Tuesday, June 25, 2013

MOOCSs: 20 ways to monetise

MOOCs aren’t all about money but when it comes to their future,
money does matter. Calls for the monetisation of MOOCs are reasonable, although
a little at odds with the failure in the past to look for the monetisation of
Higher Education as a whole. In many ways MOOCs are a response to the
ever-rising costs of higher education that has led to record levels of student debt
and the worry that defaults may be on the horizon.

No one should deliver a MOOC without considering income but
pure ‘monetisation’ is the wrong term, as a MOOC is an activity that needs to
be seen in terms of both costs and income over time. So I’ll come at this as if
it was both an income and cost issue, namely its impact on your profit &
loss account. Note also that an institution could position its financial goal as an investment, aim for break-even or go for profit. Monetisation is ot just about profits.

1. Investment

A MOOC can be seen as a strategic investment by an
institution and be paid for straight from its existing budget. The rationale
for this can be a number of things that we’ll come to in terms of reducing
costs and other revenue streams. For the moment, one could simply fund such an
initiative from your teaching, technology or marketing budget. There is also an
argument for funding it as research. Interestingly, some institutions clearly
see themselves as leading the charge and developing MOOC software for use by

2. Not-for-profits

Not-for-profits have been very active in this area. As a
Trustee of a major education charity, I have supported a very large charity investment
in a single MOOC in the UK. Well known charities in the US have also been very
active. Mitra’s million pound TED prize is going towards a MOOC of sorts
(school in the cloud) and the WISE $500,00 prize is another possible sources.

3. Government

In many countries this is the primary course of funding and
we have already seen government funding go into Futurelearn, via the Open
University, in the UK, albeit in a rather opaque fashion. Tapping into
government funds to increase access, I’d suggest is a good model for killing
two birds with one financial stone, rather than woolly ‘access offices’.

4. Private equity

They have been active in the US, most notably with Udacity
and Coursera, but also in other initiatives. These investors take calculates
risks and this is one way for the system to hedge its risk.

5. Private donations

Institutions often tap into alumni for donations that go
into expensive, and sometimes ill-advised, capital projects, usually buildings
named after the donor. An alternative is emerging, where donors contribute
towards courses. This is a fine idea, especially if the donor is an interested
party, with some background and credibility in the subject.

6. Sponsorship

Google, AT&T and others have been active in sponsoring
MOOCs that seem relevant to their mission. There is every reason to see this as
a substantial and useful source of revenue. It is common the arts and arts
education, so I see no reason as to why it should not be used in education.

7. Students pay

Udemy use this model and with reasonably low costs that attract
students who see value for relatively little money. Freemium models may move
towards fees for popular and sought after courses or a more n-depth learning
experience after a taster.

8. Certification

This is top of the list, as a portion of MOOCers will want
certification and be prepared to pay for it, at various levels. Given the large
numbers of potential participants, even at a relatively modest price point,
this could be lucrative. Remember that, once the fixed, up-front costs have
been paid, the on-going cost-per-student are small. Coursera’s Signature Track
fees are $30-100.

9. Proctored assessment

Many MOOCs offer online and offline assessment, on a shared
revenue basis, with the likes of ProctorU and Pearson VUE. This is an additional
high-value proposition that can attract prices greater than that of volume

10. Books/materials

Some MOOCs have already linked the course to compulsory or
optional course materials such as existing textbooks but there’s also potential
sales from specialised course materials, such as software and equipment.

11. Summer schools

Universities have pitifully low occupancy rates, one reason
for their high costs, so offering ‘summer schools’ or other ‘holiday period’ ;earning
experiences could be one way to generate income, especially from the
intellectually curious, who are less interested in certification. The Open
University, in the UK, has been doing this for decades.

12. Recruitment

Recruitment referral (with student’s permission) is an
existing revenue stream, especially in IT and other technical MOOCs, where
high-end, practical skills are sought from a Global pool. The referral comes,
of course with the employers knowledge of what the MOOC delivers and demands of
its students.

13. Advertising

Any online delivery that attracts large numbers of eyeballs,
can generate advertising revenue. In this case the advertisers know exactly
what sort of audience they’re attracting, and as MOOCs develop, this data will
become invaluable. It’s not just the number of participants, now in their
millions, but the intense amount of times and time they spend on the course.

14. Future indigenous student income

MOOCs aimed at high-school students will increase your
chances of getting those students into your institution or at least getting the
best of those students.

