1 Fondazione Bruno Kessler (ITALY)
2 Rhodes University (SOUTH AFRICA)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2016 Proceedings
Publication year: 2016
Pages: 1251-1260
ISBN: 978-84-617-5895-1
ISSN: 2340-1095
doi: 10.21125/iceri.2016.1283
Conference name: 9th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 14-16 November, 2016
Location: Seville, Spain
This paper discusses inter-related projects focusing on mobile applications for the community of Dwesa, a South African rural area. Since 2005 the area is the site of the Siyakhula Living Lab, an ICT for Development project. Local schools equipped with computer labs and Internet connectivity are used as points of presence. Students of Computer Science, Information Systems, Education, Communication, Media Studies and African languages from Rhodes University and the University of Fort hare conduct regular field trips to the site and engage in extensive computer literacy training of approximately 500 teachers and community members. Since 2009 such training is complemented by accredited professional development courses in ICT Education for almost 100 local teachers. These experiences ensured sufficient familiarity with ICT and basic levels of digital literacy to support mobile apps training.

Between 2012 and 2014 European researchers from Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK) in Italy and Fraunhofer FOKUS in Germany visited Dwesa thanks to an EU sponsored project titled “Low Resources Information Technology for Europe and Africa”. They conducted 2 training sessions on relevant Web applications developed at their Institutions and collected metrics for the development of context-sensitive services. Building on these experiences, in 2014 the Department of Computer Science and the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, with funding from the Ikamva National E-skills Institute, established the Makana Apps Factory (MAF). This project developed and adapted a suite of applications including a hyperlocal media portal, a health application and a lift offered/wanted service. The MAF also supported an initial survey of mobile phones and 4 workshops for the use of mobile phones as creative tools, e.g. to create videos and develop simple apps using App Inventor, a visual programming tool. These projects supported the initial development of mobile apps and services and fostered a sense of participation and ownership among 30 participating community members.

Currently, Rhodes University and FBK collaborate on two projects focusing on app development and training. The project “Mediating the territory: mobile phones and hyperlocal services for marginalised communities in South Africa”, sponsored by the South African National Research Foundation, seeks to promote the development and uptake of mobile apps to improve the management of local resources in relation to water, food, transport, land use, savings etc. This project supports further research on mobile use and digital literacy as well as ongoing training on mobile video making/editing and app development. The “App Factory” project sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports mobility between Italy and South Africa as well as training of developers and hackathons. In November 2015, 35 students from the two institutions collaborated with 20 Dwesa community members on the development of proof-of-concept services including a road monitoring service, a virtual local market and a smart electricity meter app. In September 2016 a new hackathon will streamline this process, including a visit to South Africa for the winning team.

Research within these collaborations resulted in one PhD thesis, 5 workshops and 3 international publications. A total of 12 scholars took part in the exchanges and many students and community members benefitted from knowledge transfer.