Help has many options and when I should get a chocolate

Question mark with mouse cursor: Help

At recent workshop that I facilitated, a group of participants were projecting their work on a screen so that they could work together. They were creating a storyboard outlaying it in powerpoint. They connected three different laptops. They rebooted them several times. The projector was swapped out. They even tried different cables from the projector to each laptop. Huh?

I could see the powerpoint on the screen. It looked fine to me. What were they doing? What was the issue that was making them swap out hardware? Why aren’t they working yet?! After watching this for awhile and as they had not started to work on the task, I asked them why they kept changing the hardware.

Why? They couldn’t see the notes section under the slide. The font was too small. It was the right size the day before. They could see it. Now why is so tiny? It had to be something with the hardware not projecting it correctly.

With technology, we always have options. They tried three times of hardware. That’s it. They limited themselves to one option.  They did not think about others.  Did they know them?

Help has several options.  They could have searched help in powerpoint. They thought it was about the hardware and didn’t think it was the software. When I teach digital literacy skills, one of the first things I have people do is practice using help and learn how to search on it.  If you don’t know how to do something, click the that magic icon for help. Yet it remains elusive.

Ok, maybe they don’t know what to search for, what word to search. Then do what everyone does, go online and “Google it.” I know that they search online for lots of things.

They could have asked other people in the room.  Asking for help is something people don’t often like to do.  I was in the room.  I wasn’t the least bit offended that they didn’t ask.  I was simply an option.

Digital literacy isn’t just about learning how to make something bold. Digital literacy is that you know there must be a way to increase font but didn’t know how. Use the help key. Google “how do I…?” Ask.  They didn’t think about other options.  It is a digital literacy competency that people should have.

I didn’t know how to increase font. I must admit I “googled it” and did not go to help on the application. I found out how within a couple of minutes. (Cursor on note section. Click on view, then zoom. Increase the size.) I showed them. They practiced it. They made the font even bigger. I explained the options for help. Now they know how to change the font size but more importantly, ways that they could find it themselves.

Someone said after I increased the font, “give yourself a chocolate.” You see, I gave out chocolate in sessions throughout the workshop. Chocolate is a wonderful motivator.

Yet the treat shouldn’t be about solving the problem. My job isn’t to fix anything. My job is to teach how people can solve the problem themselves. If I do that, then I can have a treat, too.


Data here. Data there. Data everywhere.

Data.  Big data.  People talk about data these days as if they know what they are talking about.  They have no idea.  What we do know is that the amount of data has grown exponentially with new systems and techniques, resulting in new types of data.  I find it fascinating that it is making possible to compare things that you couldn’t before or never thought of comparing.

telescopeThat is why you see a picture of a baseball and telescope.  You can capture what is happening in baseball as it moves, but it is more than the speed and distance of the baseball.  Baseball and astronomy are defining and capturing new datasets.  It’s a lot of data.  They know some of the information that they can get from the data.  Furthermore, they only have an vague idea of what is possible to do with that information.  Usually data is to support findings.  With today’s data it is not known what are the questions to ask.  That fascinates me.  So what about baseball and astronomy?

Major League Baseball has been measuring the velocity, movement, location and spin rate of every pitch since 2001 Bruce Schoenfeld wrote in Can New Technology Bring Baseball’s Data Revolution to Fielding?.  By triangulating views from two cameras  perpendicular to each other, you can calculate where that ball was at a given moment and where it went.  But how to track movements of something that it is not a given size, like people?

In 2015 STATCAST technology started to capture and record the movement of people from cameras placed on the field. The data about the movement of players is now layered with the data from the radar system to see where the ball went.  The technologies generate 3D snapshots of every movement on the baseball field.  It comes to about 40,000 frames per second converted into digital data. There’s a lot of data.

What can this data possibly show? One example is that it can show how well fielders play their position.  No longer it is is just “did you see that catch?”  Now looking at where the ball went and where the fielder started to catch it, a percentage of how often a fielder makes a catch can be calculated.

A statistic that could not be calculated before but clearly has huge significance.

Data here, data there, data everywhere.

On NPR’s Ted Talks, Andrew Connolly talked about data and the universe.  With 24 data points, the Hubble telescope in 1929 showed universe was expanding. 24 galaxies. Seventy years after Hubble, by looking at 42 data points over 3 years, it showed the universe was not just expanding but accelerating. 42 supernovas exploding stars.  Small changes can give rise to new ideas and theories, even with only 42 data points.