15. Future overseas students income

Overseas income is a £5 billion industry in theUk and could
rise to £16.9 bllion by2025. These have become an essential source of income
for many institutions but as countries, especially in India, China and the Far
East. develop their own, large, world-class institutions, and visa restrictions
bite, revenues may fall. MOOCs have remarkably diverse audiences, with students
often coming from every corner of the globe. This must be a way of attracting
more students to study and pay fees at your institution.

16. Parents of future students

These are the people who pay top dollar for education and
often play a pivotal role in what institutions their children apply to. MOOCs
targeted at this audience make perfect sense. It gives the parent a feel for
the institution and even the academic(s) teaching there. These are the
‘influencers’ that marketeers love to target.

17. Future alumni contributions

MOOCs are already being targeted at alumni, as in many countries,
especially the UK, the vast majority of alumni remain an untapped source of
income. This is a way of staying in touch and marketing to alumni in a way that
is relevant to both parties, intellectually and not just financial begging.

18. Brand capital

A University sees its staff come and go, its students come
and go, its research owned and delivered by publishers and others. The core ‘value’
is in the brand, that’s what endures and has to be built, enhanced and
protected. MOOCs undoubtedly enhance brands as they are a form of massive, indirect,
online advertising.

19. Reduced capital costs

Universities have now realised, despite all the warnings, that
they have been spending far too much money on bricks and not clicks. The race
is not now who has the biggest campus packed with the most buildings but the
online war for students. To continue with endless capital projects at the
expense of MOOCs, and other online initiatives, is simply to load up on-going
maintenance and real-estate costs. Just think what one could do if tere were a moratorium
on building in Higher Education.

20. Reduced faculty costs

Many faculty don’t like teaching seems – OK I’ve said it –
but it’s true. Many yearn for a reduction or freedom from teaching. MOOCs are
one way to lessen the load on faculty.  Take
some high-volume, undergraduate courses and put them online (or partly online).


I’m pretty sure I’ve missed a few other potential income
streams and welcome additional suggestions. I’m also sure there are arguments
to be made on costs and income around lower drop-out rates for students that
prepare by doing a MOOC. There may even be a way of using ‘access’ funds. Whatever
the future for MOOCs, it strikes me that money is not a big problem. The cost-per-student metric shows that MOOCs deliver volume therefore lower costs. This is the scaling up that technology inevitably brings leading to lower delivery costs. It has happened in almost every other area of human endeavour and its about time it happened in education..

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Latin – The Big Debate at British Museum

The venerable Mary Beard, whom I love, not only for her
books but also her television programmes, and the fact that all that bullshit
about presenters having to be groomed clones, is beneath her, invited me to
contribute to a debate on ‘The Future of Latin’ at the British Museum. So how
did it go?


A sell out, with 350 paying Latinists, turned up to hear
Mary chair a debate which pitched David Aaronovitch and I against Peter Jones
and Natalie Haynes. As we walked on stage and introduced ourselves (I found that I was the only person
who didn’t go to Oxford), everybody seemed to know each other (except me).
This is exactly the sort of challenge I like, as although it was a sell-out,
I’m not in the habit of selling-out on my beliefs and principles..

Neither contrarian nor philistine

To be clear, I was not there as a contrarian or philistine,
as I’ve been in love with the classics since I was a boy. My first secondary
school lay astride the Antonine Wall and for over 40 year I’ve been to every
corner of the Roman, Greek and Egyptian Empires, from Scotland to Syria. I
cycled Hadrian’s wall two years ago, still go to Greece every year and never
miss an opportunity to visit sites, especially on the Peloponnese. and will be
going to Egypt, as I do very yea,r for another dose of Egyptology in December. I am,
however, also a rationalist and realist, and my 30 plus years of experience in the
learning game have made me deeply suspicious of the position of Latin, among
many other things, in our culture and school curriculum. I was there to argue
that it should NOT BE TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS AT ALL. These were, and are, my
arguments. Note that I am not against LATIN a a language or even an object of
study, I am against it being taught in schools. The arguments for each of these
propositions were presented by my opponents and audience members. These were my responses.

1. LATIN is NOT about choice

Several people argued that Latin is a matter of choice in
schools. I disagree. Latin, as we have seen from Gove’s lunacy, has resulted in
the destruction of choice in the curriculum. Professor
Alison Wolf, Gove’s lapdog, ignored advice from industry and education experts
to crush 3100 vocational qualifications. The EBacc, which had Latin as a core
choice, deliberately EXCLUDED all vocational subjects, even ICT. He’s still at
it, creating a one-sided system that simply reinforces the old apartheid system we have in this country between academic and vocational learning. It’s a
mistake that may take decades to reverse. Who would have thought that with all
of this talk of 21st century skills, mass youth and graduate
unemployment, we’d be discussing the promotion of the teaching of a 2nd
century BC language that no one speaks, as a core curriculum subject.

