Conference PaperPDF Available

Mobile based collaborative learning tool to facilitate instructor-mediated informal learning in agriculture

Authors:
2015 International Conference on Advances in ICT for Emerging Regions (ICTer):
24th 25th August 2015 15th International Conference on Advances in ICT for Emerging Regions ICTer2015
Mobile Based Collaborative Learning Tool to
Facilitate Instructor-mediated Informal Learning in
Agriculture
Uvasara Dissanayeke#*1, Ashintha Perera*2, K.P. Hewagamage*3, G.N. Wikramanayake*4
#Department of Agricultural Extension, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
1uvasarad@pdn.ac.lk
*University of Colombo School of Computing, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka
2ashintha@gmail.com
3kph@ucsc.lk
4gnw@ucsc.lk
Abstract This paper presents the development and testing of
an android application (Agri-Lessons) to facilitate instructor-
mediated informal learning in an agricultural community. In a
previous experiment, this evaluation was carried out using a
mobile SMS based Twitter application and basic phones to find
out the effectiveness of mobile learning in agriculture. In this
experiment, we are presenting a mobile application that is
developed for Android based smartphones, to promote
instructor-mediated informal learning. The paper also presents
the evaluation of the app to justify effectiveness.
The evaluation was carried out considering a pre-test and post-
test to find out knowledge gain. A questionnaire was used to
collect the user feedback in an anonymous way. The statistics of
evaluation shows that the Agri-Lessons app as highly effective as
a learning tool. The App can be further improved to modify the
user interface, include a few more functionalities and Sinhalese
language. In the future research this app can be improved to
include multiple user groups among the farming community.
Keywords Mobile learning, android, agriculture,
smartphones
I. INTRODUCTION
A. Background
The popularity of mobile phones among the farmer
community is seen as an opportunity to promote mobile
based information dissemination methods. Market
information related to agriculture produce have been
successfully communicated to interested stakeholders in the
past using mobile based methods such as Short Message
Service (SMS) based systems and Interactive Voice Response
(IVR) based systems [1],[2]. The latest research evidence
suggests the possibilities of using mobile phones as learning
devices among the agricultural communities using SMS
based platforms and IVR based methods [3], [4].
The availability of smartphones is increasing ever while
the mobile based broadband subscribers have been doubled
over the past three years [5]. The number of mobile
broadband subscribers is found to be more than three times of
the fixed broadband subscribers in Sri Lanka [5]. This clearly
indicates the increasing popularity of smartphones among the
users and their potential to use in enhancing agricultural
learning process through smartphone based applications.
This paper presents the findings related to the development
and testing of a smartphone application Agri-Lessons as a
mobile learning tool among a group of young farmers. The
same farmer community had been using an SMS based m-
Learning approach (mLA) to practice instructor-mediated
informal m-Learning for the last two years [4]. Mobile SMS
based Twitter functionality was used as a networking and
interacting tool during this earlier implementation. The mLA
was developed, implemented, and evaluated using a design
based research methodology thus the researchers collaborated
with the users throughout the research process. The mLA is
presently being used among the same user community as a
learning tool as well as a communication tool.
The research was carried out to develop and test a
smartphone based learning application to replace the SMS
based implementation of mLA.
B. Problem Statement and Justification
Limitations in the mLA’s SMS based platform was the
main reason that lead in the development of the Agri-
Lessons application. The mLA which was offered using
mobile SMS based Twitter platform has certain limitations
that has reduced its effectiveness as a learning tool. Firstly,
due to the SMS based platform a learner could collaborate
with only a few other learners effectively. Following more
members meant that the users would get too many SMSs
everyday making it difficult for them to manage with their
daily commitments. Receiving too many text messages had in
fact distracted some learners [4] thus learners were instructed
to follow maximum of 4-5 other learners in SMS based mLA.
Added to the above, some learners complained of having
technical difficulties in receiving SMSs in time. Certain users
reported that they did not get any messages while a few said
they would not get messages from particular members. This
problem was addressed by contacting the service providers;
however for certain users the situation could not be improved.
Thirdly the mLA environment was seen as less user-
friendly when it comes to facilitating collaborative learning.
Each communication in the Twitter based mLA was received
as a single text message thus users had to open each message
several times to follow a discussion. Furthermore, messages
could not have been organized as lessons, instructions, or
discussions but were given equal prominence, making the
mLA less user-friendly as a learning application. Twitter
messages has a character limitation of 140 characters per
message. This was seen as another problem in facilitating
effective collaborations.
