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Top World Bank EduTech blog posts of 2015

Michael Trucano's picture
take your pick -- some are rather yummy!
take your pick -- some are rather yummy!

For the past seven years the World Bank's EduTech blog has sought to "explore issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to benefit education in developing countries".

While there are plenty of sources for news, information and perspectives on the uses (and misuses) of educational technologies in the so-called 'highly industrialized' countries of North America, Europe, East Asia and Australia/New Zealand, regular comparative discussions and explorations of what is happening with the uses of ICTs in middle and low income (i.e. so-called 'developing') countries around the world can be harder to find, which is why this remains the focus of the EduTech blog.

The term 'developing countries' is employed here as convenient (if regrettable) shorthand in an attempt to reinforce the context in which the comments and questions explored on the blog are considered, and as a signal about its intended (or at least hoped for) audience. That said, given how much we still don't know and the fact that things continue to change so rapidly, when it comes to technology use in education, as a practical matter we all live in 'developing countries'.

When speaking about some of the early EduTech blog posts, one rather prominent and outspoken commenter (rather comfortably ensconced at an elite U.S. research university, for what that might be worth) said basically that 'there is nothing new here, we've been aware of all of these issues for some time'.

This might possibly be true – if you are a tenured professor sitting in Cambridge, perhaps, or a technology developer working out of Helsinki, Mountain View or Redmond.

(One could nonetheless note that being aware of something, and doing something useful and impactful as a result of this awareness, are not necessarily the same thing, a lesson that seems to need to be learned and re-learned again and again, often quite painfully and expensively, as 'innovations' from 'advanced' places are exported to other 'less advanced' places around the world with results that can at times be rather difficult to determine. It is also perhaps worth briefly recalling the insightful, if ungrammatical, words of the U.S. humorist Mark Twain, who observed back in the 19th century that, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.")

However, these are often relatively new discussions – and often very different discussions, it should be noted! – in other, less 'economically privileged' parts of the world. As computing devices and connectivity continue to proliferate, practical knowledge and know-how about what works, and what doesn't, when it comes to technology use in education is increasingly to be found in such places. It is to participate in, learn from and help catalyze related discussions that the EduTech blog was conceived and continues to operate.

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While the posts in 2015 were published less frequently, they were on average much longer than in the past ("too long!", some might say) and largely explored themes (e.g. 'tablets', 'teachers', 'coding') drawing on experiences across multiple countries, rather than profiling specific individual projects or activities in one place, which was often the case in previous years.

It perhaps shouldn't need to be said (but I'll say it anyway, as I am obliged to do) that, whether taken individually or collectively, nothing here was or is meant to be definitive, exhaustive or 'official' in its consideration of a particular topic or activity. The EduTech blog serves essentially as a written excerpt of various ongoing conversations with a wide variety of groups and people around the world and as a mechanism for 'thinking aloud in public' about these conversations. Nothing is formally 'peer-reviewed' before it appears online, and the views expressed are those of the author(s) alone, and not the World Bank. (If you find a mistake, or just really disagree with something that appears on the EduTech blog, please feel free to blame the guy who writes this stuff, and not his bosses or the institution which employs him).

With those introductory comments out of the way, here are the ...

Top World Bank EduTech Blog Posts of 2015

10. Edtech and MOOC Times in China
Despite a common impulse in many quarters to look instinctively to Silicon Valley when it comes to 'innovations' in technology, including those used in the field of education, some of the most interesting developments are happening at a large scale in places where many folks are unaccustomed to looking. In past years the EduTech blog has explored many emerging lessons from places like Uruguay, for example, which was the first country to provide all primary school students with their own laptops. In 2015 the blog considered some interesting developments in China, as well as insights from an effort largely unknown outside the borders of the country where it has been taking place: The introduction of large scale computer adaptive testing in Georgia (the country in the Caucasus, that is, not the U.S. state).

9. New landmark OECD PISA study on 'Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection'
Given the lack of data about what actually happening with, and as a result of, technology use in classrooms around the world, 'edtech' has been referred to by some as the real 'faith-based initiative' in many education systems. While some may argue that the related data that are now beginning to emerge represent only certain pieces of a larger puzzle, and that we should be careful about drawing generalizable conclusions from related analyses, it is nonetheless heartening that we are now starting to see results of well-funded data gathering exercises that are informed by real scientific rigor. A study from the OECD utilizing PISA data was one notable example of this in 2015, as was an effort led by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics on Surveying ICT use in education in Africa.

8. Video games, screen time and early childhood development
Generally speaking, parents around the world are keen to make sure that their children have access to new technologies to support their learning. And yet, as such access increases, they also lament the fact that their children are spending too much time staring at screens of various sizes. Whether they view ICTs as tools for learning or devices for distraction -- as a practical matter they are both, of course -- parents and educators are conflicted and confused about how and how much to utilize new technologies to support student learning. Given related potential health issues (both real and imagined) and the increasing ubiquity of screens, such conflicts can be particularly acute when it comes to the youngest learners, who are (for better or for worse) increasingly to be found gazing at a screen themselves, whether it is found in a television at the corner of the room or, increasingly, on their parent's mobile phone.

