Tag Archives: e-learning

Information Design, ICT Development, and Education

The Internet is a rich resource. In the past decade, information design, the practice of presenting information in a way that fosters efficient and effective understanding of it and access to it, in the United States has progressed to a point where anyone with access to the Internet can immerse themselves in an educational rich dimension. However, the effectiveness in this progression is dependent on the information actually reaching the user. This past week in class, we read the International Telecommunication Union’s annual report that measured the information societies in 155 different countries across countries currently classified as developed, developing, and undeveloped. The report used three variables to create an index for ICT development: ICT use, ICT access, and ICT skills. Prior to reading this report, I had narrowly considered the impediments to ICT access to be solely physical, political, and economic- mainly what ICT use and ICT access encompass. However, having ICT skills as the third variable, allowed me to think about how important other, more social factors, like education is in the equation of ICT and development.

In reading the report, I was unimpressed by the United State’s ranking as 15th on the ICT Development Index (p. 21). The importance of lessening the digital divide here in the United States, especially here in New Orleans, has a greater implication now that I have taken education into account when thinking of ICT and development. The report holds that education is an important factor in a country’s ICT development, and consequently that ICT development and education is an important factor in the overall development of a country. That is why the intersection of ICT access and education is so significant.

There is a wealth of information available to the web user. Over the past decade, there has been a shift in the field of information design to create user interfaces that are simple and accessible, alleviating barriers to knowledge that have existed in the past. Web sites like TED talks and Khan Academy provide entry into a world of expert knowledge that would not have been commonly accessible to the majority of the population in years past. You no longer have to be accepted into ultra exclusive and expensive universities to have access to the quality of information that their students are exposed to. Models like Academic Earth and Stamford U allow classes from the world’s most prestigious colleges like Columbia, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Dartmouth, Harvard, NYU, Oxford, Princeton, Rice, UC Berkeley, and Yale to be accessed by anyone with Internet. In my opinion, the importance of providing such access to these academic resources, in way of ICT development, is greater today because of the growing amount of information that is now available through the Internet. These resources have the potential to enhance the quality of education available to the American person, contributing to a better-educated population and therefore, contributing to the development of the country it self.


Technology for the People, By the People

I think that this class reinforced ideas of grassroots initiatives being the most effective very well. From talking about ideology in comparing ICT4D 1.0 and 2.0, to discussing existing and past programs we have touched on what makes an ICT truly sustainable. This is a concept that we learn in other International Development classes, but it has been mainly theoretical and being able to analyze something like One Laptop Per Child in depth gave us the ability to grasp how to assess ICT4D projects with regard to actual need, impact on the ground level, and sustainability. I know that I experienced this in explicit detail when preparing for my sector project and in general, we could go on and on about failed projects because of lack of needs assessment, but I think this class really helped to objectively expose some ways these flawed projects could become more effective.

A lot of the time when criticisms are made about development projects the criticism part is the only thing remembered. However, I feel that if your goal is to truly improve a field such as this more attention is dedicated to providing alternatives. This class presented examples of flawed technologies, and also successful ones, and took a “constructive criticism” perspective not just the identification of practices hindering the field. One example reflecting this include the class analyzing Kenya’s m-Pesa program (a wildly successful monetary exchange technology) and being pushed to deconstruct how and why this technology succeeded. Another example included the class talking about how to improve [not so] successful ICT initiatives created after Hurricane Sandy. Basically, I thought this class objectively analyzed projects really well and I think that’s really important in order to be a leader in this field.


ICT’s During Natural Disasters

In her article , over a year ago, Suzanne Choney suggested different ways to utilize the ICT’s at your fingertips during Hurricane Irene. The article is fairly informative, explaining how to take advantage of facebook, what Twitter accounts to subscribe to, and which Federal Department websites to regularly check. This is all well and good, but as Ms. Cohen put it on Thursday “we need to stop focusing on the next new shiny technology and really start bringing some value to people in need through our ICT use.” This is a great point because while the average Joe is more excited about the new Angry Birds app coming out, there are much more impactful technologies we could be initiating. One class member suggested that these disaster time services should be provided to everyone with a mobile phone – not just smart phones, and potentially provided without internet access. This is a great idea, especially considering how quickly the internet goes when a hurricane hits. Choney provides some very beneficial services, including the American Red Cross facebook page, the Dept. of Homeland Security homepage, and the @NotifyNYC Twitter page. These are all incredible resources, but when you take into account the reach they effect without a clear internet connection they lose a lot of their value.


ICT Savvy Universities in East Africa

Within the education sector, ICTs are used to access information from many different mediums. This can be accessed from computers, laptops, mobile phones, e-readers, radio, etcetera. In East Africa, a recent list of universities has been announced, ranking the best “ICT Savvy” institutions in the region. Five Kenyan universities were among those top 100 establishments. Universities in Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania were highly ranked as well.

The Top Universities:

Makerere University of Uganda

Strathmore

Busitema University of Uganda

School of Finance and Banking of Rwanda

African Virtual University of Kenya

Makerere University

University of Nairobi

Mount Kenya University

Kenyatta University

The various universities were measured based on “how universities have complied with ICT in terms of embracing technology for both students and lecturers.” Between April and October 2012, a survey was created in determining which higher education institutions made the cut regarding ICT use in teaching and enhancing education. Face-to-face questionnaires were conducted in determining these factors. The universities that best met the practices of management, development, and sustenance of university education worldwide made the list.

