A Teagasc research project has explored the use of digital and visual aids in improving knowledge transfer and teaching methods without compromising farm biosecurity
Digital and visual tools might include video clips, factsheets, infographics or webinars that demonstrate skills training, research findings or topical information for example. Such knowledge-transfer tools can ease learning experiences as they appeal to the senses of sight and sound and can enhance learning ability and information retention. Digital tools and platforms enable farmers to have instant access to a broad range of information in a user-friendly, non-location-dependent format, at a time most suitable to their working routine, in ways that are compatible with multiple devices. More specifically for the pig sector, popular methods of communications such as on-farm demonstrations, farm walks and open days are not generally a feasible method of knowledge transfer due to the potential threat to biosecurity. These tools can overcome this biosecurity issue. Additional benefits, from Teagasc's perspective is that the use of such tools potentially provides communication methods that can be rapidly prepared or adapted and disseminated to a wide audience. It also provides consistency of information transmitted and can easily cater to multiple languages and learning abilities and topics.
A two-year Teagasc project, DIGIPIG, aimed to determine the most suitable digital and visual tools for use in the pig industry, along with the most suitable topics to be covered and the most appropriate delivery method of these tools to best assist the Teagasc Pig Development Department. Focus groups were carried out with three main demographics: five pig farm owner/manager groups, three farm staff groups and a Teagasc specialist adviser group. Discussion groups and pig production course participants formed the sample of farm owners/managers and farm staff. Participants in the groups proposed and discussed a number of visual and digital tools they thought would be suitable and beneficial for the pig industry and from this the most popular tools, content and delivery methods were determined. In total, 17 different tools were proposed and discussed by the groups. Of these, the three most popular tool types were: video, infographics and factsheets. Of the 42 topics raised throughout the focus groups, the areas of farrowing and lactation, research/ trial work and husbandry skills were the most popular. Following on from this, the most desired content was matched with the most suitable tool. The most favoured delivery methods selected by the group for the tools included social media (Facebook and Twitter), the pig section of the Teagasc website and the Teagasc pig newsletter.
For evaluation purposes, a sample of five tools were developed, two videos on teeth grinding and an event promotion video, two factsheets on the value of colostrum and split suckling and an infographic on the national pig herd performance figures for 2016. These tools were evaluated for initial reaction to the design and content by administering a questionnaire to the same participants of the focus groups. The tools were rated as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ by 98.46 per cent of respondents, 98.55 per cent would encourage colleagues or employees to refer to the tools and 99.22 per cent felt the information was clearly delivered. A number of recommendations were made to improve the tools, such as 20 per cent feeling the level of text in the factsheets should be reduced and the inclusion of space for own-farm performance on the herd performance infographic.
A main outcome from this study was the hugely positive responses from all groups for use of these tools. All groups sampled identified a benefit for themselves and their farms, and were in favour of their use going forward in the pig sector.
This project identified a range of suitable tools for use by the Teagasc Pig Development Department. Currently, templates are being developed for the roll out of these tools. The findings of this study will be used to inform this roll out to enhance the research, advisory and education service, and there is ample potential for their use in other agriculture sectors.