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Information and Communication Technologies

Evaluating the Khan Academy

Michael Trucano's picture
this is fascinating, but wouldn't it be better online?
this is fascinating, but wouldn't it be better online?
Over the past five years, there has perhaps been no educational technology initiative that has been more celebrated around the world than the Khan Academy. Born of efforts by one man to provide tutoring help for his niece at a distance, in 2006 the Khan Academy became an NGO providing short video tutorials on YouTube for students. It is now a multi-million dollar non-profit enterprise, reaching over ten million students a month in both after-school and in-school settings around the world with a combination of offerings, including over 100,000 exercise problems, over 5,000 short videos on YouTube, and an online 'personalized learning dashboard'. Large scale efforts to translate Khan Academy into scores of languages are underway, with over 1000 learning items currently available in eleven languages (including French, Xhosa, Bangla, Turkish, Urdu, Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish). Founder Sal Khan's related TED video ("Let's use video to reinvent education") has been viewed over three million times, and the Khan Academy has been the leading example cited in support of a movement to 'flip the classroom', with video lectures viewed at home while teachers assist students doing their 'homework' in class.

As efforts to distribute low cost computing devices and connectivity to schools pick up steam in developing countries around the world, many ministries of education are systematically thinking about the large scale use of digital educational content for the first time. Given that many countries have already spent, are spending, or soon plan to spend large amounts of money on computer hardware, they are often less willing or able to consider large scale purchases of digital learning materials -- at least until they get a better handle on what works, what doesn't and what they really need. In some cases this phenomenon is consistent with one of the ten 'worst practices' in ICT use in education which have been previously discussed on the EduTech blog: "Think about educational content only after you have rolled out your hardware". Whether or not considerations of digital learning materials are happening 'too early' or 'too late', it is of course encouraging that they are now happening within many ministries of education.

As arguably the world's highest profile digital educational content offering in the world -- and free at that! -- with materials in scores of languages, it is perhaps not surprising that many ministries of education are proposing to use Khan Academy content in their schools.

The promise and potential for using materials from Khan Academy (and other groups as well) is often pretty clear. Less is known about the actual practice of using digital educational content in schools in middle and low income countries in systematic ways.
What do we know about how Khan Academy is actually being used in practice, and how might this knowledge be useful or relevant to educational policymakers in developing countries?

Bits and Atoms: ICTs in Areas of Limited Statehood

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

Imagine that you’re a citizen of a country that has just experienced one of the worst earthquakes in history. You, your neighbors, and fellow country-men are immediately thrown into danger, chaos, and destitution. As one of the fortunate survivors, you wait for authorities to provide medical care, shelter, food, and other immediate needs, but you receive little or no help. Yet, to your surprise, a large group of ordinary citizens begin organizing a massive disaster response by using blogs, twitter, Facebook, and other social media networks. Their efforts have provided you with life-saving resources. And all of a sudden, within days, digital technologies have facilitated an entire social movement around this earthquake. These are the types of stories that Steven Livingston and Gregor Walter-Drop examine in their new edited series, Bits and Atoms: Information and Communication Technology in Areas of Limited Statehood.
If you are interested in digital media and politics, there is a plethora of literature on the role of ICTs in powerful political systems in the industrialized world. However, there has been very little focus on the role of digital technology in weak states with inadequate governance systems. Bits and Atoms is a comprehensive volume that examines the extent to which ICTs can help fill governance voids in a number of countries in Eastern Europe, Sub-Sahara Africa, and the Middle East. A distinguished group of scholars attempt to answer some important questions like, “Can ICTs help fill the gap between pressing human needs and weak states’ ability to meet them? Can communities use ICTs to meet challenges such as indiscriminate violence, disease, drought, famine, crime, and other problems arising from deficient and non-responsive state institutions? How does ICT affect the legitimacy of the state?”

Social Media Doesn't Bite!

Sandya Salgado's picture

My eighty five year old uncle is the most avid technophile I know. He plays with all forms of digital media, including social media platforms such as the Facebook and LinkedIn. I find his mindset to be in total contrast to a majority of mid- to end- career colleagues I work with, who seem to be unbelievably social media phobic! I can’t help but compare the two and wonder why.

Last week I had the privilege of being a participant at a regional workshop where some thirty plus colleagues were asked to share their views on using social media. Needless to say, the responses were quite interesting. The fear of the unknown seemed to loom large among participants who I felt gave various other reasons to cover up this fear.

