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.

Icons made by Freepik from  is licensed by CC BY 3.0

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.

Art Makes You Smart or is it Art for Art’s Sake?

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

Innovation and creativity are things that we hear about all the time.  To be innovative, you need to think creatively.  Art is one way to foster this.  OECD published a report, Art for Art’s Sake?  The Impact of Arts Education looking at the impact of arts education and these kinds of outcomes. They asked the question “does arts education really have a positive impact on the three subsets of skills that we define as “skills for innovation”: technical skills, skills in thinking and creativity and character (behavioural and social skills)?  What did they find?

We see articles like these : Art Makes You Smart and Is Music the Key to Success?  The research on art making you smart article is based on one school visit to a museum to children who had very little prior exposure to cultural institutions.  Is this group of kids smart now?

The museum article states that ‘museum visits really do improve critical thinking’ and ‘high achievers say musical training played a central role in their lives.’  Lots of studies make the correlation.  The OECD study did not find that evidence.   The sole longitudinal study in the OECD report on music found there was “no persistent influence after three years of music.”

Does it matter?  It doesn’t matter to me.  My reaction how could you possibly measure what seeing and listening to beauty impacts education.  It impacts all your senses.  It impacts the way you look at things, the way you hear things.  Whether it is art, music, even watching an athlete make a perfect play, how could what it resonates inside of you be measured, perhaps years later? My feeling goes along with the title of the OECD report,  Art for Art’s Sake.

My example:  I recently did my first Sketchnote, a visual note, about an event by Coders4Africa.  It explains what I learned from the event. I have been taking calligraphy lessons for several years. What you see is my practicing writing pretty letters and learning how to arrange them and using what I learned to write about a techie event.

What I wonder most about are the kids in the parts of the world that do not have museums or lessons accessible to them.  According to the statistics being kept for Millinium Development to Achieve Universal Education, enrolment in primary education in developing regions reached 90 per cent in 2010, up from 82 per cent in 1999, which means more kids than ever are attending primary school.  Yet at the same time 57 million children of primary school age were out of school.

What about any of these kids, in or out of school? How can they visit museums?  Where can they see what is in a museum?  How can teachers learn about art and show their students? Is it possible?  Yes.  Is it feasible?  Perhaps. Perhaps not.  My purpose is to put it out there.  I think of a few teachers in Garissa, Kenya, and I know that he would be excited to learn about this. Start somewhere.

Google Art Project  has 40 countries who have contributed more than 40,000 high-resolution images of works ranging from oil on canvas to sculpture and furniture.  Around the world you can see art in the Virtual Museum of Modern Nigerian Art at Pan-African University, the Rijks Museum in the Netherlands, Virtual Museum of Canada, the Virtual Museum of Japanese Arts and National Museum Australia’s collection interactives

How to learn more about creating art? National Gallery of Art has a series of lessons. The lesson on texture identifies different types of textures found in works of art such as smooth water, wrinkled skin or furry plums and hypothesizing what materials and techniques were used to achieve that texture.  Did they brush paint on in watery strokes and thick drips or twirl their brushes to make circles and curls? The pictures in the slideshow can be downloaded although it is set at a small image.

Have you ever visited the Exploratorium site?  It is one of my favorites. You can watch a cow’s eye dissection and learn how to do your own. You can find a lesson plan on physics using eggs, or take a tour on the Geometry Playground. When I taught years ago in The Gambia, I would bring my students there to play a “game” to guess what the object is that they were showing.  They loved it.   Kids can be a Museum Explorer  or a Time Explorer in the British Musem rescuing artifacts.   Some of these do require internet and have other hurdles to access them, but it could be shown on the teacher’s computer and put up on the wall.  Students are groups and at each step of exploration, one group would decide what to do next.

ArtBabble is a website that showcases high quality art-related video content from more than 50 cultural institutions from around the world.  One area that they look at is how art and design connect with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics):  STEAM.  Add the A for art in STEM.  Listen to Frank Stella‘s video about art on irregular polygons.  Learn geometry through art?  Yes!

