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On the lookout for cool educational technology projects

Michael Trucano's picture

wow, a lot is happening, but it's hard to make out the specificsOne question I am regularly asked (by colleagues at funding agencies, in governments, and from private groups looking to network with like-minded groups) is,

Can you point us to some innovative or exemplary ICT & education projects in developing countries?

As follow-up, they often note that "We already know about prominent projects like Microsoft Partners in Learning, Intel Teach and One Laptop Per Child, but what else is out there that we should know about?"

In an attempt to help provide partial answers to such queries, this post is a continuation of sorts of a blog entry we published in 2009 which continues to generate a good amount of regular traffic despite being over a year old, Finding (useful) research on ICT use in education in developing countries.   Those who haven't read that post, but who have made it this far through this one, are encouraged to go back and read it, as the information in it is still quite relevant (and so I won't repeat much of it here), as well as a post from early 2010 on ICT & Education: Eleven Countries to Watch -- and Learn From.


At the World Bank, we are privileged to have regular and often rather unique exposure to lots of very interesting people and initiatives active in this area. One of my first responses when asked the question above is, "you may wish to scroll through the ~ 100 posts in the archive of the World Bank EduTech blog", as one of the reasons this blog came into existence was to have an informal outlet to provide pointers to some of the interesting developments and organizations active in this area. We make no claim to be comprehensive or all-inclusive, of course, and (as the frequency of posts probably suggests), we are certainly not full-time bloggers.  (In fact, the EduTech blog has for the most part been an 'extra' activity, with posts assembled in short bursts in-between 'normal work' and on personal time.)

While we do look at them from time to time, we try on the EduTech blog not to focus too much of our attention on initiatives that already receive heavy scrutiny and exposure via other outlets (although we do appreciate the passion of the supporters of some of these individual initiatives who contact us weekly, and sometimes daily, advocating for more attention to their particular project). We also try to highlight activities inside projects that the World Bank is involved with in some way, both as an aid to transparency and because we find that lessons from such activities are often not, for whatever reason, well shared via other means. To provoke discussion about both individual projects, topics and trends, we also sponsor a separate monthly online EduTech Debate.

As we don't want to appear to be endorsing specific projects or organizations, I will not make a simple list here in response to the question that triggered this blog post.  Instead, I'll point to some of the primary online tools I use to identify and track such projects and organizations, in case they might be of any interest to others, as an update to last year's post (which btw contains lists of academic journals that has not changed, so these publications are not mentioned below).

Blogs

One year on, there still aren't many new sources that cover this general topic itself (as opposed to single, individual initiatives) regularly and exclusively.  There is this blog, of course, that of the Inter-american Development Bank (IDB), the UNESCO Bangkok ICT in Education newsletter and accompanying database, and the multiple-author blogs of the Commonwealth of Learning and GeSCIDigital Learning out of India is one of the longest, continuosly active online publications devoted to this topic (with, not surprisingly, a strong representation of stories from India itself).  ICT4D organizations active in this area with regular news feeds that cover education topics include IICD, Inveneo's ICTworks, and MobileActive (which also maintains a very useful m-learning database).

BBLs

As a default we try our best to open up the informal 'brown bag lunch' (BBL) presentations on interesting projects to the public (most happen at the World Bank in DC, but occasionally in other places as well), to stream them over the web as best we can, and to archive results on our web site.

Competitions

There are a few high profile international 'competitions' that recognize ICT/education initiatives, including those in developing countries.  Most prominently, these include theUNESCO Prize on ICT use in education, the World Innovatrion Summit for Education (WISE) awards, the Stockholm Challenge, and the Digital Media and Learning (DML) Competition supported by Hastac and the Macarthur Foundation.

Projects that 'win' such awards are usually quite established and have a track record of activity and accomplishment.  To identify smaller projects, it can often be useful to turn to ...

