1:1 Educational Computing Initiatives — Lessons learned and confirmed at the Global Symposium on ICT in Education 2014

Global Symposium on ICT in Education 2014I recently had the privilege of attending the 8th Global Symposium on ICT in Education 2014, themed Transforming Education with 1:1 Computing (3-5 November, 2014, Gyeongju, Republic of Korea). All presentations are here.

I presented on 2 Case Studies at National Level: 1:1 Educational Computing Initiatives in South Africa – namely the large-scale tablet implementation at CTI and MGI higher education institutions, and the ICT4RED school tablet rollout in the rural Eastern Cape district of Cofimvaba.

28 countries were represented, sharing their experiences of planning and implementing 1:1 computing initiatives. The event was hosted by the Korean Ministry of Education and the World Bank, along with KERIS, UNESCO Bangkok and Intel. South Korea is one of the leaders in digital learning, so it was a fitting context for the conference.

A number of lessons were learned and known ones confirmed, shared below (download here).

Content and mobile: Four key considerations

MWA2014-LOGO

I recently participated in Mobile Web Africa 2014, sitting on a panel about Mobile content, users and consumption. Below are the four key points that I think are important when thinking about content and mobile today.

Content is back

  • It used to be important, then it became cheap, throw-away. People created sites and services with bad content, flooded the mobile web. In education there are SO many apps, so many mobile learning services and products. Are they all good? No.
  • People are coming back to the notion of quality content. It stands out. It is appreciated. Whether this is financial or not is another story.
  • Quality content is a differentiator.

Content is contextual

  • We are moving from mobile to multi-device usage.
  • How it is consumed is crucial to how it is presented. Now more than ever, despite designing for mobile first, we need to think about the context of use for the different platforms and media.
  • Pearson has a single body of content, how is it presented, layered, animated across platforms and media?

Content is social

  • There were fears, and to an extent many of us in education are still cautious, about intruding into the social media lives of learners. Kids smell school, and My Space for them means their space. However, I think that with the rise of social media, the door has opened.
  • “Social media is changing the way people interact, present ideas and information, and communicate.” Social media has grown beyond anyone’s expectation. This is where (young) people are “living” online, and they connect via mobile. According to Flurry Analytics, overall app use in 2013 posted 115% year-over-year growth. The segment that showed the most dramatic growth in 2013 was Messaging (Social and Photo sharing included), with over 200% growth.
  • From an education perspective, we must include socialness in learning experiences. Peer-to-peer support and connectivity, tutoring, knowledge sharing. Content is social.

Content is layered

  • We know that people scan the web. But you can’t scan all educational content. Much of it requires deep reading. What do to?
  • Create layers – one for scanning, one for digging deeper, one for reference. We need to allow for multiple readings, multiple views.

Education design in a mobile era

I recently gave a presentation on Education design in a mobile era at the 3rd International North South TVET ICT Conference held in Cape Town.

Serious game play for learning analytics

The Department of Design, a collaboration between the Netherlands and South Africa, recently held a Serious Gaming Festival to explore how this field can impact planning, idea generation and collaboration. Marcus Vlaar,  one of the founders and Chief Creative Officer at Ranj Serious Games, gave a fascinating keynote about The Ancient Learning Method of the Future.

A veteran in the field, Marcus explained that his company has created around 400 serious games, many for corporates with the goal of developing key competencies and testing those skills in a game-based simulation context. One game has the player managing a global flu pandemic, in another the players are staff at a multinational pharmaceutical company learning about ethical and business compliance by being tested with real life dilemmas.

One of their latest projects, and I think the most interesting, takes a holistic view of a user as she works through a number of the games (each game is usually a discreet experience). By adding a meta-layer over the existing games, Dex, as the project is called, tracks usage over time and feeds user activity into an expert system that measures competence levels. By aggregating and analysing this rich data, Dex can report to the user, and her employer or educational institution, for example, how she is developing different competencies and recommend which ones she needs to focus on.

marcus_vlaar

The concept of taking a holistic view of a student as she progresses along a learning path is certainly not new. Digital learning systems allow for data to be captured and analysed in order to, over time, paint a picture of a learner where progress is made visible and problem areas are exposed. Some educational offerings, such as the Khan Academy, are already doing this to a certain extent. Khan’s learning dashboard tracks a user as she works through the body of content and assessments.

