April 23, 2014

A project using e-readers in Africa

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The WorldReader project in Ghana © Wired Magazine, 2010

Trucano, M. (2012) An update on the use of e-readers in Africa EduTech, March 16

Michael Trucano’s excellent World Bank blog here reports on the use of e-readers in Africa, based mainly on a Kindle-based project from an NGO called WorldReader.

Dust and breakage were a problem. Most low cost e-readers are just not robust enough for climatic and usage challenges by children in Africa. (Incidentally, this is a problem the very lost Aakash tablet has run into in India).

However, WorldBreaker has a number of other lessons that it has learned from this project, some of which are in fact recurring themes in many ICT projects in developing countries:

  • lack of cheap content: not enough African-originated material; traditional book publishers are not willing to make texts available for free; need for a rights business model that allows for low cost use ($1 a book?) – to date only 250 African books are available for this project
  • need for support from local education officials
  • need for  support from teachers
  • a need to give reading a higher social currency in many  local cultures, especially those that have very strong oral traditions
  • dedicated ‘face time’ in schools
  • buy in from local support structures at the community level
  • funding to scale up from a pilot to a mid-sized project that can transferred eventually on a larger scale across countries.

Despite these difficulties, there are signs that the project is encouraging greater reading, especially in Grades 4-5.

This project also reminds me of Professor Fred Litto’s project, ‘Escola do Futuro‘ in Brazil in the late 1990s, where he created one of the first open source models for books in Portuguese for Brazilian schools. This project is still running successfully almost 20 years later.

Thanks to Stephen Downes for directing me to this. See also:

Sorrel, C. (2010) Kindle comes to classroom in Ghana Wired Gadget Lab, March 16

Bertelsmann Stiftung (2011) Worldreader brings e-readers to Ghanaian classrooms Future Challenges, July 11

Sniderman, Z. (2011) E-Readers in Africa: Non-Profit Brings Thousands of Books to Ghanaian Children Mashable Social Media, January 26


40 years of comparative research on technology for teaching: ‘weak’ results

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© Merlot Biology

Tamim, R. et al. (2011) What Forty Years of Research Says About the Impact of Technology on Learning: A Second-Order Meta-Analysis and Validation Study Review of Educational Research, Vol. 81, No. 1

This study found that looking at studies over 40 years, there is a slight tendency for students who study with technology to do better than students who study without technology.

Don’t get too excited about this. This is a ‘second-order meta-analysis.’ A meta-analysis collects a wide range of research publications on the topic, aggregates the data then runs statistical tests to see if across all the studies there are consistent statistically valid results, even if individual studies didn’t find clear differences or produced mixed or contradictory results. Meta-analyses sometimes find differences ‘missed’ in the original studies, because the larger the sample, the smaller the differences needed to be statistically significant. The results of the meta-analysis depend heavily on the criteria used to chose the original studies.

Note though that this paper  is a meta-analysis of previous meta-analyses, so that although the aggregated sample size of participants is very large, the study is now two levels of analysis away from the original research. You begin to wonder what this really means, especially since that even at the second-order level of analysis, the measured difference between ‘effect’ (studying with technology) and ‘control’ (studying without technology) is quite weak (0.35 on a range of .00 to 1.0). As the researchers themselves conclude:

‘It is important to note that these average effects must be interpreted cautiously because of the wide variability that surrounds them. We interpret this to mean that other factors, not identified in previous meta-analyses or in this summary, may account for this variability….Thus, it is arguable that it is aspects of the goals of instruction, pedagogy, teacher effectiveness, subject matter, age level, fidelity of technology implementation, and possibly other factors that may represent more powerful influences on effect sizes than the nature of the technology intervention.’

Right on, but, as always, I recommend you read the article in full if you believe the results could be important.

The African Health OER Network

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Mawayo, M. and Tlaka, M. (2011) The African Health OER Network, SAIDE Newsletter, Vol. 17, No. 5

A useful short description of the African Health OER Network.

The role of the Network is to:

  • Aggregate the results of multiple health education initiatives by collecting, classifying, indexing, and then actively distributing African-initiated resources with the global health community;
  • Facilitate discussion of how these resources can best be used;
  • Share best practices, e.g., OER production and advocacy;
  • Aggregate content to develop and deliver a critical mass of learning materials; and
  • Work through institutions and associations to advocate the principles of openness and of sharing educational materials. This includes helping institutions to create an enabling policy environment for OER production and use.

The African Health OER Network has a nice new web site, with nearly 300 resources for free downloading. About half are in the Public and Community Health area.

A state wide online consortium for California?

