Launch of phase 2 of bookly

booklyToday is the launch of phase two of bookly, a mobile/browser-based reading and writing platform in South Africa. In 2013 bookly won the Best Start-up award at the annual FutureBook Innovation Awards in London. It is great to see a South African initiative using the technology that is in the hands of our youth to improve literacy. This was the aim of Yoza Cellphone Stories, an initiative that I founded and run.

I received this from NATIVE VML, the company behind bookly:

I wanted to drop you a  line to tell you about bookly – both a reading and writing platform, with the goal of improving literacy in South Africa.

bookly was launched in May last year as an e-reader app on Mxit. We’ve had over 700 000 unique visitors, viewing more than 13 million pages. We added more than 450 books onto our platform and our users have added more than 250 000 books to their bookshelves! By partnering with local publishers,  bookly has also been instrumental in promoting South African authors. Thousands of reads have been achieved for the likes of Modjaji Books, Black Letter Media, Random House, MissWrite and Wordsmack and that’s just the beginning.

To get more people to read, we need more content that is relevant and personal to the kids. To get more content, we need South African to write their own stories.

This is where phase 2 of bookly comes in.

For phase 2 of bookly we are expanding into a writing platform. We have also created, a mobile site which allows anyone to write a bookly.  A bookly  is a short piece of fiction that can be anything from poetry to a short story that is designed for mobile so the objective is to keep it concise but entertaining and provocative. A bookly can be written using anything from a feature phone up to a desktop PC. We will also be launching The bookly Award to encourage  kids to write on the platform. On top of that, we are working with writing workshops such as Sa-Yes, MissWrite, and Access to spread the word about bookly. For more info, please check out the attached documents.

More information about bookly and how to access it can be found in the press release, e.g. bookly can be found in the following ways:

Fiona Snyckers is mentioned in the press release as an author who publishes on bookly — she authored three of the best titles on Yoza in the Sisterz series.

I’m not exactly clear on their business model, but do know that they are not expecting to make millions out of bookly. Rather it is a vehicle for publishers and authors to create interest in their work, grow their brands and gauge interest in new works. With mobile, it is possible to get instant feedback from your readers. I learned this from comments received on Yoza stories. Further, bookly isa  vehicle for supporting literacy development and growing the author base in our country.

I wish bookly and NATIVE VML all the best. As Head of Mobile at Pearson I will be watching its progress with interest.

The UNESCO years: A brief review

UNESCO logoFrom 2011 to 2013 I was the Senior Project Officer in mobile learning at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. My role was to help establish and lead the organisation’s mobile learning programmes, publications and events, largely as part of a multi-year partnership with Nokia. The goal of the mobile learning team, which I led, was to provide insight and expert guidance to Member States on how to practically leverage mobile technologies to help achieve the Education for All goals.

In the spirit of reflection (see reviews for 2009 and 2010), below is a summary of key achievements while at UNESCO.

Learning “on the ground”: Practical projects


I co-managed four Mobiles for Teacher Development projects in Nigeria, Senegal, Pakistan and Mexico, all of which set out to explore how mobile technologies could be used to support teachers and their professional development. I directly managed the Nigeria pilot, in which primary school teachers of English were supported by daily messages to reinforce content knowledge, improve pedagogical practice, share resources and help motivate them. After four months over 70,000 users had signed up to the English Teacher service.

I also project managed the Mobiles for Reading project, which involved surveying over 4,000 users in seven developing countries on how mobiles are, and can be, used to support literacy development. The aim of the project, conducted in partnership with Worldreader, was to better understand how mobile phones can be used to extend access to reading materials in developing countries. A report is coming out in February 2014 with the results of the survey.

Building the body of knowledge: Publications

UNESCO paperIn two years the mobile learning team produced 14 papers — that have been translated into multiple languages — as part of the newly created UNESCO Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning. The papers, comprising over 600 pages, examine more than 40 projects from around the world, considering issues related to policy, mobiles for teacher development and, more broadly, the future of mobile learning. A World Bank  review noted “this series of papers is highly recommended reading.” It was my responsibility to manage the overall publications project and also to author one of the 14 papers: Mobile Learning and Policies: Key Issues to Consider.

•We also published the UNESCO Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning.  I co-authored the guidelines and managed a broad consultation process from experts, the general public and 20 Member States as they provided input to refine the final product.

While I was not directly involved in this project, the mobile learning team also conducted a comparative analysis of effective initiatives on the development of literacy and life skills through mobile phones for women and girls’ empowerment. The purpose was to identify practices that ensure the sustainability of programmes and offer opportunities to scale-up particularly promising approaches. The set of papers from around the world will be published in 2014.

Along with Professor John Traxler, I co-edited and introduced a forthcoming issue of Prospects journal on mobile learning. The issue, which includes a number of papers presented at Mobile Learning Week 2013, will be released in March 2014.

•Lastly, concerning formal publications from UNESCO, I also contributed to the Technology, Broadband and Education: Advancing the Education for All Agenda report, coordinated by UNESCO for the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

Convening community: Mobile Learning Week

The flagship event for our team is the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week. From the first event in 2011, it grew substantially in 2013 to include the Senior Education Policy Makers’ Forum, attended by participants from 45 countries. I led the overall organisation of the MLWs.

