Announcement: UNESCO Chair in e-Learning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development

The UNESCO Chair in e-Learning of the Open University of Catalonia is organizing on October 6-7 its VII International Seminar, this year about Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development.

The programme and very much in the line of the UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning Fifth International Seminar: Fighting the Digital Divide through Education which I had the chance to attend. The scheduled speakers are:



Plenary Debate:

More information


Fostering ICTs: reasons why and reasons to doubt

There still are voices that claim for the usefulness of fostering ICTs, specially amongst those who consciously refuse to use the Internet or refuseniks. Most of the arguments can be grouped in two categories:

  • If they don’t use the Internet, who am I to tell them to: they know better!
  • They’ve been living for ages without the Internet and they surely can carry on living without e-mail or Facebook.

Both arguments can, at their turn, be embedded in a major trend now stating that ICTs have neither (positive) impact nor will solve any human problem (economic or not).

After a first era of e-enlightenment were the magic wand of ICTs would eradicate hunger all over the place, now ICTs have become almost useless and, according to some, the drivers of all sorts of evils.

Though pendulums finally reach their points of balance, the problem is that, while swinging, many arguments are centrifuged out impoverishing the debate. I would like to point out why I believe ICTs need being fostered and, more specifically, why we should encourage people to adopt them and use them intensively. At the end, some shades of meaning — and shadows of doubt — will be provided too.

Aggregate economic positive impact.

At the aggregate level — that is, I have to apples, you’ve got none, we’ve got one apple each in average — ICTs have already proven to have a positive impact on the Economy. There is plenty of literature about the economic benefits of ICTs: growth, efficiency, efficacy, productivity, direct impact on employment…

Is economic growth a synonym of development? Certainly not. Will a positive impact on the Economy reduce poverty? Maybe. I believe the Economy to be a means, not a goal. Thus, economic growth (or productivity or efficiency) will just tell us that we’ve got more tools to potentially achieve higher levels of what’s (to me) really the goal: more health, more education and more democracy.

An example? FrontlineSMS:Medic is saving lots of money (and time) by using mobile telephony in the healthcare system. And yes, cost is an important part in the equations of economic productivity and efficiency.

Aggregate and disaggregate non-economic positive impact.

Oh, but not all is about money.

Agreed: Fundación EHAS are contributing to save lives by dramatically reducing the time of reaction to a medical emergency by using wireless technologies between healthcare centres. My own University is providing online education to circa 50,000 students, many of them just able to get their diplomas because they can study from their own homes (or workspaces, or wherever they may roam).

Many people can, for the first time, follow online the plenary sessions of their city councils or their Parliaments, sometimes even being able to have their say and even decide in e.g. participatory budgeting initiatives.

Disaggregate levelling impact.

Of course, the disaggregate level is much harder than the aggregate one. As Matti Tedre put it, the fact that plumbers now attend their customers on their mobile phones won’t rocket the demand up: the demand will remain stable and the mobile phone a cost to kill competition.

Though I mostly agree with this point of view (i.e. ICTs are no magic wands), at least Three comments can be made:

The first one is that, for many knowledge economy jobs, ICTs allow for a leapfrogging strategy, where a minimum investment in capital (technology… we’re taking human capital for granted here) can have high potential returns of this investment.

The second one is that while it may be true that demand can remain stable, diminishing costs of transaction can also and actually trigger some dormant demand. Revisiting the example of online learning, I wouldn’t enrol in a University whose courses I cannot physically attend, but I may consider enrolling in an online one where presence is not due.

The third one is that, even if considering a perfect zero-sum game, where no-one can win without worsening someone else’s condition, the fact that the barriers of entering the knowledge market are much lower than e.g. entering the steel market, make worth considering fostering ICTs an option. I’m here suggesting that fostering ICTs may be good as to level the economic ground we’re all competing in.

Micro level negative impact of non-access.

The last statement is closely related to what is to be stated here: most of the times it is not about the benefits of ICTs, but about the negative impact of no ICTs.

I am convinced that ICTs can make a change, and increasingly convinced that many things have to change for ICTs to make this change. As catalysts, as multipliers, they need an initial effect which to boost or accelerate.

But even to keep the statu quo will need a major adoption of ICTs: if education won’t provide a job, but the lack of education will decrease your chances to get one, ICTs may not improve your well-being, but the lack of physical access to ICTs, lower digital skills or the difficulty to retrieve and produce digital information will certainly increase your risks of being excluded (and not only e-excluded). Like it or not, ICTs have become mandatory even if for staying in the very same spot.

Summing up.

So, in an ideal world, higher efficiency and higher productivity and higher everything would free resources so that more rewarding tasks can be performed. The Agricultural Revolution enabled the creation of civilizations and the Industrial Revolution made possible education and health for all. In an ideal world, the Digital Revolution should be able to provide more for more.

