Digital storytelling for Africa

My presentation at eLearning Africa was Digital storytelling for Africa: Case study of an international digital media project. I spoke about the the Digital Hero Book Project and also touched on a project that aimed to improve cross-cultural awareness in participating teens from the USA and South Africa. The teens used blogs and camera phones to document cultural aspects of their lives.

Presenters at eLearning Africa 2008

My session: Kaspars Kapenieks (presenter), me, Dr Paula Uimonen (chairperson) and Gaston Donnat Bappa, ICT enthusiast and Cameroonian chief (presenter).

The main hall at eLearning Africa 2008

The main hall, where we presented. It wasn’t this full when we presented, unfortunately 😦

Two interesting projects

Two interesting projects I came across at eLearning Africa are icouldbe and Emerald InTouch. is an online mentoring initiative that pairs school learners with volunteer adult mentors. For the last 9 years it has been based in the USA, but is now beginning to roll out in some African countries. The website is the interface between the mentor/mentee. The interactions must adhere to very strict rules such as no personal identification, no swearing, etc. The potential for SA is enormous, where young people need encouragement and support, and where the technology mediates across race and economic class divides.

Emerald InTouch is a “personal web space and hosting service that supports learning, networking and collaboration. Built upon the Elgg learning landscape system, InTouch places a range of collaborative technologies and networking tools in one simple, easy-to-use, secure space.” A downside is that it offers many web 2.0 features that people already use, e.g. an RSS aggregator and a blog, so why would you want to start yet another blog inside Emerald InTouch? The answer is if you belong to a research community and want to benefit from the social networking that can enhance that community. Further, alerts can be set up to even SMS users when relevant research actions occur — this is especially valuable to those in developing countries with low internet connectivity.

The need for 21st century skills

Intel EducationAt the plenary session of eLearning Africa, William Swope from Intel spoke about the Intel Teach program. He said that African teachers and learners in 600,000 schools need 21st century skills, such as media literacy, problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration skills. The goal is to transform Africa from consumer to innovator. This requires moving from a “silver bullet” focus on ICT to holistic transformation of teaching and learning. The new focus must be on technology access, connectivity, teacher training and content.

Much of what was said resonates with what the Shuttleworth Foundation is doing in my theme: Communication and analytical skills development. These are the key 21st century skills.

Web 2.0: A real opportunity for Africa?

Out of the 47 sessions held at the eLearning Africa conference, only two were about web 2.0. This is very telling, and worrying! (Although in some of the sessions I attended there were certainly web 2.0-like projects, which just hadn’t been labeled as such.)

In the session Web 2.0: A real opportunity for Africa?, Dr Hamish Macloed, University of Edinburgh, presented on New pedagogies for new learning spaces: elearning at the University of Edinburgh. He described their MSc in eLearning course, which uses WebCT, wikis, blogs, Skype and Second Life, amongst  others, to teach and network students. Below are points he raised about using Web 2.0 in the teaching-learning experience.

Application of blogs:

  • Asynchronous tutorial support. Students blog about their work in progress and the tutors will comment on this.
  • Study/research notebook for individuals and the community.
  • Object of assessment.
  • Forum for research conversation between students, peers and supervisors.

Applications of wiki:

  • Shared workspace for problem-based projects.
  • Communication of information.
  • Collaborative construction of understanding.
  • Student as author, tutor as editor.

Application of Facebook:

  • As a means of social communication.
  • As a manifestation of “presence” for both teachers and students.
  • As the development and presentation of an online identity.

Application of Second Life:

  • On the MSc program:
  • As a tutorial space
  • As a social space
  • A cultural issue that came up when using Second Life was that an avatar with a head was offensive to some of the African learners because for them people with animal heads represent evil wizards.

Furry avatar

  • Wider in the university Second Life is used:
    • For simulations and role-play
    • “Exhibitions”

Finally he raised the challenge of assessing web 2.0-esque deliverables, e.g. student blogs. To address one needs to be innovative in assessment, not just in technology use.

Image by Yogi MadhavaJi Tae via Flickr (CC)

Designing sustainable technologies for Africa: Engaging with local perspectives

Below are notes from the eLearning Africa session titled Designing sustainable technologies for Africa: Engaging with local perspectives.

The session focussed on the challenges of co-designing educational technologies and activities (how to be “inclusive from the outside”). The approach of “co-designing” was proposed because to build upon local expertise in equitable partnership is critical. Only then do we — external stakeholders and locals — begin to work towards sustainable technology solutions. Of course this is not easy!

For effective partnerships:

  • Clearly define the goals of the project.
  • Ensure that all partners are very clear on these.

For appropriate technology solutions consider these points:

  • Appropriate for whom: donors or the users?
  • Must be needs based and not supply driven.
  • Must begin with a comprehensive focus on the needs of the poor and marginalised. Remarkably little research has been done here.
  • Technology and science are not neutral.
  • Need to share existing findings openly.

