What is ETD?

ETD promotes discussion on low-cost ICT initiatives for educational systems in developing countries. Read More

Join ETD

Become a part of the conversation. Contribute your ideas, strategies and expertise to our discussions. Join Now

A New ICT4E Model: Multiple Platforms + Single Learning Environment = More Beneficiaries

Wayan Vota

I started this discussion with the suggestion that the two dominant models, of computer usage in education were growing stale. 1:1 computer to student saturations push both students and teachers to think critically and creatively, yet computer labs are a fraction the cost to implement and maintain. I was hoping that we could fuse these key benefits into a model that can be deployed in the many educational environments of the developing world.

Reading the resulting commentary, I’d like to declare success. I feel we have found a new model, that is an child of these two parents, mixing genes of both to create a new, better ICT4E model where multiple platforms plus a single learning environment equals more educational beneficiaries.

Multiple Platforms

From the beginning, this discussion recognized that different communities allocate their limited resources differently. Some will have the resources for high saturation of computing tools, while others will not. In fact a single community may have multiple computing models within its own educational system, based on age, maturity, and progress of its students. Mark Beckford gave us a great example:

In Macedonia, NComputing deployed over 100,000 virtual desktops which made Macedonia the country with the greatest density of computers to students. But Macedonia also issued a tender to deploy a smaller quantity of netbooks. They cannot afford mobility for all students, and yet even at 1:1 desktop computing they see the advantages of mobility.

So educators need not feel that its a either-or decision. Communities can have both personal and shared computing environments in the same school. And as Alex Van de Sande points out, its not the technology that matters, but the way educators use it:

The most important is that in either case, the experience must be saturated, shared and free. The shared PC lab experience, where there are many peers around you who can quickly teach you is invaluable. But all that is nullified by models with restrict hours and usage rules. The 1:1 laptops are great on the fact that the freedom from “this is how you are supposed to use this” rules make you experiment more. But doing it alone may lead to the laptops being used for more private entertainment – like gaming.

In that context, a mixed environment may be the best choice. One where students use computer labs in the school setting, where usage can be monitored and directed, and on a more personal basis when outside the school.

Single Learning Environment

With all these platforms, there quickly becomes the need to maintain a homogeneous learning environment. One familiar look and feel that follows the child as they access different platforms during the day and their education. Walter Bender is working on such an environment with Sugar on a Stick.

This USB memory stick-based educational software platform is based on the principles of cognitive and social constructivism, and contains its own operating system (Fedora 11) so it can be run from just the memory device itself – no hard drive or specific operating system needed.

Caroline gives us her thoughts on the advantages of such an approach:

Sugar on a Stick should make mobility cheaper. If kids take their sticks with them they can use them on clusters of computers in day care centers, community centers and at home if the parent has a computer. Thus by using computers in different places in their environment they can get quite a bit more hours of computing time per week and their desktop and all their work is mobile. I wonder if we can run numbers on that type of solution, and maybe instead of running them per machine, run the numbers to compare $ per hour the child uses a computer.

And Walter Bender confirms that the Sugar on a Stick approach can be complimentary to current and new platform investments:

It is great that there are many different such platforms being developed: a diversity of hardware configurations is necessary to meet the demands of schools, budgets, and cultures. But one can remain agnostic about hardware platforms and configurations, while providing a great learning experience, better utilizing the installed base of computers while tapping the potential to engage every child in critical thinking, arming them with the complementary tools of science and the arts.

More Beneficiaries

So with a single learning environment on multiple platforms, let’s start talking about the real numbers of beneficiaries. Either in school or at home, let’s move away from the assumption that only the child assigned to the computer is using it. At any given point in time, children are usually in groups, learning from each other. In fact, it seems children learn best when learning with others. Alexa Joyce notes that:

Sugata Mitra’s research suggests that groups of 3-4 children per computer can be more fruitful than 1:1. In groups of such a size, children readily exchange ideas and knowledge about the topic they are investigating, as well as the computer itself.

Let’s not stop at children. When they are home, they are not necessarily alone. Siblings, parents, and others are nearby and they too hear the call of a glowing screen as Walter Bender tells us:

A study done by Claudia Urrea in Costa Rica found that the majority of parents use the computer at home for their own learning – a further leveraging of the investment. Other programs, where it is infeasible to let the children travel between school and home with a computer, have instituted “technology goes home” programs – a subsidy to parents to purchase new or used equipment to have in the home. The goals of such programs have been to bridge learning from school into the home and to engage parents and siblings in the school community and in their own learning.

