Kabul Medical University by By Ben Barber (USAID) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today there are still more than 4 million Afghan refugees outside of Afghanistan and over 1.5 million internally displaced persons within Afghanistan. Afghanistan has seen over 15 years of solid progress; GDP production is more than 4.5 times larger than it was in 2001 and school enrollment has increased from less than 1 million to over 9 million children. Yet 40% of those who want a job remain unemployed.

The University Support and Workforce Development Program (USWDP) –  funded by USAID and implemented by FHI 360 – aims to bridge the gap between universities and the needs of the labor market. The in-person soft skills courses created through the program are oversubscribed. To meet student demand, FHI 360 decided to transition to a blended model with students completing mobile course modules on their phones before attending in-person classes.

Ustad Mobile is thrilled that USWDP chose us to create an open source application which will enable students to experience interactive video-based simulations that work on smartphones and feature phones. When Ustad Mobile conducted focus groups with university students in Kabul (December 2016) between 30% and 50% did not own smartphones. It is therefore essential to support feature phones to avoid further disadvantaging lower income students. As less than 20% of the students had their own mobile data packs, the app must also function offline.

The app content is based on the existing in-person soft skills course materials. Each module will contain a short introductory video which explains the learning objectives and relevance of the module to the students. Summative and formative assessments will be conducted on a rotating basis as the learners progress through the modules choosing how to respond to simulated situations. These elements of the module design – feedback, challenge and practice at the right level and formative assessment – have been found to be particularly impactful on learning (Hattie, 2009).*

Using video in the mobile application will enhance the learning experience but technical considerations are important to avoid relying on expensive and unreliable internet services. Our architecture enables the use of text, images, audio and video without requiring any connectivity. Usage data – such as time spent on each module and quiz scores – is logged to the devices offline and automatically uploaded securely to a cloud server when a connection is available. A built-in peer-to-peer feature enables wireless offline sharing with nearby devices at high speed.

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Afghanistan is an ethnically and linguistically diverse country. It is therefore critical that the module content reflects this. For this reason, the modules will be available in Dari, Pashto, and English. We anticipate that some students may be preparing for interviews in English and choose to complete the modules in English irrespective of their native language.

Early user trials will be conducted to ensure the application is easy to use for students and USWDP staff who will be helping students to install the application on their devices. We are soliciting feedback from both male and female students to be certain that the app serves both genders equally well. Our media partner DNA Media Productions Ltd. have cast both men and women of different ethnicities to provide positive role models for all Afghan students.

While the mobile modules will serve as a passport to attending USWDP classes for eligible university students and recent graduates, the app and modules will be freely available to download via the Google Play Store and a website. Once the app is downloaded on one phone it can be shared with and downloaded by others without Internet. We believe that the model is applicable to a wide variety of settings to increase access and decrease the costs of serving more students without compromising learning outcomes.

* While Hattie collected data which included, but was not limited to influences on achievement in tertiary education, his synthesis of 1200 meta-analyses is the largest collection to date of evidence-based research focusing on factors that influence learning (Hattie, 2015).

This post was co-authored by Mike Dawson and Benita Rowe.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement (1st ed.). Oxon: Routledge.

Hattie, J. (2011). Feedback in schools. In Sutton, R., Hornsey, M.J., & Douglas, K.M. (Eds., 2011), Feedback: The communication of praise, criticism, and advice. Peter Lang Publishing: New York. Retrieved from: http://visiblelearningplus.com/sites/default/files/Feedback%20article.pdf

Hattie, J. (2015). The applicability of Visible Learning to higher education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, Vol 1(1), Mar 2015, 79-91. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/stl0000021