Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks? (4/22/2022)

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? During my career in Agricultural Education I have experienced numerous approaches to record keeping for the Supervised Agricultural Experience programs (SAE) of our students. For decades we used paper and pencil record books. With the advent of computers, some states started using computerized spreadsheets (such as Excel) to keep SAE records. There were even some computerized software programs developed for agricultural education programs. So, I was in a constant learning mode trying to stay current.

Figure 1. Is it possible to teach an old dog new tricks?

Today the Agricultural Experience Tracker (AET) system is the most widely used record and experience program in agricultural education. The Agricultural Experience Tracker is a personalized online system for tracking experiences in agricultural education. It can be accessed from a computer or smartphone. Before I retired from NCSU I taught the SAE course and had to learn the AET system.

I have invited Roger Hanagriff, one of the developers of the system, to tell us how the AET came about. Take it away Roger.

The Development of AET

 The origins of the Agricultural Experience Tracker (AET) date back to 1998 when summer Texas professional development sessions focused on improving SAE records through the application of Farm Financial Standards (implemented in 1991). Farm and ranch operations were becoming more and more complex (Embryo sales, unique enterprises, diversity of income streams, etc…), and traditional accounting principles needed to change, which of course connected to improving SAE records.

Figure 2. Financial and Accounting Guidelines developed by the Farm Financial Standards Council

The goals of these workshops were simple and still apply today…(1) get all students engaged in SAE and (2) teach sound financial management processes using SAE record keeping. Of course, some big topic drivers of these workshops were FFA Award check-list items, and “the old lines 29&30”. Some workshop presentations shared that we should be careful in how records are taught and not replicate Enron accounting processes (they cooked the books and mostly went to prison…record book workshops need some humor)!

AET was officially formed in 2007 to try and improve the process of SAE records, create accurate balanced reports from proper records, collect important data elements to promote ag-education, and improve the accuracy of FFA Awards. Learn more on our website – AET State Stats Data Summary. We developed some of the core concepts of AET, hung a bedsheet on the wall at our 2007 Texas Ag-Teachers Conference booth (we did not plan that well), and shared a new record book that may help teachers assist their students in tracking classroom, SAE and FFA experiences.

 We started with about 150 core Texas programs that were ready for a new approach, really sort of the guinea pig group! Schools like Barbers Hill, James Madison, Katy, Harmony, Kingwood Park, and others were close partners in using these new record-keeping practices. Quickly and really by word-of-mouth, AET was used in New Mexico, Ohio, Montana, and other states with teachers looking for the same solution. Concepts like tracking time and money as separate student resources, double-entry accounting, balanced inventory, written SAE plans, and other tools were new processes that offered real-world applications using AET. We focused on the fact that FFA awards were an outcome of proper accounting and educational engagement, and the key was tracking the experience, then sharing the data into a variety of reports and awards. Not completely sure if it would work but seemed to be the time to give it a shot!

 Figure 3. An overview of the AET system.

Fast-forward…In 2022, we are annually collaborating with over 6,500 programs from 45 states, tracking 550,000 students investing nearly $1 billion in SAEs funding, tracking over 26 million learning hours, and documenting over 5.5 million academic standards…so we are continually in awe of how AET is used and solutions we have been fortunate to create. You can view our weekly statistics, which share real-time program values by state –

 Our goals/mission of AET have stayed the same, but the demands on programs and students sharing their data have grown. Perkins reporting, student digital portfolios and increase of student applications, online FFA award applications and reducing printing costs, reducing travel costs, program reporting, and other needs continually grow, and keeping AET relevant is personally gratifying. Our entire AET team and close partners are passionate and focused on the same goals that started AET. We continue to support professional development activities, collaborate with State and National FFA, create new video resources, expand, and learn from other CTE areas, and brainstorm to improve the process and hopefully be an educational resource.

Meet the AET Team

Thank you, Roger. So, who is Roger and the AET team? For several years I thought Roger was my shadow. During my three-year term as an officer (president-elect, president, past-president) of the Association for Career and Technical Education I attended numerous state ACTE conferences. It seemed as if Roger was always at the same conferences conducting AET workshops. So, I got to know Roger very well. We again crossed paths this past December in New Orleans at the NAAE conference.

Figure 4. The AET Executive Team

So, allow me to introduce Roger and the AET Executive Team. The Executive Team of AET is comprised of Roger Hanagriff, Clay Ewell, and Tim Murphy.

Roger is an associate professor of Agricultural Business and Agricultural Education at Texas A&M University in Kingsville. After graduating with a B.S in Agricultural Business from Sam Houston State in 1990 he was a part-time lecturer at the Houston Community College, was an assistant state economist, and then owned a tax and corporate accounting business. He earned his Master’s in Agricultural Economics from Texas A&M in 1992 and received a doctorate in Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication from A&M in 2002. Since 2002 he has been on the faculty at Sam Houston State (where he was also the Rodeo coach), at Texas A&M, and now at Texas A&M in Kingsville.

Clay Ewell has a degree in Electrical Engineering and is a computer guru. He developed an electronic scan sheet scoring system for FFA Career Development Events. This led to the development of which is utilized by nearly 20 states across the nation and is the official scoring system for National FFA events.

Tim Murphy is a professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications at Texas A&M University. He taught high school agriculture for eight years in Missouri before completing his Ph.D. degree in 1995 at Texas A&M. After spending two years on the faculty at the University of Idaho he returned to a faculty position at Texas A&M. He has held numerous leadership positions in the American Association for Agricultural Education and received awards for both teaching and research.

One Final Remark

Alexander Pope, an English poet and satirist, stated “Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.” So, if you are not using the Agricultural Experience Tracker, it is time to do so. Old Dogs can learn new tricks!

Figure 5. An Alexander Pope quote