W eb- ba sed Tec h n o lo gy: Crea ting A c c ess to Ric e Sc ien c e, o r W idening the Digita l Div ide?

Training Center




W eb- ba sed Tec h n o lo gy: Crea ting A c c ess to Ric e Sc ien c e, o r W idening the Digita l Div ide?

October 2000 Training Center


Occasional Papers: Issues in Training is a series of papers for circulation among IRRI scientists interested in and working with the Training Center. The paper series is a fast and flexible means of • • • • presenting issues; presenting plans of training; providing information, results, and impact of training efforts, and providing a forum for discussion of methods, approaches, and dynamics of training events and materials.

These papers have not been edited and are works in progress. It is intended that interested readers will respond to the works directly to the authors, and will provide comments, suggestions, and professional critique.

Head, Training Center


Web-based Technology: Creating Access to Rice Science or Widening the Digital Divide?
Paul L. Marcotte, Madeline B. Quiamco, and Lita Norman1 1 Head, Manager, and Collaborative Research Fellow of the IRRI Training Center

IRRI training: Human resource development in rice science
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has always believed that people are a vital resource in rice science, and that development of their skills is critical. For this reason, its human capital development activity goes back 38 years in its 40-year history. While IRRI research produces improved rice varieties and technologies that increase productivity of rice agriculture, IRRI training develops the capability of human resources in the national agricultural research systems (NARS) to develop, adapt, and apply research outputs to benefit the riceproducing and rice-eating populations of the world. More than 12,000 rice scientists and professionals have availed themselves of IRRI's training opportunities since these were first offered in 1962. IRRI alumni and individuals who completed IRRI's degree, on-the-job, or group training programs--either on-campus or at offcampus venues--now provide expertise and leadership in national or international agricultural research institutions in Asia, Africa, South America, and Oceania.

Evolution of IRRI training
Through the decades the IRRI training program has evolved to respond to new demands and changing conditions. Degree and on-the-job training opportunities were distributed equitably to form critical masses of highly trained human resources in terms of geographic and discipline areas. Meanwhile, the evolution of IRRI group courses complemented the development of rice science in general and of IRRI research in particular. Traditionally, IRRI conducted production-oriented and research methodology group training courses at its headquarters or campus in Los Baños, Laguna. Its first group-training course was a six-month program on rice production conducted in 1964. Since then, the courses have proliferated to keep abreast with the expansion of IRRI's research program. Thus, courses for different skill levels addressing specific training needs of NARS scientists were developed and implemented during the 1970s and the 1980s. At the same time, researchers attending the courses have informed the research community about issues and important research areas that had yet to be researched. The result was an expansion of research areas and subsequent courses such as cropping systems, rice seed health, genetic evaluation and utilization, rice-fish farming systems, and irrigation water management.

By 1989, it was realized that many current and emerging problems of global rice production required the application of more sophisticated research, and IRRI responded by moving upstream in its research focus. Its training program evolved accordingly, and focused on specialized training in areas where IRRI has unique capabilities to take the lead, such as on rice biotechnology, simulation and modeling, geographic information systems, and sustainability in various ecosystems.

Collaborative training
This upstream move provided impetus for IRRI to initiate greater collaboration with NARS in-group training on downstream (production-oriented) research approaches. There were other compelling reasons as well: • • • • • improved training capability of some NARS institutions; the realization of the need to answer country-specific problems; scientists' need to develop general enabling skills that cut across disciplines; the need to maximize NARS's scarce training resources, and the need for training at the workplace in real work situations.

Collaborative group training was thus conceptualized. This training arrangement involved IRRI collaborating with capable NARS institutes or other international institutions in the conduct of an IRRI course at venues away from the IRRI campus. Collaborative courses were either regional (international participation, content the same as an IRRI course) or national/incountry (participants all from one country, course content adapted to that country's specific needs). A total of 134 collaborative course offerings were done in 9 years in collaboration with NARS institutions, providing knowledge and skills to 3657 scientists and other professionals in more than 20 countries. While collaborative training--especially national or in-country training--succeeded in complementing and extending IRRI training endeavors at headquarters, it also posed a new challenge to the IRRI training program. It required a mutual sharing of knowledge, information, and resources among the collaborating institutions. It also required new methods of instruction and information delivery. Consequently, it stimulated the development of training materials of different types using different media formats.

