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.

Book: Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches

Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative ApproachesAt the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, a short book Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches was released.

The book critically reviews existing and new ideas, perspectives and frameworks on education through relevant analyses and case studies. It explores the full array of social benefits of different programmes and interventions and related evidence of return on investment. The authors believe the real value-add of the publication is on conceptualizing and describing innovative, plausible, scalable, compelling and high-impact solutions that will improve access to education, strengthen educational quality, improve workers’ skills and increase equity – across income level, gender and other demographic subgroups.

A challenge posed in the book is: how do we create alternative pathways to learning for school dropouts to give them an additional chance at learning or a career? It was an honour to be asked to contribute a description of Yoza Cellphone Stories as an example of such an alternative pathway.

Deloitte Technology Trends: Inspiring Disruption Report

Deloitte Cape Town held its annual Tech Trends 2014: Inspiring Disruption event in Cape Town last week. Ten topics that have the opportunity to impact businesses over the next 18 to 24 months (CIOs are the primary audience for the report).

The trends must be (1) business led, technology enabled, (2) trends and not fads and (3) have at least three examples of the concepts being adopted by, e.g. big business or government. Two categories: disruptors and enablers.

All ten trends are described in the report. The six that stood out for me are below.

Disruptors (newer / less familiar)

CIO as venture capitalist: CIOs take a page from the VC playbook around portfolio, risk and talent. SA market readiness: ADOPT.

Cognitive analytics: AI and machine learning drive more grunt work to the computer – including hypothesis generation. Humans teach and handle exceptions. SA market readiness: ASSESS.

Industrialised crowdsourcing: Maturing tools market takes us to industrial scale and sophistication. New talent, cost and process models – and maybe new business models. E.g. Mechanical Turk, ODesk, Task Rabbit. Kaggle.com (open market for data scientists). SA market readiness: TRIAL.

Own note: This trend is actually a misnomer as it is less about crowdsourcing than innovative ways of recruitment. Some of what was presented at the launch – all under the banner of “crowdsourcing” – was actually microwork, challenges and innovative recruitment opportunities.

Digital engagement: Omni-channel engagement + employee empowerment + digital transformation for monetising experiences. Pushing further into customers lives AND pulling them into our business cycles, e.g. product design, focus groups, etc. Digital engagement means having customers 3D-print their own chocolate, or design their own Barbie dolls. Where physical products become digitally enhanced by the customer = digital engagement. SA market readiness: TRIAL

Own note: For Pearson: have customers customise their own textbooks? Have users create their own quizzes on X-Kit Mobile?

Wearables: Heads-up, hands-free, see-through, context-rich information and execution for the task at hand. SA market readiness: ASSESS.

Enablers (probably more familiar to us)

Social activation: Advertising (measure) > social sensing (match), reputation economy (correlate) > market entanglement (cause). Cause: Meme generation and spreading. Memetic propogation. SA market readiness: ADOPT/TRIAL.

Own note: Need to tread with caution here. To bungle memetic propogation that tries to get our customers/users to behave differently would be a major backfire.

Emerging trends in education and mobile learning

At the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week 2014 I sat on a panel titled Emerging Trends and New Technology – considered in the context of mobile learning. Below are the notes of the key points that I made.

Note: The issue of Emerging Trends and New Technology begs the question: for who? For students in California, or for those in Kolkata? Developed country trends are very different from developing country trends. Most of the points below focus on the latter. Some of the ideas are drawn from the NMC Horizon Report 2013: K-12 Edition, for which I was on the advisory board.

Overlapping of education trends and mobile-enabled opportunities

The brief for the panel stated:

We keep being told that technology is going to transform centuries-old teaching paradigms, but traditional approaches seem to have real resilience and staying-power.  Is this the moment of transformation?  Why is this technological innovation different for education than previous moments (for example, the rise of television or the popularity of personal computers)?

I don’t believe that technology is the single driver of education transformation, although it is certainly a key influencing factor. Education is under pressure to change because of a number of factors. Recently, a United Nations task team led by UNESCO produced a think piece on education and skills beyond 2015 – key points listed below. In all of these instances, mobile learning is well suited to supporting these changes.

