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Information and Communication Technologies

Contextualizing lessons from the use of the Khan Academy

Michael Trucano's picture
at first glance things look the same, but upon further reflection there are some potentially important differences to consider
at first glance things look the same,
but upon further reflection there are some
potentially important differences to consider

Based on my interactions with educational policymakers, and those who advise them, it seems to be a truth (almost) universally acknowledged that there is insufficient research into models of educational technology use, the impact of such use, and related costs. This is not to say that there is *no* useful research into the use of technology in education around the world, of course. Online tools like ERIC and SSRN can help you find some useful studies; the popular press and the blogosphere increasingly reference such work (sometimes even in ways where you can actually track down the referenced studies!); there are of course a lot of academic, industry and professional journals dedicated to the subject; and a healthy amount of 'grey' literature circulates informally (including stuff commissioned by companies that is never formally published). Firms also circulate 'white papers' touting the 'impact' of their products and services, something which I tend to place into its own separate category, given the commercial and marketing imperatives that often animate such work. That said, just because a lot of 'research' is produced doesn't mean that such research is helpful to meet the practical information demands of educational policymakers, planners and educators.

Even if you *are* of the opinion that there is indeed a lot of useful, policy- and practice-relevant research out there related to the use of technologies in education, the fact remains that most of our collective knowledgebase has been constructed as a result of studying and attempting to learn from experiences in 'highly developed' (OECD) countries. While there is always danger when trying to draw generalized lessons from a research study that examines a specific context, it would seem reasonable to me that the difficulties when looking to draw lessons from experiences in Quebec that might be relevant to Kansas or Canberra pale in comparison to those when trying to extend such lessons to policymakers making decisions which will affect students and teachers in places like Quito or Kampala -- let alone rural Cambodia.

Thankfully, there are a number of promising moves afoot which hope to direct more energy and resources to investigate issues and circumstances of relevance to those exploring the use of ICTs in education in middle and low income learning environments and contexts around the world. (As such efforts kick off, and especially as related studies emerge, we would hope to feature them on the EduTech blog.) Until we start to see results from these sorts of efforts, however, the practical reality is that, in most cases, policymakers in middle and low income countries who wish to draw lessons 'from the research' in order to inform their policymaking related to potential educational technology initiatives will continue to try to contextualize results from research in higher income countries in the attempt to divine what lessons (if any) might be relevant to their own circumstances, even in places where contexts for use and typical use cases may be quite different.


A previous EduTech blog post, "Evaluating the Khan Academy", explores some of the lessons that have emerged as a result of research by SRI into the use of Khan Academy in a number of schools in Northern California. For those who don't know it: The Khan Academy is a widely known and much celebrated educational website which features thousands of short video tutorials on educational topics, as well as linked sets of over 100,000 practice problems and a 'personal learning dashboard'. Policymakers from a number of countries have approached the World Bank for specific advice and guidance on how they might make use of Khan Academy resources within their schools, and during the course of related conversations (some of which were catalyzed by a talk given by SRI's Robert Murphy at the World Bank earlier this year, which was discussed in a subsequent blog post) we have passed along and discussed the Research on the Use of Khan Academy in Schools published by SRI -- as well as a report that appeared a few months ago from EDC that looked at the use of Khan Academy in Chile. While individual lessons and insights drawn from an analysis of the use of Khan Academy content at sites examined in the SRI and EDC reports may or may not be more broadly generalizable to other contexts, examining the various usage models documented and explored in those studies may help raise *questions* that might be relevant to educators and policymakers who work in other contexts.


What are some useful questions that policymakers in middle and low income countries might ask as they attempt to contextualize insights from the use of the Khan Academy in California and Chile as part of their efforts to investigate and plan for the use of digital learning resources from the Khan Academy (and from other sources as well) within their own education systems?

Has the Potential of ICTs to Reduce Conflict in Africa been Over-Hyped?

CGCS's picture

//Rasna Warah, journalist and independent researcher, analyzes key themes and conclusions emerging from a July 2014 workshop on the role of ICTs in statebuilding and peacebuilding in Africa.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and new media have often been viewed as a solution to Africa’s myriad problems, including poor governance, conflict and poverty. From the M-Pesa mobile banking system in Kenya to the aggressive adoption of e-governance in Rwanda, the role of ICTs in improving Africa’s economy and governance systems cannot be underestimated.

However, while innovations and the use of ICTs on the African continent are on the rise, they have not necessarily reduced the threat of conflict. Evidence of a direct correlation between increased ICT penetration and innovations and peace and stability on the continent is sketchy at best, and quite often anecdotal, based usually on the innovators’ own assessment of the technology and its impact. For example, the Ushahidi platform, which has been praised internationally for allowing conflict-prone countries to track sites of violence and conflict within a region, and which played an important role in identifying areas of conflict during Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence, has not helped the country to significantly reduce the prospect of future conflict. On the contrary, the country has witnessed increasing terrorism-related violence and insecurity in recent months. Such innovations point to the fact that innovative technology by itself cannot reduce conflict if the social, economic and political conditions in a country are not conducive to peace and stability. It also shows that when the “hardware,” such as the police force and security and intelligence services are substandard, no amount of technology can prevent the threat of violence, conflict or insecurity.