“I don’t have time”, “it’s a complete waste of time”, “what’s this big deal about using social media”, “it can be counterproductive”, “I am not interested in other people’s things” and “I don’t know how to use it for my professional development” were some of the key concerns I heard being aired as barriers to entry into the world of social media.

Being a very active social media user I thought I should share my experiences candidly…

How do you create a shared vision for smart city mobility?

Victor Mulas's picture

For Concepción, Chile, a smart city began with people using Lego blocks.

Together with the World Bank, Chile's Unit of Smart Cities in its Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications has been working with Concepción to create a vision for techonology solutions that will help build the Gran Concepción of 2025. A variety of stakeholders including local and municipal government officials, academic staff, the private sector, civil society actors and citizens participated in a vision exercise during a co-creation workshop. The workshop applied design thinking and foresight analysis techniques, organized teams with different stakeholders and assigned roles to each different group.

Making Digital Government a Reality: Join a Global Webinar for Leaders of Government Transformation

Oleg Petrov's picture
What is the future of digital government? A short answer: it’s constantly evolving based on factors including policy priorities, technologies and citizen demands. But there’s no question that digital government is a considerable driving force behind economic growth, job creation and societal transformation.

On June 5, 2014, the World Bank will host a Global Webinar on the Future of Digital Government from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. EDT. You can join us by signing up here. You can also follow the webinar through the World Bank ICT Twitter page, using the hashtag #digigov.

Sachet educational publishing in a digital and mobile world

Michael Trucano's picture
I'll take one packet of Pythagorean Theorem and one packet of verb conjugations, please
I'll take one packet of Pythagorean Theorem
and one packet of verb conjugations, please

In the course of my job at the World Bank helping ministries of education in middle and low income countries think about, analyze, plan for, implement and evaluate issues, ideas and projects at the intersection of the worlds of technology and education, I spend a fair amount of time considering issues related to the digital publishing of educational materials. The World Bank has over the years funded the purchase of lots of textbooks around the world and we maintain active dialogues with scores of education ministries, helping to provide related advice and technical assistance.

In many countries, especially poor ones where disposable income is very low and where there is not an established culture of leisure reading, the educational publishing industry is sometimes largely indistinguishable from the publishing industry as a whole, and government purchases of textbooks (and/or government directives about which textbooks families or schools should purchase, where such things are not centrally procured) have huge, often determining influence on the direction of the publishing industry in general. In order to better understand how all of this impacts educational publishing, I talk regularly with lots of 'traditional' educational publishers, big and small, both international and local. I also talk a lot with technology companies who do things that look a lot like educational publishing to me, or who provide the tools and services to enable and support related activities.

Last year I participated in two fascinating events a few weeks apart, the EdTech Industry Summit in San Francisco and a symposium convened by the International Publishers Association (IPA) at the London Book Fair. (I was lucky enough to be at the IPA symposium this year as well.) At these meetings, the agendas and items discussed were largely the same, but were often approached from quite different perspectives. For the sake of argument here -- and I admit I am greatly oversimplifying things by making this characterization -- EdTech Summit participants were mainly 'tech companies', while the London Book Fair event was mainly attended by 'traditional publishers'. (I concede that such distinctions are increasingly difficult, and less useful, to make as time goes on; in my opinion all publishers are technology companies these days, whether they self-identify as such or not and/or whether outsiders see them that way.)

At both events, a data point that was quoted quite often was that '1% of national education budgets around the world are devoted to the purchasing of textbooks and other learning materials'. While I have never been able to find this assertion supported by hard data, I have heard it expressed so many times over the years by people who work in or around the educational publishing industry that I have taken it as almost 'conventional wisdom'. Whether this figure is actually .5% or 2% or 4% (or whatever), what has struck me when in conversation with many vendors is that many traditional publishers have, in the face of the steady rise in many countries around the world of large scale purchases of laptops and tablets for students and teachers, worried that technology purchases are eating into traditional budgets for the purchases of textbooks.

As one traditional publisher put it to me at the London event in 2013, "we need to figure out how to protect this 1% so that it is not tapped to buy iPads". Contrast this with a statement made to me by an enthusiastic founder of an edtech start-up in San Francisco, who said that the goal of firms like his was to "eventually capture 20% of education budgets" by transforming the way education is delivered as a result of the use of new technologies. Whether or not such figures are accurate, they for me exemplify a difference in perspective and ambition that is consistent with many stereotypical characterizations of brash young tech entrepreneurs in their hoodies (and/or khakis) versus the tweedy old-school booksellers whose business model that I have been told on many occasions -- especially by those not in that business -- was one for "dinosaurs".

