Finding (useful) research on ICT use in education in developing countries

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image of pressed papers in Insadong, Seoul, Korea from Flickr user Jared at, used under the terms of the Creative Commons by attribution 2.0 license (via Wikimedia Commons)I am often asked to recommend "useful research on ICT and education issues in developing countries".

While there are resources to which I inevitably turn (and which I recommend time and again, a topic for future consideration on this blog), there is a question which I have a more difficult time answering:

"How do I find, and stay in the loop on, useful research, documentation and lessons learned on ICT and education issues in developing countries?"

Seven or eight years ago, there was, comparatively speaking, very little research attention to this area beyond the excellent work done related to interactive radio instruction and educational television, and on distance education in general.  UNESCO-Bangkok and the Commonwealth of Learning were real outliers in their attention to the topic in a high quality and consistent way (as were a few regional groups like SAIDE).  The World Bank, while continuing to devote occasional though largely uncoordinated research attention to the topic, ceased publication of its Education and Technology Technical Notes Series [warning: link is to a PDF] in 2000. Subscribing to a handful of listservs, many related to ICT4D and 'digital divide' issues more generally (like Bytes For All and the now defunct GKD listserv) was enough to ensure that you stayed largely 'in the loop'.   A small handful of donor-funded initiatives, like Dfid's ImfundoWorld Links at the World Bank Institute, and USAID's dot-EDU, helped contribute to the global knowledgebase by making documentation an important component of their activities.  TechKnowlogia was a must-read, although it went on hiatus after publishing its first quarterly issue in 2003, perhaps a victim of being too early into the marketplace.  Picking up the slack (a little) from TechKnowlogia, i4D's first issue devoted to education came out in February 2004, and a companion publication devoted exclusively to digital learning debuted three years later.  Beginning in 2003, MIT's pioneering ICT4D journal Information Technologies and International Development (ITID) devoted occasional attention to the topic as well.  Notably, the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL, beginning 2000) and the International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT, beginning 2005) provide free and open access to all of their content. (More journals are listed here, although most don't provide open access.) One way or another, most items on this topic eventually found their way into the on-line catalogue of e-learning resources maintained by the Development Gateway (which rebranded as 'Zunia' earlier this year), although separating the wheat from the chaff could be difficult at times.

Now, with the explosion of activity in the area, increased scholarly attention as a result, and especially the explosion of personal publishing through things like blogs, information is both more abundant and more diffuse.

As with most information retrieval these days, knowing your way around Google is absolutely essential to finding and navigating such content, and mining Twitter, Delicious, and Technorati is perhaps even more profitable.  Setting alerts at Google to help flag relevant news items is another must.

RSS is somewhat helpful, although many groups active in this area still do not make RSS feeds of their content available, outside of blogs -- a situation I find rather perplexing, and surprising, given the subject matter.  (I am not only criticizing others here: We don't, for the most part, utilize RSS as part of our publishing platform at the World Bank -- but I am told it's coming! -- although infoDev does.)

Donor institutions continue to commission research consultancies on ICT/education-related issues, but unfortunately much of this work is for internal consumption, and/or never made available on the Internet (because, frankly, there is little incentive to do so; one of the goals of this blog is, over time, to provide an informal mechanism for disseminating some of this work. ).  USAID is notable in that it requires the work it funds to be made publicly available (kudos to USAID in this regard).  Increasingly, the private sector is funding very useful work in this area by reputable researchers and consultants, although the results of this work, to the extent that it is published, is often treated with scepticism in some quarters.  

ERIC, the online digital library of education research and information sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, contains a wealth of articles on the topic, provided you are savvy and patient enough to formualte your search terms in multiple ways so that you can locate them.

Finding papers and presentations from conferences and workshops can be quite difficult unless you know exactly what you are looking for.  The irregularly-updated list of 'Educational Technology Conferences' maintained by Clayton R. Wright and updated twice a year [note: revision by author on 26 Aug]  (and re-posted in various places around the Internet) is a good place to start.

That said, much of the scholarly attention to this topic remains locked behind pay-to-view firewalls, rendering it essentially inaccessible to practitioners, policymakers and scholars in many (if not most) developing countries. The online Education & Information Technology Library, EdITLib, contains many journals and conference proceedings which contain occasional papers on the topic, although subscription runs US$150/year.  The collections of journal articles obtainable through outlets like Science Direct and the IEEE Xplore Digital Library are also behind a pay-to-view firewalls.  In contrast, high quality research on ICT/education topics is increasingly being made available for free as NBER working papers.  Papers submitted for publication of varying degrees of quality are also being posted with increasingly regularity in draft versions on the personal web site of authors.  (These can be difficult to find.  If you know the name of the author of a journal publication and a word or two of the title, try Google and you might get lucky!).

I get regular queries from people doing research on ICT/education topics in developing countries as part of the their PhD work.  Unfortunately, accessing the results of such research is quite difficult.  This is changing, though: Edward Caffarella has done a great service by compiling indices of dissertations on this topic (and Google Scholar is slowly indexing all dissertations).  A few services have sprung up to host dissertations in a free and open manner on a voluntary basis, but these have yet to gain much traction.  Endeavors such as these will slowly help to free up knowledge on this topic produced by the academic community to those without access to pay services like ProQuest.

How much of it is actually policy-relevant is another matter entirely ...

The image of pressed papers in Insadong, Seoul, Korea used at the top of this blog post comes from Flickr user Jared, used under the terms of the Creative Commons by attribution 2.0 license (via Wikimedia Commons).


Michael Trucano

Visiting Fellow, Brookings, and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, World Bank

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