How to bring it altogether?  Try virtual museum presentations.  The site is several years “old” and uses powerpoint as the template to create the museums.  But, hey, what a great way to learn powerpoint and go online and search collections of art. The first time I took kids to museum sites was around 2000. I found plenty to see and do.  The possibilities are endless now.

And, of course, if tablets are available, there are plenty of art apps and plenty other sites.

Let’s simply enjoy the arts – whether or not it makes you smart.

Photo: “Auguste Rodin – Grubleren 2005-02” by Rodin (1840-1917)User:Hansjorn (Hans Andersen) – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I might wet my pants in class one day, too…Empathy in the World

A nine year old boy pees in class leastatue in brussels- little boy peeingving a puddle on the floor and his pants are now wet. A little girl walks by with a bowl of water, trips and spills it on it. All the empathy from their classmates went to the little boy. They tell the little girl to get out of the way. At the end of the day, the little boy says to the little girl, “You did that on purpose.” She replied, “I might wet my pants in class one day, too.”


When we talk about 21st century skills, we talk about communication, collaborative, creativity, blah…blah…blah… You have to deal with people. Whether you communicate with people virtually or in person, through tweeting, friending or skyping, you have to relate with people.

When Alan November speaks on global empathy, he often tells the story of a discussion with the head executive from a global bank. He asked, “What’s the most important 21st century skill?” The executive replied, “Empathy.” He was quite surprised by the response. Watch a talk at Asia Society conference or read a blog post by Walter McKenzie.

Empathy… understanding and valuing other people’s perspectives and points of view.

I am taking a class on instructional design and one of the first online discussion topics was working with teams. What does it take to make a virtual team work in particular? I wrote it’s about good communication. People talked about charters, technology systems, all these formal structures. I just want to get along with people. I bring candy on the first day of face to face trainings. Chocolate and candy transcend boundaries. And treating people with respect and learning cultural norms.

One of the three columns that are must read for me in the Sunday New York Times is Corner Office in the Business Section. (If you must ask, the other two are Lives in the Magazine and Modern Love in the Style Section.) The Corner Office has excerpts from interviews that Adam Bryant has with executives. An interview with Gary McCullough several years ago continues to resonate with me. I love this story from that interview:

“I’ll tell you another quick story. There was a woman named Rosemary who long ago retired from Procter & Gamble. Rosemary was a cafeteria worker, and at the time at P. & G., we actually had a cart that would come around at 7, 7:30 in the morning. They would ring a bell and you’d go get a cup of coffee and a doughnut or a bagel or something to start off your day.

And Rosemary had an uncanny ability to discern who was going to make it and who wasn’t going to make it. And I remember, when I was probably almost a year into the organization, she told me I was going to be O.K. But she also told me some of my classmates who were with the company weren’t going to make it. And she was more accurate than the H.R. organization was.

When I talked to her, I said, “How’d you know?” She could tell just by the way they treated people. In her mind, everybody was going to drop the ball at some point, and then she said: “You know you’re going to drop the ball at some point, and I see that you’re good with people and people like you and you treat them right. They’re going to pick up the ball for you, and they’re going to run and they’re going to score a touchdown for you. But if they don’t like you, they’re going to let that ball lie there and you’re going to get in trouble.”


There are always two versions on the same topic. Alan November talks about searching online for the same topic in different countries. Two different searches will come up. You get one point of view. A person on the same topic gets another view in the other country. And that’s what each of you believe. Media and digital literacy are essential part of an education now. Even if you don’t know the other side of the story, you need to understand that there is another side.


A Liberian teacher told me that at all the workshops he has been to, the consultants come with their tasks. “But you, you have the tasks, but you look at the people.”

Empathy. Something I think about a lot and wonder why more people don’t.

What if I just…listened?

Literacy apps, reading, teachers and parents: What to do?

