Education Fast Forward’s Eleventh Debate: Mobile Learning for the Masses


LogoEducation Fast Forward (EFF) was co-founded by Jim Wynn, formerly at Promethean and now EFF’s Chief Executive Officer, to bring together some of the world’s leading figures in the word of education to debate key issues facing governments, educators and employers. Its aim is not only just to debate these issues, but more importantly to come up with practical solutions that people can adopt, particularly in ensuring that technology is used appropriately to deliver effective solutions that will make a step change in learning experiences. EFF also ensures that it puts its body where its mouth is, so participants can engage in the debates through a variety of different modalities, including the use of Cisco’s Telepresence and WebEx environments, and also through live webstreaming, Twitter and other social media.

The Eleventh debate on 17th September, chaired by the irrepressible Gavin Dykes, was on the theme of Mobile Learning for the Masses? Realistic Expectations and Success Criteria. It began with two tone-setting presentations by Professor Miguel Nussbaum (Professor at the Computer Science Department of the School of Engineering of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) and David Atchoarena (Director of the Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems at UNESCO).

Miguel-Nussbaum-100Miguel Nussbaum began with a summary of his long career in using technology for learning, ranging from his early experience of using netbooks and tablets in Chile, to more recent work with multiple mice and mobile devices. His main presentation focused on how technology is used in the classroom, addressing three main issues: the way we teach; how we use technology, and how we can integrate technology in the classroom so that teachers make good use of it, and that students can really learn. At the heart of his presentation were the arguments that it is not the technology that matters, but rather we should focus on how technology can be used to deliver on curriculum needs.

Daivd_Profile-100David Atchoarena then followed, emphasising once again that technology must be a means rather than an end. It has to be used to solve specific challenges and needs. Recognising that in 2014 we are nearly at the end of the period set for achieving the Education for All Goals and the Dakar Framework, he noted that whilst progress has been achieved, very real challenges still remain in three areas: literacy, gender equality and teacher shortages. In all of these areas, he argued that mobile technologies can indeed make a significant difference.

The subsequent conversation, bringing together people from across the world explored a wide range of issues related to the implications of these arguments in the context of mobile learning. For me, six main themes emerged:

  1. Relevance for the poorest people in the poorest countries. Without electricity and connectivity, the most marginalised people and communities are not going to benefit from the potential of ICTs, be they mobile or otherwise! While many argued that it is merely a matter of time before everyone everywhere is connected, Adrian Godfrey from the GSMA noted that, although there are more SIM card registrations than there are people in the world, only just under half of the world’s population have their own access to mobile devices. Against this background, David Coltart, the former Minister of Education in Zimbabwe, emphasised the critical financial and infrastructure constraints facing educationalists in many of the world’s poorest countries, especially in Africa.
  2. The need to work closely with teachers. Teachers are central to the learning process and the general consensus was that they have to be involved at the heart of initiatives designed to introduce technology into education. Whilst it was recognised that people can indeed learn using the Internet on their mobile devices without any teacher involvement, it was also argued most strongly that we have to focus on pedagogy and the role of teachers in using technology in the classroom. This is not just to do with the way we teach, but also with what we teach. As Miguel Nussbaum commented, we have to ensure that teachers are trained to be collaborative, interdependent and seeking common goals. The pedagogy has to come before the technology!
  3. The power of assessment and the curriculum. Closely linked to the discussion of the role of teachers and pedagogy were comments about the power of assessment. For some, we need to change the ways in which learning is assessed if we are truly to benefit from the opportunities offered by mobile technologies; as long as we ‘test’ in traditional ways, pupils will not be able to take advantage of all the opportunities for collaboration and interaction offered by mobiles. For others, it was the curriculum that matters most, on the grounds that assessment usually follows the requirements of the curriculum.
  4. The interests underlying the introduction of mobile technologies in the classroom. My main contribution fell largely on deaf ears, but I do believe that in understanding these processes we have to understand the interests underlying the introduction of such technologies into the classroom. This is primarily driven by the interests of capital, and the need for companies to generate the maximum profits from their investments in digital technologies. Operators need to draw traffic through their networks, and if people can be encouraged to use these to gain useful learning resources, and network better with their peers, then this has to be a good thing. For content providers, mobiles offer a huge opportunity for generating additional revenue. Until we understand these interests, and realise that they are not driven primarily by pedagogy and the learning needs of pupils, then we will continue to be bemused by the failure of ICTs to transform the learning outcomes of formal educational systems
  5. Mobile devices can transform the learning experiences of some of the world’s most marginalised people and communities. Despite all of the challenges, it was great to see a small group of participants arguing that mobile devices can have a huge impact on the learning experiences of those living in refugee camps (Eliane Metni from Lebanon) and people with disabilities. We need to do much more to ensure that this work is supported, because otherwise these communities and individuals will become even further distanced from the rich who have access to the latest digital technologies.
  6. A call for action. There is far too much talking, and not enough action! Michelle Selinger, in particular, argued that you will only get effective action through dialogue between teachers policy makers, industry and academics. She also emphasised that, while content is important, it is crucial to remember the potential of mobile devices for crafting new types of collaboration through voice, video and text.