Co-creating solutions for smart cities

Victor Mulas's picture
Earlier this year, the World Bank partnered with Chile's Ministry of Transport and Telecommunication on a project to innovate technology and mobility solutions: Smart City Gran Concepción. So far, the project has met two milestones, ideation (in January) and formation of a diagnostic and strategic support plan (in March).

Last month, it was time for the project's third phase: a competition to surface new ideas for mass transit options, road safety and mobility information. This event, called the MueveTT Innovation Challenge, brought together 14 teams of people to brainstorm ways for the government, companies, universities, organizations, citizens, and others to work together toward the vision of smart cities.
Co-Creation of Solutions Competition

Connecting Europe’s underserved communities to broadband

Roger Burks's picture
The benefits of broadband Internet are well-documented: for each 10-percent increase in penetration, a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) can increase by as much as 1.5 percent. In addition, broadband Internet brings citizens access to new job opportunities, health services and possibilities for digital engagement with their government.
Broadband Internet can help bring jobs
to underserved areas, boosting
economic prospects.
However, citizens of the European Union (EU) who live in rural and economically disadvantaged areas have little access to broadband Internet, and therefore miss out on the wide range of opportunities it offers. Today, only 18 percent of rural households in Europe have access to these services.
As a result of these gaps and challenges, the European Commission is partnering with the World Bank and others on a new “Connected Communities” initiative. This large-scale project will connect towns and cities to broadband partnerships and operators, offering critical advice and specific business models to finally bring fast Internet to underserved communities.

In Latin America, Hard Hats and Tools are no longer only for Men

Maria Margarita Nunez's picture

Women that have joined road maintenance has increased significantly.

While driving around rural areas of Puno in Peru, Caaguazú in Paraguay or Granada in Nicaragua, do not be surprised to see women lifting rocks from the roads and using shovels and picks alongside men.  In fact, in the past 15 years, the number of women that have joined organizations in charge of routine road maintenance in Latin America has increased significantly and with this their life conditions have improved dramatically.

“Smart Mobility” for Developing Cities

Ke Fang's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @KeFang2002
In many developing cities, transport infrastructure – whether it be roads, metro systems or BRT - is not growing fast enough, and cannot keep up with the ever-increasing demand for urban mobility. Indeed, constructing urban transport infrastructure is both expensive and challenging. First, many cities do not yet have the capacity to mobilize the large amount of funds needed to finance infrastructure projects. Second, planning and implementing urban transport infrastructure projects is tough, especially in dense urban areas where land acquisition and resettlement issues can be extremely complex. As a result, delays in project implementation are the norm in many places.

Therefore, solving urgent urban transport problems in these cities requires us to think outside the box. Fortunately, the rapid development of ICT-enabled approaches provides a great opportunity to optimize and enhance the efficiency of existing and new urban transport systems, at a cost much lower than building new infrastructure from the ground up.

Corruption Fight Aided by Technology

Jim Yong Kim's picture
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and Philippines President Benigno S. Aquino III on July 15, 2014. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Good governance is critical for all countries around the world today. When it doesn’t exist, many governments fail to deliver public services effectively; health and education services are often substandard; corruption persists in rich and poor countries alike, choking opportunity and growth. It will be difficult to reduce extreme poverty — let alone end it — without addressing the importance of good governance.

Bad practices in mobile learning

Michael Trucano's picture
something doesn't seem quite right with this particular implementation ...
something doesn't seem quite right
with this particular implementation ...

The World Bank's EduTech blog explores issues related to the use of information and communication technologies (computers, laptops, tablets, the Internet, ...) to benefit education in middle and low income countries around the world. While I tend to view, with a fair degree of skepticism, many of the statistics which purport to document just how many people have visited a particular web site, it seems that the EduTech blog was recently visited by its one millionth reader. When viewing the mass of blog posts in their entirety, together with our visitor logs and other relevant data, it is quite clear that BY FAR the single most popular post remains one I did over four years ago on 'worst practice in ICT use in education'. What was relevant back in 2010 appears still to be quite relevant today.

(This isn't always the case: If memory serves, I quickly drafted and published that particular blog post because I was having trouble completing one 'Exploring the Use of Second Life in Education' -- I'm guessing that the half-life for *that* one, had it even been finalized and published, would have been pretty short!)