ABCD LETTERSDigital apps that teach reading! Can that be the answer (or at least part of the answer) to increase kids reading by the grade level by third grade, a predicator of school success? Well, kinda. Yes there are many digital apps designed to teach young children to read. But do parents and educators know much about whether and how they work? Not so much. Pioneering Literacy in the Digital Wild West*: Empowering Parents and Educators looks at the world of literacy apps. It was produced as part of a collaboration between the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the New America Foundation, and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop . They scanned the market of digital products, interviewed literacy and early childhood experts and discovered some promising practices.

What did they find? Their key finding was that most of the popular apps target very basic literacy skills: letters and sounds and phonics with word recognition.

“Among the most salient findings in our scan was the high proportion of paid iTunes apps that purported to teach reading but focused entirely on basic early literacy sills. The app market this spring (2012) felt a lot like a digital Wild West, with learn-to-read apps popping up seemingly overnight and little to no information on whether the developers had backgrounds in early literacy or whether the apps were vetted by reading experts or evaluated in any way.”

They scanned popular apps purported to teach early grade readings and interviewed literacy and early literacy experts. They chose 187 apps, e-books, electronic literacy games and websites with a literary focus, targeting ages 0-8. They did not evaluate these products independently but based it on information provided by product description on websites, by app and e-book developers and independent reviews.

The products had to target one or more of the following areas associated with literacy:

  • Print concepts
  • Letters and letter-sounds
  • Phonics with word recognition
  • Letter Writing
  • Sight Words & Vocabulary
  • Spelling & Grammar
  • Comprehension

Most of the popular apps target only letters and sounds and phonics with word recognition. The websites offered a wider range of literacy skills than apps and games. E-books offered many features, but they did not necessarily enhance literacy learning. Ninety-five percent had optional narration embedded but only half highlight the text so children can follow along.

This scan was done in April 2012. At that time the Apple store had over 500,000 apps, in February 2013 there are over 800,000. In March 2013 Android has over 650,000 apps . The edtech market alone is growing exponentially. With the increasing number of edutrepeurs (education + entrepreneur) creating“educational” products purporting to help children, there is a bit of lawlessness out there. As Frank Catalano writes in his post, Closing the Gap Between Educators and Entrepenuers , there is no shortage of new businesses looking to apply technology to education but in many cases there is a gap between these edupreneurs and teachers. (emphasis added) The apps do not necessarily line up to what is needed to enhance the quality of education.

Is that the only thing to be concerned about? The last sentence of the report in the conclusion is my favorite part:

“…technology’s potential to be a game changer will be not reached unless vital new supports for parents and educators are established. In the digital age, it is these caring adults who still matter most.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a US study for a US market but nonetheless, the conclusion about a need for educators and parents to be involved is universal.

The need for teachers is greater than ever to meet the universal primary education goal. In UNESCO Institute for Statistics UIS Information Bullentin No. 10, The Global Demand For Primary Teachers – 2012 Update states that at the global level, 1.7 million additional teaching positions will need to be created to reach universal primary education by 2015. The 2013/14 EFA Global Monitoring Report is looking at why education is pivotal for development and among many areas, explain the need to invest wisely in teachers. The 2013 International Summit on the Teaching Profession took place March 13-14, 2013. All recognizing, focusing and zeroing in on how key teachers and educators are.

And the parents. The study also included interviews with people who lead early literacy interventions, are involved in early childhood programs or conduct research on educational technology. They did not come across many programs that reach parents but some programs show the potential of technology. An example of a program that would be transferrable to the international development education is Pocket Literacy Coach. Texts are sent to parent’s mobiles with ideas for literacy activities and reassurances to lessen the stresses of parenting. If the parent is literate, SMS is great; otherwise use voice.

Are apps the solution (along with any type of technology)? Apps can enhance reading but to make them useful and enable kids to read, it is equally about teachers and parents.

*For those not familiar with the term “Wild West,” it refers to the western United States during the period of its settlement, characterized by roughness and lawlessness (think cowboys).