Teaching tech?

Using smart tools and mobile apps to support teaching in New Zealand Agriculture

I recently spend a day at Taratahi in Masterton, to discuss mobile technology and smart tools in agriculture in a number of separate sessions with staff and students. It was a great day, spent between learning what’s out there and working out different aspects of available solutions. For the record, ‘smart tools’ are considered as such if they’re connected to other systems or the cloud, and ‘mobile technology’ is everything that can be accessed ‘on the go’ for example via smart phones or tablets.

Advantages and Challenges

When asked why apps are so popular and which pro’s and con’s are associated with them, the students quickly worked out the potential gains in efficiency, the fact that they’re always on hand and the ease of use, while also stating the risk of losing skills (if tech does it for you) and becoming less social as a result of spending more time on your phone. Another important point was in how far a technology works across different smart phones models and operating systems (OS), such as Android from Google or iOS from Apple. We had quite a busy time listing all the relevant points, as seen in Figure 1.

On the other hand, teachers mentioned the discrepancy in IT skills between them and the students as well as unreliable internet connection (if using web-based applications) and the risk of system crash or simply running out of battery.

An additional advantage that needs to be kept in mind is that especially for mobile apps the entry barrier is very low. They do not cost the world to be developed and are usually available for free or at a very low cost. This is good for users, who can download and test apps and just skip to the next one if found not useful.

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Figure 1: Snapshot on student group work

What can be used?

During my visit, I asked students to test one of three applications (Figure 2) and answer the following points:

  1. What does it help you with?
  2. How easy is it to use?
    Are there points which you don’t understand and cannot solve within the app?
  3. Would you use it on a farm?
    Why / why not?

It is amazing to see the speed with which students pick up on the technology as well as the quality of feedback they collate from just a brief stint into the apps. All of them agreed on the usefulness of the respective applications, while pointing out specific challenges such as the need for internet access to use the recently released online application FeedSmart (Beef + Lamb, RMPP) and the complexity of Grass2Milk (Agri One, formerly OneFarm). The Body Condition Score tracker (DairyNZ) came out on top due to ease of use, especially the facts that pictures and support were provided within the app and that the results could be easily exported (to your own email).

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Figure 2: Three applications tested by students in class

Amongst the teachers, we discussed a wider range of suitable technology for use in teaching, such as 3D dairy and other DairyNZ tools, the benchmarking tool and other Beef + Lamb tools. And of course there is the option to get industry people into the teaching environment to talk about specific commercial solutions in the market place. In this respect, the students have had demonstrations of FarmIQ and had done an assignment in Farmax

Speed of development in mobile technology

The first app was released in 2008 (for iOS by Apple) and by now there are nearly 2.5 million apps available, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 500% (!). You can see the development in Figure 3 below, representing statistics for the Android OS.

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Figure 3: Apps available for the Android OS (via Google Play Store)

This incredible speed probably poses the biggest challenges, not only with respect to teaching:

  • How to stay on top of the developments?
  • How to know which technology is most relevant to use?

This is where Agri One can play a valuable role in the sector. Take a look at what’s out there in the Toolbox and check out the other blogs to get a running commentary on recent developments in the ag tech space. The new website was launched at Hamilton Fieldays in June and you can expect further improvements over the coming months, so watch that space!

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Figure 4: The blogs and Toolbox, www.AgriOne.ac.nz

eva.schroer-merker's picture
Senior Tutor in Farm Business Management
Massey University

Lifelong passion for "milk". 5 years experience in analysis and forecasting of global dairy markets, as well as consulting and presentations at international conferences.

I currently hold the position of Senior Tutor in Farm Business Management at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand. In addition to that I am team leader of the ‘Farm Tools’ project Centre Of Excellence in Farm Business Management.
Until 2015, I led an economist team at the International Farm Comparison Network focussing on dairy sector analysis. After graduating with a M.Sc. in Agribusiness from Georg-August-University, I joined the IFCN in 2009 and in over 5 years have completed a wide range of research projects and market analyses covering local and international dairy markets. I am a specialist in regular short and long-term dairy market analyses (outlook), and an experienced presenter at international events. Other projects I have headed so far cover a wide range from conference organisation to executive level company workshops.
I am passionate about continuously deepening my knowledge in the dairy field and committed to serve the community by applied science and valuable outputs.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to connect.