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 Yemen (3)


More on the Internet & learning in a few Yemeni schools

When I reported that few Yemeni students were collaborating with students outside their schools, my colleague Mrs. Reem Bsaiso at World Links Arab Region replied, essentially, What's the problem with that? If their teachers are guiding collaboration with other students in the same school, the desired technique has been adopted.

A few days later, when I complained to another friend about the all-to-intuitive conclusions of an article on the importance of education to former child soldiers in Sierra Leone,  she said, Oh, it's social science. 

It's taken me some time to figure out why these two statements bug me. Especially since, they're each true on at least one level. 

With the Yemeni students, the problem is that a huge proportion of project "inputs" have focused on the Internet: Getting computers and connections in schools, getting teachers to understand how to use computers and the Internet, getting students to understand etc, maintaining and paying for Internet connections, organizing tele-collaborative projects, and so on. Now, from some perspectives, these inputs notwithstanding, the project is in fact managing to change some teachers' thinking and the kinds of activities that these teachers' kids do in school. Bravo!

From the point of view of the teacher... Well, let's just pretend that I'm a teacher in Say'un, out in rural Wadi Hadrhamout, so my school's Internet connection exists only in theory, or when there's electricity, or when the principal pays the (exhorbitant) phone bill that covers our lousy dial-up connection. And the training that I'm getting--and which is keeping me from taking care of my kids, or managing with my scooter-repair business, or tutoring seniors privately as they prepare for their national exam--emphasizes computer skills and particularly use of the Internet by me and by my students. 

Given that my school Internet connection is lousy, and the Internet is obviously essential, I might not _actually_ finish my training. It's interesting and all, but I don't see how the Internet enable all this in my school. I've got things to do.

And as it happens, a large percentage of teachers don't complete their training. But if these teachers who do finish then guide their kids in collaborative-learning activities,  skipping the Internet research, the vetting of information, the crafting of Powerpoint slides--at least from the important perspective of the student, we are making progress? School is marginally engaging, I'm learning at the same time that I'm socializing, I'm sorting out how to speak in groups and work with others. And leadership, I've got leadership down. It really is OK. 

From alternative but relevant points of view, however, this scenario is not so good. 

Foundation-type donors might be concerned with their Theories of Change. And observing that few teachers complete their training, and that few students ever communicate with someone outside their schools, these donors might conclude that  there's only limited impact. Money might be better spent elsewhere.

Policy makers (Ministers of Parliament, congresswomen and men, for example) might determine that teachers and students aren't very excited about the Internet. There's no point going to visit the telecommunications company, or ministry, to get a reduced rate for schools' Internet connections, if students aren't going to go nuts about it when they go home and talk to their parents.

The administrators at the Ministry of Education might be concerned with the high cost-per-teacher-trained. Perhaps it's US $45 without infrastructure costs, and US $95 with capital and operating costs when those computers and the Internet are included. And of course, once the schools are on their own, they'll cancel their Internet accounts because they have no funds. Perhaps this entire exercise might be made more efficient if we just skipped the technology.

And this is where we arrive back at Ms Bsaiso's original question--Isn't it OK if the teachers are adopting the techniques of collaborative learning even if they aren't using technology to practice those techniques? On arriving there, we also bump into my other friend's dismissal of education research as social science. I've got a couple of points still to make about this, coming up... but in general my understanding of the situation is, well, no.


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?