Author Archives: lsamad

Case Study: Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) District Technology Plan

Unlike some of the other case study projects that have examined new technologies that are being developed and used in New Orleans, my project focuses on the utilization of existing technology to better the Orleans Parish School system. Following Hurricane Katrina, the public school system in New Orleans was drastically altered in an attempt to improve the undisputedly failing school system. The district shrunk dramatically after 2005: of the roughly 125 schools open prior to the storm, less than 20 were reopened. They were placed under the jurisdiction of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

In 2007, the OPSB got wind that they were about to have a significant amount of money at their disposal. The Title 1 money that had been allocated for the public schools for the previous school year was being pumped back to the school system through the OPSB and the Recovery School District. Of the money granted to the OPSB, $3.6 million had been specifically set aside for the implementation of a district wide technology plan. The OPSB immediately set into action and the IT Department and the Curriculum Construction Department collaborated to build a network. They began by figuring out what they already had in the schools, and were shocked to find that the people on both teams didn’t know first and foremost what the software programs in place did, and who, if anyone was using them. In the end, after roughly three months of deliberation, they decided to make the existing technology package and pilots in place available to the whole district.

In winter of 2007, the technology plan was set into place. The goal of the technology plan was, and continues to be, that “all Orleans Parish School Board educators and learners will benefit from technology-rich environments that promote maximized student achievement and produce life long learners able to succeed in an information society” (Louisiana State Technology Plan).  The hope is that through utilizing technology students can receive individual lesson plans that are specifically tailored to their needs, shifting the focus away from the industrial method of teaching.

The initial focus of the project was on hardware and the classrooms. Roughly 70% of the original budget was spent on building infrastructure, and purchasing the hardware necessary for the students to access the technology packages. At this time they also pushed out of the data system into a cloud based system so students could have access to this information anywhere. This aspect of the technology plan was a “technological smash hit” as students in theses OPSB schools now had access to computers and programs that  hadn’t been previously available to them. The plan was successful in regards to infrastructure, hardware, and software, but the technology plan faced, and continues to face, countless hardships and shortcomings.

Regardless of all the incredible technology that has been made available to students, teachers, and administrators, utilization of the hardware and programs is disappointingly low. It is extremely difficult to shift the model of instruction away from the industrial model and completely change the classroom environment, regardless of this newfound ability to define each student individually, develop individual instruction plans for each student, and allow each student to drive his or her own learning experience. Teachers are generally dealing with students from low-income families that have behavioral problems and little respect for authority. Often times the main concern of teachers is controlling the classroom and improving test scores, rather than what students are learning. Another huge threat facing the project is a rapidly decreasing budget. The OPBS will never have the same kind of initial funding at their disposal. Although millions of dollars won’t be needed for infrastructure and hardware, a substantial amount of funding is still needed to improve teacher training and professional development, and to manage the technology that has been brought in. It is, as a result, likely that some of the programs will need to be cut back. In order to improve the school system and actually achieve the desired outcome of this technology plan, teachers, administrators, students, and parents, must invest heavily in this new method of teaching and learning, and recognize the incredible long-term benefits that it can bring.

Lessons Learned: ICT4D

Throughout the course of the semester one of the most important lessons that I have learned is that sustainability is a key component necessary for creating and implementing a successful development project. As we have discussed in class, ICT projects and initiatives can be crafted to address and improve countless problems in a wide range of sectors – health, education, socioeconomic development, human rights, etc. – yet regardless of the situations these various technologies hope to improve, success is only possible if long-term sustainability is granted a warranted amount of attention from the get-go. In order for projects to be sustainable and effective several criteria must be met. Areas of focus should include financial sustainability (the lack of adequate funding is one of the most pressing issues facing ICT projects), technological sustainability (ability of the technologies utilized to “hold up” for a long period of time without substantial shifts in hardware or software), social sustainability, user/ local buy-in and participation, institutional sustainability, and environmental sustainability.

I feel as though social sustainability in particular is of the utmost importance, especially when focusing on international projects. With international projects sustainability becomes a bit more difficult. Local support, participation, and investment in the project and the technologies introduced are crucial components to success. Without this local involvement, projects are likely to fall apart once volunteers from abroad leave, and as a result the goals the project will never be realized. The demands of the users and the issues faced must be met and addressed through the technologies adopted, and it is important that the locals feel as though they are better off with the new technologies than they had been without them. Local support and involvement is needed so that the project can eventually be placed in the hands of the locals.

For me, this was made extremely evident when Dr. Murphy came and discussed the project she had been working on in Kenya. Dr. Murphy, after spending a considerable amount of time with locals in a rural village, addressed a problem they were facing and implemented a solution by introducing solar technologies. Without local buy-in and support of these solar cell-phone chargers, Dr. Murphy’s project, and the problem she hoped to fix, would have gone nowhere. Success in this case was contingent upon social sustainability and the project was only able to continue and grow once this was achieved.