2. LATIN does NOT help you learn other

Why scratch your ear by going over the top of your
head? Isn’t it obviously easier to just get on and learn Spanish, Italian and
French, rather than the convoluted route through Latin. Thorndike, Sherwin, Haas
& Stern all think so. In the Sherwin metastudy Research and the
teaching of English,
 “the study of Latin does not necessarily increase
the ability to learn another language… No consistent experimental evidence in
support of this contention was found.” Learners have limited time, that time is
clearly better spent on the target language itself. In fact, Latin can
make learning a new language MORE difficult. In Search of
the Benefits of Latin
 by Haas and Stern (2003), who followed up on
Thondike’s work nearly a century earlier, in the Journal of Educational
Psychology is the key paper. They took two groups of German students, one who
studied French, the other Latin as their second language. Both groups were given
a course in Spanish and the results measured. When the results were analysed by
a Spanish assessor (who didn’t know who had taken French or Latin) the French
students made significantly fewer grammatical errors than the Latin students.
As predicted the Latin students wrongly transferred the rules of Latin to
Spanish. For example “misconstructions in verbs emerged to be either highly
reminiscent of or identical to Latin verbs”. The French group turned out to be
much better prepared to cope with Spanish grammar. Psychologically the Latin
students had suffered from negative transfer using false friends in their new
language. The problem with understanding Latin is that you need to pay close
attention to word endings; case markers on nouns and time markers on verbs. But
in English and Romance languages word order and prepositions are more
important. Endings play a minor role. The fact that the grammatical
similarities between modern Romance languages are much greater than that
between Latin and modern Romance languages, means that the defenders of Latin
are flogging a dead horse. Thorndike was right – transfer of the wrong kind

3. LATIN does NOT have an edge in improving cognitive skills

This argument is
greatly loved by the parents of ‘gifted children’ although I rarely come across
a mIddle class parent whose child is not gifted. For gifted, read ‘pushed’ (not
a bad thing but very different). Again Haag & Stern (2000), in a review of the literature found that
Thorndike, “did not find any differences in science and maths in students who
learned Latin at school and those who did not”. Two groups of comparable
students, where one studied Latin, the other English, were assessed after two
years, “No differences were found in either verbal or non-verbal IQ or grades
in German or Maths”. This again had been predicted by Thorndike decades before,
namely that transfer needs common ground in the source and target.

LATIN does NOT help you understand general grammatical structures

Stephen Pinker,
Harvard’s world renowned expert in psycholinguistics backs this up in The Language Instinct, “Latin declensional paradigms
are not the best way to convey the inherent beauty of grammar”. He recommends
computer programming and universal grammar on the grounds that they are “about
living minds and not dead tongues”. 

LATIN does NOT give significant advantages in using English

English is a
Germanic language – we are largely speaking in Old English rooted language. The
TOP 100 words are Old English (sorry three are Old Norse – THEY, THEIR, THEM).
As for one audience member’s argument that it is necessary as all children need
to be able to understand etymology, I disagree. Is there anything more annoying
than the dinner-party bore who stops you and explains the root of a word, as if
it made any difference to your argument or its contemporary meaning. If anything a good course in Old English would be better. Meaning is
use – get over it Latinists.

LATIN does NOT guides us correct use of English grammar

Pinker has a go at
the Latin language mavens who want to pointlessly
foist Latinate rules of grammar into English. As Pinker explains,
this snobbery took root in 18th century London, when Latin was
used as a mark of social class (still true today) and Latin grammar rules were
crudely pasted into books on English grammar, for example, ‘don’t split
infinitives’ and ‘don’t end a sentence with a preposition’. Latin
simply doesn’t allow you to split an infinitive and to stupidly insist
that it’s wrong in English, is as stupid as making us all wear togas.

is necessary for SCIENCE, LAW and MEDICINE

One girl in the
audience, from Merseyside, but remarkably free from any Merseyside accent, was
adamant that Lawyers needed to have studied Latin. This is laughable. Incidentally,
if you’ve heard the argument that Latin helps medical students learn and
understand the considerable amount of medical vocabulary that has to be learned
in medical schools. This also turns out to be false as shown in Pampush and