Education Fast Forward does not just finish with the live debate itself, and the EFF website, as well as their Twitter account (see #EFF11) provide ready means through which to continue the discussion. Thanks Jim, Gavin and all of the contributors for a thought-provoking discussion.

Postscript:

There is a huge amount of ongoing work on the use of mobiles for learning, and the International Telecommunication Union’s m-Powering Development initiative has recently produced a useful report on m-learning that is highly pertinent to this debate. This highlights the following eight main conclusions about things that are essential for the success of any m-learning initiative:

  • It is essential to focus on learning outcomes not just the technology;
  • Teachers and users should be involved at all stages in the development and implementation of m-learning initiatives;
  • Sustainability, maintenance and financing should be considered right at the beginning of any initiative;
  • It is important to think holistically and systemically;
  • All relevant government departments must be involved in any m-learning initiative;
  • Equality of access to all learners must be ensured, otherwise m-learning initiatives will lead t greater inequality;
  • Appropriate and rigorous monitoring and evaluation must be in place; and
  • Participatory approaches must be utilised in design.

Some, but not all of these issues were captured in the debate!

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On Scotland, Britain and the UK – the referendum


I have been trying to resist succumbing to writing about the referendum on Scotland’s future taking place on the 18th September, but given the number of people in Sri Lanka, Samoa and Bangladesh who have asked me for my thoughts in recent weeks, I cannot resist jotting down a few reflections.  Fundamentally, I think it would be a real shame were Scotland to leave Great Britain, but if that’s what the majority of Scots want, then it’s their choice!  Both Scotland and England will be the weaker for it, but I have absolutely no doubt that the net effect on Scotland’s life and economy will be very much worse than will be the impact on England and Wales.  So, if the Scots who are allowed to vote do indeed vote to leave Great Britain, then good riddance to them!

Edinburgh view small

The following seem to be relevant points:

  • The Scots and the English, along with the Welsh, have all contributed together to the rich diversity of Britain over many centuries, and the creation of independent countries would, without doubt, reduce the richness of such interaction to the detriment of all.
  • The campaign by those wanting independence has been strong on emotion, and weak on economic rigour; those in favour of keeping the two countries together have been much stronger on the economic arguments, and weaker on the emotion.  I have always thought that it might just be that the emotion wins.
  • Those in favour of a “yes” vote have done all they can to rig the elections in their favour!  I’m amazed that they were allowed to get away with lowering the voting age to include everyone above 16, thereby seeking to increase their share of the vote on the assumption that more young people will vote in favour of independence!
  • Given that the vote has implications for everyone who lives in Great Britain, I feel quite strongly that everyone should have been allowed to vote, and not just those Scots living in Scotland.  However, I’m not sure how this would have affected the result!  I suspect that many English people have become rather fed up with the Scots as the campaign has worn on, and would actually have voted to kick them out!
  • Another ploy to increase the share of the “yes” vote has undoubtedly been to restrict those eligible to vote mainly to people living in Scotland.  What about all of the Scots living in England or Wales?  Again, I assume that because they live in another part of Britain, many of these would want to keep Britain united.
  • The statement about who will be allowed to become a Scottish citizen on independence is not exactly clear and straightforward!  Many of us living in Britain have multiple ancestors, and have as much right to be called Scottish as English, Welsh or Irish!
  • I’m amused that England and Scotland actually came together in the form of a personal union when James VI of Scotland also came to rule England as James I on the death of Queen Elizabeth without issue in 1603. In one sense, therefore, if Scotland leaves, those of us in England can at last claim we have overthrown the incompetent and corrupt Scottish kings!
  • Scots should think very carefully about the viability of their proposed state.  With only around 5.3 million people, compared with England’s more than 56 million, it is hard to see how the Scots will find a large enough market to provide the spending power and tax revenue to enable the country to prosper.
  • I find many of the assertions of those supporting the “yes” campaign to be based on rather dubious evidence or logic.  To take but three examples, the uncertainty over what its currency will be (especially since England has said no to their use of the pound), the likelihood of being accepted into the European Union (especially since countries like Spain that do not want “nationalities” such as Catalunya also to gain independence will refuse permission), and declining revenues from North Sea oik and gas, all seem to make it very uncertain that Scots will continue to prosper as an independent state.
  • I think it was a very retrograde step for the current British government to make so many offers for further powers to be given to the Scottish Government were they to vote to remain by a small margin within Britain. To my mind, these have gone too far, and will eventually lead to further fragmentation of Britain.  Underlying my view here is simply the belief that the cultural richness of Britain has been very heavily influenced by so many good things from people living in all of its different regions that to cut one of these off will be detrimental to those living elsewhere.  We have much more to gain from being together, than from living separately.  Furthermore, such additional benefits will in turn undoubtedly lead to other parts of Britain, such as Wales, Cornwall, Yorkshire and the Revolutionary Workers Republic of Virginia Water, seeking yet further powers, that will yet further fragment our integral island.
  • My hunch is also that Scotland, given its size, will be relatively insignificant on the global stage in the future, and will not actually be able much to influence international agendas.  Perhaps, though, this is what the Scots who vote in favour actually want: to be nobodies.  To be sure, fragmented, the rest of Britain will be weakened, but it seems likely that England will indeed remain a relatively much more dominant player on the international stage.