India Disaster Resource Network

India, one of the most disaster prone countries in the world, faces countless environmental threats including earthquakes, droughts, floods, and cyclones. With a major disaster striking the country every two to three years, the government of India has utilized ICTs in disaster management and has established the India Disaster Resource Network. Focused on preparedness, response, and mitigation, this tool seeks to address the biggest problem facing the nation, and others, when a disaster strikes – the ability to quickly mobilize equipment, human resources, aid, and critical supplies to the emergency area. Quick and efficient response is crucial when a disaster hits and any delayed action can result in increased loss of lives and livelihoods. This national initiative has established “an online inventory designed as a decision making tool for the Government administrators and crisis managers to coordinate effective emergency response operations in the shortest possible time”. The IDRN eliminates uncertainty and lack of knowledge regarding the whereabouts of important resources in neighboring areas and has resulted in more effective and efficient decision making. The resource has been decentralized and is currently being managed by districts, and inventory is being updated within each district quarterly.

The Ushahidi Platform

Ushahidi is a non-profit technology company that has developed a platform that provides individuals worldwide with a simple and effective way to communicate vital information with others on what is happening to them and around them during disaster or emergency situations. Created in Kenya during the election violence of 2008, The Ushahidi Platformprovided Kenyans and those providing assistance with invaluable information on the situation at hand. The Ushahidi Platform has since been used in the Democratic Republic of Congo to monitor unrest, in South Africa to track xenophobic violence, by Aljazeera to map violence in Gaza, in 2009 during the Indian elections, and to gather global reports of recent swine flu outbreak. Information can be contributed by anyone through SMS text messages, MMS videos or pictures, and through email. After a report is submitted the information is almost immediately posted to an interactive map that can be accesses through computers and smart phones. The map providers viewers with an easy way to visualize the information acquired, and also provides a dynamic time line so reports and changes can be tracked over time. The Ushadidi Platform is open source, and is constantly being improved and expanded. The Ushahidi Platform can be used and employed by anyone in their own neighborhood to suit their communities needs and has been extremely successful in getting critical information to those that need it most in a timely manner.

Social Media Skeptic

Although many articles and examples have been provided on the utility of social media and its ability to bring about development and social change, New Yorker author Malcolm Gladwell continues to challenge the notion that tools such as Twitter and Facebook have reinvented social activism and can have such an effect. In his article “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted,” Gladwell critiques social media and provides readers with several examples of misguided assessments of the importance of social media in important global events – the 2009 protests in Moldova and Iran. Conclusions reached in Gladwell’s article have sparked a contentious debate on the ways in which social media tools are used to promote change, educate individuals and obtain supporters for a cause.

Intel Teach Worldwide

Intel, an American multinational technology corporation, has shown its sustained commitment to improving education, teaching, and learning through the implementation of a project known as Intel Teach Program, through the Intel Education Initiative. Focused on empowering students of all ages and providing them with the necessary skills to succeed, this project strives to improve “teacher effectiveness through professional development, [help] teachers integrate technology into their lessons and [promote] students’ problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration skills”. Intel Teach Worldwide has been the most successful program of its kind and is evidence of the positive educational outcomes efficient use of technology can have.

Since the launch of the pilot program in Pakistan in 2001, Intel has partnered with private and public international organizations, governments, and educators in over 70 countries and has trained over 10 million teachers, in 35 different languages. Intel spends roughly 100 million dollars in education programs annually, and volunteers hundreds of thousands of hours of invaluable work, to promote its cause  on local, national, and international levels.

Improving Rural Education in Colombia

Originally posted on Blackboard by Lana Abdulsamad

Roughly ten years ago rural areas in Colombia were facing a major issue – a lack of ICT in rural education. For example, Caldas, Colombia, a predominantly rural area of poor coffee farmers, did not have a single rural school with access to ICT at the time, a reality that was furthering the discrepancy between urban and rural education and development, and worsening the nationwide digital divide. In an attempt to address the situation a local private organization known as the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia took matters into their own hands and created an ICT initiative known as ‘Virtual Schools’. Focused on providing “free and safe access to information and knowledge in order to improve fair and equal development [of] rural communities,” ‘Virtual Schools’ had three main objectives: 1. increase access to ICT for both rural students and teachers and help develop the skills necessary for use of ICTs; 2. promote the use of the Internet for both communication with others, and for gathering information; and 3. keep the rural populace informed.

The project gained support from the local and national government, as well as private and public organizations, and since its 1997 implementation, over 1,000 teachers and 6,000,000 students use them in both urban and rural schools. The project has received international recognition for its undeniable success in achieving its goals, and is evidence of the ability of successful ICT projects to transform and improve the living situations of individuals, communities, and nations.