In a real world, promoting the adoption of ICTs is, at least, a way to stay where you are and not seeing your position getting worse. Not surprisingly, the only ones I heard or read talking about the needlessness of ICT adoption were the ones whose odds to get worse were already small if anything.


Francesc Pedró: Between Conservatism and Messianism: Is Technology Really Changing Student Expectations in Higher Education?

Notes from the Inaugural lecture of the course 2010-2011 of the Open University of Catalonia, held in Barcelona on September 20, 2010.

Between Conservatism and Messianism: Is Technology Really Changing Student Expectations in Higher Education?
Francesc Pedró, Senior Policy Analyst at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI).

If you cannot see the video, please visit <a href=""></a>

Has a thing like Facebook, or technology in general, changed the way learners understand learning and the world as a whole?

What do we know?

Most young students have a computer at home, and many of them own a good array of digital devices: cell phone, music or video device, laptop, etc. A quarter of them up to 5 or more. E-mailing, text messaging or instant messaging are also widely adopted practices.

The fact is that youngsters have a deep link to technology, and technology mediates most of their daily life.

But the results are not the same: higher amounts of economic, human and social/cultural capital lead to improved results thanks to ICTs. Lower socio-economic status leads to a negative impact of technology. Technology magnifies the former differences amongst individuals.

Indeed, the concept of “digital native” has become too generic to describe what’s happening at the intersection of youth+ICTs.

Have expectations changed?

So, youngsters are intensive users of technology and technology mediates their lives: do they have different expectations concerning learning? Should we have to change the way we teach?

A first problem raises when we see evidence that there are disparities between teachers’ perceptions of students and their own self-perceptions. This is especially evident when looking at the most preferred ways to learn vs. the way students are taught nowadays. For instance, though students are technology intensive users, they believe that learning is more about teamworking or learning by doing rather than about using computers in class (which on the other hand is what most edutech projects are heading to).

Some basic misconceptions:

  • In general, higher education students prioritise contact, face-to-face. It cannot be tell whether this will still be this way in the nearer future, but today’s data say so.
  • Students do not want experiments, do not want “educational innovation projects” with no guarantees of improving their learning efficiency.

What will the impact be like?

First of all: intensity of usage of computers and web 2.0 tools at school is almost non-existent or, to say the least, very very low. At the University, the level of usage amongst teachers is still low, but there seems to be a changing trend. Many of them, for instance, already use learning management systems in their teaching or have a useful library website.

Lessons learnt:

  • Technology must be engaging. Educational innovation must be risk-free.
  • Technology must be convenient. Technology must enable learning wherever, whenever. And make it easy.
  • Technology must help to increase the student’s productivity in learning. No burdens added but, on the contrary, more efficiency.

All in all, context matters, and no conclusions can be raised without taking into account the context of the educational initiative, the student, etc. Listening matters too: Universities have to listen to what their students “say” in order to get feedback (about their context) and so adjust their educational technology initiatives.

More information:


Internet, Politics, Policy (VIII). Viktor Mayer-Schönberger: Delete. The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age

Notes from the Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment conference, organized by the Oxford Internet Institute, and held at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, on September 16-17, 2010. More notes on this event: ipp2010.

Delete. The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

(Talk based on Viktor Mayer-Schönberger’s book Delete. The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.)

What once has been put on the Web, it is never again forgotten: people is losing jobs, being banned from entering countries, etc. for having put content online that has afterwards been found by third parties, and these third parties judged the content and acted in consequence. Even if the content was long out-dated, even if the content had been removed, even if the content was addressed to other people than the ones that finally accessed it.

For ages, the problem was remembering and the norm was forgetting. Many activities had precisely remembering as their goal: language, storytelling, painting, etc. And neither the book or the phone made a change by making remembering less hard or less time consuming.

But digital technologies have.

And many institutions backed their power on the capability to remember: through scribes, the printing press, the panopticon, etc.

And it is not only about power, but about time, decision and how some decisions were made at a specific time. Seen from a distance, a decision made long ago might not be easy to understand in present time. Not being able to forget, we lose the ability to generalize and look instead at the detail (taken from Borges). We might them turn from an unforgetting to an unforgiving society.

What can be done?

Privacy rights. We can empower citizens to manage their own privacy. But what we find is that people do not care.

Information ecology. We can just use/store the necessary amount of information strictly needed to perform a task. But the problem is that we cannot foresee the future and know exactly what we will be needing or not.

Digital abstinence. That is, not sharing anything on Facebook, etc. But is that realistic?