There is so much more that I could write.  Like many, I had hoped and thought that the “yes” vote would have been weaker than it appears to be, and that the rich diversity of Britain would be maintained through a strong “no”vote.  The likely outcome of the vote, though, would now seem to be too close to call.  I will indeed feel sad should those Scots permitted to vote do indeed selfishly decide for independence, but at the same time I hope to live long enough to be quietly happy when most of them live to regret such a decision!

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Old Town Dhaka


Finishing meetings early provided an ideal opportunity to experience something of the vibrancy, colour and energy of the old town of Dhaka by the riverside and the Ahsan Manzil Palace Museum.  Thanks so much to colleagues from Ericsson for their hospitality.  Mind you, this area should be avoided when students are sitting exams!  The crowded streets made progress very, very slow, but nevertheless gave me time to take lots of photos of rickshaws!

 

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Grameenphone hosted cultural dinner at CTO’s Annual Forum


One of the very real privileges of being Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation is the opportunity that it has given me to visit so many different countries and people across the Commonwealth.  It is so important that we celebrate our cultural differences and richness, rather than trying to create a single uniform market across the world! The CTO’s Annual Forum is always an occasion when our host countries share something of their culture, usually in the form of dance and music.  Last night was a very special occasion.  Grameenphone, which started with the Village Phone programme to empower the rural women of Bangladesh in 1997, became the first operator to cover 99% of the country’s people with network, and is now  the leading and largest telecommunications service provider in Bangladesh with more than 48.68 million subscribers as of March 2014.  It was such an honour to meet with Vivek Sood, CEO of Grameen phone and his staff, and I hope that the imagery below captures something of the  excitement, beauty and energy of this wonderful evening. Thank you so much to all of the dancers and musicians who shared so much of their culture with us.

 

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Rapid tour of northern New Zealand wineries


Twelve hours between flights into and out of Auckland provided a great opportunity to explore some of New Zealand’s more northerly vineyards.  Despite only having a couple of hours sleep before arriving around 05.00, and with a forecast of rain and thunderstorms, I set off northwards in the dark and rain.  The only trouble was that most of the wineries did not open until around 11.00, and so I had a lot of time to explore the surrounding countryside – much like the Scottish borders, and so very wet!

However it was great at last to see the vineyards and wineries at Kumeu River, Nobilo and Vila Maria (all pictured below).  Fortunately, the sun came out amazingly for a few short minutes when I was at Kumeu River, and so I could actually get some pictures that had a bit of brightness and contrast in them!  Their Chardonnays have long been one of my favourite New Zealand wines, and they are some of the closest New World wines to traditional Burgundies.  Visiting on a very rainy day, though, emphasised the heavy clay soils on which the Kumeu River vineyards are cultivated, a marked contrast to some of limestone soils of Burgundy!  I will have to look into that and explore further.

Not sure I would necessarily recommend driving a couple of hundred kilometres between flights in the rain, especially since to keep on the safe side I did not even taste any of the wines!  It was privilege enough, though,  just to visit!

