By Matt Kreifels, Nebraska State Director of Agricultural Education
When it was announced at the Nebraska summer Career Education Conference that National FFA would be replacing its previous online membership system, the news was met with applause and at least one, “About time!” from the crowd of teachers. (And this was prior to any description of what the replacement was!) To me, it was a sign that teachers knew that there had to be better ways to handle the membership process. What most in the room didn’t predict, however, was the scope of the new system. The Agricultural Career Network (AgCN) is not just a replacement membership system but a way forward for agricultural education in terms of student and chapter interaction, career exploration, data collection, sponsor exposure, FFA applications, and yes, for the membership roster process.
Realizing that we are still “in the thick” of the 2011-12 membership process, each state, and probably teacher, has their own opinion of AgCN. In the week-and-a-half since Nebraska opened the online registration process, we have heard comments of both glorification and frustration with the system from teachers…comments that are not uncommon with change of this nature. Whatever your thoughts about the system, know that we are just beginning to see the long-term advantages of AgCN.
Here’s one person’s view of how AgCN could help light agricultural education’s path to the future.
- Data – In the age of accountability, decision makers and sponsors want to know how resources are being used and need data to help them make those decisions. AgCN opens the door to collect data directly from teachers and students. For example, National FFA is asking students to complete information about students’ desired career paths. With accurate data, they will be able to adjust, modify, or add relevant programming based on that data. In addition to student data, National FFA is also collecting data about programs and teachers and will share aggregate data with state staff and teachers.
- Ease of use – Many agree that AgCN has been a step forward in ease-of-use for teachers. While there are still improvements to be made, this process will only get more streamlined!
- Direct communication – For the first time ever, National FFA has a portal for individual students to use. This allows all levels (national, state and local) to communicate directly with students via the calendar and announcements.
- Sponsor exposure – National FFA has promised us that they will not release student data to sponsors. What is exciting, however, is that AgCN will expose students to the career opportunities that sponsors provide based on their career interest and class enrollment. Students can then contact those sponsors on their own if they are interested in learning more. This is a big selling point when eliciting support for our programs.
- Scholarships and internships – While the National FFA Scholarship Program is currently online, AgCN will enhance that process, making the application easier to complete. Likewise, imagine students being exposed to internship opportunities from sponsors and industry based on this information.
- Applications – The date for the online application rollout is still in flux, but eventually Excel-based applications (degrees, proficiencies and chapter applications) will be a thing of the past. Say goodbye to lost or corrupted files, strange printing errors and lack of compatibility for Mac computers!
- Recognition – Students and teachers link AgCN to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, with the option to allow FFA to post to their accounts. Imagine the positive feedback a student would receive if earning their Greenhand Degree or other honor were automatically posted to their online wall or feed.
AgCN is poised to shape agricultural education for the next 20 years. With the ability to connect students to all levels of the organization, provide relevant information to students and teachers, the ability to collect and report accurate and complete data about our programs, and the future prospects of where the system could take us, AgCN will be a tool that empowers us all to improve what we do with and for students. (The best part is that it will only get better!)