Through intelligent tracking the lofty goal of learning analytics, that enables personalised and adaptive learning, can be achieved. While everyone knows it’s a great idea, achieving learner analytics is very difficult to get right, especially when you want to track learners across a number of different educational products and services — much like what Ranj is doing with its games. It requires building effective data systems — as Pearson is aiming to do — that can capture usage activities, share that data across different applications (easier said than done!), and analyse the data using comparable metrics. So the “critical thinking” metric in the flu pandemic game needs to be the same as the one in the pharmaceutical business compliance game. What is needed is a single view of a learner across a period of time. This is at the heart of Pearson’s efficacy goal of putting learning outcomes at the centre of all its educational offerings.

Increasingly online companies are tracking our usage paths through the Internet, e.g. Google’s single sign-on is not only for its many Google products, but also for partner organisations that require user authentication. It is essential that educational institutions also take a more holistic view. For the first time in the history of the world it is theoretically possible to track and guide a learner from kindergarden to PhD graduation, and beyond. Surely we should prioritise the building of interoperability and intelligence into all of our learning products and services. It will take years — even decades — for organisations to get this right, but whoever cracks the nut first will definitely have a key advantage and be taking learning in the right direction.

Mobile developments w/c 26 May 2014

The prospects for mobile learning
(Introductory chapter of Prospects journal issue on mobile learning)
By Professor John Traxler and myself

Mobile Report April 2014
by @Native

Innovations out of Africa: The emergence, challenges and potential of the Kenyan Tech Ecosystem
report by Julia manske published by the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications

Pearson’s Learning Curve 2014 report makes a few references to mobile, in particular:

  • Mobile technology can help overcome some obstacles to adult learning in the developing world, e.g. especially surrounding limited access to educational materials. But mobile is no panacea.
  • In its working paper series on mobile learning, UNESCO makes clear that the full potential of using mobile technologies in education is yet to be realised.

UNESCO report: A mobile reading revolution

Mobile phones offer a new channel to literature and an opportunity to improve literacy that is revolutionary. Such is the conclusion of the recently released report by UNESCO titled Reading in the Mobile Era (infographic).

Millions of people do not read for one reason: they do not have access to text. But today mobile phones and cellular networks are transforming a scarce resource into an abundant one.

Drawing on the analysis of over 4,000 surveys collected in seven developing countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe) and corresponding qualitative interviews, this report paints the most detailed picture to date of who reads books and stories on mobile devices and why.

I led the Mobiles for Reading project while at UNESCO, in partnership with Nokia and Worldreader, and am proud and inspired by what the report has uncovered, namely:

  • Large numbers of people in developing countries read books and stories on inexpensive mobile phones.
  • Mobile phones—even those with small, monochrome screens—provide a valid and widely used portal to text, opening up new pathways to literacy in communities where physical text is scarce.
  • While most mobile readers are male, female mobile readers tend to read far more than males. On average, women read for slightly over 200 minutes per month on a mobile device, six times as long as the average time for men. Given that 64% of illiterate people worldwide are female, interventions to facilitate mobile reading among women could help alleviate the global literacy crisis.
  • Both men and women read more—in absolute terms—when they start reading on a mobile device. Because increased reading carries numerous educational and social benefits, governments and other institutions can take steps to promote mobile reading, especially in areas where illiteracy is widespread, but mobile phones are common.
  • Nearly one third of study participants read stories to children from mobile phones. 34% of respondents who do not read to children said that they would if they had more books and stories for children on their mobiles. This highlights an opportunity to build and strengthen children’s literacy with technology that is increasingly ubiquitous in even the poorest communities. More digital content appropriate for young people should be made available on mobile devices as should portals that easily allow parents, teachers and caregivers to find books targeted to children.
  • Many neo- and semi-literate readers use mobile phones to search for and access text that is appropriate to their reading level. More can be done to ensure that beginning readers have access to content that corresponds to their reading ability, allowing them opportunities to improve their literacy skills.

When asked why respondents read on their mobile phones, convenience was the clear winner:
m4r_why

 

The report has received excellent coverage, including from The GuardianTime MagazineForbes and the Wall Street Journal. The accompanying presentation provides a succinct summary of the findings and recommendations.

Mobiles for reading is a passion of mine. In 2009 I founded Yoza Cellphone Stories (project info here). The report confirms my earlier beliefs that the mobile phone is — and will be for the foreseeable future — the “Kindle of Africa” simply because it is already in the hands of millions of people. While mobiles offer an unprecedented opportunity for increasing access to text, a key challenge remains around sustainability. So far there is no clear example (Yoza included) of mobiles for reading initiatives that are profitable. Indeed, many are funded by governments, foundations or CSI budgets (and the report’s recommendations talk to these stakeholders).

