I’ve posted a round-up of the eLearning Africa conference on Tech Leader. Helpful input to the piece came from my colleagues Karien Bezuidenhout and Dr Mark Horner, who also attended the conference.
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.
My session: Kaspars Kapenieks (presenter), me, Dr Paula Uimonen (chairperson) and Gaston Donnat Bappa, ICT enthusiast and Cameroonian chief (presenter).
The main hall, where we presented. It wasn’t this full when we presented, unfortunately 😦
Two interesting projects I came across at eLearning Africa are icouldbe and Emerald InTouch.
icouldbe.org 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.
At 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.
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:
- 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.
- Wider in the university Second Life is used:
- For simulations and role-play
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)
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.
Below are notes from the eLearning Africa session titled Mobile phones offering a lifeline to learners.
Kirston 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.
- 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.
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.