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Designing a sustaining and sustainable ICT4E initiative

James BonTempo

“Regime change from without has not been very successful.” –Dick Gordon, host of American Public Media’s The Story, discussing Iranian history with a guest.

In my opening position I made the case that the traditional tools of policy and financing can help develop and sustain Opportunity and Capacity but that they are not effective tools for addressing Motivation.

And it is this final component – Motivation – that I believe is the key to sustainability in ICT4E initiatives. In order to be successful and sustainable these initiatives must meet the needs and desires of the ultimate end users. They must “nourish” teachers and students. They must be sustaining before they can be sustainable.

We can find the evidence to show that non-financial motivators lead to better performance (for example, see “Health worker motivation in Africa: the role of non-financial incentives and human resource management tools” but intuitively we know this to be true. We all can easily recall situations in which we have spent more time and effort on a project we weren’t being paid for or that wasn’t deemed a priority by our supervisors or leadership.

We do this because we are motivated. And in our development context, we need look no further than the global explosion in mobile technology and services for examples of people’s willingness to devote significant percentages of household income on connectivity – whether to support income generation and entrepreneurship or to strengthen family and community ties.

So how does one ensure from the very beginning that they’re designing an ICT4E project that is sustaining and that meets the needs and desires – the motivations – of teachers and students?

Talking w/students @ KSDACON

Good design starts with analysis

Any standard design process – architectural, instructional, policy, product, software – starts with analysis. This up-front analysis needs to produce a clear and shared understanding of the ultimate goals of the project and the context in which it will be carried out.

The context in an ICT4E initiative obviously includes the political, financial and technological environments but it also includes the cultural environment. And one needs to understand individual attitudes, beliefs, interests, needs and desires not only as they apply directly to technology but also in relation to their work and how all of this impacts their personal lives, too.

So what’s the easiest way to elicit information about individual motivations? Just ask and observe them directly, of course!

At Jhpiego we have developed a comprehensive, holistic process and related set of tools that help us conduct what we call a Learning Technology Readiness Assessment. We use this assessment to explore the people, processes and technologies in place in an educational setting at the outset of any ICT4E project. And there are a number of other tools available for gathering similar information including:

It is important to note that while these tools have been designed to gauge technology literacy and to understand how people interact with technology on a daily basis – whether for formal learning or personal use – they also aim to uncover individual attitudes towards technology.

Turning data into design and implementation

With this information at hand one is now empowered to design a technology-supported intervention that will help to achieve project goals and will do so in a manner that is sustaining and also sustainable. To make this clearer, let me share an example – one based on a specific project in a single country, but one that is fairly common – from my own work in sub-Saharan Africa over the last year.

The challenge: Students being prepared for a job in healthcare receive a mix of classroom instruction, practice in a skills lab using anatomical models, and clinical exposure through a practicum. Unfortunately, even after extensive lecture and skills lab practice, students feel underprepared for their clinical experience. Furthermore, when they arrive at the clinical site they find that what they learned in the classroom and skills lab is not consistent with clinical realities.

Some important findings from the assessment:

  1. Most students describe themselves as visual learners – they want to “see” what they are learning about.
  2. Most lecturers have experienced multimedia and technology-assisted learning as part of their continuing medical education, found it useful and engaging, and are interested in learning how to develop similar materials themselves.
  3. The IT staff purchased a digital camera but the lecturers and clinical staff don’t know it’s there and even if they did they wouldn’t know how to use it.
  4. Almost all lecturers and clinical staff have mobile phones capable of capturing images, audio and video.

A potential solution: Provide short, targeted training for faculty, clinical preceptors and IT staff (and even students) that focuses on how to take a decent photograph and record good audio and video using the devices – digital cameras and mobile phones – they already own and have easy access to. As part of that training, provide clear examples of how these devices could be used to capture useful content in the clinical setting – ensuring that issues of consent are addressed properly, of course. Once they know how to use the devices and when they might be most effectively used to capture content, show them how these multimedia materials can then be integrated into the learning process in the classroom, skills lab and clinical settings.

This is just a simple example, and I could have provided many others, but hopefully it shows how an understanding of the project context can lead to the design of an ICT4E intervention that is both sustaining and sustainable. It meets the needs and desires of the students by providing a glimpse into the clinical setting, builds on previous experience and stated interest of the lecturers and clinical staff, and takes advantage of technology that already exists and is immediately accessible.

ICT4E can’t be regime change

I began this post with a quote from Dick Gordon about the difficulties of regime change. Sometimes changing behaviors and processes in well-established education and training systems can be just as challenging. But if we look close enough we will find that there are opportunities to leverage what already exists and to tap into personal motivations in order to meet our objectives. And when we do we will significantly increase the likelihood that we will be successful and that the processes we help to establish will be long-lasting.

Full disclosure: I am actually in the process of developing the type of learning technology workshop that I describe here and will be delivering it at a number of sites in a handful of countries next year.

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