Jon Gregson, University of London, spoke about the role of mlearning in Africa, based on a project that he has been involved in in Kenya and Tanzania. He said that it is critical not to see mlearning as stand-alone and newer and better than other forms of learning. “For a particular context, mobile learning can compliment the learning experience.” So, we should think carefully about which media are best suited to the educational content and the context of learning. Mobile phones, as much as text books, have their strengths and weaknesses. We should explore how mlearning supports blended learning.

Mobile phones and education

Below are notes from the eLearning Africa session titled Mobile phones offering a lifeline to learners.

M4Girls project

Mindset logoKirston Greenop, research manager at Mindset Network, presented on the current M4Girls (mobile/math for girls) project in South Africa (SA), which aims to support maths learning using a technology that is highly pervasive but not allowed in classrooms. The audience concurred that in most countries mobile phones are not allowed in classrooms and definitely not in exams.

Some project stats:

  • Nokia 6300 phones used (entry level phone)
  • 43 mini videos (2-3 mins long) loaded onto phones (taken from existing Mindset digital content). Interesting finding: the girls wanted more videos. After watching 3 minute video they asked: “Where is more?” This counters the original assumption that only short mobile movies will retain user attention.
  • 3 “mobisode” (mobile episode) animations.
  • 2 games:
    • An overt maths problem solving game
    • An implicit business development simulation game
  • All curriculum aligned
  • Grade 10 girls: 20 got phones, 20 in control group who didn’t get phones
  • 6 month project

Initial results of the project:

  • The games are of a good quality, comparable to or better than anything else on the market in SA.
  • Exceptionally high usage of the games by the learners.
  • Problem solving is collaborative. When stuck with a problem, the kids asked each other and their siblings.
  • “Teacher in my pocket”.

Challenges to watch:

  • Power dynamics between learners and teachers. Teachers want to mediate the usage of the phones and they can’t do that when the learners take the phones home.
  • Don’t constrain the phone. Ideally the girls would have prepaid minutes to go online, chat, research, etc.
  • Youth are a very discerning market. Don’t make it too educational, they will dump it.

Future plans:

  • To extend the content to teachers and parents, to involve them.
  • To speed up research and increase game features, develop levels, etc.

Full, in-depth results of the project will be available in November 2008.

Adapting tertiary education learning environments to mobile devices

Project at a Nigerian university where many students work full-time and thus need a learning experience that does not rely on classroom time. A learning repository was developed (7 undergraduate and 2 post-graduate courses) that can be accessed via a desktop PC or a mobile device (phone, PDA, etc.) The content is stored in XML and style sheets are applied when serving to different devices. Most students in Nigeria have mobile phones with internet access capabilities, thus can access the “learning on the move” service.

Limitations found in the project:

  • Power and memory limitations of mobile phones.
  • Internet connection costs.
  • User interface problems: small display, confusing layout.
  • Need to remember the importance of human face-to-face learning.

Uganda MarketInfonet

Ignatz Heinz presented on a Ugandan concept project for context-based basic skills training — literacy and numeracy — amongst rural farmers and fisher folk. In Uganda there is a high level of illiteracy, especially in the agricultural sector that makes up 80% of the work force. MakertInfonet is an internet-based knowledge management and SMS-based communication tool to provide access to market information and sound agricultural practices. The project wants to embed the learning of literacy and numeracy in everyday life contexts and so have chosen to capitalise on this existing tool that is used by many people, everyday, for their livelihood. Right now they don’t know how this project will play out, but the concept is certainly interesting. Links: INFONET-Biovision and Avallain.

Effective evaluation of ICT for education in Africa

Today I attended a pre-conference workshop on the effective evaluation of ICT for education in Africa, hosted by David Hollow, a doctoral researcher at the University of London (Royal Holloway). Below are my notes.

In groups we discussed the following questions related to monitoring and evaluation (M&E):

  1. What is the most significant challenge facing effective evaluation of ICT for education programmes?

  2. Why do you think this?

  3. How do you think the challenge can be addressed?

Some suggestions for what must change in M&E:

  • Important to give teeth to M&E, in other words tie it to funding, staff promotion, performance appraisals of project stakeholders, etc.

  • Funders, donors and administrative organs must drive effective M&E. It must be required and included in the project — not summatively at the end but throughout the project.

  • Multidisciplinary approaches must be taken in M&E, especially within universities.

  • Develop skills of monitors and evaluators.

  • When running a project across a diverse range of schools, it can be problematic to apply one evaluation approach. Schools that are well-resourced will respond differently to poor schools, but we tend to apply the same measurements for impact.

Presentation 1: John Traxler, of the University of Wolverhampton, presented on some of the legal and ethical challenges of M&E:

Informed consent:

  • Obtaining consent can be difficult, e.g. through parental permission.

