Selected publications (.pdf)

"Education Change, Leadership and the Knowledge Society" 
Global e-Schools Initiative (GeSCI)  

Survey of ICT in education in the Caribbean
Volume 1: Regional trends & analysis
Volume 2: Country reports

Using technology to train teachers:
Appropriate uses of ICT for
teacher professional developmen
infoDev (Mary Burns, co-author)

Project evaluation:
Uganda rural school-based telecenters

World Bank Institute
(Sara Nadel, co-author)

The Educational Object Economy:
Alternatives in authoring &
aggregation of educational software 

Interactive Learning Environments
(Purchase or subscription req'd) 

Development of multimedia resources 
UNESCO (Cesar Nunes, co-author)

Real Access/Real Impact
Teresa Peters &
(hosted for reference; RIP TMP) 


Learning, technology & development



Child soldiers and learning, 1

Narun guided us in our visit to Angor Wat in 1998. He was young, married, but determined that he would not have children. He would live day to day, without allowing the concept of the future, or anything pertaining to it, to alight in his mind. Sandra and I were there the month that the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian government had agreed to cease-fire.

Narun was a brilliant guide, he spoke near-perfect English (self-taught), he had learned the stories of the bas-relief sagas on the walls of the temples, and he was able to unpack the meaning of the images and architecture, the figures, the history. He knew each variation introduced by each alternating Buddhist and Hindu king. From him, I gained my first bit of understanding of the concept of Indo-China: the crashing of Hinduism and Buddhism like waves down on the rocks-and-critters of a tide pool filled with colorful and extremely specially adapted plants and animals.

Narun grew up within 500 meters of Angor Wat. He used to climb the temple carrying a wire hook that he would use to hook bats out of the main tower's overgrown crannies. He and his mother had a banana tree in their home. As the front moved through Siem Riep during the Cambodian government's counter-attack on the Khmer Rouge, soldiers in the national army came to pick bananas from Narun's family's tree. At some point in this process--the third week, the third month, I really don't know--Narun snapped and shot a guy as he was climbing the banana tree. A while later, in Narun's story, the dead soldier's sergeant or commanding officer or something came by and conscripted Narun. Your kid can join the army or go to army prison, he told Narun's mother.

Narun's stories of his subsequent soldiering were about being very scared, minimizing fighting, and eventually escaping the army during an attack on the Khmer Rouge by running off downhill through a minefield in the dark. 

It makes for a good story.  

Returning home, Narun got  a guide's license (how did he get it?) and used it, among other things, to learn English. A journalist came into town and said that he was going west into the country to interview Pol Pot. Was there someone who could translate? For one hundred dollars. The other guides shuffled their feet for a second, and Narun said, Yes, I do. After that, it's a helicopter ride to wherever Pol Pot uscamped, the reporter drawing a map on a page from his notebook and ordering (basically) Narun to go query Pol Pot about his willingness to be interviewed. Narun visits Pol Pot, returns with the journalist and as the interview is being conducted he spots, among the Khmer Rouge bodyguarding Pol Pot, his childhood friend. Their eyes meet once, but they otherwise avoid contact.

Some time after Narun returned home, the sergeant or commanding officer or whomever it was shows up. He is looking for Narun the deserter. Narun's mother--smarter, more practiced, and now better resourced by her son the guide--offers him a bicycle. He accepts and pedals away. Narun had been married when we met him for two years. The overgrowth that had covered Angor Wat during the war was cleared away, guides were well paid, his wife was, he said, sweet and beautiful and true. He had explained to his wife, his childhood sweetheart, when they married that he would not have sex with her because he would not have kids with her because he could not, in all good conscience, think of the future. 

At that time that we met him I remember him saying that, having mastered English well enough, he was teaching himself German. 

Narun was a child soldier, his story here probably leaves a lot out (a lot). But it's an incredibly nuanced story. More positive than most. It might be important to remember Narun's child-soldierhood when we consider research on child soldiers in Sierra Leone. Coming up.  "


OLPC and Sugar divide the community property

OLPC news carries part of an interview with Walter Bender, who discusses pulling the Sugar OS out of Nick Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child Project's XO laptop: 

Sugar will work on any hardware: We've also ported Sugar to all the major netbook configurations, so it now runs on the [ASUS] Eee PC, the [Intel] Classmate, on any of those devices. 

Just below that interview, Negroponte is quoted as to the benefits of dumping Sugar for Fedora and/or Windows XP.  Wayan Vota says that with this shift, the revised OLPC mission is to become "the Dell of the developing world."

Negroponte can't be that stupid. Prices on more powerful machines, like the Asus eee pc, are dropping fast, a bunch of bigger hardware players, prompted by Intel, AMD and Via are moving into the low-power "niche". (I love the irony of describing a 2-billion-person market as a niche.) Can he possibly want to be bought?

Although Mr Bender has no money and an all-volunteer operation, his half of the divorce proceedings--a portable software platform specifically designed to support learning--has the advantage in that it's unique. Sugar on a stick has an opportunity to rise or fail based on its own virtues. 


Of thee I sing...

When Darwin was born 200 years ago (12 Feb, same as Honest Abe), there were no phones; steamboats and steam locomotives were still in R & D; the cell had been discovered but cell theory--the idea that all organisms are composed of cells--had not. Beethoven had just premiered the Pastoral symphony (number 6 of 9). Napoleon ran Europe.

