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Key topics related to the use of new technologies in education

Michael Trucano's picture
they come in all shapes, colors and sizes ...
they come in all shapes, colors and sizes ...
Oh, you work at the World Bank, someone recently remarked to me.

It must be great to have access to so much information and data about so many things.

Yes, that's certainly a perk of the job
, I responded, although it can be overwhelming at times.

What's more interesting, and exciting, at least to me (and, truth be told, overwhelming as well), is the access to so many fascinating questions.

(For what it's worth: Most of the information and data with which we are traditionally associated are actually 'open' these days, freely accessible to anyone with a web browser as a result of our access to information policy). 

Here's a (lightly anonymized, slightly disguised) sample of questions that arrived in my in-box just today:
  • For the first time in a few decades, our country is about to build lots of new schools: Should we be designing them any differently in order to accommodate the use of new technologies?
  • What are some compelling examples of how 'edtech' has been 'scaled up' to promote greater equity and inclusiveness that are relevant to our country?
  • We want to put all our textbooks online -- how should we do this?
  • We need to hire an expert in governance issues in education systems who can help us better understand the opportunities and challenges that new technologies will pose for us in the future: Can you suggest some related terms of reference, and a shortlist of candidates who speak our language and are familiar with operating contexts in our country and region?
  • What specs should we include in our big new tender for tablets?

(By the time I've completed this blog post, I expect a few more will have been sent to me as well.)

Whether these should be the types of things we get questions about -- that's another matter. There are no bad questions ... but of course some questions are better than others. Before we attempt to respond to a specific information request, we first pause and consider if we are being asked the 'right question'.

In steering people to the 'right question', or at least to a better question (or, as we like to phrase it when we respond, 'That's a great question! And here's another question that you may also wish to consider ...'), we have concluded that it usually helps to be able to address the one that they have already posed.

To help with this, we are trying to better organize what we know, based on our own work and more generally, to better address the things that we -- and the 100+ governments with which we actively work around the world -- don't know.

As part of this process, we have developed a master list of master list of 50+ key topics related to the use of new technologies in education of potential operational relevance to the World Bank in its strategic advice, lending activities and research going forward.  It is not  meant to be comprehensive in its ​consideration of topics related to the use of technology in education, and does not represent a 'framework for how to think about edtech'. Instead, it seeks to document and organize related requests for information and advice into distinct categories. It is not based on what the World Bank has done and supported in the past, but rather on questions we receive related to what governments are looking to do in the future. Reasonable people can and will no doubt disagree about whether we are being asked the 'right' questions or not. (We have strong opinions on this ourselves!)

Some of these questions aren't explicitly about technology .... but, as the 'technology in education' people within the institution, our team gets asked them regularly. Is STEM/STEAM an 'edtech topic'? Whether it is or not, we get asked tons of related questions, so it's on our list. Are we asked a lot about child digital safety and privacy issues? No, to be honest, we are not, at least not initially -- but we are pretty convinced that we will increasingly be asked about them in the future, and once we open the topic for discussion, we are often deluged with related questions. Are we asked about the development of edtech ecosystems in a country? No, we are not, but many of the discussions that arise as a result of other questions being asked eventually are broadened to include consideration of this topic.

When we have referenced this list in conversations with many groups in recent months, we have been asked to share it, and so I am doing so here, in case anyone else might find it useful or of interest.
(For what it's worth, the list is loosely organized according to the World Bank SABER-ICT framework.)

Master list of key topics related to the use of new technologies in education
(based on questions posed to the World Bank)

Policy & system level
01 - ECOSYSTEMS: Development of edtech ecosystems, including national edtech agencies
02 - MEDIA Digital media outreach and eng​agement in the education sector, including use of social media 
03 - POLICY: Edtech policy development
04 - STI: Developing national capacities related to science, technology & innovation 

05 - CLOUD: The cloud / datacenters in education
06 - CONNECTIVITY: Connectivity for schools & learning, esp. in rural environments
07 - DEVICES: Edtech devices (handhelds, mobile phones, whiteboards, probeware, etc.​)
08 - ENERGY: Energy to support technology use in education (e.g. solar)
09 - IOT: Internet of things, sensors
10 - LEARNING SPACES: Architecture and learning spaces
11 - NRENs: National Research & Education Networks
12 - PLATFORMS: Digital platforms, tools and infrastructure in education, esp. open source
13 - SECURITY: Digital security in education
Teachers & teaching
14 - DISTANCE LEARNING: Teaching and learning at a distance
15 - PEDAGOGY: Pedagogical approaches to teaching with technology
16 - TEACHERS: Teacher professional development and using tech to support teachers