Yet there are 10s of 1000s of galaxies with 10 supernovas per second.  Galaxies merge and collide, stars born and die.

The digital camera in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), currently being built, will take a picture  5 1/2 feet across which is 3 billion pixels.  One image from LSST will be equivalent to 3000 images from Hubble. Instead of 42 supernova in 3 years, they expect to find 500-1000 supernova every night.

They can test and rule out theories with the data, first by asking the questions that they have been wanting to ask.  With better and different data collected, they can also change the questions or ask new ones.  Forty-two data points completely changed the way that they looked at the universe.  What can these new data points show? At the end of the survey in 2030, a new theory of physics could emerge about the universe.

Data here. Data there.  Data everywhere.

Daren Willman who analyzes STATCAST data said in the above-reference, “There will be a whole new baseball revolution based on information that we are just starting to get.”  Different types of data could bring about a whole new way to look at the world.  It will also be how we develop approaches to learning.

Experience API (xAPI) has the ability to create new types of data on learners’ experiences.  It gathers data from different sources and puts it in one place, a Learning Record Store, where data can be analyzed.

I have never used xAPI in a project before.  To start with, we are planning to take data from a project completed and apply xAPI to it (if we get the funding for it, of course).  We did a study looking at different changes in knowledge and skills of health providers and of health outcomes in the health facilities where the providers worked.  It was linear analysis.  Looking at each set of data in silos.

Using xAPI, we want to ask questions that we may have not asked or thought of before.
-If health outcomes are improving in one facility but not other facilities, why effect does the different mentors have?
-If a health provider performs well on the knowledge “test” of a skill but cannot perform the skill, what may be factors?
-If one health provider is doing well but others are not in the same health facility, why?
-What do health facilities that overall are improving health outcomes have in common?Hopefully, I’ll be writing about it in a few months.

With these new types of data, more than you could ever want or imagine, we can ask a different set of questions than we didn’t before.  We will find information that could be useful to answer those questions.  If we are lucky, we will figure out what to do with those answers.  If we are truly fortunate, after applying it, it changes the way we see or do things, for the better.

eXperiencing an x(Experience)API cohort

When I first learned about xAPI, I knew intrinsically its value  and couldn’t wait to find a project to use it.  It took two years.  A project in Zambia had put in their workplan to take data from eLearning AND mentoring applications and put in one database.  Ah-ha! I thought.  That’s what xAPI does.

First, a little background: The project in Zambia is updating and improving health provider’s skills and knowledge is areas such as HIV/AIDS and TB using a blending learning approach.  eLearning modules are being developed in specific fields and will be distributed on tablets to clinics and facilities.  Mentors will visit the health providers at their clinics and work with them to strengthen their skills.  Learning and performance data!

xAPI can link that learning and performance data. In fact, any type of learning experience that a learner does. It collects data from these learning experiences, puts them into one location, a Learning Record Store, where the data can be analyzed and the analysis can be visualized.

Keeping it simple, I told the team that xAPI is a specification that will put the data in one place.  Then I asked them, “So what? What do you want to do with the data?”  It is hard question.  Really hard. They looked at me and realized that they could not answer the question but repeated “We want the data in the same place.”

Data will be from eLearning and mentoring (tracking visits and competencies) plus data from health facility, interviews, surveys, etc.  Examples of analyzing and correlating the data could include: How does eLearning and mentoring relate? Does the mentee assessment scores relate to competencies? What is the relationship with the quiz, competency and health indicators from clinical records?Ideas of data for statements

“Yes, that’s it!”  The team and I then began our journey into the world of xAPI.

When I was in Zambia earlier this year, I arranged a call with Megan Torrance of Torrance Learning to give an overview to the team.  One member of the team came in late and was scribbling down acronyms and notes.  API, LRS, x in xAPI, huh?  When she asked about the API, I told her that I did not want her brain cells to be used to remember that acronym.  x for Experience and LRS for Learning Record Store was enough.

At the end of the meeting, she was a bit overwhelmed and asked for someone to explain again how it worked.  A colleague took a pen, a pencil and another object, his phone.  Pen is eLearning, pencil is mentoring data, phone is LRS.  You can take the data from this, holding up the pen, and from this, holding up the pencil, xAPI takes the data and puts it here, his phone.  That about sums it up. People got the basic idea of being able to put the data in place.  Nonetheless, it still doesn’t answer the question of what to do with it.  It is a process.

