Top World Bank EduTech blog posts of 2014

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by my calculations ... it's time for another annual round-up!
by my calculations ... it's time for another annual round-up!

Since 2009, the World Bank's EduTech blog has attempted to "explore issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to benefit education in developing countries".

While the 30+ posts in 2014 spanned a wide range of topics, a few themes emerged again and again. The emerging relevance and use of mobile phones (in various ways and to various ends) in the education sector continued to be a regular area of discussion, as were efforts to collect (more, better) data to help us understand what is actually happening around the world related to technology use in education, with a specific interest in circumstances and contexts found in middle and low income 'developing' countries.

While technology use is typically considered a characteristic of more 'advanced' countries and education systems, the EduTech blog deliberately sought in 2014 to complicate this belief and bias a bit by looking at efforts specifically meant to be relevant (and which were in some cases indigenous) to some of the 'least advanced' places in the world.

Before getting on to this year's 'top ten' list, a few reminders (which might be familiar to some of you who have read the earlier annual EduTech blog round-ups: I've copied some of this verbatim):

  • Posts on the EduTech blog are not meant to be exhaustive in their consideration of a given topic, but rather to point to interesting developments and pose some related questions that might be of interest.
  • These blog posts should not be mistaken for peer-reviewed research or World Bank policy papers (although some of the content may later find its way into such publications). The views expressed on the EduTech blog are those of the author(s) alone, and not those of the World Bank. (In other words: Blame the guy who wrote them, and not his bosses or institution, for anything you find inaccurate or disagreeable here.)
  • The blog itself is animated by a belief that, by 'thinking aloud in public', we can try (in an admittedly very modest but hopefully useful way) to open up conversations about various themes to wider audiences, sharing emerging thinking and discussions on topics that often have been, and regrettably often remain, discussed largely 'behind closed doors' within small circles of people and institutions.


OK, now on to the ...

Top World Bank EduTech Blog Posts of 2014

10. Ten observations about 1-to-1 educational computing efforts around the world
So-called '1-to-1 computing in education' has been around for about 25 years now, but in 2014 this phenomenon decidedly hit the global mainstream, as many education systems around the world (and not only in 'rich' countries) provided students, for better or worse, with their own personal computing devices (whether laptops or tablets). This short post (together with a companion piece, 1-to-1 Educational Computing -- A report from Korea) tries to take stock of some of the emerging trends common to many such efforts. Questions to ask (and not to ask) when your president tells you to buy 100k (or a million) tablets for students offers some related guidance to policymakers in charge of such efforts.

9. The Development and Evolution of National Educational Technology Agencies Over Time
In most countries around the world, a single institution is core to the implementation of national initiatives related to the use of new technologies ('ICTs') in education. This post, together with a companion piece that examines some of the key factors behind the founding of such organizations (Why Establish a National Educational Technology Agency?), investigates this understudied phenomenon, and how such institutions help transform related policies into on-the-ground realities.

8. Using mobile phones in data collection: Opportunities, issues and challenges 
A set of three linked posts look at emerging lessons from the use of a technology increasingly available nearly everywhere -- the mobile phone -- to collect and disseminate data key to the administrative functions of many education systems. In addition to a general overview, follow-on posts look at a specific effort around Using mobile phones to collect data in the education sector in Uganda before concluding with Using mobile phones in data collection: Some questions to consider.

extra: A post which generated some of the least traffic on the site over the course of the year (only 8800 reads to date), but which appeared to resonate strongly with a niche audience, was A short note to the new philanthropist looking to support education and technology initiatives in the developing world. Also of potential interest: Big Data in Education in 2025: A Thought Experiment considers a theme that was more pronounced on the blog in 2014 and which echoes throughout many of the posts during the year: that of privacy.

7. Sachet educational publishing in a digital and mobile world
This post is the latest in a series on the EduTech blog over recent years that examines changes in the textbook industry and markets for teacher and learning materials as education systems increasingly 'go digital'. How might related business models evolve, especially given the increased proliferation of small, personal mobile devices?

6. How many schools are connected to the Internet?
This post, as well as related ones on Collecting data about educational technology use in *all* countries in the world and Surveying ICT use in education in Asia, looks at initiatives to quantify and document what is actually happening with technology use in schools around the world, such as those considered in Checking in with Portugal's big projects to support technology use in education as well as the efforts examined in a post about Two new rigorous evaluations of technology use in education.