Full contextualization. Instead of abstinence, we should put all the information we have so that a reliable context can be built around any piece of information given. It is proposal of a full transparent society, but is it feasible? is it affordable in matters of time?

Cognitive adjustment. Adjust our society, our individual processing of how we evaluate information. But history tells that forcing the human being to change just won’t work, brain rewiring is not something than can be easily done. And, indeed, what would be the appropriate mechanism to do so?

Privacy DRM. Instead of changing humans, changing technology. To ensure that only those that we have given permission to see our content can actually access it. But, then, we have to build a surveillance system that watches our moves and watches that these (registered) moves are not used for wrong purposes. That is a little bit of a contradiction.

Why not reintroducing forgetting?

Expiration date of information. Once the date expires, the content disappears. This would be the digital equivalent of oral communication. It would also link content to a specific time, keeping the sense of context with it.

The Digital Shoebox in the Attic. A way of keeping content alive, but dormant. It has to be explicitly retrieved, thus avoiding serendipity.

Forgetting should be the default, not remembering.


Q: Who defines what we have to forget? A: This is a difficult question. For instance, in a transaction, who sets the expiration date? the customer or the seller? But sometimes there might be benefits in this. e.g. Amazon knows all the books I bought in the last 10 years, but does not know what interests me now: Amazon would be happy to know, and I would have an incentive on updating that information (by setting expiration dates) so that Amazon could do better suggestions to me.

Sandra González-Bailon: wouldn’t it be better to forgive and not to forget? A: That would be nice, but it seems that, psychologically, forgiving and forgetting are very related. Forgiving is thinking that something of the past is not relevant any more. But recalling it again and again makes forgiveness more difficult.

Q: wouldn’t full transparency help in levelling information (i.e. power) imbalances in the world? A: It might work in some cases, but not all cases are about overcoming power imbalances: there are many many personal cases were full transparency would be harmful and not a matter of power.

Mike Jensen: making politicians accountable requires an active memory. We want protective forgetting, but don’t we want some protective remembering for some individuals? A: This is not about an ignorant society that does not remember anything. In ancient times, when remembering was expensive, people remembered what was valuable. So let’s try to shift the default from remembering to forgetting, make remembering the exception, and concentrate in remembering what is worth.

Q: isn’t putting an expiration date an active act of remembering (and not forgetting)? wouldn’t be recalling that something is about to expire recalling the fact itself and then remembering it again (and again)? A: It seems that humans cannot only automatically forget, but also actively forget. So, if I wish to actively forget something, the recalling won’t be activated by the expiration date.

Q: Wouldn’t be negotiation costs of agreeing in an expiration date very high? A: Technology can help in this, and enable information capturing devices with software that talks to other devices (e.g. my e-ID card, with several levels of recording permission) and acknowledges a specific expiration date.

More information


Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment (2010)

Internet, Politics, Policy (VII). Internet Governance (II)

Notes from the Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment conference, organized by the Oxford Internet Institute, and held at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, on September 16-17, 2010. More notes on this event: ipp2010.

Political Economy of the Network Neutrality in the European Union
Meelis Kitsing, Department of Political Science, National Center for Digital Government, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Network neutrality: access providers should not charge higher prices for priority delivery, elimination of price discrimination and traffic prioritization, no denial of access to specific services or applications, etc.

In Europe both content providers and network operators supported the final version of the EU telecom packages, while normally (e.g. in the US) they have opposite visions. The reason may be that they provide complementary groups, so regulations on one party might end up impacting the other party. Of course this may be context-dependent and valid only where functional separation prevails. In any case, it is more like a coordination game, like the battle of the sexes game.

But the debate is scarce and narrowed to technical issues, leaving aside ideology.

On the other hand, even if there is an agreement at the European level, regulations have to be transposed at the national level.

Estonia is a small but critical case in pioneering ICT-related legislation, maybe because of the importance of Skype at the international level.

Let’s Get Physical: Methodologies for Framing Critical Internet Policy and Governance Issues from a Sustainable Development Perspective
Don MacLean, International Institute for Sustainable Development

The information society perspective is terrific (more access to more content in less time, etc.), as terrific as terrible is the perspective over sustainable development: the ecological footprint has surpassed the biocapacity of our planet and now we are incurring into an ecological debt (WWW (2008). Living planet report, p.22), though there are several policies that could reduce this ecological debt (íbid. p.23).

Impacts of Internet and ICTs on sustainable development: first order effects (direct), second order effects (indirect) and third order effects (systemic). And some uncertainties: what technological designs and standards to connect everything and minimize environmental impacts, policies to convert first and second order effects into systemic transformation, governance principles, how to connect the Internet and ICTs to sustainable development, etc.

