Mapping the new telecentre

Growing affordable access to Information and Communication Technologies have seriously questioned the need for telecentres in recent years (read telecentres as any kind of public access points, from libraries to cybercafes). After some times of hesitation, it does seem to be an increasing agreement that, far from becoming useless, telecentres are serving a second wave of citizen needs related to accessing ICTs. Thus, the provision of digital literacy and digital skills to fight a second level digital divide, and the provision of relevant content and services are displacing what before was the domain of (mere) physical access to technology.

It seems just natural to think that if the goals and means of the telecentre change, so should its organization.

I would like to propose here that this change of organization should be built upon three main pillars:

  • Being part of and contribute to a network or series of networks.
  • Establishing win-win partnerships with other agents (public and/or private).
  • Building communities.

Being a network

Let’s state the fact that every telecentre is a world, as it needs to adapt itself to the community it is embedded on: culture, socioeconomic profiles, social and individual needs, etc. all determine (or should determine) what the telecentre does and what the telecentre is. Nevertheless, there are several aspects of a telecentre that do scale: creating some generic or basic content, some certain solutions that can be easily adapted, some managing stuff… There is quite some evidence that telecentres that belong to a network have a higher probability of surviving in the long run. For instance, by outsourcing (some) telecentre administration and thus diminishing some costs.

But networks are not only made of similar institutions: there may be institutions that could benefit from the telecentre’s knowledge but that will never approach their venue. Insourcing telecentres into organizations creating into them ICT centres managed by the telecentre is another way to gaining both sustainability and meaning by beig part of a network.

Scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment
Mapping the new telecentre: networks

[Click to enlarge]

Establishing partnerships

Many institutions need to boost their services and content in a digital and online way; many telecentres, with a strong presence in a digital or online world need relevant services and content in which to embed training on digital competences and skills. It just looks natural that a partnership will be highly valuable for everyone’s purposes. Partnerships with governments in the field of e-government or ICTs and education, or partnerships with the private sector in the field of e-commerce or strategic consultancy can be good places where to begin.

More important, indeed, these partnerships can provide a mix of not-for profit or subsidised and for-profit activity, depending on the target user, the nature and goals of the partnership, etc. Telecentres should not avoid charging for some services (many already do) with the idea of providing a wide range of products, letting the user to chose what and how much — instead of the telecentre deciding for the user.

Scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment
Mapping the new telecentre: partnerships

[Click to enlarge]

Community building

It is common knowledge that the telecentre should adapt itself to the place where it is based. And it is also common knowledge in development studies that there is no sustainable development if it is not endogenous, that it, if it not build upon a community — or builds a community, and empowered one.

But there are several ways to do so. Networks and partnerships are a part of it. But it kind of is doing things from the outside: what telecentres would surely need — and libraries, and schools, and civic centres, and… — is being the community, that is, not helping others, but being themselves. It is not usually so: when we speak about e-inclusion we still see it with split roles: telecentres and ICTs on the one hand, the rest of the community on the other one. Working together, yes, but not merged one with another.

I believe that we should shift from the ICT Centre to the Centre-with-ICTs. Civic centres (with a normalized use of ICTs) and schools (with a normalized use of ICTs) are good examples of community based “centers-with-ICTs”. Of course, teachers would perform one role, and telecentre staff another one, but the important thing is that everyone believes that there is not such a thing as telecentre staff embedded in the school, but people working for education with the help of ICTs. Living labs (with a normalized use of ICTs) and centres or communities for social entrepreneurship (with a normalized use of ICTs) are other centers-with-ICTs, this time based on local entrepreneurs.

Scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment
Mapping the new telecentre: communities

[Click to enlarge]

Here is where the telecentre becomes a virtual telecentre: has the functions and roles of a traditional telecentre, operates in a network of virtual telecenters, and outsources much of its administration (to the network or to the hosting institution), thus being able to concentrate on its specific tasks and goals. But it does not any more rely or focus on physical access to technology. It’s the function, not the place, what’s in its name.

Originally to be published on September 3, 2014, as Mapping the New Telecentre at Telecentre.org’s Expert Corner. A Spanish version of this article has also been published as Mapeando el nuevo telecentro. All the articles published in that blog can also be accessed here.