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24th 25th August 2015 15th International Conference on Advances in ICT for Emerging Regions ICTer2015
High cost involved per text messages sent through the
Twitter mobile SMS short code 40404 was another drawback.
Each message sent to 40404 cost around LKR 3, while in a
broadband accessed environment 1MB worth of data could
have been accessed for LKR 1. Thus using an internet
enabled smartphone solution will be more economical for an
m-learning application in the long run. These problems have
led us to think of a smartphone based solution as the next
stage of the mLA.
C. Objectives
The main purpose of this study was to develop and test a
smartphone based application as an alternative for the
Twitter-SMS based mLA that can be used in facilitating
collaborative learning among the study community.
D. Related Work
Android platform has been commonly used in developing
mobile learning applications [6], [7] due to its recent
popularity [8]. A mobile based Learning Environment
System was developed as an Android-based Learning
Application for undergraduate education [9]. The system was
rated as effective in terms of interactivity, accessibility, and
convenience however there were also interruptions due to
internet connectivity problems.
Android based applications have also been designed using
web-services to facilitate ubiquitous learning environments
[7]. These systems were used to offer powerful collaborative
and interactive learning opportunities.
E. Learning Theories
This research basically draws from literature on three theories
of learning; constructivism theory, informal learning, and
collaborative learning.
1) Constructivism: According to the Constructivism theory,
learning is considered as a process in which learners
construct new knowledge and understanding by reflecting on
the experiences they face every day. Thus learning is viewed
as an active process in which the teacher guide or facilitate
the learning process. Learning is also regarded as social
activity that learner closely collaborate with others in the
society such as teachers, and peers during the process of
learning.
2) Collaborative Learning: Collaborative learning happens
when two or more people attempt to learn something together.
This study discusses how learners collaborated with the rest
of study community in constructing knowledge.
3) Informal Learning: Informal learning is part of lifelong
learning, in which an outsider decides the learning goals
while the leaner decides the methods of learning [10]. In this
research the Agricultural Instructor (AI) purposely mediated
the learning process in an informal way by initiating the
learning process [11]. The learner then choose between
methods of learning such as referring learning materials,
interacting with the colleagues, and interacting with the
knowledgeable others in the community, including the
instructor, to obtain knowledge.
II. METHODOLOGY
A. Analyzing the Functionalities of SMS Based
Implementation
The mLA was basically used for the following functions
by the study community (Table 1). Mainly the mLA served
as a networking tool, learning tool, and interaction and
communication tool for the study community.
TABLE 1 FUNCTIONS OF THE MLA
Main Function
Sub functions
Networking
tool
1. Link the study community to one another
so as to form a network
Learning tool
2. The instructor can post lessons each
lesson consisting of a question and model
answer
3. The learners can post answers for the
daily questions
4. The instructor can give feedback in terms
of accuracy of the answer, share the
answer with the others, share the names
of learners those who sent correct answers
Interaction and
communication
tool
1. The ins tructor can share information
related to training opportunities, schedule
of non-formal classes.
B. Design and Development of the Application
The Agri-Lessons appl was developed for the android
platform using eclipse 4.2. Programing language used for the
development is Java. Target android Application
Programming Interface (API) was 20 (KitKat). Minimum
Software Development Kit (SKD) version application
supports is 11 (Honeycomb). Since the application uses
internet connectivity for the operations, application requests
internet permission on the android manifest. The application
architecture is presented in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1 Agri-Lessons application system architecture
User interfaces is designed using Extensible Markup
Language (XML). There are five major layouts in the
application namely login screen, main menu, today’s question,
previous question, discussions and the web view. In addition
to that there are five more support layouts which connected
with the major layouts.
Fig. 2 shows the data flow diagram for the Agri-Lessons
application. Instructor has the functions to login, approve
learners, post today's question, post learning resources, add
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24th 25th August 2015 15th International Conference on Advances in ICT for Emerging Regions ICTer2015
answers, create discussion topics, and reply to discussion
topics. Learners can login to the system, view todays
question, view answers, and reply to the questions. They can
access the learning resources that are provided either as
offline sources or visit direct links to websites. User can also
view previous questions and answers, create discussion topics
and reply to discussions.