Recent news articles -- whether reporting that the one tablet per child project in Thailand 'has been scrapped' or the decision of the school district in Hoboken, New Jersey (USA) to 'throw away all its laptops' -- suggest that debris continues to pile up on the landscape of 'failed' attempts to use new technologies effectively in education in various ways. The Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera has a short story called "Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead". Sometimes I feel like this title could be adapted for use in an introductory essay to a book documenting many of the unfortunate 'educational technology deployments' that have been irresistable fodder for politicians and headline writers alike (and clickbait for folks on Twitter) over the past decade.

And yet .... just because because we continue to hear variations on a sadly familiar theme, I don't know that the best response is to admit defeat, throw up our hands, throw everything away and go back to the 'good old days'. Learners would not be terribly well served if educational planners in 2014 simply decided to emulate the impulses and actions of Silesian weavers back in 1844 and smash all the machines in reaction to the spread of new technologies. Attempting to stuff this particular genie back in the bottle isn't only impractical: I would hazard a guess that it is well nigh impossible.

The recent article on the Hoboken experience labels it a 'failed experiment'. Personally, I am not sure that this label fits in this particular case. In an experiment, it seems to me that you are usually trying to learn something. This rather large purchase of technology seems to me like yet another solution in search of a problem that no one bothered to actually tried to define in any meaningful way. I suspect that, at a fundamental level, the problem wasn't (really) with the technology. In other words: It seems more like human failure to me.

Can Open Data boost economic growth and prosperity?

Amparo Ballivián's picture

What interventions are needed by governments - and by the World Bank - to stimulate and support the realization of the economic benefits of Open Data for everyone?  How do we prioritize what kind of data is needed?  These were some of the simmering questions that were posed at last Wednesday's World Bank Live event.  A collaborative effort among World Bank global practices and units – Transport and Information & Communications Technologies (ICT), the Development Data Group (DECDG), Open FinancesExternal and Corporate Relations, and others – this global policy dialogue event served as an opportunity to listen in on leading experts explaining and debating the latest evidence of the economic benefits of Open Data and how it can be applied to advance socioeconomic growth in the developing world.

From the short videoconference presentations we heard from five country officials, we learned that Open Data is already making an impact.

Examples of Open Data's use and impact in India, Russia, Macedonia, Ghana, and Mexico
We first heard from Rajendra Kumar, Joint Secretary (eGov) at the Department of Electronics and Information Technology of India.  "Ever since India launched its Open Government Data Platform, we've witnessed more government participation and interest – across ministries and state governments," stated Kumar.  He also pointed to an often underappreciated result of open data programs: increased data sharing among government agencies.

"Open Data is a major source for growth in Russia, especially for Internet and IT companies," commented Ekaterina Shapochka, Advisor to the Russian Minister of Open Government.  She also added that Open Data could help increase the quality of government services to its citizens.

A short note to the new philanthropist looking to support education and technology initiatives in the developing world

Michael Trucano's picture
I have some important decisions in front of me
I have some important decisions
in front of me

I get contacted from time to time by 'new' philanthropists looking to do something positive and productive with their wealth. Usually this is someone who has made a lot of money in the technology industry and who is now starting her or his own family foundation.

Chronologically speaking, many of these people are closer to what one would consider the age at which someone starts a career than the age at which one 'retires'. In other words: They are often rather young.

Based on my (admittedly limited) experience, many of these sorts of folks are often firm believers in the value of education (even if they themselves dropped out of formal schooling early to focus on writing code), in the transformative potential of technology (something which has profoundly and positively impacted their lives personally, offering them opportunities and riches they could never have dreamed of) and in the desire to do something globally (the person may be an immigrant her/himself, be married to an immigrant, have worked with lots of people from different countries or cultures, and/or just have done a lot of international travel).

Last year, for example, I was contacted by someone (writing on behalf of someone else) who wished to (I am slightly paraphrasing here) "explore innovative ways that technology can be harnessed to help overcome longstanding challenges in education around the world". (As for how such folks find me, they usually say: I stumbled across the EduTech blog.)

Given that I have been approached a number of times in a similar sort of way quite recently, and that I serve on a number of externally advisory boards where this sort of thing is discussed, I thought I'd share this scenario here, as well as little bit about some of the things I sometimes say in response, in case it might be of interest to anyone else:

Let's say I had the equivalent of a few million U.S. dollars
available to do something innovative at the intersection of
education and technology somewhere in the 'developing world'.

If it works out, a lot more money could potentially be used
to support activities further, and more systematically,
over a longer period of time.

If it doesn't work out -- well, that would not be great, of course,
but I am willing to take some risks.

 I want to be innovative,
and would really like to do something
that no one else is doing.

What should my new foundation do, and how should we do it?

I must confess that, whenever I am asked these sorts of questions, I find it to be a rather exciting, and perhaps even a little terrifying, scenario. (Often times such adjectives are not mutually exclusive!) When presented with a blank canvas of this sort, where and how does one start to paint?