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


Entries in ed tech (4)


Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark

Ok, so I'm as usual late to the party. The other day I was talking about Yuval Noah Harari's book, Sapiens, from about 2013, with a science teacher who thoroughly dissed it. She said that H found that pre-historic sapiens committed genocide, wiping out both the neanderthals _and_ the denisovians. Harari's quick leap to causation called all his scientific observations into question.

"No!," said I, and I think rightly, "Harari finds correlation but he doesn't move on from that to find causation." As he says, we know the sapiens showed up, the other guys dwindled and then they vanished. Causation is possible, perhaps plausible, it might be genocide, it might be out-competing, but the author doesn't go there."

To be honest, I find Harari's treatment of capital a bit more underinformed. He elaborates a situation in which a $1 million investment is transformed into $3 million, without any growth in the supply of currency. As an explanation of growth--which his text is intended to be--I find H much less compelling than Bernard Lietaer, who traces the impulse for growth solely to interest and credit. (Infidel!) 

My thanks to my lovely wife, Sandra Woodall, for getting me at last to read Harari. And to my colleague and chum, Claudia L'Amoreaux, for getting me to a meeting today about EdTech and equity, about building the new citizens of our societies, and about STEAM education that aims at more than jobs. =


David Wiley explains it (almost) all to you

David Wiley's 1000-word contribution to the cool Change: Edu, learning & tech course offers a lot of leverage on seminal events in learning technology that took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s: 

Many learning objects researchers and funding agencies were pushing to fully automate the selection and assembly of learning objects, essentially driving all human participation in the design of instruction (and all human interaction during learning) out of the educational experience, because humans are too “expensive.”

....Of course, the universal, ambient assumption underlying the reusability paradox is that learning objects must be used “as is” due to their copyright status. This realization allowed me to connect my passion for openness to my academic work on learning objects. From 2004 until today I continue to focus a good portion of my thinking and work on open educational resources – “learning objects with an open license.”

Mr Wiley's smart, committed and compassionate approaches to learning have, incidentally, given him a unique perspective on the history of educational technology in American and worldwide. However, his presentation of this perspective on the past isn't entirely comprehensive, which begs questions about the forces underlying the key issues that educationists are grappling with today.

The learning-objects/learning-automation nexus that Mr Wiley describes was driven, flogged even, by billions of dollars that were injected into education-technology by the US Dept of Defense. DoD was mesmerized by precisely the learning-object problem that Mr Wiley points out: How to design, tag, store and serve LOs that could be re-used to create compelling content cost effectively and on the fly. DOD funded among other things the Advanced Distributed Learning lab, which drove--flogged, even--the development of SCORM (Shareable Courseware Object Reference Model), a specification for making LOs shareable by lots of different Learning Management Systems, and one of the bedrocks of interoperability among today's LMSs, Virtual Learning Environments and other platforms. SCORM was, especially because it provided an early rule-set for XML, the mother of all standards (in online learning). 

Well and good. Mr Wiley's and others' work on LOs in the 90s and 00s walked the discussion away from military training and over to K12 and higher education—although the US military's emphasis on automation and cost savings can still be discerned in the configuration of Virtual Learning Environments and their resources. 

But we need to perform due diligence in relation to the origins of OERs, by traveling back up the roots of our current discussions of open content to better understand the underlying forces and actors that are driving that conversation as well. Why have OERs emerged at this time as critical, or potentially critical, means of improving education? How is the emergence of OERs similar to the emergence of LOs/automation? How different? 


First Principles: ICT in Education 

Natoma has completed a "First Principles" document for USAID and American Institutes of Research, called "Designing Effective Education Programs Using Information and Communication Technologies." 

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I'll share some of the key sections of the paper (or booklet), plus explanatory notes and comments.

The FP docs are focused on education in developing countries--the situation in schools in those countries is usually different from that of schools in the US or in other OECD countries. Perhaps, however, the sections that we're sharing will support a little discussion of main differences and similarities.

(Limited electrical power supplies? Dissimilar. Cost too high? Similar! But I'm sure we can find a deeper level of conversation.) 


One of the key questions confronting schools and governments in every country is: "Why invest in education technology?" The answer might stem from a combination of politics, sensitivity to global trends and hope (or desperation). In a few instances, the reason to invest in technology might be found in evidence of impact from other projects.

However, we're living in a dynamic world where the rate of change is accelerated by our tools. Much of the time, the investment is made before the answer to the question is known.

Alvin Toffler kicks off the FP paper:


The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

—Alvin Toffler, American Futurist

The emergence of information and communication technologies (ICT) as a force in social and economic development presents a wide range of possibilities to the education systems of developed and developing countries. ICT also creates challenges: By accelerating the expansion of information and increasing the value of knowledge, technology challenges schools to support learning that helps them build skills that they can use now and that will support their participation in civic and economic life in a dynamic future.