Conferences

There are a huge number of educational technology conferences around the world evey year that shocase interesting and valuable initiatives.  (The most comprehensive list of such events is maintained by Clayton R. Wright).  These include large established events like eLearning Africa, and other regional events focused largely on projects in 'developed' country markets like Online Educa Berlin, e-Learning Asia and BETT, which increasingly include small numbers of initiatives from developing countries.  Often times more projects participate in so-called ICT4D conference, the highest profile of which is probably ICTD.  Other places where interesting educational technology projects and applications are sometimes featured include high profile "influencer" conferences like TED and PopTech.

Country surveys

infoDev and UNESCO have published regional surveys on ICT use in education in developing countries around the world on Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean and  South Asia  (the Insight reports from European Schoolnet do something similar for Europe.)  These surveys, even if some of them are a little dated, can be useful ways to find pointers to specific projects that might be of interest. 

Learning about new projects via Email  Twitter

Most of the email newsletters and listservs to which I regularly subscribe have made the transition to blog formats, or at least have related RSS feeds, and I find that I rely less and less on email to learn about new initiatives in this area.  (Given the fact that I receive up to 400 emails a day, a figure that I often find physically unmanageable, I concede that I regrettably may miss some things in my in-box.)  As a result of information overload, I have unsubscribed to almost all email newsletters and listservs (one notable exception is the CIVIC list in the Caribbean). 

On a practical level, Twitter has replaced email as my main source of news about new developments and initiatives.  If you are interested in using Twitter for this purpose, good places to start might be the people and organizations who follow our Twitter feed, @WBedutech, and the related curated topical lists. (Note that you need to be logged into Twitter to view these.)

What's Missing?

What's missing from this list of resources? A lot of things, without a doubt.  Facebook is certainly a great way to identify and conenct with interesting projects. And, geographically, there is one country where there is a tremendous amount of interesting initiatives underway, but which is grossly under-represented in the resources mentioned above: China.

Please feel free to submit any suggestions in the comments section below of useful resources that can be helpful when 'on the lookout' for interesting projects (or of worthy projects themselves) outside of 'developed' markets in Europe, North America, Australia and East Asia that I've missed -- or, more likely, simply don't know about!

 


 

Note: The public domain image used at the top of this blog post ("wow, a lot is happening, but it's hard to make out the specifics") comes via Wikimedia Commons.

Comments

For those in Washington DC, San Francisco, and soon New York, the monthly Technology Salon is another way to get an up-close look at new educational technology initiatives: http://technologysalon.org At our in-person only meetings, we have vibrant discussions on related new and innovative projects at the intersection of technology and international development with industry leaders. For example, USAID staff led a recent discussion around forming an international mEducation Alliance (using mobile phones in education) and we heard details from a first-of-it's-kind survey of OLPC deployments in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru (which is now the subject of an intense Educational Technology Debate: http://EduTechDebate.org ). To get invited to our meetings, join our announcement list: http//technologysalon.org/join

One crucial field, but often neglected, is teacher education. In TESSA (Teacher Education in Sub Saharan Africa) we have a substantial teacher education community which has exploited the affordances of OERs to generate a large OER Toolkit to support school based teacher education. The OER have been adapted for 12 different country contexts and are in use in 19 teacher education programmes in 10 countries. Although much use to date is through print media, we are now moving to explore how teachers can access the mateirals through other media. ( TESSA has been shortlisted for a 2010 WISE award.)