This new usage model, where a single learning environment over multiple technology platforms, is used by more than just students, may change the way in which we think about costs, which is one of the largest barriers to adoption, just after plain inertia & fear of change.

Costs are often calculated on a per-student basis. Yet, with siblings and parents as co-learners with their children, education leaders may change their mindset around platform costs. Instead, divide platform costs by student + 1 parent & 1 sibling. Yet also reduce costs, as there is only one software system to maintain.

And so I say we have a whole new ICT4E model with multiple platforms, a single learning environment, that empowers more beneficiaries to learn at a lower cost. A success, eh?

6 Responses to “A New ICT4E Model: Multiple Platforms + Single Learning Environment = More Beneficiaries”

  1. @Wayan I would quibble with your conclusion slightly as I think it misses a few points. First, I think Walter and I agreed that increased saturation is important, but we differ on how to accomplish that (mobility vs. lower cost being the debating factors). And while I did not make a huge push for NComputing's virtual desktop solution, there are no platforms today that can deliver the same low-cost, energy saving, high-performing computer experience

    With regard to a "single learning model," the cautionary point I would make is that while a unique learning platform that enhances the learning experience is clearly beneficial, if this environment is so radically different than what is experienced on the majority of computers in use locally and globally, then the increased learning experience can be offset by the lack of understanding of how to use a typical computer. Even I struggle to do some basic things on the Mac, regardless of how intuitive and slick it is, having spent most of the last 20 years using a DOS/Windows PC. At the end, it is all about balance … teaching practical skills while enhancing the learning experience.

  2. Mark,

    I don't buy the "use a familiar UI" argument when it comes to primary education. At that age level, you're not trying to teach them "computers" like you would teach them math. You are trying to excite them about learning in general, and have them think of learning as fun. Or have you though the Leapfrog a waste of time for a child because it didn't have a windowing GUI?

    Once children become teens, and there is a near-term possibility for them to enter the workforce, I'm all for them switching to office automation-type software, and they'll pick it up quickly. Its an evolution – like your hardware graph.

    Once trained on a windowing UI, they can move back and forth. Yes, there is dissonance, but its relatively easy. I switched to Mac last year, and after a few hick-ups from my years of Windows, I'm now Mac-fluent enough to be quick. I am still at a loss on Ubuntu thought. You just need to give it time – you've probably forgotten how hard it was to learn DOS, then Windows.

  3. Sunrise School – Bali Holistic School

    A model of inspired education, Sunrise School strives to develop young adults who are confident, responsible and creative builders of their futures. Sunrise School will provide a challenging and inclusive education with an emphasis on the whole child and on learning in a cooperative, community-centered environment.

  4. While I certain don't want to speak for the good folks at the NCTE in Ireland (who are a pretty forward-looking bunch, btw), I would note that these recommendations are (at least within the limits of my knowledge of such things) a good example of clear guidance from a government authority to help guide ICT procurement decisions in its schools in the here and now, actionable immediately. Typically such recommendations (or guidelines, depending on where you are) are linked to a specific funding mechanism, although I am not sure if that is the case with these recommendations in Ireland. I'd be careful about comparing such recommendations with the content of the debate here on ETD, other than to use it as a reference point to where we are today.

  5. A follow-up to my last post: If you want to get a sense of the nuts and bolts of ICT-related procurement in a school system, have a look at the guidelines just released by the U.S. Dept. of Education related to EdTech funding under the new ARRA funding package, http://www.ed.gov/programs/edtech/guidance-arra.d… Teh question is: how to we get from here to the type of place that we all want to be?

  6. It seems that the bright minds at National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) disagree with us. They have a whole other recommended ICT model for schools that is a bit lacking on the student interactivity side:

    "Each classroom should be equipped with a short-throw digital projector and a teaching computer (laptop), a visualiser and a wireless keyboard and mouse. The digital projector should be fixed in position and cabled to the teaching computer. There should be access to an acceptable white projection surface. This cost of this technology configuration within each classroom is approximately €4,270 (see table 1).

    These recommendations are premised on the availability of internet access, via the schools broadband network, distributed throughout the schools via the school’s local area network (LAN). The network should include network points in each classroom."


Subscribe to ETD

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner