Mobile phones know where you are, what time it is, are communications devices and are fully programmable. Starting question: Given these features, what story can you tell?
The Carrier is the first transmedia graphic novel as an iPhone app. In it’s “print” form, the novel would consist of 680 panels, 35 chapters — about 120 pages if printed out. Really it’s just images on a screen. But given the transmedia way it is told — in real time over 10 days — the story is a lot more.
Because mobile phones know what time it is, stories can be revealed over time. Depending on the time of day that reading begins, readers begin the story in a different way. This puts the storyteller in control. In real time the story pushes out messages.
The authors have created a lot of fictional sites — alternate reality game-like. They also created merchandise in Cafe Press that they linked to, which readers could buy. Messages were pushed to iPhone readers using Urban Airship (first 250,000 messages sent a free!) Geoff considered using SMS for messaging, but that option was too expensive (the author pays for the messages, not the reader).
This was an interesting presentation, given the transmedia features and story extras we built into Kontax.
Everyone knows that the mobile phone is revolutionising the way people communicate, work, play and live in Africa. Below are three ideas for mobile learning (mlearning) on the continent.
Given that many teens are reading and writing more than ever, not formally but on mobile phones, can these be used as platforms for exposing learners to “good” examples of the written word, and encourage them to read, write and discuss literature? There is certainly a need to explore all available channels to raise the low level of literacy amongst youth in Africa. Further, mobile phones may represent a way to alleviate the chronic shortage of books as they provide a viable distribution solution.
A project that I’ve proposed at the Shuttleworth Foundation is the m4Lit (mobile phones for literacy) pilot. If approved, this project will create a story, published on a mobisite – accessible via mobile phone web browsers and computer web browsers – to explore the opportunities for mobile-assisted literacy development. The story will be published serially (daily) and invite young readers to interact with it as it unfolds – voting on chapter endings, commenting, discussing and finally submitting a written piece as part of a competition.
The overall aim is to increase exposure to the written word and get young people to read and write more. The pilot takes an expanded view of functional literacy, framing the consumption and creation of content as a social exercise that allows for audience participation, using the technology that is in the hands of the youth. (Let’s face it, at USD299 a pop, the Kindle is not going to become the ebook reader of Africa.)
Mobile learning management systems
Building on the learning management systems (LMS) out there, like LAMS or Moodle, a mobile LMS would allow for teachers to create content as well as assignments, which learners then complete on their phones. The ImfundoYami / ImfundoYethu pilot project — “mobile learning for mathematics” — in South Africa is a good example of such a system that:
Alleviates the burden of marking assignments for the teachers. Through the web back-end, teachers can immediately see the results of the learners’ assignments. They can also see where the class is struggling (if most learners got questions 10-15 wrong, and those were about fractions, then clearly there’s a problem with the understanding of fractions).
Gets kids excited about homework because it happens on the platform they love.
Where to get content for the system? Use open-educational resources (OERs) from sites such as Connexions or OER Commons. Such a system can be used to develop literacy and numeracy, or any learning subject for that matter.
I’ve been struggling with the question of how to make this kind of system sustainable — after all, it costs money to access data over your mobile phone. Advertising or sponsorship is one model. After my presentation at the Accenture CRM summit, Andrea Spilhaus-Mitchell, Business Development Director at Accenture South Africa suggested that there needs to be something in it for the mobile industry stakeholders. Literacy and numeracy tests would reveal much about mobile phone users, and allow for customising subscriber packages as well as marketing campaigns. In short, it’ll allow the mobile network operators and handset manufacturers to better understand their customers. Further, this kind of data (in aggregate) could be fed into larger reports, such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report.
Adding a level of competitiveness to the tests, with an overall score or a leader board, could motivate learners to take more tests and to try harder. This has worked well in Scottish primary schools where learners play Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on Nintendo DS, and also for Dr Math on MXit.
At the Web4Dev conference in New York I met with the founders, inventors and creators of some pretty amazing mobile-for-development projects. Below are my top five, with some thoughts on how they could be used for education.
Ushahidi — which means “testimony” in Swahili — is a free, open-source platform to crowdsource crisis information. It allows anyone to submit information through SMS, email or web form, with each submission pinned to a map. The aggregate effect is a compelling visualisation of an event as it unfolds, told by citizen journalists. It has been used to report on the botched elections in Kenya, the DRC and the war in Gaza.
I told Erik Hersman, the White African behind Ushahidi, that it should be used for an alternate reality game with teenagers in Cape Town.
GeoChat supports relief workers after a major humanitarian crisis, when reliable team-based communication is critical but notoriously difficult to achieve. This open-source group communications technology lets team members interact to maintain shared geospatial awareness of who is doing what where — over any device, on any platform, over any network. According to Robert Kirkpatrick, of InSTEDD, it works like this:
You register with GeoChat either online, by email, or by SMS.
Create a new GeoChat group and invite your team members.
Send messages to one another, or share them with the entire group.
If you’re mobile using your cell phone, prefix a text message with your location — say your current address, or a latitude and longitude from a GPS – and GeoChat will place your icon on the map for online users to see.
Even those not on the ground, e.g. the support team back at UN headquarters, can visualize the remote team on the surface of a map and interact with them. GeoChat is nearing public Beta release.
