One of the things during the closing session of the Minnesota FFA State Convention that caught the attention of Juleah Tolosky, state executive director for the Minnesota FFA Association, was students sharing how they are often harped on for being "lost in technology."
"And yet there we were, proving that technology was not necessarily a distraction, but a tool," said Tolosky.
That tool allowed students to be as engaged as they were during the 92nd annual Minnesota FFA State Convention, held virtually for the first time ever because of COVID-19.
"They said we're not disengaged, we're differently engaged," she said of FFA members referencing technology. "It's kind of cool to see technology have its moment."
Tolosky said the pandemic was a good reason for the association to consider why they do the convention in the first place.
"It's easy to get caught up in the tradition of doing things because it's what has been done for so long," she said.
Tolosky said there were some experiences during the convention that "rivaled or exceeded" what they would've been able to do with an in-person event, and that the state officer team was instrumental in helping develop the virtual content.
But there were some things that couldn't be done virtually, Tolosky said.
"We decided it wasn't in the best interest of our students or our local programs to do career or leadership development events virtually," she said. "We didn't have the ability to guarantee that every student that wanted to participate would really truly have access."
She said CDEs are a major focus of the in-person convention, so similar virtual experiences were offered in the weeks leading up to the event.
Tolosky said the virtual convention ended up being a lot more work than they expected, so they were fortunate to be able to focus on what they were doing instead of "trying to do everything at the same time."
They were able to focus on the Supervised Agricultural Experience Recognitions more, she said. In an in-person convention, all of the agriscience and proficiency award winners are announced in a two-hour event one afternoon.
"It was easy for a student in the audience to kind of zone out," she said. "And because we knew we had to do it differently, we let ourselves ask, 'Why are we doing this?'"
So they broke the part of the convention into six sections based upon career pathways, and then brought in people working in those careers to speak to students.
"We really focused on bridging that connection between 'this is an award you win in FFA, and this is what it's setting you for long-term,'" she said.
Every chapter paid registration fees for the convention, but Tolosky said they didn't require any individual registration for the event his year. She said the number of viewers online continued to grow as the week went on.
Because students were still technically in school, those numbers were pretty inconsistent, and she said ranged from "a couple hundred kids to a couple dozen kids".
"Hopefully it will continue to be useful and used for months and even years into the future," she said of the now archived footage.
South Dakota FFA
In South Dakota, 71 chapters and over 1,000 FFA members participated in the state's virtual convention, according to Gerri Eide, South Dakota FFA Foundation executive director.
Unlike Minnesota, the state's FFA offered career development events by having ag education teacher assemble videos. State FFA officers interviews were also conducted via Zoom prior to the convention, with the results then announced online. State degree recipients and AgriScience Fair winners also were recognized online.
North Dakota FFA
North Dakota FFA is hosting a virtual convention June 1-4. Each day will feature highlights of award winners, retiring addresses from state officers and more. Events will be streamed on the state FFA Facebook and YouTube pages.
The state also created 1,000 Convention Boxes filled with surprises and gifts including a t-shirt for members who signed up at https://www.ndffafoundation.com/conventionbox.
Montana FFA held a virtual convention May 20-21. Videos of the events can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/c/MontanaFFA.
Iowa FFA held virtual convention events in May. Videos of the events can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/user/IowaFFA/featured.
(Michelle Rook and Jenny Schlecht contributed to this report.)