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 mobile phones (7)


2012 FRIDA awards for internet innovations in Latin America & Caribbean

The 2012 FRIDA awards for innovations in Internet access, freedom, support for development and innovation have been announced. (I'm a special fan of University of the West Indies' M-fisheries project; fishing is a tough and dangerous job). 

 And the winners are: 

M-Fisheries – Trinidad y Tobago (The University of The West Indies)

Campaña de Neutralidad en la Red – Chile (ONG META/

Matemática para todos – México (Math2me)

Red De Estaciones Meteorológicas Participativas – Argentina (Universidad De La Punta/ Gobierno de la provincia de San Luis)

Policía Nacional de Colombia, primera fuerza en Latinoamérica en convertirse en ciudadanos digitales

Check 'em out!


A (semi)clear position on laptops vs mobile phones (!)

Jon Camfield offers a clear statement on the perceived choice of mobile phones vs laptops as the "engines of development":

First, there are clear cases where one technology is better suited to a task than another. I'd no more write long papers on a cell phone than I would carry around a laptop to use as a personal communications device. However there's a large chunk of tasks where either tool will suffice, and which "should" be used is more a factor of the local conditions than the features of any one technology.

Secondly -- and more importantly -- this discussion is tool-centric. We have a hammer (two, in this case) and are going around the development landscape searching for nails we can drive home, and it's a race between the two hammers to see who can hit the most nails. This is inherently the wrong way to apply ICT in development.

We shouldn't be arguing about mobiles vs computers, or even OLPC XOs vs Intel ClassMates, or Windows vs Linux, we should be arguing about specific problems in development, what tools could help, how, and for what costs (training time, implementation and infrastucture gotchas, as well as equipment costs).


You can't really argue with this position, but of course I'll try: Sure, we need to pick tools that are appropriate to our objectives. BUT objectives themselves need to be  appropriate to their contexts. And the critical contexts, the most critical contexts, share certain characteristics. I can probably run a pilot project that helps a few kids in a really poor country -- I'll go with Chad and "MDG education" for US $0.50 -- use laptops to write longish reports and build both skills and knowledge in the course of their writing. If I want to have impact across a wide swath of schools and students, however, I'll be better advised to focus on an objective that emerges out of Chad's educational context, perhaps increasing primary-school completion and lower-secondary enrolment, and that takes advantage of available infrastructure and of tools that are in use and supported. 

You can walk this context/objective/tool-choice discussion back any number of ways. (For example, you could say that my objective, to have impact on education outcomes in a poor country, determines my characterization of context.) But IF we stay within the context of the "bottom billion" and the countries in which they live, I'll wager that we find out that laptops are rarely if ever the appropriate tool to achieve scaled impact in schools.


mHealth, SMS, and African schools

I stopped in at Wayan Vota's TechSalon on mHealth at inveneo on Tuesday morning. (mHeatlh = "mobile health," essentially the use of phones, handheld computers and other portable devices to meet healthcare needs and improve healthcare systems.)

Karen Coppock, VP of VitalWave Consulting, presented information about their new-ish report culling trends and examples from over 50 mHealth projects. (A project that I worked on in 2003, Teledoc, was among the group they looked at.) 

The VitalWave report shows mHealth used for: 

  • Remote monitoring (6 projects) 
  • Remote data collection (14 projects)
  • Communication and training for healthcare workers (5 projects) 
  • Disease and epidemic outbreak training (7 projects)
  • Diagnostic and treatment support (9 projects -- including the now-defunct but lamented Teledoc!)
  • Education and awareness (6 projects)

Much, much attention was focused on SMS, used for one-to-one communication and used as a broadcast / narrowcast medium to reach mobile-phone users. SMS--because it's cheap, it's nearly ubiquitous (for those who can read), and connects directly to incentives in the form of airtime--is becoming the killer app for health, agriculture and community development in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

But not in education. Sure there are a few initiatives. And teachers have relatively high levels of mobile-phone ownership, (OK, I'm guessing here, prove me wrong). But the primary constituents--kids--don't own phones. And the few mLearning initiatives that target educators and schools, a couple in  Tanzania and South Africa, haven't really taken off. 


Here's an example

Vodacom and Nokia were collaborating to offer mobile based educational content to remote schools. The Project 'BrigeIT' uses a Nokia N95 and a TV set on the client side. A teacher is able to send an SMS to request material and a file is downloaded to the phone on such a request. This multi media file can be played back on the TV set. There are still some issues on energy that the project is grappling with.