Thesis Defence. Sara Vannini: Social Representations of Community Multimedia Centres in Mozambique

Thesis defence by Sara Vannini entitled Social Representations of Community Multimedia Centres in Mozambique, in Lugano at the of the Università della Svizzera italiana. June 6, 2014.

Sara Vannini: Social Representations of Community Multimedia Centres in Mozambique

UNESCO creates in 2001 the concept of community multimedia centres (CMC), a kind of public access points to the Internet, which Mozambique applies to fight against poverty. These centres have since their inception been in the debate of schoolars, who find on them both successes and failures.

Key issues:

  • Sustainability: financial, political, ethical, social…
  • Impact: social, economical…
  • They represent huge investments.

There are huge design-reality gaps between what happens in the lab, or the design of the intervention, and what is at last implemented. There is more need for context, and here the concept of social representation comes very handy.

  • Enables individuals to orientate themselves and interpret their (new) world.
  • It is a relationship between one’s ego, the others and objects (or the object of their relationship): there is inter-subjectivity. And this relationship happens in a context.
  • As realities change along time, so do relationships and thus the social representations that people have.

Applications of social representation theory:

  • Inclusion of context.
  • Participatory action research, design-oriented approach.
  • Used to inform policy-makers and to find drivers for individual actions.

Field work

10 CMC out of 34 centres in Mozambique, chosen by kind of ownership, who was managing them, what kind of services were they providing, location. Most of them provide community radio, computers and connectivity; some of them did not offer Internet connection and two of them had only the community radio working.

Qualitative interviews were carried on, including photo-elicitation, as it fosters the reflection, empowers the interviewee, decreases the risk of pre-conceived responses, offers richer data to the researcher, etc. Photo-elicitation was participant-driven: participants were asked to provide their own pictures as an answer to the questions produced by the interviewer.

Data analysis

Photo-taxonomy; deductive content analysis on photos-related text; inductive content analysis; automatic analysis of the reciprocal relationships among textual units.

Outcomes

CMC are perceived as two parts: community radio and a telecentre.

Community radio is about information and having political role. It also has a strong role in building community, both at the local level as at the national level, establishing a link with the rest of the country. Community radio is also related with edutainment: education and entertainment.

The telecentre is about learning, and learning how to use a computer, basic software packages, etc. It is not perceived as a communication space but, on the contrary, as a business centre where one can carry one different tasks as photocopying, etc. The telecentre is also a financial resources centre, as it provides income after some services.

As seen, with social representation theory, de design-reality gap is addressed and the methodology can be used for policy-making. It can provide insights on appropriation and reinvention of a (new) social object.

Telecentres do not offer contextualized services, as the community radio does. There is a need for more advanced services.

Discussion

Erkki Sutinen: does the name CMS still carry too much meaning? Cannot we use a name that is not a definition on itself? Does this make any different in the usage or the appropriation of the venue, because it is artificial? Or does the definition constrains the evolution of the service? Vannini: What the research tells is that the definition is needed for people to understand and to appropriate a new object/venue/service. Of course we do not have to be slaves of our definitions and these have to be flexible.

Erkki Sutinen: can we develop schools in other means, e.g. merging with telecentres, and create a new kind of institution? Can we get rid of CMS and build instead new kind of services that put together many needs with many solutions? Vannini: Agreed. That is exactly the role of the community radio, that goes beyond a “mere radio”. There are many things that telecentres could copy from community radios, especially in what relates to everything else that a community radio represents.

Ismael Peña-López: how can we “simplify” this methodology and embed it in the usual e-readiness indicators? Vannini: there are methods of social representation that can be scaled, but nevertheless people should be asked and participate and tell what is happening at their level, and inform indicators.

Ismael Peña-López: could we use big data analysis and content analysis to infer what people is thinking of CMC and the use they are doing? Vannini: sure, but we may risk excluding important people from our analysis that are using the centres but not participating in these social netorking sites.

Erkki Sutinen: is there any feeling of status embedded in the technology, of proudness of having the telecentre in their community? Where there technical issues or fears that people did not take into account because of the aforementioned “proudness”? Vannini: yes, there was some status-factor, but it did not seem very important. Indeed, there were technical issues but generally related with macro-level issues like power outages, etc. At the micro level, there sure is room for improvement when it comes to educating and training telecentre managers: this would definitely make a difference.