Around this same time, Torrance Learning was starting a new xAPI cohort, bringing together teams of people together to work on xAPI projects and learn more about xAPI. I asked Megan if this project could be a project to ask for help with for the upcoming cohort.  Absolutely!

To make it happen, our people needed to be onboard before we brought new people from the cohort in.  The health informatics advisor in Zambia was eager to try it out and said that we could use dummy data.  DUH!  The data didn’t matter.  It was the process.   The monitoring and evaluation person and a lead on the project who has a technical background were in.  For the mLearning data, the person who developed the mLearning app understood the value of xAPI, wanted to try it and thought it would be great.

I couldn’t make it to the first xAPI cohort meeting but the project was introduced. Then emails started popping up for people wanting to work on the ‘Offline Mobile Developing Country’ team.   The people interested in joining the team included someone who is affiliated with the same university, who managed the team; a learning analytics specialist who had already set up LMSs, wrote statements, knew what do; an instructional designer with tons of experience; and a person who had worked in global health and was now involved with eLearning.

At one point, when I realized that we had the team we needed to make it happen, I was a bit in shock.  I was on the call with the team just prior to going to Megan’s session on The xAPI: What Does an Instructional Designer Need to Know? at the Learning Solutions conference in March.  I walked into the session with this look of bewilderment on my face and said to Megan that this was going to happen.  Hers was the look of excitement.

Over the weeks, the learning analytics expert patiently explained what the each step of the journey was.  At the top of the list was data.  The project had not yet started so we had no data.  We needed some dummy data.

The mLearning developer pulled data from another country.  For the mentoring data, the health informatics person in Zambia met with the monitoring and evaluation person and drafted the fields for a mentoring form. He magically created a spreadsheet filled with profile data of some learners with fields such as province/district they are located, cadre, facility, etc; information about the mentoring visit such as data, assessment scores and recommendations; and even matched the unique identifiers from the mLearning app to the learners unique identifies in the mentoring data.

Mentoring data xAPI sample

The learning analytics person kindly reviewed the data and created xAPI statements from that.  Incredibly generous of him!  He explained each part of statement and how he applied the fields from the dataset.  It was such a great lesson.   Everyone on that call was captivated and enthralled.  I think most of us were blown away. How did he do that?
Map Data to xAPI statement

I am still trying to wrap my head around how he wrote the statements.  He gently explained that we did it the other way around.  It is best to start with the questions that you are trying to answer.  What are you measuring?  What correlations are you looking for?  What do you want to see happen and analyze the data to see if it did?  I thought you needed to know the questions before you could write the statements and couldn’t figure out how he created them without knowing what we wanted to know from the data.

Since we did not have the questions, he instead creatively made assumptions based on the data that we shared with him.
Connecting learning and mentoring data

He checked the statements in ADL’s xAPI Lab. He set up a LRS for us.  We couldn’t believe it: xAPI statements and data were there – in real life.  And all in his free time, at night, after kids were asleep.  I have thanked him over and over and over again.

xAPI statement

It hard to learn about xAPI and even harder to put these statements together. Where are all those recipes??!!

And then the official xAPI cohort was done.  Getting started is the hardest thing ever.   Gracious, giving people supported the project,  just because.  What a gift that is.  We have a glimmer of what xAPI is and can do.

In Zambia the mentoring forms are now being drafted and finalized.  Some of the eLearning modules are near completion. The tablets that we are procuring and distributing tablets with the eLearning are being tested

As we are putting together a monitoring and evaluation plan, I kept peppering our monitoring and evaluation person for questions about what are we trying to measure and find out – across the data, not each individual piece of data.

Do the scores on the quizzes correlate to the time spent on the eLearning with how the providers assess themselves on a competency as compared to what they should do according to the competency and how does it affect what is going on in the clinic, are people getting better but they can’t better if there is no medicine so we need to bring in the levels of medicine that they have….

How do you write these into xAPI statements and then query the Learning Record Store and visualize the data????

The journey into xAPI started with the gifts of many people.  Thank you to everyone. What a fabulous beginning.

Getting people to use your technology: Thank you but no thanks

Thanks but no thanksRecently when I was in West Africa, I was chatting with someone who is the head of a local organization about technology project.  The project would benefit agriculture in a rural community.  The organization’s solution is good, she was saying, “So how do you get people, in particular the BBCers (born before computers) to use it?  How do you convince them that this is efficient, faster, easier?”