  • The think piece highlights that with the increase in access to information, and production of knowledge (both underpinned by technology), there is a questioning of the very notions of the authority of traditional bodies of knowledge controlled by legitimate educational institutions. Mobiles provide a new, and sometimes only, access channel to the internet for many people.
  • The piece predicts there will be a shift away from teaching in a classroom-centred paradigm of education to an increased focus on learning, which happens informally throughout the day. A core feature of mobiles is that they support ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning. Because they are personal and always at hand, they are perfectly suited to support informal and contextual learning. Mobile has a role to play in bridging the formal and informal learning spaces. But this requires change in both spheres. More work is needed here. The NMC Horizon Report 2013: K-12 Edition report highlights this as a significant challenge.
  • Learning that is time-dependent and location-dependent is not an option for everyone anymore. Again, anywhere, anytime learning speaks to the changing needs of people.
  • The piece also predicts that there will be an increased blurring of the boundaries between learning, working and living. Mobiles already support skills development in a range of fields including agriculture and healthcare, and provide paying job opportunities for mobile-based ‘microwork’.
  • In addition to education basics such as literacy and numeracy, the piece says, there will be a need for digital and information literacy, as well as critical thinking and online communication skills. These skills are increasingly important for entering the job market. With the guidance of teachers, mobiles provide a medium for developing these skills for millions of Africans who go online ‘mobile first’ or even ‘mobile-only’.

Lastly, I see that the world outside the education institution is changing at a rapid rate, where technology underpins how people communicate, socialise, play, do business, pay for goods, or even farm. This change exerts a pressure on the static nature of education inside the schools walls. A relevant quote is from a forthcoming Prospects Journal edition on mobile learning: “Mobile learning is no longer an innovation within institutional learning but a reflection of the world in which institutional learning takes place,” Traxler & Vosloo, 2014.

Mobile learning itself is a trend

It is on the one-year horizon for the NMC Horizon Report (along with cloud computing). Devices are easy-to-use and pervasive. Device uptake is already huge, and will only grow. A huge amount of mobile apps and services bring education content to mobile devices. App development and programming is being taught in some schools.

Social media bigger than ever, and growing

The NMC Horizon Report says that “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.

Pearson Labs explain that “over the past two years, there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not social media should be used in school. But now the debate is over – estimates place the number of teens using social media for learning anywhere between 80 per cent and 98 per cent, and our own discussion on this last year showed an enthusiastic teaching community. Now that social media use is prevalent in most schools, the debate shifts, to how to educate children about how to best use social media?”

Education response:

  • From an education perspective, we must include socialness in learning experiences. Peer-to-peer support and connectivity, tutoring, knowledge sharing.
  • We must also prepare young people on how to navigate this space. Teach and practice digital citizenship. Use social media in the classroom.
  • Policy approach: change from Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) to Responsible Use Policy (RUP).

The rise of learning analytics and efficacy

  • Learning analytics is on the two- to three-year horizon for the NMC Horizon Report.
  • Rise of big data and analytic techniques to make sense of it and to help us gain insights about student behaviour and learning.
  • This has benefit for educators: can inform instructional practice in real time as well as aid in the design of curricula and platforms that personalise education.
  • This has benefit for learners: can suggest resources to students and highlight study areas that need extra work.

Better formative assessment, adaptive learning and personalisation via mobile

  • How do we create personal learning experiences even in groups of large classes? How do we cater to different learning styles (visual, text, etc.)? We must get this right on mobile – and we will as adaptive learning engines, more computational power and seamless learning (across multiple devices) become a reality.
  • However, in my opinion it is not being done very well right now. The Horizon Report highlights this as a significant challenge, saying that “there remains a gap between the vision and the tools needed to achieve it.”
  • As Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor at Pearson says, there needs to be a shift in focus from the improvement of schools to the progress of individuals. Monitoring and enablement of learners, powerful combination of teachers and technology (not technology replacing teachers).
  • But education institutions are not responding enough to the changes needed to curricula to recognise newly learned skills.

New models of education

  • The NMC Horizon Report says that “New models of education are bringing unprecedented competition to traditional models of schooling.”
  • The rise of MOOCs is an example.
  • Distance education, underpinned by mobile access, will grow. A blended learning approach is still recommended.

For further reading, see the UNESCO report on The Future of Mobile Learning (report | slides).