5. Education & Technology in an Age of Pandemics (revisited)
This posts re-works and updates an earlier one from 2009 which looks at educational technology efforts in areas afflicted by disease epidemics, such as SARS and what was then widely referred to as the 'swine flu', in light of the Ebola crisis in West Africa. In places facing severe educational challenges, especially those in real (and not rhetorical) 'crisis', are considerations of technology use in the education sector less relevant than in highly developed countries ... or might they in some cases actually be more important?

4. Evaluating the Khan Academy
Perhaps no single educational technology effort in the world today reaches more learners, has greater exposure, or has catalyzed more passionate discussion across national borders than the Khan Academy. Born out of, and largely originally focused on, educational contexts within the United States (and outside of schools), the Khan Academy's reach and impact is rapidly expanding into middle and low income countries, and into formal classroom environments as well. This post, as well as related ones on Contextualizing lessons from the use of the Khan Academy and Translating and implementing the Khan Academy in Brazil, explores some of what is known, and what isn't, that might be of relevance and interest to policymakers in such places.

3. A 'mobile first' approach to educational technology
A speech at the 2014 Mobile World Congress argues that many educational technology efforts might do well to think first about how users would access and interact with their content and services on their own personal mobile devices, instead of trying to port over what they have already developed for PCs and laptops. This is a follow-up of sorts to a post that goes In search of the ideal educational technology device for developing countries and which finds that, for many people, this device may well be a mobile phone.

extra: Many teachers around the world suffer as a result of poorly-functioning systems to pay the salaries they are due. Given the related difficulties and challenges in many countries, might Paying teacher salaries with mobile phones be worth considering?

2. Bad practices in mobile learning
The most popular post ever on the EduTech blog identifies a number of worst practices related to technology use in education. In 2014 this post was updated and reconsidered, drawing on What we are learning about reading on mobile phones and devices in developing countries and other efforts and experiences which utilize the increasingly inexpensive, ubiquitous and power connected personal computer devices that are found in the pockets and pocketbooks of teachers and learners alike. Even if we don't always know exactly what we should be doing, we might do well at least to avoid the things that we know probably won't work.

1. Promising uses of technology in education in poor, rural and isolated communities around the world
By far the most read, widely-circulated and (arguably) influential EduTech blog post in 2014 highlights a number of experiences attempting to use information and communication technologies in some of the most difficult educational environments around the world. Drawing on a post from 2013 which identifies 10 principles to consider when introducing ICTs into remote, low-income educational environments, this post summarizes and points to a number of specific projects, including ones considered in posts from earlier in the year such as A model for educational technology development from … Afghanistan?, Bollywood Karaoke and Same Language Subtitling to Promote Literacy, Interactive Educational Television in the Amazon and Promoting literacy with mobile phones in rural Papua New Guinea (which was, for what it's worth, the second most read blog post of the year).


What's ahead for the EduTech blog in 2015? Based on some of the current activities that I am working on, I expect there will be some posts looking at the 'maker movement' (and some of the tools commonly associated with 'making': e.g. Raspberry Pi, Arduino and 3D printers); discussions of education, technology and 'innovation' (whatever that word may mean – it seems to mean different things to different people, and sometimes doesn't really seem to mean anything much at all), including efforts to promote 'coding' in schools; specific attention to national educational technology policies (an area in which the World Bank does a fair amount of work); and many more posts highlighting emerging research and, especially, specific education-related projects in developing countries utilizing new technologies that you may not have heard about (but will hopefully find interesting).

Feel free to continue to send in information and materials that you might think of interest. While I welcome the connections that blogging and tweeting enable (indeed, that's one of the reasons I engage on social media), the volume of stuff I receive makes it difficult to always respond in a timely fashion. (and: Just because you send me (e.g.) a report about your project or results from your research doesn't mean I'll write about it here. I will read it, though!)

Thanks, as always, for reading the EduTech blog, and have a Happy New Year!


For those interested in such things:

: The image at the top of this post of a man using a slide rule ("by my calculations ... it's time for another annual round-up!") comes from Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library via The Commons on Flickr.  As with all images that have been made available for use through The Commons, the file contains no known copyright restrictions.





Michael Trucano

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

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