Television -- even without broadcast content -- is NOT the killer app for schools in the region. Electricity, toxicity (what happens with those CRTs?) and the high cost of usable content are all barriers. Not to mention the fact that the data-download over Vodacom's GPRS network is going to cost _somebody_, even if that somebody is Vodacom for the purposes of the field test. 

Finally, why not just load ALL the damn content on a DVD and send the thing to the school so the teacher can browse without peering through the tiny aperture of her mobile phone screen at whatever index of, say, social studies content is sent in reply to her SMS? (Sure, portable DVD players cost somewhat more than CRT-based TVs, but they use way more power and release way more toxics at the end of their lifecycles. [Well, not way more, perhaps. But lots of lead...])

Where's the SMS-based teacher-development project that drives teachers to upgrade their subject knowledge and try new approaches in the classroom? Or OUT of the classroom?

(More on SMS and schools, and on the relationship of mHealth & eHealth, soon.) 


No smart phone for you!

From 4 March edition of The New Vision (daily paper in Uganda) by way of Digital Learning:

EXPENSIVE mobile phones are a liability to teachers, information and communication technology (ICT) state minister Alintuma Nsambu has said. Nsambu encouraged teachers to instead invest in cheap computers that would help them move with the modern technological trends. 

“That flashy phone can have more features than a computer but cannot do certain things. It can also be easily stolen and you go back to zero,” he said. (snip) "Students are learning via the Internet. It will be difficult for a computer-illiterate teacher to stand in front of such children,” he cautioned. 

Robert Ssebukwu, the education ministry commissioner for ICT, said teachers had been offered refurbished computers at sh300,000.
300,000 Ugandan Shillings is about US $150. A Blackberry Curve is available for about US $325, WITH pay-as-you-go pricing or a monthly subscription of about US $45.

The MOE-subsidized computer doesn't seem like that bad a deal, until you factor in connectivity costs ($174 set-up for broadband, with monthly costs of $2,300 for 512 Mbps*) and whatever you need to do to keep your refurb running. And you still need to have a phone...

* I do realize that individuals in Uganda won't be signing up for broadband. Teachers make a little more than US $100 per month. Uganda's overall Internet pricing, however, is among the most expensive in Africa.


Finding that niche between smart phones and netbooks...

... Is going to be very difficult. CNET reports that Intel and LG Electronics: 

are working on a new class of product that are mini-computers that can also be used to make phone calls using a wireless Internet connection. Intel sees the category of product as something that is somewhere between a smartphone, like the Apple iPhone, and a Netbook, a scaled-down version of a notebook computer. 

This is happening because Intel sees opportunities for growth in the midst of the economic downturn. While mobile phone sales were off about 12 percent worldwide last year, smartphone sales rose about 22.5 percent. Intel doesn't make mobilephone chips (ARM, TI, and QualComm do, according to CNET). LG electronics, on the other hand, makes many different phones, a few computer monitors, and zillions of kitchen and laundry appliances. (They don't appear to make computers.) So, together they are envisioning a phone-like device that's a little bigger, a little faster, a little more usable than a smartphone, and REALLY popular:

Intel argues that consumers need a device that's more powerful than a smartphone but not as bulky as a Netbook or laptop. The idea is that consumers who buy a MID could use it to watch high-definition video, make phone calls using the Internet, or download information from the Web while on the go.

Now, the above are all activities that I do, reasonably frequently, on my phone, as per the CNET article: 

Not surprisingly, Intel's vision of a MID is exactly why many people want to buy a smartphone like the iPhone. 

The Intel/LG device will in fact make phone calls--via wireless when it's available. Which highlights the primacy of the network. I don't believe that my phone right now--a 3G iphone--is keeping me from doing much that I want to do (except, ironically, make Skype calls on wireless). A faster network, I know, will result in higher utility from my already-robust smartphone, and will also lead to more applications, more services, and more sophistication in both. Network quality (speed, coverage, reliability and cost) are the limiters of my experience, not the phone itself. 

(Oh sure, I don't like typing on the iPhone anymore than anyone else does. But I don't really consider it a productivity tool as such, I consider it an information and communication tool. A Web reader, etc.) 

And the CNET article makes an interesting point in this regard: 

So far, wireless operators have done a poor job of providing people with a single subscription for multiple devices. 

It's true of course. As the three or four main mobile telcoms fight over the smartphone subscriber markets, they haven't found much advantage to bundling 3G access for non-phone devices with 3G access for smartphones. I suppose that letting me use my iPhone as a 3g modem for my laptop might afford me some increased degree of mobility/communications, but hell, I live in Oakland, I can almost always find WiFi in conjunction with a cup of coffee.