For those interested in laerning more about TESSA, a good place to start is the program's web site: --> http://www.tessafrica.net/

Readers may also be interested in the winners of the the first Wenhui Award for Educational Innovation 2010, which "sought projects that have demonstrated innovative uses of communication tools to integrate marginalized groups and connect them to the globalized world." --> http://cms2.unescobkk.org/index.php?id=9603

This semester I've been taking a class in educational technologies, and my group project was on programming and technology for developing countries. Along with Ed Popko and Cooper Smith, I found the following resources that may be helpful to you. The descriptions from our wiki are included. Hope this helps! Digital StudyHall, http://dsh.cs.washington.edu/ Digital StudyHall (DSH) is a social-learning system used in India. It employs a “hub-and-spoke” video-sharing arrangement to maximize the skills of the nation’s most highly educated and best-qualified teachers.1 These teachers record educational videos, which are then copied and sent out to a circle of learning communities. Each of those groups then gathers together to watch the recordings. But this is a far cry from parking the kids in front of a TV to keep them occupied. A local teacher, or even an especially bright student, regularly stops the program and engages the “class” in related activities and discussion, in what DSH calls a “mediation-based pedagogy.”2 While DSH is funded by a variety of organizations in developed countries, a vital feature of this program is that the educational materials are made by Indians for Indians. This empowers both the teachers and the learners, and eliminates any potential language, social, and cultural issues. In addition, DSH is adaptable to the technological resources of a given community. Video is the primary medium for two reasons: First, because while many villages do not yet have Internet service, most have televisions. Even in areas with no electricity, the televisions can be watched using battery power.3 Second, according to DSH, 60 percent is a generous estimate of India’s literacy rate, so through the use of video and storytelling, they can reach as many learners as possible.4 (Please note that other sources list India’s illiteracy rate as 66–72 percent.5) 1 Digital StudyHall, http://dsh.cs.washington.edu/. 2 Digital StudyHall, http://dsh.cs.washington.edu/. 3 Brown, John Seely, and Richard P. Adler, "Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0," EDUCAUSEreview, January/February 2008, p. 22. 4 Digital StudyHall, http://dsh.cs.washington.edu/. 5 "Literacy in India," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy_in_India Pocket School, http://bit.ly/aE3v1R Pocket School, while focused on young learners in Latin America, skillfully enumerates the assorted technological and pedagogical issues involved in using mobile technology to improve education in developing countries. Ironically, as the authors state, the fast-forward technological revolution we are experiencing in developed nations puts people in developing countries even further behind and creates even more roadblocks to their advancement.1 In addition to literacy and translation issues, the Latin American population of poor, indigenous children faces other obstacles that usually only occur in developing countries. For example, in Mexico alone, about 400,000 to 700,000 children have no stable homes because their parents are migrant workers; therefore, there is simply no way to engage these children in a traditional classroom environment.2 The authors show how mobile technology can overcome many of these difficulties, and reminds us of the need to pay careful attention to social and cultural issues if we want to be effective. 1 Kim, Paul, Talia Miranda, and Claudia Olaciregui, "Pocket School: Exploring Mobile Technology as a Sustainable Literacy Education Option for Underserved Indigenous Children in Latin America," International Journal of Educational Development, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 435-445; web version, p. 5.2Kim, Miranda, and Olaciregui, "Pocket School: Exploring Mobile Technology as a Sustainable Literacy Education Option for Underserved Indigenous Children in Latin America," web version, p. 3. Related Links: ■"Mobile Learning Technology for Migrant Indigenous Children in Mexico: Innovations for Learning," http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0ek2B0OWYY ■"Paul Kim, Chief Technology Officer for Stanford University School of Education, shares his perspectives on mobile learning opportunities in Africa after his recent trip to Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya," http://video.yahoo.com/watch/4461885/11959092 translate.org.za In Ethan Zuckerman’s TED Talk, he discusses the importance of translation of content in order to increase access to Internet information. Translate.org.za is a site established by native Africans to translate South Africa’s eleven languages with open-source tools such as Mozilla’s Firefox web browser and Oracle’s OpenOffice. These are two key pieces of technology: a web browser for accessing content and a suite of applications very similar to Microsoft’s Office for creating content. Translate.org.za’s choice of open-source platforms is also noteworthy, because these tools are free, are open to anyone to modify and contribute those modifications back into the code base, and can run on most computing platforms, including older hardware. This is not the case with commercial platforms, where decisions on localization are largely based on market size.

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