Learning assessment and accreditation in the Information Society

At the risk of oversimplifying, we can say that there is a paradigm shift in the transmission of knowledge in the Information Society, following the digitization of information and communications.

Because of this digitization , storing and distributing content is virtually at no cost, as well as happens with accessing experts in a particular discipline or knowledge.

The concentration of knowledge and its transmission (in libraries, schools, universities), especially for reasons of efficiency is no longer critical. Thus, it is possible that education exits the institutions, that non-formal learning acquires greater relevance or that learning can be supported with new content and different platforms as usual.

Historically, training has focused not only been concentrated in space but also in time. There was a place and an age for learning, for education. This made it possible to assess the acquisition of knowledge in relatively simple ways: the evaluation process began at the final stage of education, in the place where education took place, and it then ended with the corresponding accreditation. We could, in turn, have periodical assessments to avoid a single assessment at the end of the stage, but the accreditation did remain for the end. And we had exams and titles with which we abandoned forever the education system.

When learning (there has always been learning, but it has now become more necessary, intensive and extensive than ever) no longer has a place and, above all, ceases to belong to an age: do we have the necessary tools for assessment and recognition? Examinations and qualifications, are they still valid?

Without willing to be exhaustive — how could we be in such an open question? — let us point at some key (in my opinion)

A first need is to decouple the evaluation from a specific time period. If we believe that learning is something that will happen throughout life (or life-long), we should quit the evaluation systems that focus on vital stages. e-Portfolios or virtual learning environments can help to trace the itinerant learning over time.

A second need is to decouple the evaluation from a particular place, meaning “place” the institutions of formal education. Although the terms are still quite preliminary (if not confusing), digital identity, digital presence can contribute to (dis)locate the learning that happens outside the walls of the school and that (fortunately or unfortunately) leaves indelible trace on the network and its non-spaces.

A final issue concerns the flexibility of learning, the total customization of learning processes that questions the generic solutions for evaluation. The higher this customization, the greater the need for new forms of assessment, new ways to accredit expertise. We should probably move from knowledge to competences, from content to continents.

Reputation, as something that is built little by little and, above all, in relationship to others and not to some predefined syllabuses may be both something to be assessed an a tool for assessment. In this sense, it would also enable a way of assessing that is not only vertical, held by institutions or individuals of a “system”, but rather horizontal, among peers, performed every day, wherever we are.

Article originally posted as Nuevos contenidos y nuevas plataformas de aprendizaje for a set of articles for the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, taking place in Barcelona in 3-5 november 2010:


New learning contents and platforms

In an interview with Jaron Lanier, the author of (very) interesting You are not a gadget, he claimed to be surprised by the still high level of passivity of people on the Internet, as well as with digital technology in general.

According to Lanier, big mass media, because of their particular nature, had alienated citizens as creators and had made them become spectators. Information and Communication Technologies, with their versatility and very low cost (both in matters of access to infrastructure and, relatively, in terms of learning curve to master their usage) should have brought a creative and communicative shock that would turn upside down the pre-digital landscape of television, radio or the printing press. However, despite the undeniable revolution of the Web 2.0, in most cases we have but changed of screen which we now use for the very same purposes as before.

In educational environments, it is quite true that we talk more about interactivity than about creativity, and the difference is not a minor one.

Historically, learning by doing has always been very expensive. Sometimes because of the materials: carving a marble David is a task that leaves little room for corrections. Sometimes because of time: managing a database with thousands of records on paper and producing the basic statistics manually entails hours and hours of calculations. Sometimes because of the risks: how many casualties adds up the history of aviation? And yet there seems to be consensus that learning by doing is how people learn best, especially if we add to that explaining how things are done.

Digital technologies in knowledge-intensive areas (such as teaching and learning) have cut down to the minimum the cost of building, testing, trying, simulating, of being wrong. In his Carta a los editores de libros de texto (letter to the textbook publishers), professor Jordi Adell argues why the textbook as a closed and immutable object is at odds with a society (and a school) where digital content is created, transformed and constantly destroyed.