LATIN brings the joy of ideas and literature

One contribution
from the audience I did like was the idea that Latin bridges us to rich
tradition of thought and literature. He mentioned Roman literature but also the
Magna Carta, Bacon and Newton. First, anyone studying history will not lose out
by working with translations of the Magna Carta or Bacon. And does anyone
really need to read newton’s tortous latin, other then scholars in the history
of maths? I think not.  And why not
Greek? (oops started a sentence with a conjunction – duck). Wouldn’t you prefer
the riches of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, along with the works of any one of
Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes to the largely derivative
Roman dramatists. Even in History, the Greeks Thucydides and Herodotus are a
match for any Roman writer. In politics, our democratic traditions are largely
Greek. Even English law is not Roman (although in Scotland it is). Then there’s
the politics and democratic traditions that are fundamentally Greek. Even in
maths and science the mighty Pythagoras, Euclid and Archimedes trump the

LATIN’s history of exclusion

Of course, Latin
was introduced to this country as the language of the clergy, it was not, as is
sometimes supposed introduced by the Romans, as few Latinate words come from
that era. As the language of the church it largely excluded the laity, as most
remained illiterate and spoke various forms of English. It was then used as the
gatekeeper for learning. This had some benefits, when Latin was sort of
European Esperanto, but continued for centuries after that died and was long
used as the gatekeeper at Oxbridge and other institutions to keep the hoi
polloi out. David Aaronovitch made the telling point that it is still a key
‘marketing’ differentiator for independent schools.

LATIN would NOT die if not taught in schools

There are plenty of
scholars in subjects that are not taught at schools. The bottom line with any
dead language, especially Latin, is that there’s little that is new and to be
uncovered. Compare this to the vast amounts of Sumerian cuneiform tablets that
still need to be both deciphered and excavated. In the end I agree with one of
our greatest living Latin scholars Mary Beard, “the overall strength of the
classics is not to be measured by exactly how many young people know Latin or
Greek from school or University. It is better measured by asking how many
believe that there should be people in the world who do know Latin and Greek.

This about sums up my position. I am not against the study of Latin or any
other historic languages. This is largely a matter of proportionality for our
Universities. By all means let a few study Latin. What I am against is too
prominent a role for Latin in contemporary school curricula. Our young people
have enough on their plate at 5-18, as the range of subjects expands to include
a wider range of science subjects, IT and other vocational skills. A dead
language at this stage is merely the dead hand of educational history being
played out by interested parties.


I rather liked this audience and I especially liked
Peter Jones.  He was my opponent but put
to bed those old tropes about Latin improving your ability to learn languages,
improve intelligence or think logically. He was remarkably free from cant and
any sense of snobbery. What he loved was Latin and his plea was for the beauty
and intrinsic value of the language. With that I have no argument.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

African MOOCs: unlocking a billion more brains

has more potential to lift more people out of poverty — by providing them an
affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have. Nothing has
more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest

Thomas Friedman NY Times

On this view MOOCs are a godsend for Africa. Free, they have the potential to reach
vast audiences who stand no chance of getting anywhere near higher education as
we know it in the developed world. On the other hand, as the
Namibian President wisely said at E-learning Africa this month, let’s not make
the mistake of following an overly academic approach at the expense of Africa’s
vocational needs, what he called the 'spectacle of hallucination'. African MOOCs will have to be more relevant to Africa’s
vocational needs, such as agriculture, healthcare and entrepreneurship. A third view, is that Africa needs to produce as well as
consume MOOCs. Absolutely. 

The bottom line is that the simple idea of making
and making use of relevant courses, made free (or cheap) and accessible to
millions of young Africans, is as good an example as any of Africa leapfrogging
a Western Higher Education system that has proved slow, cumbersome and far too
expensive. The last thing Africa needs are $20-$40,000 per year undergraduate


Africamooc’ is
alive and kicking, aggregating and hosting MOOCs. Jens Schneider, a wonderfully enthusiastic
Namibian says, “If your course is free,
we host for free
”. This is a useful service as Jens understands the real
needs and contexts in which MOOCs could be used in Africa. Aggregation and
reuse is a start, a good start.

Entrepreneurship MOOCs

An example of a relevant vocational MOOC is Jim
Vetter’s LIFE, a not-for-profit funded MOOC for entrepreneurs from all over the
world, with many in Africa. He uses a MOOC to develop small businesses,
especially tech businesses.
Lessons learnt? Use a pedagogy for a range of literacies, make it multilingual
and make content available on  a range of devices. He also uses learners to
help develop content, as they know a lot about troubleshooting in their own,
local environments. Stories are important, as are JOLTs (just in time learning
tools). What was needed were practical, skills around start-up costs, fixed
costs, variable costs, profit & loss, cash flow and so on. For this he uses
free, open source spread-sheets with P &Ls etc. He delivers in English and
Spanish, and soon in French and Arabic. This is important as 202 countries have
logged in so far and it is widely used throughout Africa. I also likes his free
‘facilitator guide’ downloadable from the site.