I believe that the answer to sustainability exists, it just hasn’t been worked out yet.

Clearly there is an unprecedented opportunity here to change the game for reading, including for children, women and girls, and semi-literate adults. All stakeholders need to engage with this opportunity to work through the challenges.

I would like to thank and congratulate the excellent M4R team, including (from left) Periša Ražnatovi (Worldreader), Rebecca Kraut, Elizabeth Hensick Wood (Worldreader), Sanna Eskelinen (Nokia), Mark West (UNESCO), myself and Han Ei Chew (United Nations University).

M4R Team at MLW 2014_small

 

UNICEF Report on Children, ICTs and Development

Yesterday a new UNICEF report Children, ICT and Development: Capturing the potential, meeting the challenges was officially launched. Dorothea Kleine, one of the authors, presented the key findings at Harvard’s Digitally Connected Symposium. I was one of the interviewees for the report.

The short description of the report is as follows:

ICTs are not a technical sphere detached from the complex realities of children’s lives. They are increasingly woven into the very fabric of life, in income-rich and increasingly in income-poor countries. It is clear that if there is no targeted engagement with these socio-technical innovations, they are likely to reinforce existing inequalities. It follows that a focus on children and on greater equity leads to an active and reflective engagement with the potential and challenges of ICT for development, targeting in particular marginalized children. This report serves as a key contribution on which to build informed dialogue and decision making, developed jointly between research, policy and practice.

The launch included a panel with Chris Fabian, UNICEF; Gurumurthy Kasinathan, IT for Change; Chisenga Muyoya, Asikana Network; Gerrit Beger, UNICEF – with all the tweet responses recorded. From the handy list of the report’s key messages, a few stand out for me:

ICTs and development

  • ICTs on their own cannot offer quick wins for child-focused development objectives. Technological innovation, however, can be crucial for strengthening social networks, disseminating information and linking disadvantaged communities with vital knowledge.
  • Change at the systemic level in many cases requires a combination of technological as well as societal change. Achieving this synergy requires buy-in, and ideally participation in design, from intended users. Understanding the social context and rooting ICT for development efforts in existing incentive systems is vital if systemic changes are to be supported.

Equity

  • Many projects are either equity-blind or end up working with relatively more privileged children in order to reduce the risk of project failure. In order to change this, funders have a role to play: they must demand equity-sensitive approaches and also recognise/reward risk-taking with harder-to-reach children.

Gender issues

Pilots

  • To increase the chances of project success, key steps include assessing what other development initiatives are ongoing, what the existing usage patterns of ICTs are and indeed what the landscape of stakeholders looks like. [This is so obvious, and yet so often overlooked]
  • Implementing pilot projects in child-focused ICT for development, while paying insufficient attention to social and cultural context and not involving people actually located within the anticipated beneficiary community are leading reasons to the failure of a project.

Failure

  • The study highlights the importance of making sure failure is a recognised part of innovation within ICT for development – and not only recognised but also proactively discussed.
  • If project success is understood to often include elements of failure, then development planning can move away from binaries of successful or unsuccessful projects and instead move to an approach which is open to ongoing learning.

It is obvious that a user-centred design approach that is contextually aware, equity and gender sensitive, not too influenced by commercial interests, and open to sharing (failures and successes) are key elements for successfully leveraging ICT for child-focused development. Given that this is so hard to achieve (based on the overall ICT4D track record), the last point above is particularly important. ICT4D is a living, breathing field, characterised by its many failures, genuine successes, and results in between (what Dorothea calls a “graveyard of successful pilot projects“). The only way the field will grow is if it is open to ongoing learning.

The points about funding being limited in time and scope from governments/foundations, or being driven — and dictated — by the private sector, are not at all new to ICT4D. I wonder, though, for how long we will still bemoan them. If governments/foundations have not changed their funding habits by now, and private companies continue to ultimately be driven by profit, then the change may never happen. We need to have a more open and honest debate about how to incentives these stakeholders to change, or, acknowledge that they will never change and explore how to source funds outside of these structures.

The best panelist quote of the day was by Chris Fabian: “We need to get away from the idea of projects and ‘projects for people.’  It’s not about some people doing a project for others.”

The report was written for UNICEF by the ICT4D Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London and Jigsaw Consult.