For educational purposes, this tool could be used by learners when mapping their community. Or for co-ordinating on-the-ground players, and distance players, during that alternate reality game!
Text to Change
In a pilot project in Uganda, Text to Change — an mhealth non-profit organisation — used an SMS-based quiz to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS. The quiz, which reached 15,000 subscribers, had two goals: i) to collect information, and ii) to promote voluntary counseling and testing (VCT). As an incentive to answer questions, free airtime was offered.
The quiz allowed TTC to assess the rate of correct answers within certain socio-economic sectors; this information was passed to UNICEF to inform their interventions. The quiz also resulted in a 40% increase in the number of people who sought VCT. All in all, a very successful project!
Hajo van Beijma and I spoke about how TTC could be used in South Africa (SA) for education. Some ideas:
Literacy development: Send out short stories via SMS, e.g. each chapter of the story is five SMSs. Then ask readers: questions about the chapter (to test comprehension) via simple multiple choice or free-form responses, or ask readers to summarise the chapter and SMS it back, or ask readers to write their responses to the chapter, e.g. what do you think should happen next?
Learner needs assessment: send out quizzes about what subjects/concepts learners are struggling with, e.g. fractions in Mathematics. Provide this data to the Department of Education.
RapidSMS is an SMS-based open-source monitoring and data collection platform developed by UNICEF’s Innovations and Development team. An SMS submitting quantitative data consists of a keyword followed by parameters, e.g. “User5889 2” could be HIV-patient number 5889 reporting that she’s just taken her second dose of anti-retroviral medicine for the day. Qualitative data can also be submitted — ideal for when polling communities. The RapidSMS interface allows for editing and visualisation of the received data, as well as exporting it for spreadsheets.
As the UNICEF team, Evan Wheeler, Christopher Fabian and Erica Kochi said in their report on Innovation for Africa, “rather than hiring consultants for monthly visits to hundreds of schools to survey teacher attendance, why not visit once and teach children to send UNICEF a SMS on days their teacher is not present?”
Literacy Bridge is a non-profit organisation with the goal of making knowledge accessible to people living in poverty. The bet of Cliff Schmidt — it’s founder — is on audio, and so he created the talking book: a low cost, ruggedised audio player/recorder. The device has awesome features, such as simple device-to-device copying (no PC or network needed), audio hyperlinking (e.g. to a glossary of terms used in the audio piece), and slow play for reading practice.
In Africa, many people have low-access or no-access to ICT. The talking book is perfect for empowering this audience.
The conference made it clear that crowd-sourcing, user participation, SMS and geospatial visualisation (mapping) of information are all red hot right now.
Last week I held a brainstorm at the Shuttleworth Foundation to generate ideas for an educational alternate reality game (ARG) for youth in South Africa (SA).
In the world of learning games, as ARG is a good fit for SA because players don’t need sophisticated equipment, e.g. XBox or PlayStation, to play. Reading the newspaper or being able to receive and send an SMS can be enough to get involved.
As far as I know this will be the first educational ARG in Africa. Attendees included Vincent Maher (who heads up social media at Vodacom), Alixe Lowenherz (education, curriculum and e-learning expert), Danny Day and Marc Luck (game developers), Barry and Patrick Kayton (of Bright Sparks) and Graeme Comrie (advisor to Hip2b2).
While the ARG idea is top secret right now (:-) I can tell you that it’ll involve mobile phones (which cross-media experience in SA wouldn’t). Watch this space in the coming months!
In a recent paper, a research team from Manchester University and the London School of Economics (LSE) makes a bold and very interesting hypothesis: that fiction, such as the novels The Kite Runner and The White Tiger, is a legitimate way for people to understand global issues like poverty and migration. It is usually the domain of academic reports and policies to cover developmental concerns.
In a Telegraph article, Dr Dennis Rodgers from Manchester University’s Brooks World Poverty Institute explains that fiction “does not compromise on complexity, politics or readability in the way that academic literature sometimes does.” He continues: “And fiction often reaches a much larger and diverse audience than academic work and may therefore be more influential in shaping public knowledge and understanding of development issues.”
The paper argues that Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner has “done more to educate Western readers about the realities of daily life in Afghanistan (under the Taliban and thereafter) than any government media campaign, advocacy organisation report, or social science research.”
The paper offers the obvious caveat: that fictional works should be read alongside (not instead of) formal research “as valid contributions to our understandings of development. In this way, literary accounts can be seen – alongside other forms – as an important, accessible and useful way of understanding values and ideas in society.”
Why is this particularly interesting? For educational purposes, the value of fictional representations is legitimised. I’m not thinking of books though, but rather digital and cross-media representations, such as video games or alternate reality games (ARG). We are constantly trying to engage young people in current affairs that affect their world — this is one way to do that.
For some time ARG designers have been trying to understand the educational value of the games (we already know they are highly engaging for some players, but what are they learning?) This paper gives credence to the belief that the game play, when embedded in real world situations and stories (at which ARGs excel), is a legitimate context for learning. I think that when the game play is then tied back to reflective discussions in formal contexts (such as in the classroom), the learning is even more powerful.