16 November 2015 – CABI has built its first simulation to help agricultural advisors share knowledge on plant health with smallholder farmers across the world, and has plans to build more.

Plant Doctor Simulator is a fun and engaging way for plant health advisors – also known as plant doctors – to examine virtual 3D plants using smartphones or tablets. The rich and realistic gameplay allows plant doctors to investigate the symptoms of plant health issues, and make decisions on what are causing the problems.

Simulations help because they replicate activities that take place in the real world, aiding the education of professionals for ongoing learning and development. They offer a way to enhance face-to-face training and extend the reach of training. CABI’s simulation, which is currently being tested, will complement the support for plant doctors working on the global Plantwise programme.

In partnership with national services, the CABI-led Plantwise programme establishes and supports sustainable networks of plant clinics where farmers can find practical plant health advice. Farmers visit the plant clinics with samples of their crops, and plant doctors diagnose the problems and advise on ways to manage them. The Plant Doctor Simulator will help plant doctors continue plant health learning whenever and wherever they need to.

“Given the urgent need to increase crop yields, organisations with science-based plant health resources have to disseminate knowledge widely and effectively,” said CABI CEO Dr Trevor Nicholls. “This means taking advantage of the growing global access to mobile IT devices in rural areas and the role of this technology for sharing information. Generating and managing knowledge is a core activity for CABI. Plant doctors are already trialling the use of tablets as a way to improve the collection of plant clinic data and deliver valuable information. Developing a simulation seemed a natural extension of this approach.”

Individual plant doctors are able to gain confidence in their skills through regular feedback and scoring throughout the simulation, as well as competition with their peers. The data recorded and analysed in the Plant Doctor Simulator will help to improve and refine Plantwise training modules, while also measuring plant doctor skills and competencies.

Initial feedback from plant doctors has been very positive and the simulation will be tested further during the first phase of its roll-out in 2016.

“Over the longer term, simulations have far reaching potential to enhance the delivery of our knowledge and assess job role competencies,” said Dr Nicholls. “We plan to continue developing the Plant Doctor Simulator by building exciting new content. We’ll also explore other opportunities to develop simulations where we feel they can help make a difference.”

Plant Doctor Simulator was developed by CABI in partnership with Bondi labs. The current version is available to download for free from the Google App Store.

For more information on the Plant Doctor Simulator, watch this video.

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