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Taylor, M. (2010) Using Distance Education to Increase College Access and Efficiency Sacramento CA: Legislative Analyst Office, State of California

The Contra Costa Times is not normally on my reading list, but thanks to the Web (and Academic Impressions) I came across this report, about a recommendation for more online courses and more collaboration in online learning between Californian colleges and universities. Specifically, the report makes the following recommendations:

  • Adopting a standard definition of distance education for UC, CSU, and CCC, and requiring the segments to report periodically on student enrollment and performance in distance-education coursework.
  • Establishing competitive statewide grants to develop a repository of online curricula that would be made available to faculty throughout the state.
  • Requiring that reviews of proposals for new academic programs evaluate whether shared distance-education programs would be a better alternative.
  • Directing the Chancellor’s Offices of CSU and CCC to study the feasibility of developing online degree-completion programs for persons who started college but never obtained a degree.
  • Creating a task force to pursue a public-private partnership with Western Governors University, a Utah-based nonprofit online university of which California is already a member.

I’m struggling to see how this adds anything to what is already happening in California, although I suppose a weak recommendation supporting distance education from the state legislature is better than nothing. It also suggests that California is way behind many other jurisdictions in North America regarding an organized distance education system, as distinct from a bunch of odd courses from many different institutions.

I am reminded that what goes around, comes around. The California Virtual Campus already provides a comprehensive list of online courses, so the second recommendation makes no sense to me.

There are plenty of models for California to follow, such as the Southern Regional Education Board’s Electronic Campus in the USA. North of the border there’s BC Campus, e-Campus Alberta, and Contact North and elearnnetwork.ca in Ontario.

The big challenge of course is credit transfer: will one college accept credits from another college for transfer into its own program? Are there articulation agreements between the community colleges and universities? Is the transfer of credit automatic or does the student need to apply individually each time? Is someone/some body ensuring coherence in the construction of a qualification from multiple sources? That’s the difference between a consortium and a web portal. There wasn’t any discussion of this in the report, which focuses on what institutions should do, not what students need, which is not the same thing at all.

For analysis of this report, see:

Krupnick, M. (2010) Legislative analyst: Beef up online college courses Contra Costa Times, October 25

Kolowich, S. (2010) Digital Solution for Sacramento, Inside Higher Education, October 26

Distance Education and Mobile Learning

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The Australian-based Distance Education journal has just brought out a special edition on distance education and mobile learning.

The articles between them provide a good deal of insight into the main issues around mobile learning.

John Traxler, of the University of Wolverhampton, UK, is the guest editor, and I strongly recommend his editorial article. In it he discusses some of the issues around the definition of mobile learning, the similarities and differences between mobile learning and distance education, and, particularly useful, a summary of the main ‘affordances’ of mobile learning, under two general headings:

  • enhance, extend and enrich the concept and activity of learning, beyond earlier conceptions of learning
  • take learning to individuals, communities and countries that were previously too remote or distant

He draws attention also to the growing lack of connection between practitioners and educational researchers, opening up mobile learning to the criticism that it is under-theorised and project- and technology-based, rather than a consistent, focused approach to meeting specific educational challenges.

This theme is also taken up in another excellent article by Tiffany Koszalka and G.S. Ntloedibe-Kuswani, of Syracuse University, USA. This is a review of the literature and 10 case-studies of mobile learning. The authors build on Stead’s work around the safe and disruptive learning potentials of mobile technologies. The article provides useful statistics on access to portable phones. They conclude that most of the studies they reviewed were poorly designed as research studies. As a result, although all the studies suggest that m-learning may be supportive of the teaching and learning process, it is questionable whether much has been learned about the use of m-learning as a way to enhance learning. It is unclear whether m-technologies or changes in pedagogy are the root of outcomes. (This conclusion mirrors many preceding studies of other educational technologies.)  Nevertheless the article does indicate that there are clear motivational and access benefits from m-learning.

The other four articles are all reports on different m-learning projects.

Elizabeth Beckmann of the Australian National University reports on an m-learning project for a post-graduate program aimed at development workers, who by their nature are scattered in remote parts of the world. Some of the conclusions are generalisable, such as the critical importance of high quality, reliable Internet access, the importance of building rich social practices into the design of teaching and learning, the value of developing a community of learners, in this case development workers in different countries, and lastly, that many lessons learned from the use of past educational technologies, such as the need to focus on the pedagogy and design of learning rather than the technology, need to be adopted.

Taylor et al (all authors from the universities in the north of England) report on a project aimed at health and social care workers in England.

Balasubramanian et al. from the Commonwealth of Learning report on the use of mobile phones to promote lifelong learning among rural women in Southern India.

Vyas et al. (the authors are from Tufts University, USA and the Christian Medical College, Vellore, India) report on clinical training at remote sites in India.

I enjoyed reading and learned from all the articles in this special edition. I highly recommend the edition, even though it is not an open access journal.