Tanzanian IT MOOCs

Even more relevant to African needs is the World
Bank funded Coursera initiative to provide market-relevant IT skills in
Tanzania, where jobs are going unfilled due to lack of relevant IT skills.
Tanzania’s problem is not unusual in Africa where talented students go abroad
to study, leaving the country bereft of high-end skills. They hope to match IT
MOOCs to local employment needs by involving stakeholders such as local IT
lecturers, businesses and entrepreneurs. This is promising as it pays attention
to local culture and context.

African perspective on MOOCs

What’s now
needed are a few home grown MOOCs from African institutions. They need not be
universities. Gertjan van Stam has spent a long time in deep, rural Africa, in
Zimbabwe and Zambia, and has some revealing insights into MOOCs in Africa. The
African perspective on MOOCs, he feels, should be different. Take the rural or
traditional African perspective on the subject and you see things through
different eyes. 71% in his village use the internet for education in deep rural
villages. In his village role models emerged, such as the woman who went online
to get a Degree in Divinity and became an important member of the clergy. His
children use Khan and BBC Bitesize for maths, His wife, a doctor, is doing a
MOOC on mobile health. Most education not accessible to the poor, so MOOCs are
a real educational opportunity.

However, he says that Africa must transmit and not just
consume MOOCs. There’s a real need for MOOCs in indigenous languages, sensitive
to Africa’s oral tradition.  Content in
just western languages is hampering progress. Even worse, it may strengthen
colonial thought. He wants MOOCs ‘contextualised for Africa’ and sees them as
an opportunity to ‘send an African knowledge to the world’. What does this
mean? Ubunto – ‘my humanity is linked to your humanity’, Orality - used
extensively in Africa, where instant discourse influences everything. He’d like
to see MOOCs provide more long-term educational content that ‘withstands
rampant individualism’, especially in the Africa where the short-term is
unpredictable. This is fascinating and opens up the possibility for MOOCs that
are far more oral, immediate and useful than using or repackaged western


these people presented their visions for African MOOCs, it was disappointing to
hear predictable responses about drop-outs, certification and
quibbles about the history of MOOCs. This is to apply old narrow narratives to something entirely new and
disruptive. This was in stark contrast to the visionaries, who were actually
doing real work, on real MOOCs, with large numbers of real learners. We needn’t
worry. The digital genie has escaped from the Ivory Tower and caught the
imagination of people who really care about access. Thinking of MOOCs in Africa makes you see the
potentials for escape from the dominant and oppressive western model of Higher Education;
remote, inaccessible, expensive, elitist and overly-academic. I wish them well.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

E-learning Africa – 7 new narratives

Amazing event - 1500 people from all over Africa, to
discuss, debate, dance, sing and celebrate. I’ve never been to a conference
like it, and believe me I’ve been to a few. I was there to give a keynote,
workshop and take part in the final event of the conference – the Big Debate
but to be honest I gained much more than I gave. To give you some idea of the
humour on hand, during a meal at which I was eating crocodile, zebra, kudu and
springbok, a lad from Uganda asked of Channa (who’s vegetarian), “If you like
animals so much, why are you eating all their food”.

1. New African narrative

(whatever that is) wants to do things its own way. The people at this event
wanted to change the old pessimistic narrative of poverty, starvation, AIDS,
malaria and dependency, to a new narrative of optimism and self-sufficiency. I
met nothing but friendly, enthusiastic, committed people, who want to do things
the African way.

So what is this African ‘way’? What I think lay at the heart
of the sentiment was the idea that Africa had been subjected to foreign
influences for too long. I constantly heard calls for approaches and contents
to be more relevant, contextualised and in local languages. I gave my own view
in The Big Debate, a wonderfully, raucous event held at the end of the
conference, where I presented evidence that Mitra’s Hole-in-the-Wall projects
ad Negroponte’s Ethiopian adventure were dangerous, unsustainable and at times
downright lies. "Don't let
educational colonialism sneak in... with bucket loads of hardware and content
that is inappropriate for your children.
" My formidable opponent Adele
said something similar when she urged approaches “By the Africans for the Africans - and we will share best practice with
you when it's done.
" This debate, on ‘sustainability v innovation’ was
a hoot. Massive audience participation, loads of laughs and although we clearly
won, there was a messy recount and the decision was reversed. When I asked why,
the reply was telling, “Remember Donald,
this is Africa!