A project identified 10 critical Internet policy uncertainties and explored the impact on sustainable development of policy choices based on government-led, market-led, security-driven, and community-based governance scenarios.

Some recommendations are to consolidate the existing research on relationship of the Internet with sustainable development, survey research on the web 1.0 relationship between second and third order effects (individual behaviour, attitudes, values, economic structures, social structures, government structures).

Canada’s internet policy: Is ‘inclusiveness’ road-kill on the information highway
Mary C. Milliken, University of New Brunswick

Many people do not participate because (a) they have no access but especially (b) they are not included in the design of the participation processes.

In Canada, civil society organizations were excluded from telecommunication policy, though they had been included and active in media policy.

Governments have a very business-oriented approach when regulating telecommunications and broadcast media, and the people have been left aside.

The CBC began using the Internet in order to be really universal, though they didn’t had specific resources to do so. After a restructure, the CBC labels itself as a content provider, and a provider of content that has to be possible to broadcast in any channel or platform.

But the Internet has no attached requirement to be a public service, and be regulated as such. If the Internet had been understood as a broadcasting media, it could have been regulated as other platforms and have attached this public service requirement/criteria.

Policy-making for digital development: the role of the government
Ismael Peña-López, Open University of Catalonia

If you cannot see the slides, please visit <a href=""></a>



Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment (2010)

Internet, Politics, Policy (VI). Digital Divides

Notes from the Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment conference, organized by the Oxford Internet Institute, and held at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, on September 16-17, 2010. More notes on this event: ipp2010.

Digital Politics Divide: does the Digital Divide still matter?
Andrea Calderaro, European University Institute

From the Digital Divide (Norris, 2001) to the Digital Skills Divide (Van Dijk, 2009) to the Digital Participation Divide.

Wealth factor are still one of the main reasons why people use or do not use the Internet. But also there is an uneven distribution of ownership of web hosts and ownership of Internet domains [I wonder: cause or consequence?].

Concerning the political arena, there are cyber-pessimist and cyber-optimist points of view that need being bridged. The fact is that political parties are also unevenly on line depending on the country.

The reasons for that are the number of internet users, the level of democracy, and the GDP.

Unraveling Different Barriers to Technology Use: Urban Residents and Neighborhood Effects
Karen Mossberger, University of Illinois at Chicago

Uneven access to the Internet may have a negative impact in the opportunities of the people and thus drive them towards social exclusion. And living in poor neighbourhoods, having a low income or lower educational levels are reasons that explain lower access to the Internet.

When asked the citizens of Chicago why they did not had broadband at home, 30% said they were not interested, 27% cost, 9% difficulty.

Per neighbourhood, “not interested” is a reason much likely answered by whites and Asian-Americans (42%), then African-Americans (29%) and then Latinos (19%). By age, older people are more likely (30%) to say that the reason for not having broadband is “lack of skills”, the same ratio when looking at the income.

Neighbourhoods magnify these barriers to access the Internet, because they magnify cot and skill barriers for residents of areas with high concentrations of African-Americans and Latinos. There is a double burden of concentrated poverty.

Amazonian Geeks and Social Activism: An ethnographic study on the appropriation of ICTs in the Brazilian Amazon
Marie Ellen Sluis, University of Amsterdam

Instead of talking about access, talking about what means to have or not to have access: meaningful access. And the same for inclusion and meaning digital inclusion.

Projeto Puraqué is a collective of social activists using ICT as a tool for social inclusion, increasing critical knowledge on regional socio-political problems and issues. ICTs a tool rather than an end.

Examples: opening up the computre to demystify technology and enhance self-steem, raise awareness on e-waste and fostering reuse and recycling as gambiarra alternative,

The project operates in a certain framework that seeks social transformation in the long term and on a sustainability basis. It is the people who decide what is beneficial for them, and the project is a lot about the digitization of what Brazilians do most: social networking.

Indicators of the digital divide and its link with other exclusions
Jocelyne Trémenbert, Institut Telecom / Telecom Bretagne, Université Européenne de Bretagne, Marsouin

The goals of the research is to explore the polymorphism of the digital divide and its links with other forms of exclusion. Is the distance to the Internet different for different types of exclusion? Do we find within the digital divide expressions of exclusion?

Aage, gender, educational level, income, occupational category and localisation enable to predict with +70% accuracy the use of the Internet, especially the occupational category and the educational level. Non-users are often isolated people: the digital divide goes hand in hand with the social divide.

Five types (clusters) of non-users: the users to be (5%), the potential users (19%), probably / hesitants (41%), the resistants (16%), the excluded (19%).

We need new indicators of the digital divide, new elements about the specificities of some categories of non-users, and a new quantitative typology of non-users based on data on inhibitors,motivations, points of view and picturing.



Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment (2010)

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