MSU, African Educators Expand Agricultural Education
Published: Monday, 23 Apr 2012
Michigan State University researchers are using a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help African educators develop free and open access to agriculture education material, which they hope could improve agricultural practices and contribute to a sustainable economy.
AgShare Open Education Resources is an 18-month pilot project that will enable African educational institutions to create a virtual hub of resources and curriculum for Master of Science degrees in agriculture, with areas of emphasis in livestock, crops and agribusiness.
Among beneficiaries of the project are faculty and student researchers from various agricultural universities in Africa, representatives of nongovernmental organizations and farmers from around the continent.
“The project comes at an important time for African institutions, which are looking for effective ways to address the development of their educational agriculture programming with limited financial resources,” said Christine Geith, assistant provost and executive director of MSUglobal Learning Ventures, an entrepreneurial business unit.
MSU faculty are working with OER Africa, a new project headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, and other international experts to develop best practices for sharing information through open education resources — an educational learning trend in which materials reside in a public domain for users to freely share and repurpose.
AgShare will allow users to form learning networks that will share content such as modules, textbook material and videos via the Web. Farmers along with educators and researchers will be able to contribute their knowledge and experiences to the resource. This increases the value and potential derivatives from the content. In remote areas where Internet is less accessible, information will be distributed through DVDs and printed material.
Geith heads the research team, which also includes John Kaneene, University Distinguished Professor of epidemiology, from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Cliff Lampe, assistant professor in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.
“Africa’s agriculture industry requires improved higher education, research, training and outreach programs,” Kaneene said. “Without improved dissemination and building of shared resources, the producers and educators will rely on 19th-century word-of-mouth education. This project is critical to sustainable agriculture in Africa.”
Currently, university-based agricultural education programs in Africa are severely hampered by out-of-date graduate teaching materials coupled with inadequate funding to purchase new materials, he added.
“Higher education plays a critical role in developing the practices and resources necessary to dramatically boost agricultural yields in the developing world,” said Khalid Bomba, a senior program officer in the Agricultural Development initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “AgShare Open Education Resources has the potential to provide Africa’s future scientists and leaders with access to current educational materials, enabling them to create innovative solutions for small farmers.”
MSU has been deeply involved in strengthening agricultural development in Africa since 1960. African partner institutions have included universities, government ministries and agencies, research institutions, private sector organizations and non-governmental organizations in 17 countries.