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Mobile Phones

Can you really teach someone to read with a computer alone?

Michael Trucano's picture

one technology to teach reading still works pretty well ...For a few years, the World Bank's infoDev program has sponsored a monthy online 'EduTech Debate' (ETD) which functions as a sort of rough complement to the Bank's own EduTech blog.  The goal of the ETD has been to provide a forum for the sharing of information and perspectives on various emerging topics related "low-cost ICT initiatives for educational systems in developing countries".  From the very start, the World Bank's role -- and certainly our voice (to the extent that we have one on these topics) -- has been in the background, and, by design, one only rarely sees a World Bank staff member post on the site, or contribute a comment to the sometimes lively exchanges of opinions that individual posts ignite.  We do follow the discussions quite closely, however, and sponsoring the debate has been a useful way for infoDev, the World Bank and UNESCO to be tuned in to some conversations we might not otherwise know are occurring, and to connect with interesting organizations and practitioners doing interesting things around in the world.

The most recent debate has looked at the potential role that ICT can play in promoting the acquisition of basic literacy skills.  Especially in places where literacy levels are very low -- where the formal education system has, in many significant ways, failed in one of its fundamental roles -- might ICTs offer some new approaches (and tools) that can help get children reading?  Noting (for example) the large number of very basic iPhone apps targeted at children in OECD countries to teach basic letter recognition, phonics, and vocabulary, an increasing number of groups are exploring doing similar things in less privileged environments.  But is it really that easy?

Using ICTs in schools with no electricity

Michael Trucano's picture

interacting with a whiteboard (in front of a blackboard) in SenegalOne persistent criticism that I hear of educational technology projects in many places -- and especially in Africa -- is that 'there are too many pilot projects'. 'What we really need', or so the lament usually continues, 'are things that scale'. While I don't necessarily agree that more pilot projects are not useful -- to the contrary, I have in the past explored

More on SMS use in education in Pakistan

Michael Trucano's picture

can you hear me now?In the classic Ernest Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises, Scottish war veteran Mike Campbell is asked how he went bankrupt.  His answer: "Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly."

This pithy response  is in many regards an accurate description of how the World Bank has considered of the use of mobile technologies as part of its support for international development efforts over the past decade.  As part of its 'Innovation Days' event this week, the World Bank showcasing new approaches to some long-standing development challenges.  Judging by many of the exhibits and discussions going on related to the use of mobile phones, it is clear that what was for a number of years a rather fringe topic of conversation among small pockets of people here -- primarily those working in the ICT sector and on microfinance -- has now exploded into the consciousness of World Bank and other international donor staff working in most sectors.

Crowdsourcing, collaborative learning or cheating?

Michael Trucano's picture
a handy approach to finding the answers
a handy approach to finding the answers

Challenges for educators in the Internet age

Wherever there are rules, there are almost inevitably people looking to break them, especially where a compelling incentive exists for those willing to risk getting caught. When I was a classroom teacher in Czechoslovakia and the United States, I often found that some of the most 'innovative' practices I witnessed over the course of a school year fell under the heading of what I (and the school) considered 'cheating'.

SMS education in Pakistan

Michael Trucano's picture

relevant for education? send 1 for 'yes', 2 for 'no', 3 for 'not sure'Two to three years ago, I found very little traction when trying to initiate discussions around the potential use of mobile phones in education with many counterparts in education ministries around the world.  (And when this *was* discussed, talk usually centered on how to ban them from schools.)

Mobile learning in developing countries in 2011: What's new, what's next?

Michael Trucano's picture

After finding out that I had visited the recent BETT show in London (billed as the world's largest educational technology trade show -- previous post here), a number of people who also attended asked me versions of the same query:

Where was all of the mobile (phone) learning?

School computers not working? There's an app for that!