Training methods and materials development
On-campus training courses at IRRI have been taught in the face-to-face mode, using instructional methods such as the lecture, demonstration, group discussion, and field and/or laboratory exercises. They drew heavily on the technical expertise and time of IRRI's resident scientists and support staff. Initially, training materials used to support instruction were predominantly in the print format. Print materials documented the content of the courses and allowed the international group of participants to keep up with the instruction and review the content on their own. As the number of courses and participants increased, it was realized that trainer-trainee communication was hampered by trainees' lack of proficiency in the English

language, and cultural differences that often get in the way of verbal cross-cultural communication. To alleviate the problem, print materials were developed with visuals supporting text. This initial interest in visualization developed into full advocacy of multisensory learning using audio and slides as instructional media complementing print materials. Collaborative training, which was the off-campus delivery of IRRI-developed instruction and materials, was an added impetus to the search for new and more efficient instructional methods and materials. "Canning the expert" was how training materials development was described in fun, which implied taking information and knowledge from the scientist, packaging these in forms that will satisfy specific learning objectives, and using media that will allow participants the greatest degree of freedom, depending on his/her own capacity to learn. Course design adapted to the learning capability of the participants, content aimed at solving countryand group-specific problems, and canned technical knowledge and information packaged in appropriate training materials were the basic components of collaborative training. In a continuous bid to improve learning among its clientele, IRRI has been constantly on the lookout for new communication technologies to use in its training activities. When easy-tooperate video recorders and playback systems went on the market, IRRI explored the use of video in training. Discovering the strength of the medium in demonstrating skills, describing situations, and documenting participants' performance of certain procedures that need to be learned, IRRI made video one of its training media. It developed its in-house capability for video production, and to this day, implements a course on Instructional Video Production for rice scientists and development practitioners. The use of computers in instruction at IRRI followed a similar process. In the early 1980s IRRI started developing computer-aided-instruction (CAI), initiated the establishment of a training database, and even a test questions bank to facilitate testing and other methods of measuring learning outcomes. A pipe dream was to "marry" the capability of video to produce realistic pictures, sound, and movement with the interactivity possible with computers to produce the ultimate training material in rice science. The limits of computer technology then, the time-intensive process of developing computer programs, and the many other demands on programmer time prompted IRRI to abandon the fledgling activity during that early period.

IRRI On-Line: The Strategic Plan
The interest in computerized distance education was revived in mid-1990s, when more advanced information and communication technologies (ICTs) started to impact practically every facet of modern living. As IRRI moved into its 5th decade of training and dissemination of research information, the history of the training program indicated that it had been active and successful in its efforts, and had always been on the cutting edge of technologies. Thus it was a natural, normal, and conscious decision to attempt to harness a new technology, ICT, and its many capabilities for training. The Number 1 recommendation of the Think Tank meeting held in April 1999 at Los Baños was:

"IRRI should develop and commit itself to a vision as a rice knowledge center without walls--a high speed, high bandwidth node on the next generation Internet. This should at all times take into account the diverse nature of IRRI’ clients and s ensure that the technological "have nots " benefit equally from IRPI training an information” (Think Tank Report, 1999) To accomplish the incorporation of this new and powerful medium into the training program, the strategic vision for the IRRI Training Center in relation to ICTs is as follows: The vision for the IRRI Training Center is to develop a virtual university of rice research information, available to researchers in National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS), extensions services, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's), and rice farmers of the world. The goals of the IRRI Training Center in its ICT-based activities are as follows: To be a source of information: To organize and make available rice-related databases for easy access by clients and partners through various means depending on their capacities in ICT. To be a knowledge transmitter and disseminator: To design and implement training models using developments in ICT to improve the reach of experts and the access of clients. To be a facilitator of knowledge generation: To establish discussions (both synchronous and asynchronous) among experts through computer networks and teleconferencing. The objectives of this strategic plan are as follows: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. To enable participation of IRRI scientists in off-site courses To reach more members of the target audience (NARS, Extension, NGO's and Farmers) To strengthen indigenous training capacity To enhance prerequisite knowledge and skills in preparation for further IRRI training To contribute to the development of advances research tools and methodologies.

The operational plan within the next 2 years is to create a set of Internet information that includes enabling and acquisition mechanisms, decision support tools, and content/information training modules. Thus, clients/partners that would access the IRRI Training site would be assisted with understanding the Internet, would acquire language and skill acquisition modules, and receive scientific information in the form of training modules in rice science.