In a similar train of thought, the advisory board behind the Informe Horizon: Edición Iberoamericana 2010 (2010 Horizon Report: Iberoamerican Edition Released) identifies six major trends to watch in the future of education:

  1. Collaborative environments.
  2. Social Media.
  3. Open content.
  4. Mobile technologies.
  5. Augmented reality.
  6. Semantic Web.

Amongst these six, two of them (#3, #6) are closely related to the openness of the contents, two (#1, #2) to collaboration in creation and co-learning, and two (#4, #5) to new platforms and educational spaces.

Thus, it is not only about being possible a certain de-institutionalization of education to regain the attention to the learner, a non “industrialized” learning; or about being possible capitalizing the learning that takes place outside formal channels: the question is that it already is technically possible… though the road still to go (having the will to do it, getting an agreement) is yet the most complicated.

Initiatives such as those presented in the Open Content Studio, Video Lab, the lounge or the Wikimedia learning Local incubator of Mozilla Drumbeat Festival may be more or less replicated, more or less representative, but certainly point in the same direction, so that change is possible and, moreover, it is happening.

Initiatives such as those presented in the Open content studio, the Video Lab, the Wikimedia lounge or the Local learning incubator of the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival may be more or less likely to be replicated, more or less representative, but certainly point towards the same direction: that change is possible and, moreover, that it is happening.

Article originally posted as Nuevos contenidos y nuevas plataformas de aprendizaje for a set of articles for the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, taking place in Barcelona in 3-5 november 2010:


Browsing ICT4D Authors Visually

As it has been recently mentioned, this website has an ICT4D Bibliography with 1797 works and 1436 authors more or less related with the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development, the Information Society, Development, etc.

Sometimes authors share the authorship of a work, and thus one can jump from an author to another one by clicking on the links of the aforementioned authors, always listed besides their shared works. But especially for the most prolific authors, the result ends up being a long list crowded with links (to authors, to works, to source journals) that becomes quite messy.

To solve that, I’ve applied Daniel McLaren (Asterisq) Constellation Roamer (free version here) to visualize the relationships that one author has with other authors according to the works they have in common.

The goal of the tool is twofold: (1) to glimpse the social ecosystem of the author (within the boundaries of this ICT4D Bibliography, of course) and (2) to (re)discover other authors and, with them, their works. Let us see an example.

A visit to Richard Heeks‘ page in the ICT4D Bibliography will first of all provide us with his ecosystem of co-authors:

We can see that he has four shared works listed in this bibliography with a total of five more authors. By clicking (also just putting our mouse over it) the work he has in common with Charles Kenny — which appears to be The Economics of ICTs and Global Inequality: Convergence or Divergence for Developing Countries? — Charles Kenny’s shared works have their co-authors appear too:

With yet another click now on Charles Kenny, we see now all the authors and their shared works related to him. Thus, starting from Richard Heeks, we easily (re)discover that Charles Kenny is related to Robert Schware and Christine Qiang, who, in their turn, also share works with other people, which allows us to keep on browsing.


ICTlogy.net: 7th anniversary

It seems that a whole year has gone by, and ICTlogy.net — my personal research portal, my personal learning environment — has become seven years old (that is one year in a cat’s life… or maybe is it the other way round? ;).

First some figures, then some comments:

Two experiments on ICT4D information finally became reality:

  • The ICT4D Calendar, a Google Calendar for ICT4D-related events (ICT4D Calendar feed), visit the page to see who’s involved)
  • ICT4D Tweetmap, a mashup that presents #ict4d tweets on a Google Map (inspired by the always inspiring Tony Hirst)

The big news was that, during this last year, the (one and only) blog got to have a new name, the ICT4D Blog, the reason being the coming to existence of its smaller sibling, the blog SociedadRed (RSS feed), less academic, more opinion-biased and in Spanish.

Amongst the things to forget (or not to…), during this year I got my first hate comment — a xenophobic/racist one — that didn’t come from spam, but from a human hand. Shame on you.

There’s little else that I could say. Just a big thank you to all the people I read and drink knowledge from, wherever I am, whenever I want to. Thank you all.