2. Mobiles as lifelines

My keynote talk
was on mobile learning, small beer elsewhere but BIG in Africa. The Nokia 3310
has legendary status in Africa, but Samsung’s the new kid on the block. Africa
loves mobile tech. Calls, text, health, finance – they’ve found a myriad of
ways to use mobiles to enhance their lives. Tariffs are still high but
youngsters would go without food for more airtime. As was explained to me in
the Katatura Township, a mobile for someone in real poverty is far more
important than for someone in a developed country. If you rely on piece-work,
you need to be available to take a call at any time. It’s a way of managing and
transferring what little money you have and receiving remittances from that
relative abroad. It’s a way of switching on your electricity and getting
medical help. It’s a lifeline.

My keynote was all about mobile learning. The very first
piece of technology was invented here in Africa – the stone axe. And for 1.7
million years this was the dominant technology – the first handheld device. But
there’s something odd about stone axes, as many are found in pristine
condition, unused, or as large axes, far too big to be practical. As pieces of
useful technology, they had ‘status’ value. In that sense we have to be careful
about m-learning as they may be seen by youngsters as ‘too cool for school’. My
second piece of advice was to forget ‘courses’. Mobiles are the GPS for
learning, rather than delivering learning itself. Think search, performance
support, informal learning – not courses. Think of contextual learning,
vocational elearning out in the field, reinforcement through spaced practice.
Think different. Also, be careful with video, as few watch video on mobiles,
think audio and text. Media rich is not necessarily mind rich. What I saw in
Africa was the clever use of mobile technology to enhance literacy and
practical learning.

3. Mobiles as motivators for literacy

In my
workshop on ‘Mobiles and literacy’ I was pushing the idea that mobiles had
produced a ‘renaissance of reading and writing’ among the young. It will, I
think, be the single most important factor in increasing literacy on the
planet. Why? Every child is massively motivated to learn to text, post and
message on mobiles. The evidence shows that they become obsessive readers and
writers through mobile devices.

I saw ample
evidence of learning how to read and write through mobiles in what can only be
described as ‘challenging’ conditions. Cornelia Koku Muganda showed us real
evidence for positive results with girls and women in Tanzania, who not only
had to learn to read and write (txt) but who couldn’t afford to make expensive
mistakes such as wrong numbers, wrong codes for electricity switch-on and so
on. Mignon Hardie had a wonderful scheme for young people in the Townships of
South Africa, gaining not only literacy skills but valuable insights into their
own lives through specially written narratives. Ian Mutarami and Mikko Pitkanen
showed how games technology could deliver mobile phonics apps in local

My own
session focussed on the fact that Africa showed the fastest growth &
massive use of txting. Txting is a significant form of literacy, introduced by youngsters, on their own,
spontaneously, rapidly & without tuition. Oddly, some complain about
poor literacy, but when a technology arrives that provides opportunities to
read and write (constantly) some complain about that! So why the moral panic? Is it a linguistic disaster? No.
Almost all popular beliefs about TXTING are wrong. It’s not new, not for
young only, helps rather than hinders literacy and adds a new dimension to
language use. Language is about being understood and txting has adapted to this
need. Good txters understand that ‘Cnsnnts crry mr infrmtn thn vwls’ and play
with language. Interestingly, women more enthusiastic txters, write longer
txts, more complex txts, use more emoticons, more His & BYEs and more
emotional content (Richard Ling  The Sociolinguistics of SMS)

More importantly, txting
benefits literacy as it is a motivating factor in writing (Katz & Aakhus),
requires phonetic knowledge, has links with success in attainment (Wood & Bell), helps one be concise (Fox)
and helps develop social skills (Fox).

4. Hardware

A huge
debate erupted over what devices should be used in learning in Africa. For my
money, the good projects used mobile or notebooks/laptops. Tablets were being
hyped but when I spoke to people they were wary of their lack of flexibility,
low level learning potential, maintenance problems and costs. While they may be
appropriate in some contexts, such as Merryl Ford’s work in rural S Africa and
in early years or primary school, I have serious doubts about their efficacy in
most other contexts. They are impossible to repair, difficult to network and
can severely limit skills development in writing, coding and the use of more
sophisticated software tools.

I was much more impressed 
with the laptop projects. Nkubito Manzi Bakuramutsa was an impressive
project manager from Rwanda. He stressed the need for proper infrastructure-
it’s all about wifi, electricity, cabling and sockets. But where he was smart
was in his capacity building of teachers. This is, “fundamental – they are your
front line troops”. It starts with 5 days training for heads of schools, each
with one champion teacher,  to
familiarise themselves with tech, then teaching with the laptop. Education must
come before technology. Then the bombshell – he pleaded for a proper academic
study on their effectiveness.

5. Vocational v academic

The Namibian
Prime Minister spoke on the first day of the conference. He was witty but also
wily. I liked him, as he warned us against the ‘spectacle of hallucination’ where technology was used to create
illusory progress. Shiny objects that dazzle but don’t deliver long-term
solutions. He urged us to focus on vocational, not academic, context and
content. Health, farming, tourism, entrepreneurship – employability was the
watchword for Africa.

Big problems need big and innovative solutions. Time and
time again I heard requests for approaches and content that are more sensitive
to context and culture. Too many projects parachuted technology and English
content that had little relevance for learners. The western idea of ’academic’
schooling was being pushed but was unsustainable. Schooling in itself is not
the answer in itself, as almost everyone in Africa leaves school – then what?
Millennium goals around schooling will not deliver unless that schooling is

6. Health, agriculture, public sector,

I saw a myriad of useful projects around agriculture (look
out for the www.ict4ag.org conference in
Kigali, Rwanda, later this year. Giacomo Rambaldi is passionate about the use
of technology in farming, especially around the use of m-banking (Robert Okine
in Ghana), messaging on livestock (Darlington Kahilu in Zambia), iCow in Kenya,
optimising the use of pesticides (John Gushit in Nigeria), vetinary projects –
the list goes on and on. Then the healthcare projects, nurse licence renewal,
HIV counselling (Fabrice Laurentine in Namibia), drug prescription (Lesek
Wojnowski in S Africa). I saw innovative thinking around capacity building in
the public sector. Then there’s the innovation hubs and entrepreneurship
projects. Bloggers, like Mac-Jordan Degadjor, show that the new narrative must
be created from within.

7. Sustainability

My contribution to The Big Debate focused on
‘sustainability’. You can keep on ‘taking the expensive tablets’, buy into the
myth that is Sugata Mitra’s ‘holes in walls’ or believe Negroponte’s Ethiopian
hype’ OR you can start with real problems and real, sustainable solutions.
Tech-led projects can work but only if the risks are understood and assessed
from the start. Innovation without sustainability is not innovation at all. If
you want to avoid massive failure, then watch out for tech that lies at
Gartner’s ‘Peak of inflated expectations’ as it will more than likely end up in
the ‘Trough of disillusionment’.

Africa has had a swarm of mosquito projects, what it needs
are more steady, long-lived tortoise projects. Sustainability comes in several
forms; sustainable in technical infrastructure, stakeholders, teacher training,
learner take-up, maintenance, context, relevance, languages and culture. Above
all, Africa needs sustainability in terms of costs. 20% of the poor  exist on 
$1 a day  20% 40% on  $2 a
day. Now if the global average of ICT spend 3% of income, they can only afford
$10-$20, and it would have to be relevant. In fact they tend to spend this on
cheap mobiles. Think, then, on this. Tablets $200-$300but total costs - solar
power, maintenance & support add much, much more. These expensive tablets
have serious side-effects.


Weber-Fahr gave a potent presentation with a focus on social mobility. The key
point is urbanisation. This is what lifts people out of poverty. But she had a
stark warning. Social mobility is not guaranteed and by no means certain.
Africa has huge resources, huge challenges but also a huge reservoir of hope. I
came away with a different mindset about Africa. Throwing hardware at the
problems is not the solution. True solutions must be home-grown. African
projects, run by Africans for Africans, using African content relevant to
African contents and languages.

Even at the airport I was engaged in conversation with
people from Nigeria and Ghana, all eager to talk and get on with things. On the
plane I sat next to a young girl from Uganda who had been at the conference.
She was from Uganda and was brimming with hope for the future and I look
forward to seeing her next year in Kampala, where the next brilliant e-learning
Africa will take place.


Well done to
Rebecca and her ICWE team for organising the conference. They were magnificent.
From the warm welcome at the airport to the final sundown party at River
Crossing, the whole experience was a joy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Negroponte hacks off Africa

Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had
disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.

Well, no, the only idiot in this story is Negroponte, as the hacking story is a lie. They actually
pressed the reset button on the side of the tablet. On this definition the
local baboon could have ‘hacked android’. So why would an MIT academic tell
deliberate lies? All in his team knew the hacking tale was wrong, yet no one
came out and said it.