“You don’t,” I said.

She tilted her head to one side, looked at me questioningly and reiterated, “It is a good technology.”

“I am sure it is.  But here you are talking about behavior change.  You are not talking about technology,” I replied.

Again, an inquisitive face looking at me.

“Ok, so you mean like when the iPod came out and people didn’t know that they wanted it. Then they saw what it could do.  Now the iPod, iPhone and iPad are part of everyone’s life?”  I asked.

“Yes, something like that.” she replied.

“Well, that depends on many things. Is the need really there? Why would they want to use it?” I continued to ask for more information.

She responded, “Because it will help them.  It is a problem that they have, and we have a solution to address it.”

This organization uses human-centered design, does focus groups and testing.  The stuff that you are supposed to do when designing a product.  But the issue still is why would someone use it, even if it is faster and easier?

Let’s say that these people check it out. It’s ok.  They may adopt some but not the whole thing.  That’s because with these other things, it works just fine the way they do it. Why change?  Noone is going to change because someone else thinks it is the best thing ever.

I tried to explain the law of diffusion to my new acquaintance. Like others, I learned first about it on the Simon Sinek’s  TED talk on Why Great Leaders Inspire Action.

Early adapters – Who is using it now? Anyone?  Why?  Find out why they like it.
Use them as a starting point.
Influencers – Chief/head of a local community.  There always is one.  Who is that?  Have you talked with them?
Government – Do they get it?  Are they supporting it?  Who are the district people in that community?

You say that the technology is faster, easier and more efficient.  What are those reasons?   Confirm with those early adapters.  Ask them.  I bet that many of the ways that you think are more efficient are ones that they think are foolish.  They also probably have ones that you would have never, ever thought of.

Support those early champions however you can.  Be there for them.

What’s in it for me? Why should I change?  If someone has been doing something for a long time, why do you think that I should change?
Price – What is the price?
Effort – How much effort is to learn?
How does it effect usual habits?  – Is it one small tiny change? Does this one change affect the way I do things before and after it?  Do those stay constant so that there is only one change? People can only manage one small change at time.  Otherwise, it is too overwhelming.  At least to start with.  Add others over time.

Teachers started to see the value of technology because with Excel they can, with a click of the average function, take a column of student scores and find the average.  They didn’t have to find a calculator, the few that may exist at the school, or even now with everyone has a calculator on their phone.  After typing the numbers into Excel, their grades are done.

It is not about using the technology.  It is about changing behavior.   There is a whole generation that grew up always have a smartphone.  They can adapt easily to using a new app but think about the 1000s of apps our there now.  How many are used? How many fail?  Even if it is an incredible resource.

Stop trying to convince people that this is good.
It will evolve if it is good, but it takes time.
Work on the early adaptors, get to those early users.  It will happen if it is a viable product.

Also, it may not happen in the timeframe that you think it should. Timing is key. I was working on an education portal for teachers in 2009 in Zambia.  In 2014 when I met with education officials, one of the first things that they said that they wanted to do was build an education portal.  We were too early.  In 2009 when project funding ended, I saw that it was shifting.

I put that into my final report: timing.  In Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant has a chapter called “Timing, Strategic Procrastination and the First-Mover Disadvantage.”  Zambia is now trying to do something that we were telling them about 6 years prior.

Realize and accept that some people will never change. That is ok. It is the law of diffusion.  The laggards – the ones that may have to change because their old way of doing it no longer exists.

How do you get people to use the technology?  Only if they want to. The people who are facing the problem that you are ‘solving’ know better than any of us what works for them.  Not because it is good technology.

Technology AND People is GREATER THAN Technology MINUS People


You hear alot that people want to use technology in learning to reduce costs of face-to-face learning.  It is true.  We do have to decrease them for a range of reasons: costs too much to bring the people together, takes away from their work, people can’t remember everything that they learned when it is all taught at the same time, etc.

The thought usually is, like most edtech companies have, that the technology product will replace or simplify or make more efficient or get good data in regards to learning.  Technology Minus People.

Why can’t we think about what the technology can do AND  the people who technology is “replacing?”  Why is it always about the technology can do WITHOUT the people? In several posts I read, they asked a similar question especially as technology scales.

So what about technology plus/minus people?