Spreading the word: Advocacy

As part of advocating for mobile learning, and sharing our findings as broadly as possible, I attended and presented at a number of events (see full list). The standout ones were The Economist’s Nigeria Summit in Lagos; being a panelist at the Ministerial Programme of the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona; and presenting twice at the International Symposium: Mobile Phone and Creation at the Universite Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle.

I wrote The future of education in Africa is mobile for the BBC Future site and was interviewed by Times Higher Education about mobile learning and higher education in Africa (see Africa’s mobile phone e-learning transformation).

I was a member of the Advisory Board for the Horizon Report > 2013 K-12 Education Edition, and represented UNESCO on the executive steering committee of the mEducation Alliance.

Overall my time at UNESCO was interesting, challenging and very rewarding. It was a pleasure to work with an excellent team and learn from my colleagues, and I sincerely hope to continue those relationships into the future. In particular I would like to thank Mark West, Marie-Lise Bourcier, Fengchun Miao, Glen Hertelendy, Diane Boulay, Jongwon Seo, David Atchoarena, Mariana Patru, Francesc Pedro, Mar Camacho, Julio Sa Rego and Soojin Cho. I am also grateful to Nokia for their support for the partnership activities.

“Closing Remarks”: Observations @ mEducation Alliance Symposium 2013

mEducation Alliance logoAt the recent mEducation Alliance Symposium in Washington, D.C., I presented the closing remarks. Below are my key observations from the event.

Advancing Literacy through Mobile Technologies: Empowering Women and Girls – Phase II: From Insight to Action

mEducation Alliance logoAt the recent mEducation Alliance Symposium in Washington, D.C., I presented, on behalf of my colleague, Diane Boulay, Advancing Literacy through Mobile Technologies: Empowering Women and Girls – Phase II: From Insight to Action. The proposed project builds on a global study headed up by Diane on how mobile phones are being used to empower women and girls by helping to improve their literacy skills.

For this project we are looking for partners for funding, technology support, content provision, and more.

The abstract is as follows:

Mobile technologies carry the power and potential to accelerate and scale-up literacy education efforts and to counteract the effects of social isolation and exclusion, especially in post-conflict/post-disaster settings. Building upon the findings of a concluding UNESCO global study analyzing initiatives aimed at empowering women and girls through literacy via innovative mobile technology-based programs, this project focuses on concrete action to reach more illiterate and neo-literate women and girls faster, better and with broader impact.

mReading to children: Leveraging mobile reading to promote and advance early childhood literacy

mEducation Alliance logoAt the recent mEducation Alliance Symposium in Washington, D.C., I presented, along with Elizabeth Wood, mReading to children: Leveraging mobile reading to promote and advance early childhood literacy. For this project, proposed in partnership with Worldreader, we are looking for partners for funding, technology support, content provision, and more.

The abstract is as follows:

The project goal is to promote educational outcomes of young children by providing a free mobile phone based portal for early childhood educational materials targeted to teachers, parents and caregivers in Kenya and Tanzania. This mobile application will be optimized for low end feature phones and will leverage best practice in the science of early childhood, delivering curated materials in English and Kiswahili. The project will be implemented in partnership with Worldreader, a non-profit organisation that uses mobile technology to distribute books.

Integrating mobile learning solutions for Syrian refugees in Iraq

mEducation Alliance logoLast week was the third annual mEducation Alliance Symposium in Washington, D.C., attended by over 175 participants from 20 countries with 40+ presentations about innovations for using technologies in education. Overall, this year’s event addressed a range of topics including technologies for reading, youth and workforce development,and for application in complex and challenging environments.

I gave four presentations, one of which was the UNESCO concept note Integrating mobile learning solutions for Syrian refugees in Iraq. This is a proposed project for which UNESCO is looking for partners for funding, technology support, content development, and more.

The abstract is as follows:

UNESCO research has indicated that mobile learning has special applicability in post-conflict, post-disaster contexts: displaced people often have working mobile devices; mobile networks are robust and tend to work even when other communication networks are down; and mobile content can be developed quickly and disseminated cheaply. Research has further indicated that mobile learning is most effective when it is integrated into more comprehensive educational solutions, rather than “parachuted in,” unconnected to schools and other community institutions. In the coming months UNESCO Iraq plans to build three schools for Syrian refugees in Kurdistan; UNESCO HQ proposes the creation of a mobile learning program to supplement, enrich and extend the educational services that will be offered in brick-and-motor buildings. Apart from providing immediate and urgently-needed educational support to Syrians, the project also allow UNESCO to establish an implementation model that can be applied elsewhere to advance the learning of refugees or other traumatized people.

edWeb Webinar: Global Efforts to Understand the Potential of Mobile Learning: UNESCO Shares Its Insight

edWeb logoThe potential of mobile learning continues to expand in the U.S. and around the world. As districts and schools work to implement technology that has become commonplace for many students outside of school, they face many challenges and opportunities. In a recent webinar for the Mobile Learning Explorations community, I provided attendees with a global perspective from UNESCO, while Jennifer Fritschi, Director of Strategic Partnerships at SETDA and Mary Ann Wolf, CEO of Wolf ED, shared the United States’ perspective. Mobile learning has the ability to improve education systems and help reach marginalized populations through expanded access. The presenters shared their insight on trends, examples, and policy and practice implications, including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and professional learning opportunities. The stigma that is associated with mobile learning was discussed as well as potential barriers that may be encountered during implementation. Collectively we tried to provide insight on how to overcome and ways to turn on mobile learning.

View the webinar.

edWeb webinar