Technology in schools increases the value of knowledge, introduces new sources of information, helps students build skills that they can use immediately and in the future. 

If true, what's not to like?

Yet donor agencies, which have driven the introduction of technology into schools in developing countries, are waffling (to say the least) in their support of ICT initiatives.

USAID, for example, is focusing on the development of basic-level skills in reading and math for 100 million kids, plus support for vocational and higher education, and for the delivery of education in emergencies. To the extent that ICT promotes these objectives, it might be supported.

(USAID certainly continues to support many ed-tech projects, as we'll see... but the organization's policy focus is not trained on areas, such as system strengthening and improving the quality of instruction, where ICT has typically been deployed in donor-funded projects. There are more clear-cut cases: A friend at another development agency quoted a higher-up-type when considering activities to not fund, as saying something like, "Well, we all know that we're not going to fund ICT." And that's across all sectors, not only education.)

If your funds are limited (and who's aren't?), and if your target beneficiaries are the poorest of the poor, there are a host of factors—lousy infrastructure, teachers who are themselves poorly educated, and scarce books—that complicate the use of technology and that cry out for immediate attention. If literacy and numeracy (and test scores) aren't improving, perhaps value for money isn't being delivered.

But schools in developing countries confront some of the same pressures that schools in OECD countries do: technology is changing all aspects of society, it's almost impossible to think that students and teachers should inhabit some kind of "technology free" zone while they're in school and then re-enter worlds where mobile phones, radios, televisions, cameras and computers are part of life. Or, as the FP booklet puts it:

Technology has transformed social and economic life in countries with emerging economies, in many developing countries, and in many communities in Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The scope of change includes sectors such as finance, manufacturing, health, agriculture, and government. As these changes are taking place, ministries of education (MOEs) and donor agencies grapple with questions about appropriate, effective, and valuable uses of education technology for learning, teaching, and strengthening educational systems....

The impact of technology is unquestioned. But the importance of technology in schools is unclear. In the US, for example, debate about the limited impact of technology on test scores continues.

But are we asking the right questions? Of ourselves? And of our tools? 

High school teacher in West Java shows his laptop while another teacher works at her (laptopless) desk

I've visited maybe 50 schools in countries from Indonesia to Uganda to Rwanda to Turkey to Bhutan to, well, a few other places, where parents and school committees (the internationally generic name for the PTA) have coughed up scarce dough to purchase computers for teachers and kids. They believe that their hard-won earnings are well spent. They show off their school computer rooms with pride. They don't question the value of the investment.

In any case, country governments, and schools themselves, continue to invest in costly, complex tools that demonstrate limited impact on learning. 

What's going on? 

The First Principles: Designing Effective Education Programs Using ICT paper is, on one hand, a set of cautionary statements (or "principles") intended to help program planners and designers follow proven good practices and minimize expensive mistakes. Underlying that nuts-and-bolts compendium, however, is the heartfelt encouragement to the international donor community to get out in front of the use of education technology: It's a new moment, with inexpensive but powerful information tools and ways of connecting users to each other and to mighty rivers of information. It's a moment when basic skills are decreasing in value, but when high-value, contextualized skills have never been easier to acquire. 

The FP paper also presents information about projects that are noteworthy because they're: a) big; b) innovative; c) effective, or; d) all of these. As in the T4 Project in Bihar...

IRI and more in India: Technology Tools for Teaching & Training (T4) Project

...India’s T4 project uses Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) as its central means of improving instruction. T4 IRI is focused on English language learning and, in the Jhil Mil series, on math, environmental science, and social science. Program evaluations have found high levels of impact on student learning: In the state of Bihar, for example, Class 5 IRI students performed significantly better than their non-IRI peers in math (8.5 percent better), environmental science (10.1 percent) and social science (8.9 percent). In all eight states, evaluations have found that students using IRI make learning gains.

These positive results and other factors have led to rapid expansion of T4, made possible in part by the low capital costs and requirements for support of IRI. Begun in 900 schools in three states in 2003, T4 has grown to provide instruction and support in over 300,000 schools in eight states, and has reached over 42 million students.

In addition to IRI, T4 also provides resources for use in one-computer classrooms. One example is Group Teaching and Learning (GTL) software, which provides CD-based multimedia programming that engages both teachers and students in classroom learning activities. Building off of the IRI model, GTL (via teachers’ manuals) guides teachers in conducting whole-class activities that involve song, movement, small groups, and students interacting with the computer. In addition to GTL, the T4 project also provides instructional audio and video support for learning life skills, plus multimedia kits—incorporating audio, video and print content on CD-ROMs—that help students understand concepts and practices in math and science.

 So. Investments—both large-scale and small—are being made. New tools are having impact. What are the pitfalls (real or imagined) that might be convincing donors to scale back their support for ICT in schools? 

Coming next: A quick look at the 10 "first principles" for ICT in education


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?