In The Primary Problem with Educational Technology David Wiley recently asked “Why must we replace opportunities to interact with teachers and tutors with artificial intelligence and adaptive systems?  Why are we so excited by the prospect of care, encouragement, and support giving way to a “Next” button that algorithmically chooses what a student should see next?”

George Siemens is saying good-bye to edtech: Adios Ed Tech. Hola something else. He wrote about how “Both Udacity and Knewton require the human, the learner, to become a technology, to become a component within their well-architected software system. Sit and click. Sit and click…Automation treats the person as an object to which things are done. There is no reason to think, no reason to go through the valuable confusion process of learning, no need to be a human. Simply consume. Simply consume. Click and be knowledgeable.”

Yes, computers are replacing humans in many instances and the trend, of course, will continue.  David Brooks in  The New Romantics in the Computer Age notes, “As Geoff Colvin points out in his book “Humans Are Underrated,”computers will soon be able to do many of the cognitive tasks taught in places like law schools and finance departments…Computers can already go through millions of legal documents and sort them for relevance to an individual case, someday allowing one lawyer to do the work of 500. Computers may soon be able to cruise through troves of data and offer superior financial advice. Computers are not only getting smarter at systems analysis, they are improving at rates no human can match.”

Click next. Automation.  Not having to think.  The focus is on what the technology do and how it replaces tasks that humans do and make faster and better. Few bring people back into the equation.

Can’t we ask what is possible with technology AND people instead of what is currently being done when people are taken out the equation? Is it possible? What needs to shift? Why isn’t that happening more?

Well, Brian Sletten says, Caring Doesn’t Scale. (The title of post that says alot in and of itself.)  He makes the analogy of network of people we know and systems.  “The sad reality is, we cannot care equally deeply about everyone…The same is true in distributed systems. Our software can establish highly intimate, shared relationships with other schemas, services and software. It takes time to establish close relationships whether it is between friends or distributed sources of information. Anything that makes us care prevents us from scaling in terms of diversity of participants. We have to decide what systems are worth the coupling. What information is worth the cost of integration.”

He summarizes about connecting systems: “The languages and technologies you use to implement these systems are independent choices based upon your needs, client requirements, staff, legacies, and projected future.”

The people have to make decisions about the systems.  No matter what there is people in the equation.  Maybe it is not with or without but HOW?

Instead of asking what jobs computers can do, David Brooks writes “… You should instead ask, What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans?”

And he says that “Those tasks are mostly relational. Being in a position of authority or accountability. Being a caregiver.  Being part of a team. Transactional jobs are declining but relational jobs are expanding…Empathy becomes a more important workplace skill, the ability to sense what another human being is feeling or thinking”

Caring.  Empathy.  Relationships.  In my post about empathy in the world, I quoted an article in which a business leader says the most important skill a person can have is empathy.

As Eric Westendorf writes in Teacher and the Machine,”Machines will not replace the intuition, the creativity, the role-modeling, the sparkle-in-the-eye, or the look that communicates, “I believe in you,” that only humans can bring.”   .

So what about technology AND people?

Westendorf continues, “We ought to harness the power of machines to improve our schools and classrooms. But instead of thinking of machines replacing humans, we should think about machines supercharging humans. How can machines supercharge teachers to more effectively connect, understand, diagnose, and support?”

When David Reilly applied Caring Doesn’t Scale to edtech, he believes that: “Digital, networked technologies can also be leveraged to design tools and pedagogies that augment, extend, and improve a teacher or faculty’s capacity to care. That is, educational technology can help us be more generous with our care, encouragement, passion, and support. Educational technology can help us come to know, care about, and genuinely support a much larger number of “identified students” than we ever could without its help. But precious little of the activity in the edtech market is focused on achieving this goal.”

In an article about “Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 Edtech Mistakes,” by Yong Zhao, Gaoming Zhang, Jing Lei and Wei Qiu, their conclusion is reinstated: “The transformation is not about technology, but about more meaningful education for all children.”  Technology doesn’t make it meaningful.  People do.  Connections do.

Technology + (plus) People is > (greater than) Technology – (minus) People.

The question is not only about making technology replace or achieve something  but but what it can do to “supercharge humans” and be leveraged for a “teacher or facility’s capacity to care” and transform into a “more meaningful education.”

“Off It” – Making content available offline

offswitchWhen I lived in The Gambia, to ask someone to turn a light or anything off, people would say “off it.”

