Connecting student research to community needs

For years, universities have tried to shake off their reputation as ivory towers churning out research that is of little relevance to the local communities around them. AgShare is a powerful road-tested model that provides strategies for a coherent institutional approach to teaching, research and community development. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by Michigan State University and OER Africa, AgShare Phase I was piloted from 2010 to 2012 in four African universities in three countries: Makerere University, Uganda; Haramaya University, Ethiopia; Moi University, Kenya; and United States International University, Kenya.

Building on the success of AgShare I, AgShare II was launched in September 2012 to create a scalable and sustainable method of filling critical gaps in agriculture related curricula through a redesigned process for Masters research. In this new process, students engage in action and participatory research while directly connected to communities and smallholder farmers. The students have produced high quality peer reviewed research, case studies and extension materials which can be accessed through the AgShare Indigenous Knowledge Database. Some of these resources will be shared on the RUFORUM Knowledge Repository. Agshare II is being implemented in collaboration with the South African Institute for Distance Education (SAIDE) as the lead, RUFORUM, Makerere University (Uganda), Michigan State University (USA), Mekelle University (Ethiopia) and Haramaya University (Ethiopia).

What makes the AgShare Model Different?

  • All projects commence with field-based research into farmers’ practices and needs This research is carried out by students working closely with their faculty supervisors and relevant community-wide partners within respective value chains.
  • Students, faculty and staff participate in capacity-building workshops in research, Open Education Resources (OERs) and media production skills to empower them with data capturing and presentation skills
  • Student work is published in three forms: as OER multimedia learning packages for incorporation into degree programs; as extension materials for farmers; and as research theses
  • The OERs are published in appropriate platforms and conferences such as the RUFORUM Biennial Conferences leading to recognition for scholarship, teaching, research and extension.

Impact of the AgShare Model:

  1. Transformed teaching in Universities: AgShare has transformed the way in which academics now conceptualize their role as teachers and researchers by validating community-based problems as research and collaborating with students and other stakeholders.
  2. Relevant and effective student learning: Integration of local case studies and experiences in the coursework component of the master’s degree has enabled students to engage with local issues versus abstract theory.
  3. Student research capacity improved: AgShare increased students’ capacity to conduct meaningful, high quality, independent research which becomes part of the public record and builds the student’s resume.
  4. Improved quality and productivity of farmer practices: AgShare improved farmers’ practices that led to improved quality and productivity, and positioned them to begin the shift from subsistence to commercial farming.
  5. Creation of Open Education Resources (OER): AgShare produced free, openly-licensed educational resources that can be customized and re-used to improve the quality of teaching

RUFORUM has played a key role in bringing together universities, encouraging them to partner and share resources. We encourage our member universities to learn from the Agshare project and adopt the Methods as a way of connecting universities to the development context.

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