Erkki Sutinen: can we measure not only representation but attitudes after this methodology? Vannini: this analysis was not done, but we can tell, from the interviews, that many people did not have the attitudes related with creativity, or challenging how things are.

Ismael Peña-López: can this research identify developmental outcomes due to CMC? could they go a step beyond, from empowerment to governance? Vannini: the research was a snapshot of a given reality, not the analysis of an evolution. But, during interviews many people stated how they had gained empowerment, how they could no make some decisions about their lives that they could not before. This was especially relevant with connected centres.

Erkki Sutinen: why this methodology? why not? Vannini: maybe more time with less centres would have been better. But this methodology was very useful given the time available and space to be covered.

Ismael Peña-López: we now have telecenters, hubs, co-working spaces, libraries, fab-labs, etc. You have 20 billion Meticals, or half a billion Swiss Francs, what do you do? Do you create more CMC? Both in Mozambique and Switzerland? Vannini: would invest on education of the operators and in the community at large.

Erkki Sutinen: is the idea of an ICT4D discipline over? what is the agenda of the research on ICT4D? Vannini: won’t get obsolete until all differences are reduced to their minimum expression. It is true that a middle class is emerging, but still poorer communities exist, and not only in Africa but everywhere, and are somewhat becoming more important indeed in some areas.

Lorenzo Cantoni: how would a research be designed to measure the impact of mobile technologies on CMC in particular and in developing areas in general? Vannini: first of all, not only individual or isolated appropriation should be measured, but how different technologies are being integrated among themselves.

PS: congratulations, doctor Vannini!

The future of libraries, if they have any

Idescat — the Catalan national statistics institute — published in late 2013, the update to the 2012 Library Statistics where it stated, among other things, that in 2012, “the number of users grew up to 4.5 million [the Catalan population is calculated to be 7.5 million], 18.3% more than two years ago”. Almost a month later, Professor Xavier Sala-i-Martin stated at the national television that “when the Internet comes, librarians lose their jobs”. This statement was later on developed with more depth in his blog post Internet, Librarians and Librarianship.

Can both statements be true at the same time? Or is someone plain wrong?

Probably the best explanation for these apparently opposing statements, and one explanation that makes them fully compatible, has to do with the present and the future of libraries.

In recent years we have been witnessing how Information and Communication Technologies turned everything upside down, especially (but not only) knowledge-intensive activities. And, among all knowledge-intensive institutions, libraries are no doubt part of the leading group. The Public Library Association explains the whole matter: an increase in the demand for library services, an increase in the use of WiFi networks, in increase in the use of library computers, an increase in training on digital skills. In short, most users are not only going to libraries asking for borrowing books — which they of course do — but they increasingly go to libraries looking for a means to gain access to the Information Society.

But not merely physical access but quality access: what in the arena of digital inclusion has ended up being called the second digital divide. That is, once physical access to infrastructures has “ceased” to be an issue, what is needed is training in digital skills, and guidance in its use. Using an extemporaneous metaphor, once one has a new car, what she then needs is a driving licence.

So, we see there is more demand. But what about staff cuts?

It turns out that, unlike many of the traditional roles of libraries, when it comes to overcoming the first (access) and second (skills) digital divide, many different actors come together to work in the later issue. Both inside and outside libraries. These new actors simply are a consequence to the change (or enlargement) of the roles of the library, a consequence that has now found competitors both in the market as in the public sector itself. A recent study by the European Commission, Measuring the Impact of eInclusion actors shows how, in addition to libraries, many other actors work in the field of e-inclusion (each one in their own way), such as telecentres, Internet cafes, some schools, fee WiFi access points, some bookstores, bars and cafes, etc.

These new actors, indeed, also often operate inside libraries: libraries many times subcontract the services of telecentres or other “cybercentres” — or their personnel’s — either for managing the public computer network or to impart training related to digital skills.

So, summing up, this is what we have so far: the growing need for digital competence does increase the use and demand for training in issues related to information management (and therefore fills libraries with people) but the diversity of functions and (new) actors means that, in the end, it take less ‘librarians’ but more ‘experts in information management and digital skills’.