  • Participant risk, e.g. perhaps by giving them expensive mobile phones in a poor community. Or asking potentially embarrassing questions in a focus group discussion.

  • Participant withdrawal: How does this affect the project results?

  • Financial or in-kind compensation: What? How much?


  • Data may be used by other organisations not initially part of the project.

Power, class, difference:

  • Evaluation often works across differentials in power and class.

Presentation 2: Til Schoenherr, inWEnt, presented on Capacity building in elearning: unintended outcomes. inWEnt runs a number of elearning capacity building projects. Below are some of the unintended outcomes that he put down to elearning:

  • In alumni network of trainees, cultural and religious diversity has not resulted in any racism or discrimination.

  • Change of teaching/learning patterns, e.g. Teachers coach rather than instruct.

Presentation 3: Bjorn Everts, Education Manager, Eduvision, presented on Ethiopia XO-5000, and spoke about the benefits of conducting M&E throughout the project life cycle. In the Ethiopia XO-5000 project 5,000 XO laptops were introduced into five Ethiopian schools. Eduvision developed the software for the laptops. They conducted a 3-stage evaluation — before, during and after — to assess the feasibility and impact of introducing “innovative learning” in Ethiopian schools. Followed a multi-method approach – quantitative and qualitative methods. Some findings:

  • A challenge was that there was no initial consensus among project partners about the aims of the M&E, or even what M&E is.

  • It is important to create feedback loops throughout the project and to constantly revise your plan. As part of initially refining the plan it is useful to take the M&E plan to each project stakeholder and talk it through with them. It could prevent the making of mistakes.

  • Remember to keep focussing on the aims and objectives.

Important lessons learned:

  • Spend as much time as possible to build local capacity for feedback, input and self-reflection. The teachers were best suited to monitor the project.

  • Conduct as many of the methods in the local language as possible.

  • Ensure all parties understand M&E before proceeding. Don’t assume everyone knows what M&E is. Explain everything in layman’s terms.

  • Very important to emphasise that you don’t want canned feedback. The most valuable feedback is honest feedback.

  • Be flexible with multiple partners.

Two of the more obvious points are:

  • Ethics and buy-in: comprehensively inform your participants what the M&E process is about and how important their participation is.

  • Document the indirect effects of M&E and communicate this to managers.

Presentation 4: Prof. Tim Unwin. Findings of a recent one-day workshop on M&E processes of ICT in education projects in the Middle East.

  • You can’t change education over night. So, what are the short term and long term indicators for M&E? What are we looking to change and therefore measure?
  • Dissemination of M&E findings is very important. But we need to overcome the fear of sharing negative results. The real issue is not always the findings, but the process.
  • Tim asked how we encourage a culture of M&E in the whole project team? It was suggested to include M&E in the training of the team, and to keep pushing the message that M&E is about identifying gaps in projects or organisations and that the end result is not to lay blame but to improve projects or organisations.
  • An interesting question was: Should we have pilot projects at all, or start at scale? Challenges and problems only emerge when we go to scale. Why not go big from the start?

Presentation 5: A Canadian academic presented the case study of a palliative care training project in Canada. She noted that in the input –> process –> output framework of projects, inputs are individual and organisational, especially around goals of the project. For example, what does the organisation want (e.g. x number of bums on seats in a training intervention) and what do the beneficiaries of the project want out of it (to learn how to provide palliative care)? Defining these different stakeholder goals upfront, and making sure that all stakeholders are aware of the full set of goals, is very important for effective M&E.

Final comments:

  • M&E of ICT for education projects is hugely challenging. Because of this, effective M&E is often marginalised or trivialised.

  • Every situation has a unique context. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to M&E – but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good practices and lessons to learn from other efforts.

  • One of the participants asked for practical advice on how to conduct M&E by non-experts, with no budget. An “M&E for Dummies”.

  • Think about how best to communicate the findings to the stakeholders.

  • There aren’t that many experts in this space. Have the courage to try your own approaches or the approaches of others even if they are not formal experts in the field.

  • Important to have a framework: plan, process, indicators, partnerships, etc.

  • David Hollow listed the four Ps of M&E:
    • Stakeholder participation
    • Partnership
    • Plurality of methods
    • Focus on process (and not outputs)

For me a key affirmation that came out of the final discussion was that we should not be afraid to follow M&E methods that might not be well known, but that are good fits for our projects. There are not many true experts in the this field, and with constant budget and time constraints, we often have to conduct M&E ourselves.

eLearning Africa 2008 kicks-off

I’m in Accra, Ghana, for the third annual eLearning Africa conference. Approximately 1,500 delegates from 83 countries — mostly in Africa — are gathered to discuss, share and promote various approaches to ICT in Education. The conference covers primary, secondary and tertiary education, and includes aspects such as teacher training, infrastructure, content and open educational resources.

Myself and Karien Bezuidenhout outside the Accra International Conference Centre where eLA was held. “Akwaaba” means welcome.