Mobile phones for development (MOB4DEV): supporting veterinary training of distance learners in Tanzania

Niall Winters, London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education

TRA5 N Winters (Final Report) [pdf, 2.82mb]



This report details the use of internet connected mobile phones for in-situ veterinary training on mobile epidemiology in Zanzibar. The study was undertaken with veterinarians and veterinarian assistants from the Department of Agriculture, Zanzibar and veterinary students from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in the UK. The aim of the three week study was two-fold:

(i) to determine how Android phones could support the collection of physical exam data in field using Google’s Open Data Kit (ODK),
(ii) to determine how social media applications (such as twitter) can support field logistics and communication between learners in the field and experts based at the RVC.

The fieldwork was designed to be a learning experience for students, who supervised by Department of Agriculture staff, worked in groups of five to collect data on East Coast Fever in cattle on farms in Zanzibar. Each student was assigned a (rotating) role, one of which was collection of physical exam data using the ODK. Outside of fieldwork, students used the phones for checking their email, facebook updates and posting to the project blog. This use was unaffected by the fact that three phones were shared between nine students.

Study participants self-identified as non-technical users of technology. The majority had basic phones for everyday use. None had used twitter on an on-going basis in advance of the project. The Android operating system was not found to be immediately usable but in the main, the ODK proved useful. The paperless option was valued, as was the upload to Excel via XML. The ability to geo-tag data collection points provided students with the ability to map the farms they visited. One participant felt that when using the ODK, they were missing the “hands-on” element of physical examination and were instead simply engaged in information gathering.

Twitter was mainly used for field logistics and organization, providing a broadcast mechanism, unavailable via SMS. However, updates and replies were affected by the quality of network coverage. On the whole, participants did not use twitter for communication with RVC faculty regarding project specifics. They did tweet updates on the progress of the project e.g “Working on 1st Geimsa stain [removed link to picture]”) and for pragmatic issues (e.g. “Pls chase those EDTA tubes up (about 150 we need)…”) affecting the project’s success.

In terms of supporting on-going student learning, future work is focused on providing data analysis tools on the phone itself for use in the field.

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