By Beth A. DeHoff
Friending. Blogging. Tweeting. These terms may seem a long way from the agricultural classroom, and they certainly weren’t part of your dad’s FFA chapter. Yet it turns out that social networking and other relatively new technologies may be the best way to lasso your students’ interest.
Jessica Geisler, agriculture teacher and FFA chapter advisor at Shenandoah High School in Anderson, Ind., can rattle off a list of technologies her chapter uses that could make most people’s heads spin. “We currently use Facebook, Twitter, SchoolTube and YouTube, as well as having a chapter website and photobucket page that leads to a blog, newsreel, and podcast that are on our website. The podcast connects to iTunes and can be subscribed to by iTunes users,” she says.
Geisler is the first to caution others to avoid starting with all that. “If you’re interested in using technology, start small with a website or Facebook page,” she says, also pointing out that her chapter’s Public Relations Committee is in charge of all the social media networking and uses it as an integral chapter activity.
“Our PR Committee chair uses this exclusively as her SAE, because she comes from a non-farm background,” Geisler says. “She actually won the District Ag Comm Proficiency as a sophomore this year, and she presented our National Models of Innovation presentation on this topic. All of the hours spent on social networking are documented by the committee.”
Pilar Reyes-Swider, an agricultural teacher and FFA advisor in Puerto Rico, uses some of this technology in her agriscience classroom, as well. “I was making plans for the new school year and thinking about how to make the agriscience class different and interesting for the students,” she says. “I did think of doing something with them using the computer as a tool, since they are from the ‘net generation.’ Then the idea about having them write about agriculture’s themes arrived, and it became a blog for each student.”
Reyes-Swider’s students reflect on agricultural themes and how they affect agriculture on the island they are studying and around the world. “Instead of a traditional notebook, they have a web journal that can be read by classmates, parents, friends and anybody on the web looking for some information about what agriscience is,” she says. “The blogs are journals we don’t have to carry, and students can have pictures, music, jokes and other things they use to personalize their blogs and make it interesting to them.”
John Jones, agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Glen Rose High School in Glen Rose, Texas, uses the computer technology of iTunes to work with students in his class with special needs. “I read my tests using a hand-held microphone, and save the mp3 file on iTunes,” he says. “When the students took the test, they could listen to me read the test, pause, back up and listen again as many times as they needed before answering the question. It keeps kids normally in special education in my room – they don’t need to go to the special ed room to be read to. If they do have a question, they can ask me instead of the special ed teacher, who may or may not have an answer about my subject matter.” Jones also has used the technology with the parliamentary procedure CDE, allowing students to download the motions onto their mp3 player and listen to them over and over.
All this effort is not technology just for the sake of technology. “Students absolutely love being able to tag themselves in photo on Facebook, they’re anxious to subscribe to our Twitter feeds, and they download our podcasts to their mp3 players,” Geisler says. “They write blogs in class and make videos and class assignments, and that all goes up on our website.”
As much as students love the technologies, Geisler has two cautions. “As an advisor, you have to have a lot of trust in your students. Luckily, my committee members are responsible and respectful, and they monitor everything that goes online to be sure it’s appropriate,” she says. “Another pitfall is that it can be very time-consuming, and you need to spend a lot of time with students training them, coaching them and double-checking everything they do because it’s always in the public eye.”
That public eye, however, is one of the chief benefits of such technology, too. “Our community, including parents, alumni, school board members and others, has really taken hold of this!” Geisler says. “They follow us on Facebook and Twitter, utilize our website, and spread the news of our successes through re-tweets and congratulations messages. We get a lot of compliments, and the students really enjoy it.”