Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development (XIII). Social and Ethical Issues in Education Technologies

Notes from the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development, held in Casa Asia, Barcelona, Spain, on October 6-7, 2010. More notes on this event: eLChair10.

Round Table: Social and Ethical Issues in Education Technologies
Jill Attewell, Steve Vosoo, Matthew Kam & John Traxler. Moderates: Manuel Castells, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3, UOC)

Social entrepreneurship?

Eva de Lera: What about social entrepreneurship?

John Trexler: there does not seem to be a lot of activity in social entrepreneurship in the field of learning. Maybe other models, like free schools in the UK would be a better option if we are talking about education.

Matthew Kam: it depends on the definition of social entrepreneurship. If entrepreneurship is doing something that benefits your community, we may find some. And some of this deliver pretty good education.

New colonialism?

Emma Kiselyova: Can we do more wrong than good?

Jill Attewell: I’d rather use technology enhanced learning, not e-learning. This way, what we are doing is not creating something new from scratch, but enhancing something that already existed.

Steve Vosloo: how carefully is too careful? Sometimes going “too” carefully may imply losing lots of opportunities.

John Trexler: It is OK to go as quick as possible. The problem is that reflections need their own pace, and we sometimes take decisions on flawed reflections.


Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol: What are the conflicts between formal and informal education? What is the role of motivation in this apparent dichotomy? Does it have to be informal to motivate? Is that good or bad?

John Trexler: It depends on what we understand by motivation. Motivation has sometimes been “triggered” by just pouring money or free devices in the users’ hands.

Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol: Indeed, motivation should come from other channels rather than — or added to — technological ones, like organizational change, institutions, etc.

[I personally wonder whether we might be “crowding out” formal education for too much focusing in informal education].

Success and failure

César Córcoles: How do we know which projects are successful and which a failure? And which ones are more likely to succeed and which others to fail? What is the tolerance to failure?

Matthew Kam: One of the problems is that most of the projects do not count as scholarly research, which means that many resources (especially human) are automatically kept away from being applied in many projects. On the other hand, most funding goes to successful projects, even if some failures may imply interesting lessons learnt that could be applied to following projects.

What infrastructure

Carlos Fernández: What about one-cellphone-for-all (the style of OLPC)?

Manuel Castells: the matter is that almost everyone already has a mobile device, and thus is why many projects address mobile phones.

John Traxler: this is the story again of the ideology behind the technology.

Jill Attewell: people in poor areas want the same devices as everyone else and they want the same features.

Julià Minguillón: the OLPC project failed because it never was an educational project. It never had the educational community in its design, teachers were not trained, contents were not created, etc.

Educational institutions

Ismael Peña-López: if industrialization — with its flaws — brought education to everyone, why do most educational projects keep on circumventing educational institutions instead of strengthening them? Why so much focus in informal education?

Matthew Kam: agreed. Nevertheless, there are many aspects of informal education, gaming, etc. that could contribute a lot to improve and bring a wind of change to institutions [which I in turn agree too].

Manuel Castells: indeed, most schools are not about education and empowering the kids, but about politics. Nevertheless, if change is to be made, institutions definitely have to be an important part of it.


UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development (2010)

Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development (VII). Matthew Kam: Mobile Phones and Language Literacy in Rural Developing Regions

Notes from the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development, held in Casa Asia, Barcelona, Spain, on October 6-7, 2010. More notes on this event: eLChair10.

Mobile Phones and Language Literacy in Rural Developing Regions
Matthew Kam, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, USA

When analysing what the user is doing with technology, it is very important to have a multidisciplinary approach.

Needs and problem statement: fluency in “power language” (e.g. English), public schools in developing regions (e.g. India) are not succeeding, 101 million primary school-age children do not attend school (36M in South-Asia, 39M in Sub-Saharan Africa).

How can cellphones make education more accessible through out-of-school environments? Can game-like exercises provide an enjoyable learning experience? Can one learn anytime, anywhere without disrupting work?

The project began in India in 2004 with 10 rounds of fieldwork (adding up to more than 12 months of fieldwork). Since 2004 and during that time, there has been several rounds of pilots that included needs assessments, exploratory studies in slums and villages, feasibility studies again in slums and villages, testing, classroom and out-of-school studies and controlled studies.

A classroom study deployed throughout 2008, three times per week, after-school program at a private village school, demonstrated significant post-test improvements on spelling skills, with learning gains correlated with grade levels.

MILLEE project

Another out-of-school pilot study focused on the use of cellphones in children’s daily lives over an extended time. The participation in the study was voluntary. m-Learning consisted in cellphone-based game when “working” in the fields to improve English literacy. It was a task-based language teaching, with an instructional sequence around tasks. Much of the methodology was already out in the market (do not reinvent the wheel), so best practices in 2nd language teaching were analysed and more than 50 design patterns where distilled to be applied in the own project.

On the other hand, it was also analysed what were traditional Indian villages games like, how were they different from existing Western videogames. Thus, 296 game design patterns where documented, identifying 37 non-tribial differences. At last, educational games were designed on purpose and based on traditional village games.

Access to electricity was a major issue, and the average user could use the mobile phone for learning during 2:23h per week. Social environment was also an issue, as some kids had to hide the phones away from their parents or brothers, had maintenance issues, etc.

The average participant covered 46 new words over 16 weeks of unsupervised usage of cellphones. At this rate, each participant is expected to learn 150 words in a calendar year. Benchmark is 500 words, given good learning conditions. The problem is that during the first 8 weeks, the rate of number of new words completed is very high (up to 40-65 words per week), while the rate falls to under 10 words per week for the rest of the weeks. So, the novelty effect has a very hight attraction power, but it ends up fading out.

This project has been now on a scaling-up phase with a Nokia grant that enabled the extension of the pilot to 800 low-income children in 40 locations.

A major challenge for this project is not scaling in quantity, but also in quality, making it advance towards the acquisition of advanced literacy skills. The project is now being designed based on Chall’s stages of reading development. On the other hand, one size fits all approach does not scale, which implies quite a complex deployment strategy.


Ismael Peña-López: Has there any research been made to analyse the fading out of the novelty effect? Any ideas on how to extend it? A: There are two strategies to extend the novelty effect. The most evident one is, of course, to include more and more novelties along time. This is, usually, not economically sustainable, as content production is very expensive. On the other hand, introduction of more and more novelties might be misleading. A second way, which is not actually extending the novelty effect, is to make the games more engaging. This is the strategy the project is taking and that is why a game designer has joined the team to specifically focus in this aspect.

Eva de Lera: Why not using bigger devices/displays that allow for more users at the same time that the tiny cellphone screen? A: There is not really a single approach. There are many experiences on several users converging on a single device, like the multi-mice PC. On the other hand, engagement in language learning often depends on oneself being in charge of his own learning, and being in control of the game. But, yes, definitely, there is not a single path.

Carlos Fernández: Why not using less multimedia-intensive learning games (e.g. quizzes) with lower requirements of adoption and, especially, with lower power/battery requirements? A: This is already done, but it also has a trade-off with engagement, so it is difficult to tell where the balance is.

Q: How far can we go on in m-learning for language literacy? A: It depends. It certainly can go really far, but we should definitely consider (i.e. do not forget) the role of the teacher. Thus, maybe the upper end of m-learning should more be about teacher training rather than direct student education. Talking about individual vs. group activities, the shortcomings are not obvious; sometimes individual use is better.

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UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development (2010)