Fig. 2 Data flow diagram for the Agri-Lessons application
Application uses an online repository which consists of
User, Discussions, Discussion_replies, Question tables with
following data columns,
User table User_ID, User_Name, Password, Admin,
Approved
Discussions Discussion_ID, Discussion_Topic
Discussion_replies DReply_ID, Discussion_ID,, Reply,
UserID
Questions Q_ID, Question, Resources, Answer,
Created_Date
Q_Replies QR_ID, Q_ID, Reply, User_ID
F. Testing and Evaluating
The Agri-Lessons app was tested with the user community
in a workshop. About 13 farmers participated as learners,
while the AI served as the instructor or facilitator. The
application was tested using android tablets with android
version 2.3(Gingerbread). The learner community was
verbally instructed on the features and functionalities of the
Agri-Lessons application. Then users were invited to use the
application as an m-learning tool. During the session, the
instructor initiated the learning process by posting a question.
Users interacted with each other using the discussion forum
and referred to the learning resources given in the Agri-
Lessons app to find the answer for the question.
A pre-test and post-test analysis was conducted to test the
knowledge gain of the users after using the Agri-Lessons
application. The test paper consisted of 16 structured
questions. Both the pretest and posttest were conducted on
the same day before and after implementation of application.
Data were analysed paired sample t-test using the Statistical
Package for Social Sciences.
User feedback was also collected using a structured
questionnaire.
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
A) Application Features
1) Login: The Agri-Lessons App requires the users to log
in to the system using a password (Fig. 3). During this step,
the user is being identified as a learner or the instructor and
thereby they will be directed to the appropriate screens.
Fig. 3 Login screen
2) Home Screen: The Agri-Lessons app is organized into
lessons (Today’s Question), archives (Previous lessons),
Discussion forum, Instructions on how to use the application
(Help), and Twitter feed (Fig. 4 Home screen).
Fig. 4 Home screen
3) Lessons: A lesson consists of two components: An
initial question and a model answer. The question is usually
posted in the morning at a pre-determined time. Adequate
time is given for the learners to find the answers and to post
their answers for the question. When learners have posted
their own answers, the instructor will post the model answer
for the question.
Learning resources are made available to the learners as
reference sources to find the answer for the question.
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Learning resources consisted of video clips, audio clips and
web page and pdf files. Learners can refer this material and
learn the answer for the question, as well as get additional
knowledge on the topic. Learners can also refer to the
answers posted by the fellow learners. Fig. 5 shows the
lesson page of the Agri-Lessons app, consisting links to post
answers, display replies posted by the other learners, and to
access learning resources.
Fig. 5 Lesson page
4) Discussion Forum: The discussion forum provide
facilities for the users to interact with each other especially to
discuss answers for the ‘Today’s Question’. Learners can
start new discussion topic or join an ongoing discussion (Fig.
6).
Fig. 6 Discussion forum
In the test version of the Agri-Lessons application, the user
names were assigned as L1, L2… L13. This feature need to
be improved by mentioning the real name of the learner, so
that learners can easily recognize each other in future
implementations.
5) Previous lessons: Learners those who cannot participate
in the lessons in a given day can view the previous lessons
later on using this feature. This page provides a list of lessons
posted in the Agri-Lessons application. The previous lessons
section has been organized based on the questions, thus a list
of questions will be displayed (Fig. 7). Then the user can
view the answer for the question by clicking on the link.
Fig. 7 Previous lessons
6) Instructions: Instructions on how to use the app was
provided in the help page (Fig. 8). A new user can get
instructions on how to follow the lessons by referring the
help page.
Fig. 8 Instructions page
7) Twitter Feed: The users need to keep in touch with the
previous implementation of the Twitter based mLA for two
reasons. Firstly, the mLA had been implemented with the
same user community for a period of two years and it is being
still used as a learning tool. The Twitter based mLA has more
than 150 short lessons archived and the users can access these
lessons through the application. Thus users those who need to
access the previous lessons posted in the mLA can access
these easily by using this feature.
Secondly, the Agri-Lessons application was specifically
designed as an m-Learning tool that can be downloaded and
5 First A. Author#1, Second B. Author*2, Third C.D. Author#3
24th 25th August 2015 15th International Conference on Advances in ICT for Emerging Regions ICTer2015
used by any learning group, even the users outside the farmer
community. The users can continue to use the Twitter
platform in sharing information related to YFC activities,
training opportunities, scheduling non-formal classes [12] as
they did during the mLA. Thus users can link their personal
Twitter pages to the application and continue to use it as a
communication and interaction mechanism (Fig. 9).