IRRI On-Line: The Current Content
According to the 9th recommendation from the Think Tank Report: "IRRI should develop expertise in the application of a wide range of technology options to ensure that it can respond to the diverse needs of its clients by establishing and maintaining a "digital core” of information that can be manipulated for delivery through a variety of interfaces.” (Think Tank Report, 1999) It must be said at the outset that there are certain assumptions and understandings of the Internet medium that are recognized as IRRI moves into the Internet age. First, it is recognized that the educational values of this form of communication are consistent with the objectives of the IRRI Training Center strategic plan. The Internet values of providing access freely, cheaply and equitably, the opportunity to dialogue (chat), the potential for asynchronous communication, and the opportunity for expanded collaboration and participation are all values consistent with the above objectives of the IRRI training program (Grabe and Grabe, 1998). Second, it is recognized that the Internet is merely a medium, albeit a powerful one, that is soundly within the history of distance learning. Distance learning has a history of various approaches to learning including print on paper, self-guided teaching/learning, communication, more recently augmented by tapes and audio-visual materials. Second generation efforts such as teleconferencing have augmented but not replaced the traditional approaches (Peters, 1998). Likewise, personal computers and the Internet will not change the concept of self-directed learning and all that it entails, but rather will quicken and expand the capability and opportunities of the learner. These expanded opportunities of course also have costs associated with them. These will be addressed in the subsequent section on issues and solutions. The initial IRRI efforts were the use of teleconferencing as an instructional method in two courses, the conversion of materials into Internet form and interactive CDs, and the development of online courses. The immediate result is that ICTs have increased IRRI's media alternatives for its training materials and methods. At present, some titles of the following types of IRRI training materials are available in the media formats mentioned below: • • • • • • • • performance objectives manuals (print, Web publications) guide- and workbooks (print) basic skills booklets (print, Web publications) modules (slide and audio tape presentations, print, CAI, CDs, Web publications) instructional videos (video tape, CDs) glossaries (diskette or print) instructor's manuals (print ) online courses: please see below for descriptions of individual courses.


With respect to actual materials, the first of these in the IRRI On-line Training Series was "Digital Literacy for Rice Scientists". This package introduces the client to the Internet, what it is, and how to use it. This is a step-by-step primer to the Internet and enables the user to access the digital revolution that is taking place on a global basis. The second module to be completed was "English for Agriculture". This module is a distance-training course devoted to improving ability to understand and use the English terms and grammatical structures most commonly found in agricultural texts and research papers. This course focuses on written communication skills and utilizes e-mail and discussion groups to facilitate interaction between and among students and instructors. The third module produced was "TropRice". "TropRice" is an information support system of best-bet practices designed to provide practical field level guides for rice crop management in the tropics. The information is hyperlinked with indexed information including: • • • • • • • Management timetable Land preparation and leveling IRRI rice varieties Crop establishment Water management Nutrient management Pest management Weeds Insects Disease Snails, rats and birds Safe application Post production Economics Useful links Comments



• • • •

Each of the indexed pages that can be accessed includes practical information and decisions related to rice production. 4. An information/training module that has been completed is: "Growth Stages of the Rice Plant," which is a self-training module that covers the main stages a rice plant goes through: Germination, Seedling, Tillering, Stem elongation, Panicle initiation, Heading, Flowering, and the Ripening phase including milk, dough, and mature grain. Modules in the development phase (scheduled to be completed within 2000) are: 5. Hybrid Rice: conversion of the training manual


Experimental Design and Data Analysis (subcontracted to Simon Frasier University in British Columbia, Canada). Stem Borer: conversion of the training module from slide-tape to digital.


IRRI has produced close to 300 training material titles in the last 30 years. These materials are currently being reviewed, up-dated and converted to digital format for inclusion in the "TropRice" template. The new ICT-based methods and materials, used in combination with traditional ones, are currently supporting IRRI's on-campus and collaborative training courses. It is assumed that as the digital divide lessens with more and more Asian organizations and individuals accessing the Internet, this form of training will replace the traditional classroomtraining event.

