1997 - 2001

The needs for new approaches for capacity enhancement in applied biometry in sub-Saharan Africa were first discussed at a meeting of the International Biometric Society Sub-Saharan African Network (SUSAN) in Mombasa, Kenya in 1997, when Professor John Odiambo, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Nairobi, was Chairman of Group Kenya of SUSAN.

This initiative led to the first of two workshops, funded by Rockefeller Foundation and attended by biometricians and researchers from universities and other institutions from various countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Europe, and held at the International Livestock Research Institute's (ILRI) Headquarters in Nairobi in 1999 (Rowlands, 2000).

The workshop confirmed the inadequacy of current biometrics capacity within NARS. It stressed that the teaching of statistics in African universities tended to be too theoretical with limited relevance to the real agricultural problems faced by researchers.

Six recommendations were forthcoming from the workshop, of which one was:

Training resources that provide biometric knowledge and information in interactive electronic form to teachers and researchers as discussed at the workshop were strongly supported. It was recommended that ILRI in collaboration with partners prepares a proposal for such a biometric training resource.

A second workshop, also funded by Rockefeller Foundation, followed in 2001 (ILRI, 2001). This provided a forum for stakeholders to agree the framework for development of the Teaching Resource and to agree its contents. The aim was to ensure that the Teaching Resource was demand driven and that it filled the knowledge gaps as perceived by university faculties. The workshop agreed that faculties in African universities need teaching resources that brought into focus real life examples from Africa.

A project to develop the current Teaching Resource was proposed. It was agreed that:

  1. The primary audience was university faculty trainers in biometrics of post-graduate students in agricultural, biological, socio-economic and environmental science.
  2. A second audience was university faculty trainers of post-graduate student of biometry. A possible third audience was university faculty trainers in biometrics of medical students in the fields of community medicine.

The meeting agreed that the Teaching Resource should focus on agricultural issues in the first phase. It was also agreed that the core material for the Teaching Resource would be in the form of six modules.

  1. Research strategy (deciding research objectives; choosing the type of study).
  2. Study design (planning the study; accounting for variation; sampling; designing an experiment; designing a survey).
  3. Data management (collecting data; organising data; storing data)
  4. Data exploration (looking at data; describing data; formulating statistical models).
  5. Data analysis (modelling data; handling variation; applying different statistical techniques - analysis of variance, regression analysis, general linear models).
  6. Reporting (interpreting and presenting results; communicating research results).

This Biometrics and Research Methods Teaching Resource follows very closely this framework and can thus be said to be truly demand driven. Its aim is to enhance effective teaching of and training in applied biometry through teaching guides that cover the above six modules, interactive, illuminating real-life case studies and other teaching materials.

The workshop also identified various case studies from participants' experiences that might be contributed. The workshop recommended a group, to be led by ILRI, to coordinate the development of the Teaching Resource.

2002 - 2007

Following the second workshop a funding proposal was put to Rockefeller Foundation and by the end of 2002 funding had been approved to develop the first release of the Biometrics and Research Methods Teaching Resource. ILRI oversaw the development of the Resource in cooperation with various partners.

The level of funding precluded the level of national partner participation perceived at the earlier workshops. Nevertheless, valuable support to ILRI in case study development was provided by students and staff from the Universities of Nairobi and Swaziland, and the Statistical Service Centre, University of Reading critically reviewed the teaching guides.

The Teaching Resource was built around 13 case studies drawn from research conducted in Ethiopia, Kenya, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia. The case studies were designed so that they went through the different parts of the research process as set out in the teaching modules and illustrated how methods of design and analysis were applied to the examples described. Students and national staff at the Universities of Nairobi and Swaziland and at ILRI were involved in the development of the case studies and in many cases became the senior author. This proved to be an excellent way for them to enhance their own capacity in applied biometry.

In June 2006 a number of teachers, researchers and biometricians from institutes and universities across sub-Saharan Africa were invited to a third workshop, this time funded by Ford Foundation, Southern Africa, and held at the University of Cape Town. The purpose of the workshop was to expose a wide range of people to the Biometrics and Research Methods Teaching Resource and give them an opportunity to see how it was structured. Sessions were held to get their views on the suitability of the Resource for teaching and research. A number of recommendations were made for future developments beyond the first release. In particular, the need to increase the number of case studies to cover a broader range of agricultural disciplines was recognised. With ILRI the developer there had been a natural bias towards subjects in animal science. A report of the work shop can be found under http://web.uct.ac.za/depts/stats/links.htm

CDs containing the Teaching Resource were subsequently distributed to workshop participants and their colleagues, and a formal launch took place at ILRI, Nairobi in January 2007.

2008 - 2011

Following the success of the above workshop Ford Foundation provided further funding to the Department of Statistical Sciences, University of Cape Town to allow a new programme to be started to develop this second version of the Biometrics and Research Methods Teaching Resource. A fourth workshop was held in July 2008 under the title "Improved teaching of applied biometrics in agricultural and biological sciences in southern sub-Saharan Africa through use of a Biometrics & Research Methods Teaching Resource." Its aims were to:

  1. provide advanced training in teaching of applied agricultural biometrics;
  2. demonstrate and review the value of the Teaching Resource in teaching and research;
  3. discuss ways for promoting the Teaching Resource across institutions;
  4. propose areas of improvement for a revised Teaching Resource;
  5. initiate plans for additional case studies.

The meeting agreed that the Teaching Resource had been found to be generally user-friendly and had the potential to encourage good statistical/research methods ethics and influence teaching of applied biometry and research methods. The case studies had been found to be particularly useful, but it was felt that it would be helpful for those teachers with limited access to computer facilities to have hard-copy pdf versions of case studies that could be handed to their students. Graduate students and researchers reported that they had found the Teaching Resource a useful tool for developing their research protocols, organising their research work and communicating their results. On the negative side it was felt that the distribution of the Teaching Resource has been somewhat ad hoc and that a better strategy was needed for making it more widely available.

Ten of the original 13 case studies provided in the first release covered different areas of animal science, one provided an example from crop research, one from agro-forestry and one was a meteorological study. Participants at the workshop were invited to offer new case studies in order to try and redress the balance across the different agricultural disciplines. Seven potential new case studies were offered and four (two from University of Kwazu-Natal, one from University of Swaziland, one from The Islamic University of Uganda) were duly completed. These (two from crop science, one an epidemiological study and one from poultry research) feature in this second release.

During 2009 three country courses were held in South Africa (at the University of Kwalulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg), in Botswana (at the University of Botswana, Gaborone) and in Kenya (at ILRI, Nairobi). The aims were to introduce the Biometrics and Research Methods Teaching Resource to teachers and researchers from these regions, as well as providing some specialised biometric training. Four people from Namibia attended the course in Gaborone. Sadly, shortly after the course in Botswana, Harvey Dicks suddenly became ill and died. He was an active member of the project and extremely supportive of this Teaching Resource. His loss has been a great blow.

From 2008 onwards ILRI has worked on the further development of the Teaching Resource. The new version now has 17 case studies drawn from different countries in sub-Saharan Africa (namely, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia). The new version provides a more polished piece of software and, compared with the first version, different sections of material are more accessible, and linkages between different materials within the Resource are much improved. The Teaching Resource relies heavily on GenStat for statistical analysis and dialog boxes showing how GenStat is used are better presented. Fifteen of the case studies have their own Excel data sets. These have been tidied and standardised and can be readily retrieved and downloaded. Other materials, such as University of Reading's Good Practice Guides and Harvey Dicks' GenStat data sets are now more visible.

This second version of the Biometrics and Research Methods Teaching Resource was launched by ILRI in November 2011.