When I wrote a critique of the project, I had my suspicions, now those
suspicions have been confirmed. At E-learning Africa this week, I spoke to someone on the ground, who was
furious about the publicity the project had received. He is doing sterling work
with laptops elsewhere in Ethiopia and resents the TED hype that surround Mitra
and Negroponte, as it distract from the necessity of training teachers and
being sensitive to the context and culture into which technology is placed. 

perfect example of this type of cultural insensitivity, is the ‘Alphabet Game’
where they had to ‘recite’: A for Apple, C for Cat… O for Octopus – OCTOPUS!
Did anyone tell Nick that Ethiopia doesn’t have a coast? You’d need a passport
to see an octopus.

Wenchi Crater was a spot where dozens of tourists a day visit, ride
horses and go for boat trips on the lake. He thought the idea that these kids
had never seen any written word on packaging, road signs or print,

Mosquito and the tortoise

This is one of those annoying ‘mosquito’ projects. In
Africa, there’s ‘mosquito’ projects and ‘tortoise’ projects. Mosquito projects
are noisy, short-lived, suck you dry and often have nasty side-effects.
Tortoise projects, take their time, have a protective shell of sustainable
self-sufficiency. They are quiet, often unobtrusive but long-lived.

A tortoise will have sustainable technology, sustainable stakeholders, sustainable teaching, sustainable learners, sustainable change-management, sustainable electricity, sustainable plugs &
cables, sustainable resources. They
will also be sustainable in their language, culture and context. Above
all they need to be sustainable on COST.
Sustainable innovation is what Africa needs not just innovation in itself,
Without sustainability there is no real innovation, only 'bad' innovation in
projects that fly for a short time and die.


Negroponte, like
Mitra, is doing more harm than good with these short-lived mosquito projects.
It’s nothing more than self-aggrandisement that detracts from more worthy and
long-lasting efforts. Even worse, speaking to someone senior in the European
Commission, Negroponte was shameless in getting his brother, John Negroponte,
former US Deputy Secretary of State, to pull strings for meetings with EU
decision makers (and others elsewhere in the world). This is the sort of stunt
that amounts to little more than educational colonialism. I should add that I have no problem with the OLPC project in Rwanda,where an enthusiastic guy is trying hard to make it work.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

More holes in Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole-in-Wall’ project

I wouldn’t take it if
you offered it to me for free
” said the head of the school I visited  in the huge Katutura Township on the outskirts of Windhoek in Africa. In 2008 some guys
turned up started to drill four holes in the wall, installed dial-up computers,
and left explaining almost nothing. Within three months the project was dead. Internet
access was intermittent and larger boys dominated the computers, playing games.
At best a distraction, at worst, yet another failed and misguided idea imposed
upon a community that was neither asked nor consulted. Today the four ugly,
padlocked shutters are all that remain, just as we saw in my last report on the
‘hole-in-the-wall’ report in India.

Hype cycle

Of all the learning technology projects I’ve witnessed over
the thirty years I’ve been in this field, this is the one that most closely
matches the Gartner hype cycle. Since 2007 Sugata Mitra has been doing the
rounds giving exactly the same talk, same pauses, same anecdotes and same
jokes. I have just seem him give exactly the same speech I saw him give six
years ago. This is the only thing that has been sustainable in the project; the
hype-fuelled marketing. It has, I hope, reached its ‘Peak of inflated expectation’ and
is now plunging headlong into the 'Trough  of disillusionment'. When I asked a
government official what happened she said “it didn’t work….we must do some
research to see why it failed”.


For Arora, who visited the sites in India, there was “little real independent evidence, other than that provided by HiWEL“. It
did “not compare the amount of time spent
on hole-in-wall material with same time in school….the comparison was meaningless
” and in the end the project was “self-defeating…
‘hole-in-the-wall’ has become the ‘computer-in-the-school’

Project not effective

Mark Warschauer,  Professor of Education at the University of California, who
also visited the now abandoned sites, 
found that “parents thought that
the paucity of relevant content rendered it irrelevant
“ and “criticised the kiosks as distracting the
children from their homework
“. Overall there it was “low level learning and not challenging… with no Hindi content (only
language they knew)
”. In fact, “most of the time they were playing games”. On
top of this, just as in Africa, “the internet rarely functioned”. To sum up, “overall the project was not
very effective”.


At the E-learning
Africa Conference, where I gave a keynote, workshop and debate contribution,
I met practitioner after practitioner who welcomed by more sober view of the
project. They too were skeptical as all the evidence they had suggested that
teacher involvement was vital. Person after person shook my hand saying how
glad they were that someone was standing up to the hype.