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The narrowing of the digital divide

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 15 May 2018, 23:00

One of the activities I plan to write about in my TMA is the Global Digital Divide. When doing this activity a few weeks ago I looked at the region (ha!) of Africa (a pretty big region!) and speculated that the provision of OERs by western universities would be unlikely to be helpful to most people in Africa as internet connectivity was both rare, poor and expensive. I looked up infographics to show how the undersea cabling simply didn't reach Africa as strongly as it reached North America and Europe.

https://www.submarinecablemap.com/#/

I assumed that the vastness, and relatively emptiness, of the African continent meant that stretching the infrastructure from the coast inland simply hadn't been done and therefore, the videos, quizzes, resources and lectures being provided 'for free' would not actually contribute to the improvement of the learning environment for Africans but rather sit there uselessly - an unusable but expensive white elephant. 

However - this was based on the information linked to by H800 - mostly at least 5 years old. 

I've now done some much more up to date research (aided by the hive mind that is Facebook and specifically three computer-y friends who exploded with geekiness upon being asked for advice and information!) and see that the global digital divide is narrowing - pretty much before our eyes in a visible way. 

This website is full of very up to date information about the whole world and if, how and why it connects to the internet. 153 pages of fascinating data. Yet not one which expressly refers to learning or education. Lots about social media, banking, commerce... but no learning.

I also was linked to this initiative by Facebook which also fails to explicitly refer to education and learning except for two video diaries of learners - one school boy and one adult learner. It addresses connectivity and some of the technical efforts they are making to address the shrinking inequality. 

Other projects were linked to which had the aim of both strengthening the internet connection in Africa, and utilizing it for the common good in various ways - though education was, once more, notable in its absence. 

So it's back to the drawing board! I think that 10 years ago my planned plea for OERs to be made in text form, avoiding bandwidth munching pictures and videos, would have been right on the money! However - now I think I will have to rethink. Maybe the same problems which always faces schools in Africa will be the key - simply having buildings, teachers, uniforms and equipment will continue to be the challenge. The equipment may be more technological, and the teachers may need more training and the buildings may need internet connectivity.... yeah - there's still 1000 words in that!

 


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School yard gamifications

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I've been pretty occupied with the TMA in the last few days but I made time for my weekly coffee break with a group of friends this morning. One friend, Viv, is an early years teacher with oodles of experience. She asked what I was doing and I gave some vague response (if I get too specific I get too excitable and then talk about it for too long) and she immediately began to muse of the usefulness of gamification (she didn't use that exact word) for repetitive practice tasks with young children.

Learning times tables, or spelling, or basic maths and science can be boring. A child may have some basic tools but the current pedagogy (as has ever been so it seems!) is to require a lot of repetition and testing to drill down these skills. She cited the times table competition web sites which can turn an hour of times table homework into a class competition complete with certificates!

I began to muse that with touch screen tablets children could actually write our spellings and software could actually interpret and mark their efforts. Viv then suggested that the software could also record the type of words a child was struggling with (a specific phoneme, words with non phonetic letters) and assign more of these words to help them crack it; personalized and responsive lessons and learning. 

She has a rather negative view of technology enhanced learning overall - it seems because it has become 'required' of her (despite the fact she teaches 4 year olds) to create and teach from PowerPoint presentations. Despite the fact that she immediately could see potential in a technological approach and was mentally devising algorithms to utilize screens in the classroom, she has already been turned off the idea of a new pedagogy by the blanket and inappropriate imposition of an existing one.

Most of our studies in H800 have been about adult learners but technology can, does and must also enhance the learning environments of children.   

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