Fig. 9 Twitter feed
G. Evaluation of the Learning Application
Agri-Lessons application was tested with the user
community to evaluate the effectiveness in terms of a
learning tool. Before and after analysis was conducted to test
the knowledge gain of the users after using the application.
User feedback was also obtained using a questionnaire.
1) Paired sample t-test: A mean comparison was
performed to test the knowledge gain using pre-test and post-
test results using a paired sample t-test. Table 2 shows the
results of the mean comparison. There was a significant
difference (t=6.885, p=0.000) between the pre-test and post-
test results indicating that the use of the application was able
to increase the marks.
TABLE 2 RESULTS OF THE PAIRED SAMPLE T-TEST
Paired Differences
df
Sig. (2-
tailed)
95% Confidence
Interval of the
Difference
Lower
Upper
Pair 1
pre-test
post-test
13.85660
7.14340
6.885
11
0.000
2) User feedback: User feedback was obtained to evaluate
the usefulness of the application using a self- administered
questionnaire. The users were requested to rate the
application using a 7 point scale (7=Highly Useful to 1= Not
at all useful). According to the results, the average ratings
given to the Agri-Lessons App by the user community ranged
from 6-7, indicating the app is perceived as highly useful
(Table 3). However one user has given lower ratings for
aspects such as user friendliness as a learning tool.
TABLE 3 USER FEEDBACK ON THE AGRI-LESSONS APPLICATION
Descriptive Statistics
Variables
N
Mini
mu
m
Max
imu
m
Mean
Std.
Deviation
Usefulness of the
application in terms of
a collaborative
learning tool
13
6.00
7.00
6.9231
.27735
User-friendliness of
the application as a
learning tool
13
4.00
7.00
6.2308
1.01274
Suitability of the
application to be used
with YFC
communities
13
3.00
7.00
6.3846
1.19293
Usefulness of the
application to interact
with the AI
13
6.00
7.00
6.9231
.27735
Usefulness of the
application to interact
with YFC members
13
6.00
7.00
6.9231
.27735
Usefulness of the
application for self-
learning
13
5.00
7.00
6.6154
.65044
Usefulness of the
learning resources
13
4.00
7.00
6.4615
.87706
Usefulness of the
previous lessons
13
6.00
7.00
6.9231
.27735
Usefulness of
discussion forum
13
6.00
7.00
6.9231
.27735
Usefulness of Twitter
feed
13
6.00
7.00
6.6154
.50637
The learner community suggested improving the Agri-
Lessons app in future implementations i) including a user
profile page, ii) making the user interface more user friendly,
iii) including a news feed to share the latest agricultural
information, and iv) including a forum for YFC activities.
When compared to the SMS based approach, the new
application has many advantages. Discussion forums can
support the users to have common discussions is an important
development. This facility was not possible with the mLA
implementation. During the testing, the users were able to
conduct effective discussions using the application, while the
technical problems related to not receiving messages from the
others were also solved. Another advantage with the new
application is its ability to provide access to online learning
resources.
However there were problems related to the download
speed of video clips and certain photographs during the
testing. Similar to the mLA, English fonts were used to type
text messages during the testing. It is necessary to change the
language to Sinhalese in future versions of the application.
Sample ICTer Conference Paper (Paper Title) 6
24th 25th August 2015 15th International Conference on Advances in ICT for Emerging Regions ICTer2015
CONCLUSIONS
The Android app found to be effective as a learning tool. It
facilitated the collaborations between the instructor and
learners in knowledge sharing and learning. The new
application can collaborative discussions successfully
compared to the mLA and it is also seen as cost-effective.
The same app can be used even with non-agricultural
communities as a learning tool to facilitate collaborative
learning.
Collaborations among the users were much effective in the
Agri-Lessons application when compared to the SMS based
system. The users can view all the comments made by the
other users which was an advantage. Accessing online
learning resources was seen as another advantage, however
the download speed of learning resources such as videos and
photographs has to be improved.
In future research, this application can be improved to
serve multiple communities, each community consisting of
one instructor and a group of learners.
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... Additionally, Learners play the central role of mediating and controlling the learning process while the instructor act as a facilitator. To enable deeper understanding, problem solving activities are included as part of the learning activities [13]. Computer supported collaborative learning refers to the use of computing technologies to enable two or more people learn something. ...
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