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Sparkman Center for Global Health brings eGranaries to Universities in Zambia

Students in Zambia learn how to use the eGranary Digital Library

Students in Zambia learn how to use the eGranary Digital Library


Heather Lee from the Sparkman Center for Global Health, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, speaks about the installation of eGranaries in universities throughout Zambia and their impact on the medical students who use them:

The Sparkman Center for Global Health became involved with the eGranary project back in 2008. The Director of the Sparkman Center, Dr. Craig Wilson, was attending a conference in Lusaka, Zambia and heard a presentation from a representative from the WiderNet Project. The idea resonated with Dr. Wilson because he had been bringing over heavy medical textbooks to Zambia each time he visited and giving them to the library staff, faculty, and students at the University of Zambia.

In 2008, an agreement was reached between the Sparkman Center and WiderNet to develop portals within the eGranary Digital Library for medical, nursing, and public health students. We worked on finding resources, garnering permissions, and organizing the portals for approximately a year. The initial installation and training sessions occurred during June and July of 2009 at the University of Zambia, Chainama Hills College of Health Sciences, the Centre for Infectious Disease Reseach in Zambia, and the Zambian Forum for Health Research (ZAMFOHR).

During the summer of 2010, an updated version of the eGranary, a 2TB version, was installed and further training sessions were held at those locations. In addition, the eGranary was installed at a new site, the Chikankata Mission Hospital, a rural hospital and training center approximately 125 km south of Lusaka. Most of the training sessions consisted of demonstration sessions followed by an opportunity for hands-on learning with the eGranary. We trained students, librarians, and faculty.

Moodle, a course management software, was included with the new 2TB version of the eGranary that we brought over, and it has proven key to what we are trying to achieve in Zambia with the eGranary. Essentially, Moodle allows faculty to upload all of their course materials and link directly to resources on the eGranary that are relevant to a particular lecture. This allows students to log on and access all of the course materials. This is important because many students do not have textbooks or if they do they are very outdated. Before this, faculty were just giving a flash drive to one student who was then responsible for getting copies of the lectures to other students. Distribution of course materials through Moodle and the eGranary makes lectures more accessible for students and provides direct links to those resources. During a visit to Zambia this past November, Dr. Wilson brought over an evaluation for eGranary users to leave feedback. Essentially what we gained from these evaluations is that we needed to do more training, particularly with key people who would be in charge of the eGranary and Moodle.

Based on these evaluations, I planned another trip for February 2011 to work specifically with several key individuals. It was by far the most productive and successful trip to date. Our training strategy was different from the other two trips in that I did several demonstration sessions, but the majority of the time was spent working with 1-2 people or a small group of people for intensive training on the eGranary and Moodle. Our key people are the librarians, the medical illustrationist, and some faculty members who have really helped us promote the eGranary.  Students have been recruited from each department to handle the uploading of course materials to Moodle and the eGranary, and are being paid for each course that they "build" on Moodle. They are also responsible for finding resources on the eGranary that are relevant to that particular lecture topic and linking them together.

Additionally, during the Feb. 2011 trip we joined forces with the folks from VVOB Education for Development. We came in contact with them because they had independently bought an eGranary and wanted to talk with others in Zambia who had an eGranary. WiderNet put us in touch with them and from there we decided that we would partner in order to best achieve our respective objectives.

Another exciting thing that has happened is that after a demonstration session at the University of Zambia, we were approached by a group of nurses from British Columbia, Canada. They are actually partners with one of our sites, ZAMFOHR, and work out in Mongu, a rural area in the Western Province, at a hospital and nursing school. Out there the Internet is almost completely non-existent. They were really keen on trying to figure out a way to get an eGranary out to Mongu so we agreed to give them the 2TB external drive that I had with me. The nurses managed to raise money for a new computer to go with the eGranary since the computers at the school in Mongu are riddled with viruses. They will be out at Mongu for a few more weeks, and I look forward to hearing about how the eGranary is doing out there. Our ultimate goal is to have an eGranary in every nursing school in Zambia.

My favorite part, without a doubt, is having the opportunity to interact with so many wonderful people in Zambia. In terms of work, the best part is seeing people's eyes light up when they see how fast the eGranary is and they realize what all they can do with it. Basically the "aha moment".

*Heather Lee is the Program Coordinator at the Sparkman Center for Global Health, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


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