Yes, some concepts are written between quotation because, most likely, they already are or will soon be the same thing. And thus we enter the topic of the future of libraries.

Empirical evidence tells us that information, the Internet, is increasingly ceasing to be a goal in itself, a differentiating factor, to become a generally purpose technology. If getting to the information ceases to be a goal to become a tool it is because it a (usually ad hoc) tool to be used “passing” in the pursuit of another task. Whatever that is: today it is practically impossible not to find a job, whatever trivial may be, that does not incorporate a greater or lesser degree of information, or of communication among peers.

Thus, beyond getting information it now becomes mandatory learning to learn and managing knowledge: it is not, again, about gaining access to information, but about taking control of the process of gaining access to information, of knowing how one got to a specific set of information so that the process can be replicated it in the future.

Finally, and related to the previous two points, access to information ceases to be the end of the way to become a starting point. Thus, the library and other e-intermediaries become open gates towards e-Government, e-Health, e-Learning… almost everything to which one can add an “e-” in front of it.

That is, information as an instrument, the quest for information as a skill, and getting to the desired piece of information to keep looking for information and be able to perform other tasks also rich in information. And begin the beguine.

Tacitly or explicitly, libraries are already moving in this direction. If we forget for a moment politeness and political correctness, we can say that libraries and the system working in the same field are already leaving behind piling up paper to focus on transferring skills so that others can pile their own information, which most likely will also not be printed. Fewer libraries, but more users.

It’s worth making a last statement about this “system working in the same field” because the formal future of libraries, especially public ones, will largely depend on (a) hot they are able to integrate the functions of the “competition” or (b) how they are able to stablish shared strategies with this competition.

If we briefly listed before telecentres, cybercafés, schools, free WiFi access points, bookshops, bars and cafes as converging actors in the field of e-intermediation, we should definitely add to this list innovation hubs, co-working spaces, fab labs, community centres and a large series of centres, places and organizations that have incorporated ICTs in their day to day and are open to the public.

This whole system — libraries included — is not only working for access but for the appropriation of technology and information management; they have make centres evolve into central meeting places where access to information is yet another tool; and they have become areas of co-creation where the expected outcome is a result of enriched information resulting from peer interaction.

The future of the library will be real if it is able to cope with these new tasks and establish a strategic dialogue with other actors. It will probably require a new institution — not necessarily with a new name — that allows talking inside the library, or cooking, or printing 3D objects or setting up a network of Raspberry Pi microcomputers connected to an array of Arduinos. Or mayble the library — especially if it is public — should lead a network of organizations with a shared strategy so that no one is excluded from this new system of e-intermediation, of access (real, quantitative) to knowledge management.

I personally I think that libraries are already at this stage. I am not so sure, though, that is is the stage where we find the ones promoting a zillion e-inclusion initiatives, the ones promoting modernizing the administration, educational technology, smart cities and a long list of projects, all of which have, in essence, the same diagnosis… but that seemingly everyone aims at healing on their own.

Originally published on March 28, 2014, as El futur de les biblioteques, si és que en tenen at the Fundació Jaume Bofill blog at El Diari de l’Educació). All the articles published in that blog can be accessed at the original site in Catalan or here in the English translation.

Open Social Innovation

Innovation, open innovation, social innovation… is there such a thing as open social innovation? Is there innovation in the field of civic action that is open, that shares protocols and processes and, above all, outcomes? Or, better indeed, is there a collectively created innovative social action whose outcomes are aimed at collective appropriation?

Innovation

It seems unavoidable, when speaking about innovation, to quote Joseph A. Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy:

The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.

In the aforementioned work and in Business Cycles: a Theoretical, Historical and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process he stated that innovation necessarily had to end up with existing processes, and that entire enterprises and industries would be destroyed with the coming of new ways of doing things, as the side effect of innovation. This creative destruction would come from, at least, the following fronts:

  • A new good or service in the market (e.g. tablets vs. PCs).
  • A new method of production or distribution of already existing goods and services (e.g. music streaming vs. CDs).
  • Opening new markets (e.g. smartphones for elderly non-users).
  • Accessing new sources of raw materials (e.g. fracking).
  • The creation of a new monopoly or the destruction of an existing one (e.g. Google search engine)

Social innovation

Social innovation is usually described as innovative practices that strengthen civil society. Being this a very broad definition, I personally like how Ethan Zuckerman described social innovation in the Network Society. According to his innovation model:

  1. Innovation comes from constraint.
  2. Innovation fights culture.
  3. Innovation does embrace market mechanisms.
  4. Innovation builds upon existing platforms.
  5. Innovation comes from close observation of the target environment.
  6. Innovation focuses more on what you have more that what you lack.
  7. Innovation is based on a “infrastructure begets infrastructure” basis.