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Imagery of Samoa


Over the last few days participating at the UN Small Island Developing States conference in Samoa, I usually left my hotel before the sun was properly up, and have returned after dark. Having come all this way to the Pacific, I could not resist the temptation to go and explore something of the countryside this morning, and so decided to set off for a couple of hours walking along the south coast near the Sinelei Reef Resort. Below are some of the images I took to try to capture the experience.

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I have a kaleidoscope of reflections about Samoa and its people! They keep asking me what I think about my all-too-short time here, and so I also want to share some thoughts here.

It is amazing how much effort the government and people put into convening the conference. This is visible everywhere, from the bunting and painted coconuts along the roadsides in the villages, to the tremendous effort that has gone in to arranging transport for the delegates. This shows the enormous warmth and generosity of the Samoans.

I really appreciated learning from the government officials who accompanied delegates in the mini-buses and shuttles that took us to and from our accommodation. They went out of their way to be helpful and to provide deep insights into island life. Much of what follows reflects their voices. I have to say, though, that not all delegates treated them with the courtesy that I think they deserved!

Samoa seems to be a very gentle and peaceful island, and it has had remarkable political stability over recent years. In part, people say, this is down to culture, and especially the role of Christianity. I don’t think I have ever been somewhere where there are so many churches, often several of different denominations in a single village!

One of the most striking things is the open-sided houses that are to be seen everywhere in rural areas. At night, as I was regularly driven across the island, people were very visible just relaxing in their houses, many of which had bright white mosquito nets showing up very brightly in the electric light.

As for agriculture, the dominant crops were definitely coconuts, bananas and taro, which could be seen everywhere in the lower lying areas of the island. However, I was surprised to see so many cattle grazing, and somehow had not expected the very considerable number of horses that were to be seen! These were the main form of transport before cars were introduced, and many still remain, both as beasts of burden but also for riding for riding and racing.

The island, though, has very clear vegetation zones, and as one ascends the hilly centre, and then falls down to Apia in the north, these are very obvious, with the bananas and coconuts being replaced by a wide range of forest trees. It is also reflected in the weather. One night, there was torrential rain where I was staying, but it had been perfectly dry in the capital, Apia.

The coast itself is amazing, lined with coconuts and with beautiful beaches, stretching away for miles. My photos do not really do this justice! For those who want to get away from everything, and just relax, this would be an ideal place to do so. I can also thoroughly recommend my hotel, the Sinalei Reef Resort! It has a rustic, eco-friendly atmosphere, so very different from the modern luxury resorts to be found across many other Pacific islands. The staff were wonderfully friendly, and were always there to offer advice in the gentle Samoan way.

Samoa also seems to be much less influenced by US culture and style, when compared with other islands such as Fiji. This was wonderfully refreshing! However, other external influences are increasingly obvious, not least the Chinese, who helped to develop the impressive new hospital in Apia, are running many of the shops and small supermarkets, and are also constructing a new building complex in one of the villages through which I walked – apparently, I was told, a school.

I confess I did not know that Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island and Kidnapped was buried on the hill overlooking Apia. Next time I visit, I will have to take the long walk to the top to understood why this was his chosen spot!

My one sadness was that almost every child I met on my walk said to me at some point “Give me money”. This was not an aggressive begging, but it made me think back to the wise advice I was given by my dear friend Sudhir on my first visit to India. What, I think, saddened me most about this was the sense of dependency that was being created. The resonating “Give me money” came so often as I walked past buildings funded by donors such as UNDP and the EU, and it made me realise that all too often such aid, alongside the practice of many tourists who not doubt do give them money, is in some ways demeaning and creating even amongst the youngest islanders a dependent relationship that has to be damaging to their culture. I wanted to say to the children, “Give me your wisdom”, or “Let me learn from you”, but I did not have the linguistic skills to say this.

Overall, I am so grateful for the warmth, gentleness and genuine hospitality of all those Samoans who I met. I have tried to capture my fresh memories here, as a small gift to them, and to encourage others to journey across the oceans to experience something of the peace and beauty of the island. Tread gently, though, so that our presence may enhance rather than damage this wonderful island.

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Pacific Island Dancing: Lifeline Samoa


I had the unexpected pleasure of accidentally attending a dance performance by an amazing group of Samoans who were raising money this evening for Samoa Lifeline (Faataua Le Ol), which is  is the islands’ only non-government organisation dedicated to achieving a suicide free Samoa. Its main aim is to provide the people of Samoa with information, general and more specific help with any problems they may have that might lead them to be distressed enough to possibly consider suicide. It is a great initiative, and the dancers performed a range of dances reflecting those from different parts of the Pacific Islands, albeit largely in a modern idiom.  They were so good that I just want to share these images below:

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