I was making preparations for an upcoming MobiMOOC in September as I will be facilitating a week’s worth of the learning and was browsing through the excellent Mobile Active site for more information on different mobile projects that are starting to demonstrate traction in developing nations. I came across many that could be used to demonstrate some best practices for the MobiMOOC, but also a few that correspond to my PhD research on creating mobile communities of practice for academics in East Africa. I have written several times about this before, so I won’t bore you with it again.

Just by way of the briefest of summaries, I am most interested in the power of mobile technology in East Africa (specifically Tanzania) to network loose or non-existent communities of practice for non-STEM subjects. In this iteration, I am focusing on History as it is contested (post-colonial, union of Zanzibar and Tanganyika), it speaks to national identity (what does it mean to be Tanzanian?), and has potential to allow for knowledge production (more academic output). Here are the research links if you are interested in learning more.

However, I have struggled to find this type of mobile community building (or augmenting) activity in many of these projects as they traditionally focus on (and rightly so) developmental needs. Generally, they slot into

  • farming/agriculture
  • health
  • banking (think M-Pesa here)
  • government (watchdog activities, open data)
  • literacy
  • journalism

There are plenty of examples in each of these categories that are very promising. Also, it is my belief that several of these conceptual models could be used for foundational work on mobile communities for academics. However, I have yet to see direct examples of mobile communities of practice for higher education. One example from Mobile Active struck my interest as it checked a lot of the boxes I had in my mental list of requirements for mobile communities of practice for History. The project is Sauti ya Wakulima and it slots into the farming category listed above. First, some text taken from Mobile Active.

Sauti ya wakulima, “The voice of the farmers”, is a collaborative, multimedia knowledgebase created by farmers from the Chambezi region of the Bagamoyo District in Tanzania. By using smartphones, farmers gather audiovisual evidence of their practices, and publish images and voice recordings on the Internet.

Since March 2011, the participants of Sauti ya wakulima, a group of five men and five women, gather every Monday at the agricultural station in Chambezi. They use a laptop computer and a 3G Internet connection to view the images and hear the voice recordings that they posted during the week. They also pass the two available smartphones on to other participants, turning the phones into shared tools for communication. The smartphones are equipped with GPS modules and an application that makes it easy to send pictures and sounds to the Internet. The farmers at Chambezi use them to document their daily practices, make reports about their observations regarding changes in climate and related issues, and also to interview other farmers, expanding thus their network of social relationships.

The farmers at Chambezi not only struggle because of insufficient infrastructure and unreliable markets for their products, but they are also facing the challenges of a changing local climate. Less rains, less underground water and unprecedented threats caused by pests and plant diseases are some of the pressing issues that they have to deal with. However, they know that by sharing their knowledge on how to cope with these problems, they can become stronger and find ways to overcome them. They hope that, by communicating their observations to extension officers and scientific researchers, who can be in remote locations, they can participate in the design of new strategies for adaptation.

So by my tally it is the following:

  • Accessible (SMS)
  • Multimedia (audio, images)
  • Geolocated
  • Highly, highly social
  • Participatory designed

This looks like a good model to base some initial designs on for my project with academics in Zanzibar. I wanted to explore using a centralized laptop/server (in Zanzibar) running Frontline SMS or an equivalent, a centralized discussion forum fully accessible via mobile, a participatory design process to account for disciplinary needs and process norms in Tanzania, several calls for collaboration (towards academic research), and a knowledgebase of materials generated from this exercise, including examples of knowledge output (papers), a sort of mobile Academic Commons that does not inherently cherish the output at the expense of the collaboration and community. It is my belief the research will flow naturally from the community. Whatever is produced from these collaborations are deposited in the knowledgebase (which could be something as simple as a Drupal or WordPress instance). So, we see collaboration in design and research, acceleration (hopefully) of knowledge output, archiving, and publishing all in one workflow. I will certainly cite Sauti ya Wakulima for illuminating to me how it could be done.


By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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