I thought of that expression when I was writing this post. What about “off-it” referring to the internet? Either people have been so consumed with being online, they need to “off it” to come back into the a non-virtual world or people are “off it” implying that the internet is not accessible or not available to them or too expensive to be online.

For the latter “off it” situation, devices filled with content are being distributed to schools, facilities, agencies, etc. to make content available offline. I love it. But then I wonder about three things:

  • Hardware: What about the devices?
  • Content: Are the resources on them relevant and up-to-date?
  • Search: How is the content organized and is it searchable?

This post is mostly about options for hardware to put collections on. What works for what audience to disseminate what information?  Microcomputer like a Raspberry Pi?  Access via satellite or a 12 volt server?  Make your own with a router and USB?  A licensed product?

I was explaining offline solutions to someone recently and provided some examples for devices. Many of you would have heard of them.  Maybe some you haven’t.  These are several options I found:

Microcomputer:  Raspberry Pi and Banana Pi
Raspberry Pi  is “low cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse.” It’s pretty cool and is being used quite a bit to store and access content. A few examples:

Rachel (Remote Areas Community Hotspots for Education and Learning) makes available educational content to places with no Internet connectivity or bandwidth is unusable.  Most of the content is what I see in other educational offline solutions: Wikipedia for Schools, Khan Academy(KA)-Lite described further below, MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, Infonet-Biovision, Great Books of the world, UNESCO’s IICBA Electronic Library, etc. A basic,nice selection.

IICD is using Raspberry Pi in Peru. In Peru the One Laptop per Child programme (OLPC) provided thousands of XO laptops. IICD used Raspberry Pi to store content and as a local server for teachers to download content for use with the XO laptops.

Open Learning Exchange Ghana has used Raspberry Pi  in their Basic e-Learning Library (BELL) as a server for their Learning Management System and content.  (I work now with the guy in the video who describes how they built it!) They designed and implement a process for technology into schools which includes content development, using technology in lessons, training and mentoring.

What about Banana Pi?  Difference with Raspberry Pi? All I understand is that it is similar in design to Raspberry Pi but with different components.  SPELL, Solar Powered Educational Learning Library, an initiative from the California Polytechnic State University, is using Banana Pi for their microcomputer. As part of the package, there is also solar panel, rechargeable battery and peripherals. Content  has been curated in a 32GB SD card that is clearly organized into subjects for educators in Pacific Islands.  It is wonderful to see curated content like that.

Stand-alone Product
Endless Computer says it is “a tool for offline information and education” that is “as simple as a tablet, as powerful as a computer.” They built their own computer that runs on its own OS, Endless OS. It “comes preloaded with a full encyclopedia, educational lectures, recipes, health information, and over 100 other apps that work well without an internet connection.” I am not familiar with the hardware and am curious what those 100 apps are.

Critical Links C3 is “designed to provide education cloud type services to a school, or classroom, with limited, unreliable or no Internet connection at all.”  The device works as content server, can work as learning management system and can work on batteries.  Although I have never used this product, I have used other Critical Link products successfully.  I don’t know how much this has taken off, but the product has what it is needed for an offline solution.

Do It Yourself with a router and USB drive (or buy the product)
LibraryBox v2.0 is “a combination of a router (a variety of hardware will work), USB drive, and software that, when combined, gives you a small, low powered webserver. The webserver acts like a portal and delivers files that are stored on the USB drive.” LibraryBox is a product, but the code is available for individuals who want to make their own.  The end result seems similar to a Raspberry Pi.

Access via Satellite
Outernet broadcasts content via satellites rather than through the internet. To connect, they have devices that they developed or you can do it yourself. One device is Lighthouse which stores the information it receives from Outernet on its internal drive.  Teachers and students can connect to it wi-fi to access the content. The device can also be connected to an existing school server and wi-fi or LAN network.

You can build a library with the content that you want to broadcast and/or access the educational content that list on their site.  Many are similar to what others have: Wikipedia, Khan Academy, Project Guttenberg, MIT Education Consortium and World Possible who created RACHEL.

eGranary: Full-sized server OR a 12-volt server OR stand-alone USB
eGranary  is the one that I am sure most of you are familiar with it. It is usually the one that immediately comes to mind to recommend.  It is ” an off-line information store that provides instant access to over 32 million digital resources for those lacking adequate Internet access.” I think it is great.

