plan at the time to begin an online learning platform the following year would need to happen now.

“It was a no-brainer. Despite what was happening around us, we knew we needed to remain mission driven,” said Agbodjan.

The 1890 Program launched its first virtual programming, @Home with SC State 1890. @Home is a valuable service provided to South Carolinians, who are unable to directly access activities and programs while practicing social distancing due to COVID-19. The weekly instructional videos focus on a variety of topics, such as proper handwashing techniques, how to safely grocery shop, ways to remain physically active at home and quick tips on preparing healthy meals and snacks.

To date, the 1890 program has produced 14 videos within the @home series and has garnered over 4000 (combined) views since its launch. Reviews of the series have been positive, from supporters and from new friends who have discovered the videos.

Recently [my wife] watched the "@ Home with SC State 1890" videos on home management produced by your staff. She was so very impressed with how well the videos educated people on these important topics. We both just wanted to say thank you and keep up the good work, wrote Ohio State University Professor Emeritus Randy Johnson. In the email, Johnson mentioned that he had a career in Extension and research, and his wife has more than 30 years in Extension.

This and other positive responses led the public service organization to expand its virtual programs with the addition of a monthly webinar and podcast called Elevate Leadership. The podcast features leaders from business and industry who discuss their paths to leadership and their philosophy on successful leadership.

Efforts are underway to offer formalized online learning that would allow users to take and complete courses at their own pace. The first set of courses are scheduled to be released later fall 2020.

“If Extension wishes to remain relevant, as our mission mandates, we then must innovate enterprising programs and services and adopt advanced technologies available to us to serve the ever-changing needs of our citizens,” said Whitesides.

“While we will always remain true to our traditional programs, services and activities, our new virtual space helps us to continue delivering research-based information and solutions to individuals, families, communities and businesses with the intent to improve quality of life and elevate their standard of living,” Agbodjan added.

View @home with SC State 1890 series, the webinars and podcast, on the SC State University 1890 Research & Extension’s YouTube channel.