7. Using the Internet to connect students and teachers around the world for 'virtual exchanges'More comments on using the Internet to connect students and teachers around the world for 'virtual exchanges' & Establishing and connecting leagues of innovative schools around the world
A longstanding rationale for connecting schools and students to the Internet is not only that they can access the wealth of learning materials available but also so that they can connect to each other. A pair of posts explored very practical lessons that have emerged from related efforts around the world to connect teachers and learners across borders; a third looked at a way to organize such activities. Another post, Universal Service Funds & connecting schools to the Internet around the world, examined one way that governments around the world are using to help fund and support such activities.

6. Key themes in national educational technology policies & Lessons from the drafting of national educational technology policies
Under its SABER-ICT effort, the World Bank has been collecting and analyzing educational technology policies from countries around the world, as well as the processes which inform and bring about such policies. These two posts shared some of the related findings from this initiative.

5. Innovative educational technology programs in low- and middle-income countries
The future, it has famously been said, is already here, it's just unevenly distributed. (You've probably seen that observation reproduced in a PowerPoint presentation or in an article in the popular press even if you are not familiar with the science fiction author William Gibson, who coined this oft-cited aphorism.) The World Bank's EduTech blog exists in part to help document particular instances of this uneven distribution related to the use of educational technologies; the Center For Education Innovations did some great work in 2015 in cataloging and analyzing over 200 related innovative educational technology programs that many folks had probably never heard about.

'Innovation' -- whatever that may mean -- was undoubtedly the buzzword of the year in the field of education, and for many folks the fact that some new technology was used to do something that had previously been done without technology made such an activity, by default, 'innovative'. Prizes, literacy and innovations in education explored one way that innovations in education are meant to be catalyzed and recognized. Complexities in utilizing free digital learning resources and Learning to code vs. coding to learn looked at issues related to two worldwide movements to introduce 'innovations in education' through the use of open educational resources and by teaching students to write computer code.

4. Banning and unbanning phones in schools
Mobile phones are regarded as the fastest growing consumer technology of all time. Do they have a place to support student learning and, if so, should they be allowed in schools? This post examined related issues and activities in education systems around the world. A sort-of companion piece, Common (and uncommon) approaches to preventing the theft of computers, laptops and tablets in schools, catalogued some of the ways that education systems are attempting to make sure that whatever technology devices exist in schools don't disappear.

3. Tablets in education
When it came to educational technologies, it used to be all about desktop computers. Later laptops were the 'answer'. Now in many education systems around the world, tablets are all the rage. What's happening in this regard, and what are we learning as a result?

2. Research questions about technology use in education in developing countries
The most-read EduTech blog post of 2015 examined not some of the latest cool technologies being developed or piloted in schools around the world, but rather some of the related research questions of potential interest and relevance to education policymakers and practitioners. Reasonable people can perhaps agree to disagree on what the most important related research questions should be, and how to go about answering them, but there is no denying that we need to be asking more relevant ones that we have asked in the past. (Of course, in most cases, we haven't really asked many useful related questions; 'technology' has represented an 'answer' to questions which were largely unarticulated, if indeed they were posed at all).

1. Will technology replace teachers? No, but ...
The top EduTech post of 2015 examined the hope or fear (depending on one's perspective) that 'technology will eventually replace teachers'. This post sought to add some nuance to related (and sometimes fiery) debates, which often throw off more heat than illumination.

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OK, that's the list of top World Bank EduTech blog posts for 2015. Thanks a lot for reading, and for sharing and commenting on the posts in whatever way you may have done so. We greatly appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to spend a few minutes with us every so often.

A reminder: You are always free to reproduce, re-post or re-publish the EduTech blog posts in whole or in part, in whatever format you find most useful (in your newsletter or publication, excerpted on Facebook or Twitter). You can grab our RSS feed here; a link to each post is Tweeted out via the @WBedutech account as soon as it goes live. All that we ask is that you acknowledge the source and provide a link back to where a particular post originally appeared.

Thanks a lot, and see you in 2016!
-M

ps For those who might be interested in such things, here are links to the collections of top posts from previous years (2014; 2013; 2012; 2011; 2010; 2009) as well as the annual compilations of all EduTech blog posts (2014; 2013; 2012; 2011; 2010; 2009). More background on the World Bank's EduTech blog is available here.

 
Note
: The image that appears at the top of this blog post of the presentation of a small box of delectables to two ladies at a Korean cultural celebration in Seattle ("take your pick -- some are rather yummy!") comes from the Wikipedian Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons. A nod to the strong partnership between the World Bank and Korea's Ministry of Education (and especially KERIS, the Korean Education Research & Information Service) on educational technology issues, it is used according to the terms of version 1.2 of the GNU Free Documentation License and the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. As a way to help familiarize people with the variety of Creative Commons licenses available for use (and re-use), the EduTech blog regularly features CC-licensed images from Wikimedia Commons.

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