Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
There is no doubt that the disruption brought on by Covid 19 marks a tipping point for Extension education. Even if the pandemic magically went away or we have a safe vaccine, it is clear that many of our traditional program delivery methods have been altered or canceled due to group meeting restrictions.
Field days are an essential tool for producer and landowner engagement, allowing for site- and region-specific dialogue and demonstration of various agriculture practices (Comito, Ripley, Licht, and Janke, 2020). It is commonly acknowledged that producers tend to prefer learning through their own and peers’ experiences (Comito et al., 2020). Many producers enthusiastically review research reports but frequently desire an additional level of evidence that the published outcomes are relevant to their agriculture operations. Field days often serve as the venue for offering such assurances (Comito et al., 2020).
Regular and repeated involvement in field days has been shown to have a progressive positive influence on adoption of agriculture practices and increased influence on peers. In 2017 it was reported that when field days in Iowa were evaluated patterns emerged in the evaluation data related to producers attending field days, thereby demonstrating the progressive impacts of field day participation. This phenomenon was described as the “field day success loop,” (Comito et al., 2017). Figure 1 illustrates the outcome observed when evaluating field days and defines the field day success loop (Comito et al., 2017).
Figure 1. Field Day Success Loop (Comito et al., 2017).
In an attempt to maintain the continuity of field day outcome while responding to restrictions related to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, a team of Iowa Extension educators developed a simple procedure for “virtualizing” field days that was proven to be successful and can be easily adopted by other Extension educators (Comito et al., 2020).
Primary objectives for virtual field days include (Comito et al., 2020);
Fundamental challenges identified by these Extension educators included the following (Comito et al., 2020):
To maintain audience interest and facilitate interaction, the Extension educators incorporated short video segments with live commentary and discussion among the virtual meeting host, presenters, and the audience (Comito et al., 2020). This sequencing (Figure 2) served to keep the audience engaged and involved while emulating the typical back-and-forth nature of in-person field days (Comito et al., 2020). This format also assisted in maintaining adequate pace and provides opportunities for surveys, feedback, and ongoing interaction among participants and between presenters and the audience (Comito et al., 2020).
Figure 2. Example of Sequence for Virtual Field Day (Comito et al., 2020).
The virtual field days were designed to occur in a 1-hr time slot, addressing the anticipated limitations in attention span of an audience watching on a computer screen versus one gathered on a farm or ranch (Comito et al., 2020). Prerecorded videos enabled speakers to demonstrate just as they would in person (Comito et al., 2020).
These Extension educators utilized a iPhone 11 Pro, a mounting tripod, and a wireless microphone system to record the field videos (Comito et al., 2020). They used a second smartphone to capture different shots of the speaker, making the videos more engaging and professional (Comito et al., 2020). These Extension educators reported that the wireless microphone also minimized handling of microphones and enabled social distancing between the interviewer and subject (Comito et al., 2020). We used each camera to shoot extensive b-roll footage to supplement the video (Comito et al., 2020).
Just like agenda items for an in-person field day, each video segment should purposefully contribute to the flow of the field day (Comito et al., 2020). Cutting together audio of the speaker with close-ups or b-roll showing what they are talking about visually strengthens the presentation (Comito et al., 2020). These Extension educators in Iowa selected Movavi editing suite (https://www.movavi.com/) for its ease of use, affordability, and features.
The delivery platform utilized for this project was Zoom (https://zoom.us/) videoconferencing platform (Comito et al., 2020. Benefits to utilizing this platform include (Comito et al., 2020):
For other Extension educators interested in conducting virtual field days, these Extension educators provided some technical guidance and a list of the advantages of such programming (Comito et al., 2020).
A key to ensuring that a virtual event is as similar as possible to the face-to-face version is smooth delivery of video segments (Comito et al., 2020). Steps for avoiding choppy playback of video segments are as follows (Comito et al., 2020):
These Extension educators identified the following advantages of the online format (Comito et al., 2020):
It was important to determine the effectiveness of virtual field days with past in-person field days (Comito et al., 2020). Immediately following session completion, an email survey was sent to each virtual field day participant (Comito et al., 2020). With traditional field days, participants who completed a comment card were mailed surveys 2 weeks after the event (Comito et al., 2020). Survey results are tabulated and reported annually by these Extension educators (Comito et al., 2020). Response rates to virtual event surveys have been similar to the 2019 results (Table 1).
Table 1. Survey Response Rates: Comparison of 2020 Virtual Field Day Events to 2019 Field Days/Workshops (Comito et al., 2020).
Participant satisfaction ratings were reported to being similar between virtual and traditional field days (Table 2) (Comito et al., 2020).
Table 2. Overall Participant Satisfaction Ratings: Comparison of 2020 Virtual Field Day Events to 2019 Field Days/Workshops (Comito et al., 2020).
Delivery of engaging virtual field days by Extension educators in Iowa has proven to be successful. These educators utilized live audience feedback and that gathered through follow-up surveys and contacts to determine that these events have been successful (Comito et al., 2020). Evaluations suggest that leveraging the virtual format to engage with more participants live and through archival views, Extension can continue to produce virtual field days to augment in-person events after Covid 19 restrictions are relaxed (Comito et al., 2020). Informal networking that occurs at field days is a critical component of their success (Comito et al., 2017), and, unfortunately, virtual field days has difficulty in replicating this experience (Comito et al., 2020). However, results of the evaluations suggest that all other aspects of successful field days were met (Comito et al., 2020).
From April 16 through August 8, 2020, Iowa Extension educators aired 10 virtual field days, and are continuing to produce new content that can be delivered virtually (Comito et al., 2020). Archived events can be viewed at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.
Comito, J., Case Haub, B., & Stevenson, N. (2017). Field day success loop. Journal of Extension, 55(6), Article v55-6tt6. https://www.joe.org/joe/2017december/tt6.php
Comito, J., Pierce, H., & Stevenson, N. (2020). Iowa Learning Farms 2019 evaluation report. Iowa Learning Farms. https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/files/page/files/2019_ilf_year-end_evaluation_report_online.pdf
Comito, J.,Ripley, E., & Licht, M., & Janke, A. (2020). Effectively Conducting Field Days While Responding to Unprecedented External Restrictions. Journal of Extension, 58 (5), Article v58-5tt3, https://joe.org/joe/2020october/tt3.php