IRRI On-Line: Issues and Potential Solutions
Issue 1: Connectivity Connectivity is the most significant issue with respect to the sending and receiving of the message. The infrastructure capabilities in Asia are not yet at par with those of the Western/developed world. IRRI itself encounters many difficulties with Internet connections. And many of the partner NARS have few if any connections and even fewer trained personnel to run the equipment. The immediate, short-term solution is to put the IRRI information on a CD. CDs can be carried by IRRI scientists visiting research areas in the region, and can be given to individual and group trainees during courses at headquarters. This has some chance of success as the materials can be replicated on-site in many countries, and APAN has mirrored the Digital Literacy and Agricultural English CDs to China. This is, of course, a piecemeal and partial strategy. Long-term possibilities are more promising. It is expected that the US-based Rockefeller funded 1-2 will be operational within two years. IRRI is scheduled to launch its materials with 1-2 Phase 2. In the meantime, we are partnering with APAN, and are anxiously awaiting the Asia Internet. While these developments will rapidly involve the NARS, universities, and hopefully extension services, there is concern that the digital divide will widen with respect to NGOs and farmers. IRRI must monitor closely the developments in these latter communities of partners to ensure that they are enabled as quickly and as equitably as possible. Issue 2: Targeting the Audience It is difficult to target the audience for distance learning for rice research information, as the group is so large and diverse culturally, educationally, and geographically. However, there is one common characteristic among these audience groups: they are interested in some aspect of rice as researchers, extension agents, growers and/or consumers. As a result, the audience is as heterogeneous as is Asia, and homogenous in that few in Asia do not participate in some aspect of rice culture.

The short-term solution for the diversity of the audience is to target a part of it. As IRRI is a research institution, our initial targets for the on-line materials are the research institutions in our participating countries. This follows the original mandate and years of history and experience at IRRI. It is a research institute and delivers its information to NARS for adaptive research and adoption programs. While this has been a successful strategy in the past, the expansion of our clientele to include NGOs and the expectation by donors that impact on farmers can be shown creates a difficult, complex, and much larger future. Recognition of the expansion requires a thoughtful and deliberate approach. IRRI has just begun this with the incorporation of an NGO office under its partnership program, and is in the process of understanding and incorporating this approach under its programs. The Training Center looks forward to a healthy and productive relationship with the NGO sector, as codeliverers and co-trainers in rice research and participatory problem identification and research design. Issue 3: Special Issues: Language, Culture, Gender The special issues areas are the most complex and daunting tasks to be defined with respect to distance education. The IRRI training program delivers information to multiple cultures, with multiple languages and under specific circumstances concerning agendas, access, power, gender, motivation, and learning styles and capabilities. We currently do not have answers to this set of circumstances. However, we do know that identifying 'problems' is the first step towards solving them. We also have trust in our NARS partners. They are from within the cultures, languages, etc. that are the target groups. We also know that many of the new participatory field methodologies are incorporating new understanding of need and use of information from the grassroots. Our ultimate success is dependent upon the incorporation of our research information into the farmer's practices, and at the same time, the success of our research is dependent upon the end-user group, the farmers and consumers, informing the research community of the usefulness of the research information. Of course, only time will tell if our efforts will be successful. And of course, it is hoped that our 40 years of experience will assist in the process.

REFERENCES Gibson, Chere Campbell (1998). Distance Learners in Higher Education, Atwood Publishing, Madison, Wisconsin. Grabe, Mark and Cindy Grabe (1998). Houghton Mifflin Company. Integrating Technology for Meaningful Learning,

International Rice Research Institute (1999). Accelerating the impact of rice research in IRRI Program Report for 1999 (in press). Marcotte, P and M Quiamco (2000). IRRI Training (a briefing presentation prepared for the IRRI 40th anniversary celebration. Matheny, E (1992). management report). The IRRI Training Center: A midterm plan report. (unpublished

Peters, Otto (1998). Learning and Teaching in Distance Education, Kogan Page Ltd., UK. Quiamco, M (1999). Learning by doing – from a distance: Implications of IRRI's distance education efforts for its trainers and scientists. (Seminar presentation, IRRI, 15 February 1999. Think Tank Report, IRRI, 1999.

Paper No. 1 Report on the Think Tank Meeting on the Use of ICT to Support IRRI’ Training Program s R T Raab (April 1999) Web-based Technology: Creating Access to Rice Science or Widening the Digital Divide? P L Marcotte, M B Quiamco, and L Norman (October 2000)

Paper No. 2

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