Just Another Listserv?

March 1, 2014, Department, by Laurie K. Harmon, Ph.D., RLA

NRPA Connect is getting a face-lift to provide the association's members with the most useful networking tools possible.If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise? In today’s digital world, the question might sound more like this: If no one responds to a Listserv post (or any other mass digital query), then is the posting valuable? NRPA’s Park Resources Network (PRN) recently put forth several questions along this line to its members via the NRPA Network Listserv hoping to learn if and how the network creates value for its members.

The first question was, perhaps, the broadest and simply asked: Is our network Listserv valuable? As a member of the PRN, my response was immediate…most definitely!

OK — I admit I rarely post responses to Listservs. In fact, I sometimes feel a bit voyeuristic since I prefer to read others’ responses rather than post my own. However, while I may not often respond to posts on the network, I do find value in my colleagues’ posts. For example, as an educator, I have used the questions and topics posted on our network Listserv to frame similar questions that I then pose to my students. These questions provide the catalyst for our class discussions or allow me to set the context for an entire unit of study.

Both my teaching and practice are guided by research findings, and research suggests student learning is greatly enhanced by the use of real-life and relevant issues. By using the topics generated by member Q&As to guide class sessions, I have observed students becoming increasingly engaged and more interested in critically examining the very issues they will encounter once they become practitioners.

The second question posed by the PRN addressed how we could most effectively communicate with each other. This answer can vary quite a bit, which makes it particularly challenging to address. I prefer receiving weekly postings, since daily communications quickly get overwhelming. I sometimes think of myself as a bit of a miner when it comes to processing electronic information. I typically take just a minute or two to read through the topics and short introductory descriptions in NRPA’s Top 5 emails as well as the Network postings to see what might enhance that week’s topics or could be useful for future class sessions. Quite regularly, I find at least one important knowledge bite that is relevant and timely.

The Top 5 postings and Network emails help me identify not only current practitioner issues, but also the range of partnerships in which our members engage (both at the network and full organization level). This provides another great source of relevant practitioner examples to share with students.

Recently, for instance, the NRPA Top 5 email provided multiple innovative examples of collaborations, which allowed me to build a series of case studies for a two-day workshop in a Leisure Services Management course. The students not only remained more interested and focused during the workshop than they do during a typical lecture-style class, but they also found personal value by connecting their work experiences with those exemplified in the cases. We subsequently expanded the workshop by a day to allow us to completely process the ramifications of the various partnership strategies.

The final question our network posed was: How can we engage our members? This was probably the most difficult question to address since responses vary depending on the frame of reference from which a member is considering the question. Daily, it seems, we are barraged with email requests, advertisements and updates from various “helpful” apps — often by the minute.

Finding time to review multiple websites, then taking additional time to sift through and identify helpful information rarely happens. It is nice to know information is available on the Internet, but a website often has several layers to negotiate in order to access the relevant information. These days, I frequently find myself following my students’ strategy of doing a “quick Googling” for information. If I find the results for which I am searching, I tend to stop.

We are in a “fast and furious” information mode, and information that requires digging through multiple layers tends to be less accessed. Thus, our member network becomes an important sifting tool, but it’s a tool that could easily be minimized if we only base its effectiveness on the number of people responding.

In summary, I am extremely appreciative of the expertise, experiences and ideas shared regularly through the Park Resources Network. I know my students benefit greatly from the many perspectives, and I have yet another avenue to enrich not only their educational experience, but also my own.

Laurie K. Harmon, Ph.D., RLA,
is an Assistant Professor and R.E.C. Club Adviser with the Department of Recreation Management and Therapeutic Recreation at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.