His model comes from a technological approach — and thus maybe has a certain bias towards the culture of engineering — but it does explain very well how many social innovations in the field of civil rights have been working lately (e.g. the Spanish Indignados movement).

Open innovation

The best way to define open innovation is after Henry W. Chesbrough’s Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating And Profiting from Technology, which can be summarized as follows:

Closed Innovation Principles Open Innovation Principles
The smart people in the field work for us. Not all the smart people in the field work for us. We need to work with smart people inside and outside the company.
To profit from R&D, we must discover it, develop it, and ship it ourselves. External R&D can create significant value: internal R&D is needed to claim some portion of that value.
If we discover it ourselves, we will get it to the market first. We don’t have to originate the research to profit from it.
If we create the most and the best ideas in the industry, we will win. If we make the best use of internal and external ideas, we will win.
We should control our IP, so that our competitors don’t profit from our ideas. We should profit from others’ use of our IP, and we should buy others’ IP whenever it advances our business model.

Open Social Innovation

The question is, can we try and find a way to mix all the former approaches? Especially, can we speak about how to have social innovation being open?

In my opinion, there is an important difference between social innovation and innovation that happens in the for-profit environment:

  1. The first one, and more obvious, is that while the former one has to somehow capture and capitalize the benefits of innovation, the second one is sort of straightforward: if the innovation exists, then society can “automatically” appropriate it.
  2. The second one is the real cornerstone: while (usually) the important thing in (for-profit) open innovation is the outcome, in social innovation it (usually) is more important the process followed to achieve a goal rather than achieving the goal itself.

Thus, in this train of thought, open social innovation is the creative destruction that aims at making up new processes that can be appropriated by the whole of civil society. I think there are increasingly interesting examples of open social innovation in the field of social movements, of e-participation and e-democracy, the digital commons, P2P practices, hacktivism and artivism, etc.

I think that open social innovation has three main characteristics that can be fostered by three main actions of policies.

Characteristics

  • Decentralization. Open social innovation allows proactive participation, and not only directed participation. For this to happen, content has to be separated from the container, or tasks be detached from institutions.
  • Individualization. Open social innovation allows individual participation, especially at the origin of innovation. This does not mean that collective innovation is bad or avoided, but just that individuals have much flexibility o start on their own. This is only possible with the atomization of processes and responsibilities, thus enabling maximum granularity of tasks and total separation of roles.
  • Casual participation. Open social innovation allows participation to be casual, just in time, and not necessarily for a log period of time or on a regular basis. This is only possible by lowering the costs of participation, including lowering transaction costs thus enabling that multiple actors can join innovative approaches.

Policies

How do we foster decentralization-individualization-casual participation? how do we separate content from the container? how do we atomize processes, enable granularity? how do we lower costs of participation and transaction costs?

  • Provide context. The first thing an actor can do to foster open social innovation is to provide a major understanding of what is the environment like, what is the framework, what are the global trends that affect collective action.
  • Facilitate a platform. It is not about creating a platform, it is not about gathering people around our initiative. It deals about identifying an agora, a network and making it work. Sometimes it will be an actual platform, sometimes it will be about finding out an existing one and contributing to its development, sometimes about attracting people to these places, sometimes about making people meet.
  • Fuel interaction. Build it and they will come? Not at all. Interaction has to be boosted, but without interferences so not to dampen distributed, decentralized leadership. Content usually is king in this field. But not any content, but filtered, grounded, contextualized and hyperlinked content.

Some last thoughts

Let us now think about the role of some nonprofits, political parties, labour unions, governments, associations, mass media, universities and schools.

