Ridgemont FFA holds virtual FFA meeting

By Hannah Thompson

The National Association of Colleges and Employers ranks computer skills among the top 10 desired traits for potential employees to possess, and in one Hardin County FFA chapter members are gaining these necessary skills by using technology to complete the work of their chapter and their agricultural education classwork.

“Our society is moving toward technology, and we’re going to need to know how to use it for our future jobs,” said Shawn Smith, Ridgemont FFA Chapter president.

Smith’s advisor agrees.

“Using technology allows students to look at things differently and innovatively,” said Stephanie Jolliff, agricultural education instructor and chapter advisor. “We really try to think outside of the box, and I think that is one of the things that parlays into business and industry, because when you’re trained to do it at a young age you continue to do it when you enter the field.”

Jolliff’s classroom boasts not only chapter photographs and banners, but also a row of computers and a stack of Apple iPad tablets. The “blended virtual classroom” allows students to complete projects, ranging from their FFA record books to virtual posters for agricultural education courses, all through the computer.

This technologically advanced classroom is possible through Ridgemont High School’s “open school” policy, which allows students to access the school’s wireless network through their own cell phones and other devices, Jolliff said. The school also is working toward a one-to-one ratio of computers to students — a goal the agricultural education department has already easily achieved.

The chapter earned more than $70,000 in grants over the past year, which helped equip the room. The classroom’s set of iPads was purchased primarily through grants for GIS-GPS projects and agricultural literacy. The students use the tablets in a variety of ways, including classroom research, promoting agricultural literacy by reading with elementary school children, and mapping key electrical and water fixtures on farms for emergency first responders.

After being exposed to technology in so many other ways, chapter officers recently turned to online resources to solve an issue they faced with bringing members together for meetings.

“Its hard to schedule chapter meetings around winter sports, which many of us participate in,” said Andrew Scharf, student advisor. Smith and chapter reporter Bailey Wagner added sickness and bad weather as more obstacles the chapter faced when scheduling their two winter meetings.

Members searched for a suitable service to conduct their meetings over the Internet and settled on Edmodo, an educational website with an interface similar to Facebook. Jolliff and other teachers were already using Edmodo to post grades and course assignments, so students were familiar with the website, Wagner said. In January, the chapter held its first online meeting.

Officers thought the online format was a great success, as it allowed increased flexibility and ensured that all members could have their voices heard.

“Last year, our January meeting was cancelled twice because of bad weather, and then we couldn’t reschedule it because basketball games were going on some nights, and we had different activities going on for school events other nights. It’s just easier to have it posted up on Edmodo so people can look at it whenever they have free time,” Smith said.

Edmodo also offers a smartphone application, which Wagner and other students used to cast their votes. “Quite a few people have smartphones that they can easily get on Edmodo and talk. I don’t have Internet access at home, but I had my phone to participate in the meeting on,” Wagner said.

In addition to moving some of its meetings online, the chapter also has shifted to an entirely virtual newsletter and expanded its social media presence to reach members, parents and members of the community.

“Who isn’t on Facebook nowadays?” Smith asked. “Everybody that we want to reach out to has a Facebook page, so they can easily see what different activities we’re doing.”

As much as the students enjoy taking advantage of their high-tech classroom, they believe in-person contact is still very important to their success as individuals and as a chapter. They plan to follow a blended meeting schedule, holding their fall meetings in a traditional gathering to allow members to meet and connect, and then moving online for the busy and unpredictable winter months.

“With new kids coming in, it’s nice to have face-to-face meetings because it’s more hands-on, and they get more involved in the meeting,” Scharf said.

Wagner also credits traditional FFA meetings with building her public speaking skills. “Before my involvement in FFA, I wasn’t able to speak in front of others,” she said.

To follow the Ridgemont FFA Chapter’s activities, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ridgemontffa.

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