They, first and foremost, focused on the content.  Then developed the technology to make it searchable and accessible. Sure, some the content is out-dated and not so great, but some of it is fabulous. You are never going to find something that has perfect content, just like you find tons of ucky stuff on the internet. It is all about curation.

They have 3 solutions to access the content: “1) a full-sized eGranary server optimized for rugged conditions; 2) a 12-volt server than can be run on battery; and 3) a stand-alone USB drive that turns any Windows computer into a server.”  They are also working on 12 SD card pocket libraries with curated material on specific topics.  Lots of choices for dissemination.

I’ll add one example of an offline content collection: Khan Academy Lite is “open-source software that mimics the online experience of Khan Academy for offline situations.” It is not just making the videos available but the whole experience.  I will leave more examples of collections for another discussion.

You can ‘off it’ by accessing content via satellite, USB, microcomputers, 12volt server or build it yourself.  I love having options.  The choice, as with anything else with technology, depends on what people who do not have internet access want to do and what is appropriate for their environment.

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Capacity Building: Learnings from ‘Strengthening Health Info Systems’ Conference

Strengthening HIS Accra Meeting May2015“Strengthening Health Information System toward Interoperability in West Africa Region” was a conference that brought together stakeholders to look at health systems and lessons learned from the Ebola crisis.  Being the non-technical person that I am, my take-aways were about the people.  Capacity Building.  What is needed to train people in skills to manage systems and retain them after they learned these skills?

From what I learned and what was discussed, I found that four areas in which things were needed in capacity building.  Leadership.  Staffing.  System.  Learning.  The sketchnote describes them in detail.

LMS evolving to a Digital Learning Environment

LMS image

I am loving this from EDUCAUSE REVIEW:   “Our thinking about digital technology in higher education is shifting away from seeing it as IT infrastructure and instead toward conceiving it as a digital learning environment.

YES!  It is not about the technology. It’s about technology supporting learning.

The article described six trajectories about digital technology in higher education:

  1. device ownership and mobile-first;
  2. the textbook and open educational resources (OER);
  3. adaptive learning technology;
  4. learning spaces;
  5. the next-generation learning management system (LMS); and
  6. learning analytics and integrated planning and advising services (IPAS).

They had lots to say about each. Worth reading if you have chance.

I am most interested in the LMS. In this same publication, they have an article on What’s Next for the LMS? Considering the LMS market in the US is projected to grow at a rate of 23.2% from 2014-2019 according to this report, it is an excellent question.  I can see that growth in my work with the growing interest and number of requests for a LMS.

The  article notes five critical domains of core functionality.

  1. Interoperability and Integration: ability to integrate tools and to exchange content and learning data
  2. Personalization: ability to have different pathways to reach learning goals and adapt to the learner
  3. Analytics, Advising, and Learning Assessment: ability to analyze all forms of learning data
  4. Collaboration: ability to collaborate at various levels and digital spaces
  5. Accessibility and Universal Design: ability for all learners and instructors to participate

I love how they break it down. I am able to map some of it my learning vision.

Interoperability and Integration
ability to integrate tools and to exchange content and learning data

Interoperability is why I am so interested in the Open Health Information Exchange.  OpenHIE’s vision is to empower countries to implement health information sharing architectures that improve health outcomes. If we are collecting learning data and people are completing trainings, how do we connect what is happening in learning to government health systems and registries? How can data can be transferred and exchanged from one system to another? It is through interoperatibility that these systems can talk to each other.

ability to have different pathways to reach learning goals and adapt to the learner

Essential for learning. Technology can enable better learning. It is an area for future development that I would come back to. It takes alot to set something like this up.

Analytics, Advising, and Learning Assessment
ability to analyze all forms of learning data and “must include support for new learning assessment approaches, especially in the area of competency-based education”

Competency-based education (CBE) is a big focus these days.  What do people actually know and can do with that knowledge?  In the US, a Senate hearing was recently held on “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Exploring Barriers and Opportunities within Innovation.” CBE is one of those innovations.

In a letter sent to Congress by a group of 17 institutions piloting CBE, they said “Accreditation, no matter the organization doing it, tends to focus on inputs and prescription, whereas CBE shifts the focus to outputs (the claims one makes for learning and what students can do) and assessment (how we know students have mastered the competencies).”

So how can it be demonstrated that the person achieved the competency? And specifically, what indicator can show that? How can we use the LMS to collect the indicator? Everyone loves data.