From non-formal learning to casual learning

Education has two main purposes whose natures are very different.

On the one hand, education should train the people that are in the labour market, it should train people as workers (let us note here the surprising expression of “training the future employees”, which excludes all present workers from the need of further education).

Moreover, education should train people as people, If you’ll forgive the repetition. That is, it should train people as citizens responsible for their actions and free to do them upon the agreed social contract.

Both have been solved traditionally with a combination of school, professional training and universities. With a variable combination according to the needs, but all in all within a common set of possibilities.

In a future that is already present, the possibility of deinstitutionalizing education (especially in regard to educational institutions) is likely to enable a demand and supply of trained workers that would have its equivalent in a demand and supply for labour training more fit to the labour market needs. The historical claims of employers (“we want the universities to produce more specialists and fewer generalists”) will have a logical answer: “let yourselves also invest in human capital from which you will profit later on, as it is now easier than it was before”.

In the case of education as a builder of people as citizens, things get more complicated: because of its nature as a public good (we all want it but we have no incentive for bearing its cost), demand for it will probably not increase. And, as it is divorced from the demand for education as workforce training, it will be even more difficult — in this short-term- and economics-focussed world — justify the investment in training for citizenship.

To add up to this problem of underestimating the training for citizenship vs. the training of workforce, we find that the changing environment brought about by the digital revolution makes the need for training — as citizens, as workers — something that ceased to be part of a stage of life to become something that takes place all throughout life.

Before these challenges, we should start to consider how to get education to citizens anytime and anyplace.

It might well be that after a first step (or expansion) of formal education into formal education, be followed by a second stage that goes from non-formal to informal education, to casual education.

If museums, libraries, workplaces, communities of practice, etc. are now part of non-formal education, thanks to the technologies that enable the learner’s mobility, the ubiquity of content and experts, the possibility of an augmented reality, semantic contexts and artificial intelligence… it should be possible to anticipate the citizens’ training needs (and even training wills) and situate education where it is going to be required.

Strategies for product placement or contextual advertising have evidenced their power to sell products and services. Why not trying training, citizen training? Why not integrating it into the daily life, in the everyday life of citizens?

Article originally posted as Desinstitucionalizando la educación for a set of articles for the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, taking place in Barcelona in 3-5 november 2010:


Research Seminar. Beyond ICT access: what kind of integration for ‘connected migrants’?

Notes from the research seminar Beyond ICT access: what kind of integration for ‘connected migrants’?, held at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Barcelona, Spain, on October 14, 2010.

Beyond ICT access: what kind of integration for ‘connected migrants’?
Adela Ros

Why is there a proliferation of telecentres around which immigrants gather? In many places in the world, immigrants meet in telecentres, and not only to call home or use any kind of Internet service. Why is it so? Indeed, in the home countries of these immigrants (there emigrants) there is a symmetric reality that mirrors the telecentre as a gathering point in the host countries: telecentres in countries of origin have also a specific role that goes beyond just access to the Internet.

Migrants state that access to Internet or mobile telephony is changing their lives. Actually, most of them were non-users before they migrated to another country.

If you cannot see the video, please visit <a href="http://ictlogy.net/?p=3573">http://ictlogy.net/?p=3573

The research programme has gone from “Immigration and Information Society” to “Migration and Network Society”. It has shifted from analysing the casual relationships if ICTs and flows of migrations — very ICT centered — to a research more focused on the social implications of technology, seeing ICTs more as an intermediary, especifically to understand migration under the current conditions of networks of information and communication, seeing networks rather than migration itself as what is worth. This includes:

  • The organization of migration.
  • The experience of being dislocated.
  • The ways of establishing social capital in migrant contexts.
  • The everyday life of migrants.
  • The new mechanisms of power.
  • The influence of national and other traditional political-jurisdictional boundaries.

Beyond ICT access: beyond access for disadvantages groups, beyond space and time for dislocated groups. Are groups of migrants more or less included in their host societies because of ICTs? Does access to ICTs affect their levels of inclusion (mind you: not e-inclusion)? What are the new elements that reinforce inequality and disadvantages also in the case of the connected migrant?

