A Voice of the Web

Steph's personal blog on professional matters


This is the blog of Stephane Boyera...Yet another blog about mobile, ICT and Social & Economic Development in the South.

Le savoir est une are - Knowledge is a WeaponI just reviewed and commented the UNESCO draft mLearning Guidelines that my friend Steve Vosloo released a few weeks ago. Below are the comments i just posted on the related UNESCO Forum (do the same if you are interested !!).
The introduction is great, and the policy guidelines are well written. That said, it is not clear, in the introduction, if it concerns low and middle income countries only or not. When i read the policy guidelines, I tend to think that it is the case. Should it be clearly stated?

On another front, I feel it is very difficult to talk about a mLearning policy completely outside the country ICT framework, and mobile ICT framework (policy, regulation, etc.). For me, a mlearning policy is a kind of subset of or dependent on ICT and mobile ICT policy environment. Recommending the development and use of mobile in education is good as far as it is authorized. It might be worth mentioning it somewhere?

Then, still in the introduction, the high availability of mobile and their ubiquity is largely underlined, but I can’t find any evidence or data that support this view in the specific sector of mLearning. Is there any data available about mobile phone ownership or access in specific age group like 6-10 or 10-15?

I think this would provide an interesting inside in terms of which part of the education system is more likely going to be impacted.

As general comment, I also feel that there is a section missing about identifying the local ICT context and ensuring that mLearning are using the most appropriate available channels in a given country. ICT context means for me the type of devices available in the field in different regions, the type of infrastructure, etc. In countries where most of mobile phones are basic, or at least in the considered age groups, or in countries where data service is not widely available (from either a technical perspective or an affordability perspective) it would be totally inappropriate to invest in e.g. a smartphone approach.

The matching between the ICT context and the solutions that are considered is an essential part of the success or the failure of a mLearning strategy. In few words, I believe that while it is fine to talk about “mobile technology” in a generic way in the overall document, it is critical to instantiate the term when designing a policy in a given country. These guidelines should recommend that phase. Steph keynoting at UNESCO 1st Mobile Learning WeekRelated to that comment, it is good to promote m-rates and better infrastructure as part of the policy guidelines, but i tend to think that those are not pre-requisite to realize the benefit of mLearning.

This is a critical point, and the document is fuzzy about the recommended order of steps. Are you willing to say that mLearning benefit is possible only in a data world (IP/internet connectivity), or do you believe that even with basic mobiles and no data service, there is a huge potential for mLearning? This should be a very clear message that has a huge impact on how to manage priorities at a country level.

Now, a bit more details on two specific points.
About “Optimize educational content for use on mobile devices”
This is probably one of the most important parts for me that includes community building, and sharing. That said I feel that some points could be more precise.
For instance: “Encourage the development of platforms or software that allow classroom teachers (and others with first-hand knowledge of students) to create or tailor mobile content.“.  I would add also share contents with others (even if this is slightly mentioned earlier with access to repository).

In this bullet point, it is also the only place where i could find a link with the ICT sector. This is imho another essential part of a strategy. mLearning is an incredible opportunity to develop the local mobile ICT sector, and to capture local innovation through entrepreneurs and ICT firms that will be able to provide solutions that fits the specific local challenges. Creating links between the ICT sector and the education sector through e.g. a national forum is surely one of the instruments that could be recommended.

To go a bit further, I think it would be worth having a section on promoting innovation in the mLearning area. The above-mentioned forum could be one instrument. Another one, that is clearly growing is an open data approach that would enable civic hackers, students, teachers, entrepreneurs etc. to access and use education related data and mash them up with other source of data. I think it would be really worth adding this dimension given the importance of the topic in the international agenda, and e.g. the buzz around the OGP (Open Government Partnership).

A student on the Web at UGB - SenegalIn that regards, the point on “Use mobile technology to improve communication and education management” is also important. Improving performance data collection, refining them, and getting them in a timely way is an essential block for an efficient education system.

That said, I don’t see a direct link between using mobile as an opportunity for a better data collection in the field for the education system, and the point on leveraging communication between stakeholders (parents, teacher, students, education systems). Both are very important, but they may be better split in two categories?

All in one, I found this document very well written, and very useful, highlighting almost all critical points. From my perspective, it is a major milestone in the domain, and it would be very interesting to follow the application of these guidelines in a few countries with different contexts, see the type of policies that results from these guidelines, and the results in the field in terms of services deployed, uptake of usage, and impact on education for all the actors of the domain.


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