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Scientific animations without borders

ICT Update

Julia Bello-Bravo and Barry Robert Pittendrigh outline an emerging strategy to connect local and global experts to create and deploy educational content for low-literate learners in the form of animated videos.

One of the United Nations to eradicate hunger, with agriculture being a major pillar of this objective. Subsistence farmers in developing countries still lack access to agricultural information, however, a problem that is further complicated by the fact that many are low-literate learners who often speak different languages. The resources for addressing these issues, in relation to the magnitude of the problem, are miniscule. However, there are global changes occurring that may impact how knowledge can be shared with low-literate learners. The advent of Bluetooth® and video-capable cell phones, along with other video-capable devices in the global marketplace, has given rise to a variety of new strategies, including two broad-stroke approaches to develop educational content: live-action filming and animations. Even better, these approaches do not compete with each other: they are potentially highly complementary strategies to help deliver solutions.

The problems of educating subsistence farmers on improved agricultural techniques are vast compared to the financial resources available. So we must find ways to involve more players in the process of creating and deploying content related to agricultural best practices. The individuals and groups in this process can be broadly identified as ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. The insiders include those who are professionally involved full-time or even part-time in international development and have financial support. The ‘outsiders’ include those that can assist others in their or other communities, but are not financially supported or primarily focused on international development. These ‘outsiders’ could be small NGOs or volunteers. The ‘outsider’ community is vast and has been a traditionally untapped resource. So the question is, how do we connect the ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in an efficient and cost-effective manner to create and share useful content for subsistence farmers?

Animations emerge as a logical strategy to ‘connect the dots’ of people globally, in order to develop efficient and cost-effective content. Online interaction makes it possible to create scripts, storyboards, animations and voice-overs cost effectively in different languages. Animations can be entertaining and easily comprehensible, but most importantly they get around cultural and generational barriers. Once created, the content can be made available for organisations to use with target groups from highly divergent places, cultures and languages. In addition, content can be easily modified for new situations through online interactions of partners across the globe.

Bringing the groups together

Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO) is an ongoing ‘rethink’ of how to bring together these ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ groups to benefit end users. SAWBO relies largely on expert volunteers from around the globe to make sure its animations are accurate. Once created, animations are made freely available through multiple online and offline platforms. The organisation’s approach also democratises access to information by making it available to all.

Diverse individuals and organisations have used these animations in their programmes and their deployment pathways. One example is a young man who lives in Burkina Faso. He downloaded animations onto his cell phone, which he then used to show the videos to farmers, who were able to understand and adopt the techniques shown in the animations.

SAWBO has also worked with larger NGOs, academic institutions and government organisations to create and deploy content. The organisation’s animations have also been used on TV stations. Recently, SAWBO released the Deployer App for select Android devices. It allows users connected to the internet to find and access videos from the programme’s complete library of animations, download videos one at a time, and store them on their cell phones for easy Bluetooth® transfer when the user is offline and in the field.

Although there is an emerging global community creating live-action and animated agricultural educational videos, the resources available to create such content are insufficient, especially if one considers the global needs of subsistence farmers. In the future, the ‘outsiders’ and the ‘insiders’ will be concentrating on ways of getting these diverse groups to work together to come up with solutions that address these needs. ◀

Julia Bello-Bravo (juliabb@illinois.edu) and Barry Robert Pittendrigh (pittendr@illinois.edu) are co-director and director, respectively, of Scientific Animations Without Borders at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States.

Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.