Project1: Mihaela Vancea

A bivariate analysis was performed to calculate the digital divide as referred to the distance between migrants and natives and taking into account the technological equipment of households by origin.

Concerning home availability of technology, there are differences between natives and migrants. For instance, desktops are more frequent between natives but Satellite TV is more frequent between migrants. In general, though, most homes (natives’ and migrants’) only differ in the lowest levels of technology at home, were natives’ are better off.

Big differences come in usage. Surprisingly, migrants are normally more intensive users of technology (Internet, mobiles) but are less likely to use it from home or workspace. On the contrary, they are much more likely to connect to the Internet in a telecentre.

Concerning the qualitative use of the Internet, communication-related uses are more likely to be performed by migrants, while information searches or access to online services are more likely to be performed by natives.

Running a multivariate analysis, the determinants of living in a technologically advanced household are being an immigrant (-), the level of education (+), age (-), gender (being a woman), having a job (+), the number of children at home (-), the household structure (+) and the habitat (+). Concerning Internet usage, findings are similar, though opposite for gender, and very strong for computer ownership. In general terms, we can state that being an immigrant conceals/hides a latent effect of social class.

Project2: Graciela De La Fuente

Project on Bolivian women in Catalonia.

In recent years, there has been an increase of female migration from Bolivia to Spain. This has had some consequences in the country of origin, as more dis-attended children and child abuse, higher rates of school drop-out, etc.

The project took a participatory action research approach, within the framework of a training context. The project also aimed at understanding how Bolivian immigrant women were managing the distance with their families, what challenges they had to deal with as a first generation of immigrant women.

The methodology, strictly qualitative, had a twofold approach: a training and a research methodology. The former centred in workshops, tutorial action and support groups; the latter based on discussion groups, questionnaires and in depth interviews.

Results showed that migrant women with limited educational levels and with literacy problems are not excluded from the use of ICTs; on the contrary, they make often use of them: they just make other kinds of use of them, appropriating technologies based on their specific needs.

Maintaining family ties and relationships at a distance is the key motivation for the use of ICTs. But this type of use also drives them to using the Internet as a source of information or recreation. ICTs are really central in their everyday lives in many different aspects (even one of the interviewees acknowledged having resigned from a job because there was no public Internet access point nearby). These Bolivian women fear no more technology and have it under their control and use it for their own purposes.


An interesting debate ensues on the topic of the knowledge gap theory.

I state that we have evidence that sustains the knowledge gap theory in education (laptops do well in education for kids with higher socioeconomic status and do bad for those with lower SES), and more evidence sustaining the knowledge gap theory in e-participation and e-democracy (people with higher SES participate more online and get better results, people with lower SES are actually kicked out of the online debate).

So, my point is whether all this access to ICTs is, in the end, good or bad? What if, in a very cold and materialistic approach, migrants are “losing their time” chatting with their peers at home instead of levering the power of ICTs for their own (economic) benefit? What if they end up worse than they would be without ICTs (just recall the woman that left a job because it was far from the telecentre)? Is there a trade-off between getting home information and using ICTs for “productive” purposes? Is there a trade-off between time to maintain home bounds and time to improve their local lives? How does ICT affect these trade-offs? Do they actually worsen them migrants?

Graciela De La Fuente thinks otherwise: most migrants’ intention is getting back home the sooner the better. So, on the one hand, they are not very much interested in improving their lives in their host country, but earning some money, sent it back home and, when possible, be back with their beloved ones. On the other hand, and closely related to the previous point, it might indeed be a rational choice not to improve their lives in their host country but to maintain their social network in their home country: this way, when they’ll be back, they’ll still be a part of the community.

Graciela’s point is surely very relevant. But then, maybe governments should rethink their policies of integration and shape them as policies of “transition”. Graciela’s point of view is that, even if that might be true, it is also true that many migrants, despite their intentions, end up not getting back home, so integration policies still apply.

The open question then is: can we provide e-government services (one of the upcoming projects of the research group) both for the ones to be integrated and the ones in transition?