It has quite often been said that most of these institutions — if not all — will perish with the change of paradigm towards a Networked or Knowledge Society. I actually believe that all of them will radically change and will be very different from what we now understand by these institutions. Disappear?

While I think there is less and less room for universities and schools to “educate”, I believe that the horizon that is now opening for them to “enable and foster learning” is tremendously huge. Thus, I see educational institutions having a very important role as context builders, platform facilitators and interaction fuellers. It’s called learning to learn.

What for democratic institutions? I cannot see a bright future in leading and providing brilliant solutions for everyone’s problems. But I would definitely like to see them having a very important role as context builders, platform facilitators and interaction fuellers. It’s called open government.

Same for nonprofits of all purposes. Rather than solving problems, I totally see them as empowering people and helping them to go beyond empowerment and achieve total governance of their persons and institutions, through socioeconomic development and objective choice, value change and emancipative values, and democratization and freedom rights.

This is, actually, the turn that I would be expecting in the following years in most public and not-for-profit institutions. They will probably become mostly useless with their current organizational design, but they can definitely play a major role in society if they shift towards open social innovation.

e-Supervision (VII). Concluding Session

Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Questions/guidelines prepared by the session moderator, Ismael Peña-López

  • How can e-supervision be implemented on a large scale?
  • What measures should be taken?
  • What resources would be needed?
  • What incentives should be offered (if any) to the supervisors?
  • Are supervisors able – in terms of skills and competences – to go on with e-supervision? What skills/training should they have?
  • What different roles can be identified campus-wide when putting up an e-supervision programme? What actors?
  • How do we assess e-supervision itself?
  • How do we assess the outcomes of e-supervision (i.e. research)?
  • How do we make sure quality of research stays at its highest level?
  • Can e-supervision “distract” researchers from their original work (i.e. focus in the forms and not the ends)?

 

  • Do you think that e-supervision could be obstructed by higher risk of plagiarism?
  • Do you think that e-supervision could be obstructed by requirements of original/unpublished work now undisclosed by e-supervision itself?
  • Do you think that e-supervision can put any especial concern on intellectual property rights, privacy, or other rights related to authors or works in general?

Concluding Session

Hilligje van’t Land, Director, Membership and Programme Development, IAU

How can e-supervision be implemented?

Let’s start with the basics and see how we can move on.

Let’s think about how to do the research, how to change the mindset of doing research, about networking, about the internationalization of the process.

What measures should be taken?

Leadership truly is key to the whole process of implementing e-supervision.

What are the incentives?

Is money the right incentive? does it scale? is it sustainable?

Universities could share their initiatives and experiences at http://www.idea-phd.net/

A very important issue is to create a community. A community within the team, the department, the university, across universities… a sense of community of e-supervisors and people interested or working on e-supervision.

Olive Mugenda, Vice-Chancellor, Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya

We need a framework to guide universities through e-supervision.

One of the major concerns is quality. Maintaining a standard of quality.

Related to quality, there’s monitoring, to guarantee that the whole process is working smoothly.

What modalities are there? What methodologies?

How frequently people should communicate, when, how… some guidelines that are just illustrative, but that can provide a framework that everybody understands and agrees upon.

What is the balance between traditional supervision and e-supervision?

Josep M. Vilalta, Executive Secretary, Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

A need indeed for a framework and guidelines to effectively implement e-supervision.

e-Supervision does not necessarily have to be 100% online, but can also explore a blended or hybrid approach, where traditional and e-supervision models can complement each other, as it is already happening at the undergraduate and master levels.

e-Supervision can also be very interesting in “industrial doctorates”, which consist in enterprise-university agreements to develop research that can lead towards the completion of a PhD.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

e-Supervision (VI). How can e-supervision contribute to improve doctoral education in Africa

Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Questions/guidelines prepared by the session moderator, Ismael Peña-López

  • What are the main challenges for quality MSc/PhD supervision in Africa?
  • Are they more of a technological, financial or cultural nature?
  • How is Africa different from e.g. Europe in this sense?
  • Do you foresee any convergence of methodologies and culture in doing research in general and supervision in particular in the world?
  • How can ICTs in general contribute to addressing these challenges?
  • How can e-learning in general contribute to addressing these challenges?
  • How can ICTs and e-learning be translated into e-supervision? …in Africa?