(While conceding that the business models for selling books will have to change rather radically going forward, a concession to which no educational publisher I know would object in the age of e-readers and hypertext, of apps and APIs, I am fairly confident that extinction rates for edtech startups will remain much greater than that of book publishers for the foreseeable future, although in the end I wouldn't be too surprised if the most successful 'tech' firms doing business in this space end up buying up a lot of the 'publishers' -- some of whom will themselves be buying and merging with 'tech' firms along the way.)

If we accept the premise that educational publishing industry in the 'developed' countries of Europe and North America are being, and will continue to be, increasingly radically disrupted -- a contention with which I expect few people would disagree -- what might this mean for business models for educational publishing in less developed, 'poor' countries? Will the related business models from OECD contexts simply, and eventually, be transplanted to middle and low income countries? Or: Might some new business models for digital educational publishing emerge from less developed countries, based on specific local contexts and consumer demands in an increasingly digital -- and mobile -- age?

What we can learn from domain name liberalization in Turkey and Tunisia

Michel Rogy's picture
Also available in: Français | Türkçe


How can we best promote the use of Internet by private companies – particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – in Africa? This question is of growing significance on a continent where most of the population is under 20 years of age and – compared to the previous generation – increasingly accessing information through digital channels[1] as a result of the rapid expansion of mobile broadband services.

This question is also crucial in terms of growth and competitiveness in the context of the growing economic globalization, where customers and business partners use information and communication technologies in a much more intensive manner.

A development e-story: Estonia

Swati Mishra's picture

"Once upon a time in the faraway Baltic region was a tiny nation of Estonia. Newly independent, with a population of 1.3 million, and with 50 percent of its land covered in forests, it was saddled with 50 years of under development. While it was operating with a 1938 telephone exchange, it’s once comparable neighbor across the gulf, Finland, had a 30 times higher GDP per capita and was waltzing its way into new technological advances. Estonia was faced with the challenge of catching-up with the rest of the world. It too embarked upon the technology bandwagon, but revolutionized it’s progression, by creating identity, secured digital Identity for its citizens. And finally, Estonia became a country teeming with cutting-edge technology. The end. “

Building bridges between governments and diasporas through social media

Radu Cucos's picture
Although anyone with Internet access can open a Facebook or Twitter account in a matter of minutes, creating an efficient and interactive environment between state institutions and citizens abroad is no easy task.
Over the last few years, social media has revolutionized the way people and institutions communicate and interact. Today, the big question for governments around the world is how to use innovative IT tools to engage diasporas in an ongoing, sustainable, result-oriented and cost-effective dialogue. Here are a few ways that social media helps facilitate that dialogue.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025
Pew Research
This current report is an analysis of opinions about the likely expansion of the Internet of Things (sometimes called the Cloud of Things), a catchall phrase for the array of devices, appliances, vehicles, wearable material, and sensor-laden parts of the environment that connect to each other and feed data back and forth. It covers the over 1,600 responses that were offered specifically about our question about where the Internet of Things would stand by the year 2025. The report is the next in a series of eight Pew Research and Elon University analyses to be issued this year in which experts will share their expectations about the future of such things as privacy, cybersecurity, and net neutrality. It includes some of the best and most provocative of the predictions survey respondents made when specifically asked to share their views about the evolution of embedded and wearable computing and the Internet of Things.

Thinking in a Foreign Language Could Sway Your Moral Judgments
Would you kill one person to save five? This cruel dilemma pits the principle of thou-shalt-not-kill against simple math: Five is greater than one. But presumably it’s a dilemma each person solves the same way each time, unaffected by superficial things like the language in which it’s presented. After all, we like to think we abide by a consistent moral code. Yet psychologists say that’s not always the case. In a series of experiments, they found that people confronted with this one-for-five dilemma were far more likely to make a utilitarian choice when contemplating it in a foreign language. “We tend to think about our ethical decisions as reflecting something fundamental about who we are,” said psychologist Boaz Keysar of the University of Chicago, co-author of the new study, published April 23 in Public Library of Science ONE. “You wouldn’t think they would depend on such a seemingly irrelevant thing as whether you’re using your native language. But it can matter.”