Educational content & learning resources
17 - ADAPTIVE LEARNING: Personalized and adaptive learning platforms and tools 
18 - GAMING: Educational gaming / video games in education
19 - IP/OER:  Intellectual property (IP) issues in education, including those related to Open Educational Resources (OER)
20 - LEARNING MATERIALS: Digital learning resources & e-textbooks
21 - PORTALS: National online educational portals
22 - VR/AR: virtual reality & augmented reality in education​

23 - DIGITAL SKILLS: Digital literacy, digital skills, coding
24 - LITERACY: Technology to promote literacy
25 - MAKERS: Makerspaces, fablabs and robotics
26 - SAFETY/ETHICS: Student digital safety & ethical use of tech
27 - STEM/STEAM: Skills and competencies related to science, technology engineering, (arts,) & mathematics
28 - 21c SKILLS: 21st century skills, non-cognitive & socio-emotional skills + technology

29 - TESTING: Computer-based assessment & testing
30 - TESTPREP​: Test prep & related tutoring with technology
31 - AI/ML: AI and machine learning in education
32 - BIG DATA: Big data in education
33 - BIOMETRICS: Biometrics in education
34 - BLOCKCHAIN: Blockchain in education
35 - DATA COLLECTION: Technology & data collection (SMS surveys, handheld devices, etc.)
​36 - DATA VISUALIZATION: Data visualization in education
37 - DIGITAL IDENTITY: Digital identity in education​​
38 - EMIS: Education management information systems
39 - INDICATORS: Indicators related to edtech
40 - MAPPING: GIS and mapping
41 - PRIVACY: Data privacy in education

42 - EVALUATION: How to evaluate edtech
43 - RESEARCH: State of edtech research & impact evaluation

44 - COSTS: Costing of edtech
45 - MOBILE PAYMENTS: Mobile payments in education
46 - PROCUREMENT: Procurement of edtech
47 - STARTUPS: Edtech startups and incubators​

Target groups 
48 - COMMUNITY: Community engagement through ICT
49 - ECD: Early childhood development % technology​
50 - HIGHER ED: Technology in higher education, including MOOCs
51 - LIFELONG LEARNING: Technology & adult education / lifelong learning
52 - REFUGEES: Technology & education of refugees
53 - SPECIAL NEEDS: Technology and special education needs (SEN) / disabilities

Wow, that's quite a list, no? 

As the questions we are asked change and evolve, this list will no doubt change and evolve as well.
We fully recognize that th​e large number and diversity of topics listed here represents an acute challenge for our institution going forward if it is to maintain its technical relevance to its clients, and exert thought leadership on issues of increasing strategic importance and relevance to education decisionmakers. Over time, it is hoped that the World Bank will grow the capacity of its staff, and build strategic partnerships with other groups, so that we will have better access to expertise, experience and external contacts related to many of these topics. Going forward, it is intended that related competencies and perspectives​ that are today considered 'niche' within the institution will be widely distributed across World Bank staff and be communicated and shared with our counterparts in national governments and other partner organizations.

This is admittedly a rather tall order, but the world is changing, and institutions needs to change along with it. Driving forward is made more difficult if you only navigate by looking in the rear-view mirror.

Some related notes:
  • A number of these topics relate to existing areas of work and expertise at the World Bank where, until now, technology-related perspectives and expertise have not been well integrated into related technical assistance, projects and research activities (e.g. textbooks --> digital learning materials; teachers --> teacher professional development supported by ICTs; skills --> digital skills, digital literacy and coding; etc.)​.
  • In other cases, topics listed are not 'edtech' per se, but they are included here because related requests for assistance are often directed to staff who work on edtech topics (e.g. learning spaces; 21c skills; STI) because it is unclear where to find related assistance internally.
  • Some topics are obviously quite closely related but represent distinct enough areas of expertise and activity to merit separate listings (e.g. AI/ML overlaps in many ways with adaptive learning and with testing; learning materials and education portals are closely related; digital identity, biometrics and security are closely related, as are security and digital safety; etc.).
  • The World Bank has had longstanding activities related to the use of educa​tion management information systems, or EMIS. Indeed, most World Bank education projects include support for EMIS in some way. One longstanding challenge for the institution has been internal discussions of technology use in education have often quickly come to focus largely, if not exclusively, on EMIS, crowding out discussions of and ​attention to topics on other edtech topics where related World Bank experience and expertise are comparatively much weaker, where they exist at all.
You may also be interested in the following post from the EduTech blog
Note: The image used at the top of this post ("they come in all shapes, colors and sizes ...") came via Pixabay and is in the public domain as a result of the use of a CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication.


Submitted by Kerin Ord on

Fantastic list and just the kind of resource for those in education dealing with the fast-changing world of technology. Starting with the right question is key to sorting the promising and appropriate, from the promises and the hype.

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