One such mechanism is the Experience API.  It is a specification to track learners’ experiences. The learner performed an action. “I did this.” An event took place. These events can be as simple as “accessed a resource”, “watched a movie”, “played a game”, “passed a test” or “visited a location”.

With xAPI these actions are collected and stored. It is an overview about what and how people have developed their knowledge, skills and competencies. It is a way to track learning with performance. Can they do that competency?

Designing xAPI will take time. You have decide what are the actions to track and what would be the most helpful in what you want to assess. That is the challenge but totally possible.

ability to collaborate at various levels and digital spaces

Social collaboration. Some people use the phase social learning.  People learning, sharing, asking questions among their peers and mentors.  Does  it matter what term: social learning or social collaboration?  I am not sure, but I find it interesting as I think about how social interactions support learning.

Jane Hart describes the difference between social learning and social collaboration:
“Social learning, is of course, not a new concept or a new term; we’ve always learned socially – from our parents, siblings, friends and from our colleagues at work…But a new definition of social learning has emerged in the last few years; one that implies the use of social technology to underpin learning…”

She believes that something is missing in the new definition “…since it takes no account of where and how most social learning takes place…” Additionally, how do you take into account “…when teams and other groups of people, learn IMPLICITLY from one another as a consequence of working together?”

She uses “… social collaboration to describe the sub-set of social learning that is focused around the learning that takes place from working together, and where the emphasis is on achieving business objectives, and measuring its success in business or performance terms.”

Like I said, it probably doesn’t matter which term you prefer to describe the learning.  But when it comes to describing the tools, they are collaboration tools.  They do need to be part of learning system and made available, whether it is for students doing group work for an assignment or business teams creating a product or simply to pick someone’s brain.  Nonetheless, in any case, it is still up to people to develop techniques and strategies on how to engage with each other using the tools.  That is what I want to work on.

Accessibility and Universal Design
ability for all learners and instructors to participate and start from a universal design approach

Of course! And globally, got that in many goals and plans.  For example:

World Summit Information Society‘s Plan of Action – Action Line 3 “Access to Information and Knowledge”  and other lines include action points on inclusion of persons with disabilities.  They focus alot on how to gain access to information and knowledge using accessible and inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). At the recent World Summit Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2015 in May, they further discussed “Making Empowerment a Reality – Accessibility for All.”

The Sustainable Development Goals talk about ‘inclusive’ in many of the goals:

  • Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

I want to integrate some of these concepts in my work as I talk about a LMS.  Will one system have all these features?  Most likely, not.  It will be a mash-up.  Is it the future of learning systems?  Absolutely.

People come to me and request a LMS.  The initial thought is that with this piece of IT infrastructure to disseminate and access content, people will learn.  It is much more than that.  It is to use digital technology to create the environment conducive to learning.  What a huge mindset change.  It is the next generation.


Is it what I do or is it my job?

learn keyMy first job in learning technology was as a computer teacher in an international school teaching 7th graders in West Africa. I entered the field of technology through education.  My expertise is in how technology and learning work together.

That is what I do.

But is it my job?

Our team recently did a “motivational analysis quiz” to look at what motivates each of us.  It is based on McClelland’s Needs Theory. The theory says that it is the need for achievement, power, and/or affiliation which motivates you. I didn’t need to take the quiz to know that it is affiliation which motivates me.  Do people understand? Do they get it? Do they own it? Can they do it? That is what I strive for in my work.

I think of myself as an educator, rather than a tech person.  If you knew the models of phones and laptops that I have and how I use tech, you would agree.

My job is officially in the ICT4D unit. I do technology. The choice of technology is the easy part. The implementation is the hard part. It is the learning field that I happen to know how to use it as a tool.

I have experience in learning in and of itself. I can create workshops. I can facilitate workshops. I can develop curriculum, lesson plans and digital materials. I know about open educational resources and am familiar with learning systems. I can teach and help people learn.

My job is to assist with how to use technology for learning.  Does it also include the learning part such as developing curriculum and modules and facilitating workshops?  Should it?  I entered the field of education by teaching with and about technology.  Technology AND learning is ‘what I do.’ It is an integral part of me.

But is it my job? Parts of it might be.  Parts will not.  It is evolving. It is new territory. Anything new feels awkward.  It is smoothing out. As I get more and more involved in projects, it will become clearer what I do can also be my job; however, whatever I do as my job does not change for me what I do.