 

  • What is the hottest topic/challenge in supervision in Africa?
  • How could e-supervision address it?
  • What is the most emerging topic/challenge of e-supervision in Africa?
  • How should it be addressed it?

Round Table: How can e-supervision contribute to improve doctoral education in Africa

Itir Akdogan, Social Research/Media and Communication Studies, Helsinki University (via videoconference)

Access to technology, not only infrastructures but cultural: lack of habit to use ICT for academic research, preference for face-to-face.

Lack of access to information.

Lack of research culture, of pressure to publish.

Role of ICTs:

  • Access to information.
  • Increase of research culture.
  • Improve interaction, not only one-to-one, but collective.
  • Modest is good, simple but effective solutions.

Beware of exclusion because of e-euphoria: need to keep on with face-to-face event important for networking.

Paul Okemo, Dean of Graduate School, Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya

Importance of development of human resources and knowledge generation.

There is a national commitment to improve the amount of people educated, which has been successful. But now the massive intake of new students, especially at the PhD level, is seriously challenging the system.

e-supervision can help in providing a solution to this challenge.

We try no to go online on expense of quality.

One of the major challenges of e-supervision is monitoring to ensure quality.

Another issue is how to assess all the work that the students are doing.

About the costs, it is likely that connection costs are lower than travel costs to attend face-to-face meetings.

An important challenge is the change of mindset, both for students and supervisors.

Expectations:

  • Learn from others.
  • Try and benchmark what everyone else is doing and share milestones.

Chrissie Boughey and Sioux McKenna, Rhodes University, South Africa

In order to gain a doctorate you have to demonstrate that you are like other doctors.

And in order to do that you have to use language in a specific way. PhD training is about teaching someone to be particular type of knower, in oder to speak, write and act in particular way.

Supervision is about bringing the student in the particular world of the text, the written text.

The danger of e-supervision is what happens that is not tracked, that is not formalized by technology, the lack context, the lack of physical contact. And the formal places where academic stuff happens cannot be substituted by other practices: so we have to learn how to make both worlds be compatible, how to go from e-supervision onto the formality of the academic world. It’s important to translate what has been “e-discussed” into the paper, the communication, the journal, which is the language that the academic world speaks.

Ousmane Thiaré, IT Specialist, Professor, Université Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis, Senegal

In Senegal as in other places of Western Africa infrastructure still is an issue.

And, again, not only infrastructures, but culture.

Besides, there is also is the fear that technology will replace human beings (i.e. professors) and make them irrelevant.

Necessary to have a work plan, a commitment, a kind of “contract” where roles and procedures are defined in detail.

Discussion

Ismael Peña-López: Do you foresee any convergence of methodologies and culture in doing research in general and supervision in particular in the world? Can e-supervision work towards a standard in supervision? Okemo: e-supervision is going to internationalize supervision and research in general. Whether this is going to end up in standardization, that is not sure that is going to happen. It will sure bring closer different approaches, but merging them or making them converge, that is another thing that does not necessarily will happen. Boughey: this is unlikely to happen among disciplines, especially between sciences and humanities. The gap sure can be bridged, but not closed at all: the objects of research are too different.

Akdogan: when talking about e-supervision, the effort to bridge the traditional and e-research worlds should be shared. On the other hand, it may well be that e-research is more demanding than traditional research, and thus the translation would be much easier and even better than 100% offline students, which are usually less engaged. So, e-research requires more engagement, which is good, and more effort as exposure pushes towards it.

Stephen Nyaga: what would be the most effective way of monitoring e-supervisors and the whole process? Akdogan: don’t think there should be a standard and each university should have their own way. In any case, it should be simple, easy tools, with a clear schedule. Okemo: the same way that traditional supervision is structured, also e-supervision could be structured in its own way. Akdogan: but, of course, adapted to the online world and flexibility.

Ismael Peña-López: about monitoring the e-supervisor, there are two more ways. First, if we believe in a transformative approach to e-supervision, then the whole process of research and of making of the thesis will be open and we can monitor not the e-supervisor, but the outcomes of their supervision in the successes and procedures of their students. Second, if we understand the supervisors as researchers themselves and, thus, as learners, then they will have too open personal learning environments which we will be able to monitor, to follow, to interact with.

Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)