What is interesting to note is that these universities in East Africa are keeping up with international universities in embracing ICT facilities. Kenya, in particular, has heavily invested in ICT compared to other African universities. Hopefully this spreads to include many more universities in time to come. This is exciting news within the education sector for ICTs.


Brain-Drain to Brain-Gain

In his article, Matthew Shaer notes the difficulties many countries in Africa have with brain drain. An estimated 20,000 professionals leave Africa each year to look for jobs in countries that are more economically successful. In an attempt to combat this brain drain, e-learning initiatives are being started to help connect students with the rest of the world while keeping their feet on the ground in Africa. “Since 1997, the Nairobi, Kenya–based African Virtual University has worked to improve access to web-based learning in sub-Saharan Africa,” and this will provide students all across that region with the type of resources the wish to find in the countries they are emigrating to. The courses provide a model called the “webinar,” which connects students and teachers through video and audio. These classes are intimate closely overseen so the teaching provided is as effective as possible.

There are some, like Conrad Coyanda-Parkzes, CEO of a telecom company called AccessPoint, who argue against these initiatives claiming that they are a band-aid solution to a very deeply rooted problem. Coyanda-Parkzes claims, “I don’t see enough lobbying for the basic stuff—electricity, the roads.” This is a great point, but at the end of the day, these students are experiencing and learning, which is something they have never done before – and that is what matters.


BRIDGEit in Tanzania

Bridgeit is an ICT initiative (specifically mEducation), which aims to, increase the quality of education specifically mathematics, science, and life skills in primary school though the use of mobile phones and television. Teachers are provided with access to a digital catalogue of short educational videos. They are also provided with a Nokia mobile phone, which they use to download these videos (via a server). The mobile phone is connected to a television in the classroom, so that the videos can be broadcasted for the class to view. Additionally, the videos come with interactive lesson plans for the teachers to follow, which address key concepts/ideas that the video introduces (erumi). Some of the schools were focused on just mathematics and science, while others were focused on mathematics, science, and life skills.

What is interesting to note about this project is that the education aspect of it does not focus on the mobile phone like those in the past; the mobile phone is just the medium in which the educational video is downloaded through. The main aspect of technology here is the television where the students watch the educational video.

Another interesting part of this program is that its implementers worked in collaboration with the Tanzanian government, as well as community organizations. By involving respected community members in the research process of the initiative, this project adhered to the human centered design toolkit’s phase “hear.” Additionally, because of government involvement this is a more dynamic approach to the legitimate implementation and sustainability ICT’s in Tanzania’s education sector, which was a main goal of their ICT policy.

An Evaluation was done for the first year. Overall, test scores of students in BridgeIT and BridgeIT + Life Skills in both math and science increased. Some other results that came back from the attitude questionnaires indicated that teachers received a lot of support from various outlets. Although the above results came back positive, there also were negative results: the teachers had decreased satisfaction with their jobs, and the students initially thought the video content was boring. But when students became more accustomed to the video learning, they found that the videos increased their understanding of math and science (Enge &Kjell).

Although I believe a proper evaluation was conducted, it did not mention anything about infrastructure in terms of electricity with this program (main problem in Tanzania), which was a main component of it. Additionally, it did not mention anything about what happened when the mobile phones were broken, or if there was a problem with theft.


Can a Magic Laptop Solve Education Problems for the Poor?

We have gleaned from Warschauer and Ames’s work- Can One Laptop per Child Save the World’s poor? the complexity of such initiatives. “It is not the computer that brings benefit, “but rather the social and technical support that surrounds the computer that makes the difference.” (44)

The OLPC deployments that simply tried to hand out laptops have failed because they ignored local contexts and discounted the importance of curriculum and ongoing social, as well as technical support and training. This seems to reflect a larger pattern in technology and development, in which new technologies generate excitement and optimism to be eventually deconstructed by disappointing realities.

The OPLC computers were offered as a type of prescription to developing communities, while not all of the symptoms had been adequately assessed. Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames remind us “the effort to improve education around the world through better use of digital media is a long term one that is still at an early stage” (47). It is important to focus on the past project failures in order to better the deployment of similar initiatives.

But where do we go from here? Technology must be content-appropriate, coincide with socio-culture norms, be integrated with the community, provide services that will fit needs, and take into account other components like transportation, and continue to incentivize stakeholder participation.

In lieu of the educational potential of ICT4D projects, I would like to share the work of Rob Van Son, The Question is not Whether, but how ICT can be Useful in Education.

Son guides us through the aims of educational spending and further considers much of the criticisms encountered in Warschauer and Ames’s work. One section of Son’s work, which focused on targeting teacher productivity addresses the use of ICTs in terms of the potential for information distribution in general. We must consider how information is distributed, and in what context. Son also asks, can ICT4E actually work in the developing world?

“Critics of investments in ICT4E can point to monumental failures in introducing technology to aid in development. In each individual case, the reasons for failure are complex and intricate. Generalizing, even over-generalizing, it can be said that all the really hard problems of humanity have at their root social problems. Economic, agricultural, industrial, and technological solutions are all only effective if they are also able to solve some of these social problems. The problems of under-development and failing education are not different” -Rob Van Son

Technology, like any other proposed solution will only work if it is seen as integral to the social structure.

But we are also left to consider a critical idea–when it comes to education, can anything replace human relationships, culture, and context?