Michael Trucano's picture

open things up, and you never know what unexpected paths may lie ahead | img attribution at bottomLast week I attended a brainstorming meeting as part of the World Bank's 'Apps for Development' initiative, in preparation for a competition that will be announced in October to bring software developers and development practitioners together to develop useful software tools and data visualizations that use World Bank data. This is (hopefully!) just the first stage in a broader initiative over time exploring how approaches to  'open data' (and not just those generated or warehoused by the World Bank) can help contribute to creation of useful software tools to help with a variety of development challenges.

In addition to an engaging Q&A with various luminaries (including Tim O'Reilly), most of the time was spent in small groups where software developers, data folks and subject experts in various fields came together to brainstorm about how various development challenges might be approached in new ways, and how to harness developer communities of various sorts around the world to help out.

Learning the Queen's English ... on your mobile phone?

Michael Trucano's picture

the infrastructure is increasingly there ... how can we take advantage of it? | img attribution at bottomMuch lip service is paid in various quarters to the potential use of mobile phones in education in developing countries.  That said, concrete examples of such use -- especially projects that have gone beyond small initial pilot stages -- remain few and far between. This is beginning to change.  One interesting project can be found in Bangladesh, where the BBC World Service Trust and BBC Learning English are implementing the Janala project, an initiative that is providing English language lessons to citizens via their mobile phones as part of the wider English in Action program in Bangladesh, funded by the UK's Department for International Development (UKaid).

Some of people involved with the Janala project recently shared some information about what they have been doing -- and learning -- as part of a discussion series at USAID around 'mobile education' topics (the other project presented in the latest session was the MILLEE project, which has been profiled on this blog before).  I was fortunate enough to be be able to sit in on the presentation, at the kind invitation of USAID educational technology team, and thought I'd share some brief highlights:

Mobile Phones and Literacy in Rural Communities

Michael Trucano's picture

mobile learning while sittingGiven their low costs and increasing ubiquity, even in very poor communities, much has been written about the potential for mobile phones to aid in the delivery of 'anytime, anywhere' education. But what might such educational practices look like in practice? The MILLEE project  (Mobile and Immersive Learning for Literacy in Emerging Economies) has been examining this issue for the last six years, beginning with low-income communities in the urban slums and villages in India.

In a recent presentation at the World Bank, Matthew Kam, the founder of MILLEE, shared experiences from ten rounds of iterative small pilot field studies in developing and testing mobile phone gaming applications that enable children to acquire language literacy in immersive, game-like environments. One goal of this work is to investigate how to make localized English language learning resources more accessible to underprivileged children, at times and places that are more convenient than schools. (A short video profile of the project is available here; it is not embedded for direct viewing on this blog because it features a 15-second commercial at the beginning.)

An international digital library for children

Michael Trucano's picture

reading times, they are a-changing ... (image courtesy Deutsches Bundesarchiv)What will reading be like for children around the world in the digital age? 

Ben Bederson thinks this is a question we should be asking children themselves.

Bederson, a professor at the University of Maryland (USA) and the co-founder (with Allison Druin) of the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL), was the keynote presenter at an event in Hangzhou, China earlier this week sponsored by UNESCO, the World Bank, the Korean Education & Research Information Service and a number of other partners.  The ICDL (not to be confused with the International Computer Driving Licence, which shares the same acronym) is dedicated to building a collection of "outstanding children's books from around the world and supporting communities of children and adults in exploring and using this literature through innovative technology designed in close partnership with children for children". The ICDL, which is part of the World Bank-funded READ project in Mongolia, currently features children's books in over 50 languages and receives over 100,000 visitors a month to its web site.

At the heart of Bederson's wide-ranging talk (and indeed at the heart of the ICDL itself) is a belief in the value and importance of child-centered design. Notably (and rather famously, in some quarters) the ICDL utilizes children as design partners in the development of the digital library, and how it is used.  Adopting this approach sometimes yields approaches that, at least for many in the audience in Hangzhou, were rather surprising.

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