When On the origin of species was published 50 years later, Flaubert's Madame Bovary had just scandalized French literary society, the telegraph had replaced semaphore (Napoleon's preferred means of military communication), and John Wilkes Booth had begun appearing on stage at Ford's Theatre in Washington. The U.S. was preparing to battle itself over the rights of some people to own others as property.

We were making progress.

What then, in 2009, do you call a country in which roughly 39 percent of the population still maintains that the Darwinian theory of evolution is "absolutely false," and that, when confronted with a major crisis of finance and capacity,  trumpets cutting $60 billion of emergency funding for schools?

Willful idiots, I suppose. Makes me weep.


About that Internet thing of yours...

I'm writing up my evaluation of the World Links Arab Region's Yemen Project. The project helped deliver computer labs, Internet connections, and training for teachers to twelve schools--six in a coastal city, Mukhalla, and six in Say'un, a town located in, in my opinion, the desert.* Now, these schools are in areas where such technologies are anything BUT ubiquitous. Almost none of the ~200 teachers trained had previously used a computer. 
Yemen Fawa Girls School

Teachers' training, following the World Links model, really focused on "tele-collaborative" activities for student, using the Web and email to find information and to organize that information well.

One of the problems faced by the project is that Internet connectivity in Say'un was, and is, lousy, expensive and slow.  As a result of poor connectivity and other factors, not much happened by way of tele-collaboration: Only 11 percent of students of teachers who participated in training collaborated with other students in Yemen or abroad. However about 30 percent of students collaborated with other students in their own schools--33 percent in al Mukhalla, 29 percent in Say'un.

I've suggested in my evaluation that the low rate of participation in tele-collaboration is a problem, given that tele-collaboration is the core focus of the training. My colleague Ms Reem Bsaiso, CEO of World Links Arab Region, suggests (or, counter-suggests), that if the students experience collaborative learning, well, that's a good outcome in line with project objectives. And indeed, it is. 

So what's the problem?

There are several. As Reem suggests, the critical questions revolve around the degrees to which teachers and students experience and master collaborative learning and all its ancillary activities--planning, research, qualifying and organizing information, analyzing and thinking, packaging the results and so on.

But the Internet in a school context takes on some of the qualities of an electric lightbulb: When it's on, you can see really well, when it's off it's dark. Plus, in Yemen as in a lot of schools poor countries, it's expensive to operate (more expensive than the lightbulb), and even when it works it's providing all the connectivity that you muster with one 56kbps dial-up connection shared by 12 computers going out through a national gateway that is bypassed by all reasonable Internet backbone. (I believe that there's a cable that passes right by, along the Red Sea, that _doesn't_ touch in Yemen.)

Teachers, meanwhile, spend a disproportionate amount of time during training using the Internet--and even broadband--only to realize once they arrive back in their own schools that they would have been better served to have paid attention to those inconvenient-but-effective techniques for working around low-quality or snafu connections. 

In Say'un, some teachers were stimulated enough by their training that they chose to take their kids to cybercafes to do basic Internet research, with the teacher paying for their connectivity. A greater number of teachers put the techniques that they learned to use organizing collaborative activities within their classes or with other classes in their schools, Internet be damned. 

But most teachers--about 70 percent--did nothing, and cited the lack of Internet connectivity as one of the main causes of their lack of activity. 

More on this soon... 

*Say'un is, formally, part of Wadi Hadrhamout, the oasis area of inland Hadrahmout, It's dry, but there are crops and regular, if sparse, bunches of large, grassy plants emerging out of the sand. These green shoots, about 3 meters high, show you that Hadrhamout's status as an oasis is no lie.




Real learning, real motivation (sans tech, or nearly so)

The NY Times has an article about schools making project-based learning and Advanced Placement classes available to all, or almost all, students:

At the middle school, the entire seventh grade is taking part in the science of sports project to fulfill the new research requirement. The students are creating a database of their individual running times, first in sneakers and then in alternate footwear, and evaluating how variables like height, gender, birth date and shoe type affect speed. They will present their findings in a research paper or PowerPoint presentation.

“I learned that I move faster without my shoes,” said Jermaine Brown, 13. “This is really fun, and it’s better than sitting in class.”

OK, the kids will use PowerPoint and possibly a word processor, and probably a spreadsheet app. But technology is simply part of the educational environment in these schools, so it's barely mentioned in the article. (Textbooks aren't mentioned at all, of course.)

What's striking is that underlying the article is the sense of motivation--of students, of teachers, of parents--that results from the sheer joy of learning and from the particular joys of discovering or guiding the discovery of ideas and information. Sure, technology can be a motivator, especially in circumstances where computers are still unusual or at least not ubiquitous. But it's the activities themselves that are--and that need to be--the centerpieces of student learning.

The project that I'm looking at in Yemen has faced a lot of challenges, some of which revolve around Internet connectivity. Students and teachers report that they are experimenting with collaborative learning--which is one of the project's objectives. They are also reporting strong increases in student motivation and even students' attendance. (And this, we can assume, is a dataset that teachers report reliably.) But they are not reporting much collaboration with students in other schools and other countries.

Is this a problem?