ICTD2010 (XIII). Rarer Themes in Education

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

Paper Session: Rarer Themes in Education

Beyond Strict Illiteracy: Abstracted Learning Among Low-Literate Users
Indrani Medhi, S. Raghu Menon, Edward Cutrell, Kentaro Toyama

Text-free user interfaces increase the success of use for a given amount of time training. What else is required for non-literate uses to reach the usage level of ICTs of literate users?

Videos have no text and thus do not require reading while providing text-like information.

In order to to perform an experiment, a community of female domestic helpers were chosen, with very low literacy levels, and to test whether videos on how to use a modern vacuum cleaner had any impact in the acquisition of skills by these illiterate women. Will users benefit from diversified examples as a way to learn abstract concepts?

Variants analysed were whether the users was or was not literate, and whether the user was or was not familiar with (a) the vacuum cleaner and (b) a specific vacuum cleaner. And videos included also these variables.

Diversified video (e.g. showing more than one type of vacuum cleaner) proved to be helping literate users, but not illiterate ones.

Beyond strict illiteracy, other aspects affected comprehension of video content: cognitive skills, social standing, intimidation by technology, visual organization, efficient processing of information, language taks, self-efficacy, etc. Even for tasks that do not require reading at all and where there is the context, there seem to be cognitive barriers that impede use in non-literate users.


Q: Won’t literate people have cognitive barriers too? A: Agreed. But technology and treatment of information imply a fool range of cognitive barriers that go from technological illiteracy to abstract thinking, etc.

Technology, Teachers, and Training: Combining Theory with Macedonia’s Experience
Laura Hosman, Maja Cvetanoska

Some factors behind the ‘computers in the classroom’ concept: technology changes but human nature does not; computers in the classroom… mission accomplished; major struggle in ICT4ED projects; Education and Psychology scholars theorising and writing; policy makers not listening… and as a result, teachers blamed over and over for tech project failures. Maybe the real problem is not acknowledging that innovation is a years-long process of change, not a one-time event; that teachers are key change agents but are often not treated accordingly; and that teachers need ongoing support and must be stakeholders in the innovation-adoption process.

Now, the issue of computers in the classroom has spread from developed to developing countries, with the added problem that (a) resources in developing countries are even more scarce but, notwithstanding (b) computers in the classroom are being introduced at an imprecedented speed and level.

Macedonia Connects is a USAID-led initiative to provide one computer lab per school in Macedonia, after the country succeeded at breaking the telecom monopoly and bringing affordable broadband wireless to the entire country. Prior to the technology deployment, all teachers were provided with technology and methodology training.

As most teachers’ concerns advance predictably, most of them can be addressed as they arise by leaders/change facilitators.

Key findings:

  • 65% have not used a computer in class in previous two months
  • 86% believe that the class is the place where to learn to use a computer.
  • 72% use ICT for preparing teaching materials and tests.
  • 51% spend a few hours a day with a computer.
  • 30% use ICT for working with students.

Recommendations: set up a yearly ICT plan; involve teachers as stakeholders; recognize that change is a years-long process; don’t press for overnight success; support teachers in managing change.

SPRING: Speech and PRonunciation ImprovemeNt through Games, for Hispanic Children
Anuj Tewari, Nitesh Goyal, Matthew K. Chan, Tina Yau, John Canny and Ulrik Schroeder

MILLEE project: Mobile and immersive learning for literacy in emerging economies.

Pilot project in a school in California targeted to the Hispanic students (20 in total) with low English skills. Instead of mobile phones, it was decided that laptops would be used instead.

Challenges faced were key problems with English, issues with reading and writing, resistance to learning English, etc.

To do so, two games were designed (Zorro, based on Mario, and Voz.Guitar, based on Guitar Player) according to the needs and profiles of the students (that had previously been analysed). Movements required speech to be commanded and a speech recognizer was embedded so to tell whether the student was using the correct pronunciation.

two metrics were gathered: acoustic score gain percentages (measuring the improvement in the pronunciation of correct words) and word gain (correctly pronounced words). Score Acoustic and Word gains improved a little bit (though significantly) between control and treatment group.

Gender and pre-existing knowledge didn’t seem to play a role or be a factor.


Ismael Peña-López: why pronunciation of English words was in English standards and not Spanish standards? Why (for surprise) put ‘ser-prize’ instead or ‘sur-prais’, which would have been the Spanish transcription? A: Some of the transcriptions were added ex-post and used the acknowledge standard. But, certainly, in future editions, there is a need to adapt the transcriptions to the linguistic realities of the target community.

Q: What was the teacher proficiency in English pronunciation? Q: The project was performed in a public classroom in California and had extended English teaching experience.

Information and Communication Technologies 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.

More Information

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