AgShare Open Educational Resources (OER) Collaboration

AgShare is an 18-month planning and piloting project in which Michigan State University (MSU) and Saide's OER Africa Initiative are working with a range of African anchor partners to build the foundation of the AgShare Open Educational Resources (OER) collaboration. Brenda Mallinson provides more detail on the project and reports on some of the initial engagements with Haramaya University.

The vision of AgShare is to become a catalyst for collaboration and alignment among existing African OER and agricultural organizations to strengthen MSc agriculture curricula. The leadership and organizational structure of the collaboration will be finalized by the end of the pilot to ensure that AgShare is run by Africans and for Africans. MSU is facilitating the process which includes three types of partners: universities, community-wide partners (NGO, extension and stakeholders in agricultural value chains), and content providers. The external project team comprises Michigan State University (MSU), Saide, through its OER Africa initiative, FLOSS4EDU, RUFORUM and ccLEARN.

The four partner Higher Education institutions (HEIs) selected for the pilots were Makerere University (Uganda), Haramaya University (Ethiopia), United States International University (USIU) and Moi University, both situated in Kenya. Each of the four pilots uses a different focus which allows the core team to pilot test different approaches to fulfilling the overall project goals.

  • Makerere University is focused on improving dairy production while integrating graduate students to work with farmers. Science-based OER will provided which can be used in MSc course modules in both the veterinary school and the agriculture school. Students will be directly involved in the research process, capturing the work with and for farmers, and will provide replicable model for many other important commodities.
  • Haramaya University is developing a master’s level course that directly impacts on Agricultural Extension. It is a course in the RUFORUM Agriculture Information Communication Management (AICM) MSc program and has potential for network-wide localization and replication, as well as serving as a model for subsequent courses.
  • USIU is developing OER that utilizes a practical case method and active learning while building an AgShare Fellows program that will embed expertise within the faculty and students to create and use OER. These OER are aimed at assisting farmers in transforming their traditional practice of farming as a livelihood to farming as a business enterprise. The collaborative content generation is through partnerships between USIU business school, agriculture universities and community-wide partners.
  • The Collaborative MSc in Agricultural and Applied Economics (CMAAE) relies on two universities, Haramaya and Moi, to build commodity-focused case studies. Cases will focus on the Economic Role of Prices and Approaches to the Study of Agricultural Market Organization for Coffee in Ethiopia and Maize in Kenya. Students will be involved in creating the cases and community-wide partners will be involved as subjects in the cases and also in the review of the materials. This collaborative approach to the creation of case studies can be a potentially cost-effective model replicated throughout CMAAE and other universities.

Haramaya Visits – August and October 2010
The external team members assembled at Addis Ababa and early the following morning flew into Dire Dawa, a town approximately 350 kms east of Addis Ababa, where we were met by local pilot project leader Amare Adhena who warmly welcomed us and had organised a vehicle for the hour long trip into the highlands where the expansive Haramaya University campus lies at 3000m above sea level within farmland and adjacent to a lake.

This first support visit comprised an initial day of planning with the visiting team, project leader and project leaders for the AICM and CMAAE pilots. The intention of the workshop was to support the local team members involved in the pilot activities by:

  • Facilitating their interaction with the textual and audio-visual materials collected via Internet-related searches, field projects by undergraduate students, and supervised extension projects;
  • Introduce them to the concepts of strong curriculum design and the role therein of textual and audio-visual materials and Learning Management Systems; and
  • Provide hands-on experience of how to integrate digital materials into a well designed agricultural curriculum.

This was followed by related workshop support activities with a larger group of about 16 participants. The workshop took place in the College of Agriculture computer laboratory and the Postgraduate Library computer laboratory, which, while both are well-furnished with up-to-date desktop PCs, did not have access to the campus Intranet or outside Internet at this time.

We were fortunate to be given the opportunity to meet with the President of Haramaya University, Professor Belay Kassa, who is also an agricultural economist and very supportive of the AgShare pilots. Issues discussed included the two AgShare pilots and related matters such as the use of ICTs at Haramaya University (HU), quality assurance for online courses, distance education programmes at HU, and the current Higher Education landscape in Ethiopia. The evident support for these pilot projects by the top University management and on the ground by the support services such as IT and the Library auger well for the success of the pilots. As the University had its origins in an Agricultural College, there is a deep rooted understanding of the context of the AgShare pilots.

Challenges to the success of the HU pilots were identified as:

  • Time management: all those participating in the projects are also busy with their regular full-time work at the University, as well as summer schools, night classes and distance education programmes.
  • Field work: the nature of the agriculture pilot projects adds to the complexity and variety of the project tasks that need to be supported.
  • Campus location: the remote campus also inhibits on-site interaction with project support teams. The flights from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa do not operate consistently, and the alternative is a seven hour car journey between the University and the capital.
  • Unreliable connectivity: the current state of flux in availability of the networking (both Intranet and Internet) on the HU campus makes life extremely difficult for those wishing to engage in online teaching and learning, support workshops, utilizing electronic library resources, or indeed any form of Internet research.

As initial site contact is important for a project of this nature, we were now positioned to undertake further and more specific interventions as and when required. We are continuing to build an understanding of the environment within which the pilot projects are taking place.

The second support visit took place two months later and focussed on ascertaining the progress of each pilot and specific video production support. This trip included a video editor, whose task was to build capacity for the production of videos for both pilots.

The purpose of the two video resources is as follows: the AICM OER video is to display the link between the farmers and what the students are doing i.e. the link between HU and the farming community (a core objective of the AgShare project); the CMAAE Coffee informational video is to focus on the marketing of coffee and feature the entire process of marketing coffee, from the producer through to the exporter, the functions and channels. The intention is to integrate each video into a multimedia package containing text, video and still photography, and case studies reports.

These two pilot projects are now both at a crucial stage where resources need to be integrated and the promised outputs produced within the next two months. Detailed timelines and redefined objectives have been set up for the remainder of the pilots’ time spans. A further support may be necessary in order to ensure the successful outcome of the pilot projects.

A selection of photographs from the visit are attached.