1 An investigation of appropriate new technologies to support interactive teaching in Zambian schools
DFID Net-RC: New and Emerging Technologies Research Competition
A join project between Aptivate, the Centre for Commonwealth Education (University of Cambridge, UK), and iSchool.zm (Zambia)
October 2010 – April 2011
We look at new and emerging Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the area of primary education. Building the substantial CCE literature review on developments in using ICT to enhance teaching and learning in Africa, as well as existing projects and NGO work, we investigate how this prior educational technology understanding can be applied to a particular education system in a sub-Saharan country, Zambia, rated one of the lowest developed countries globally (164/182 on the HDI).
The overarching goal of this project is to determine how innovative approaches to using emerging and pre-existing technologies (ICTs) in conjunction with appropriate pedagogies and learning resources can significantly improve teaching and learning in primary schools in Zambia. Here ‘ICTs’ may include netbooks, mobile phones, calculators as well as other types of educational technologies and “electronics” in the widest sense .
The key question is: Based on our understanding of ICT use in schools and of successful pedagogies such as interactive teaching plus collaborative, project- and enquiry-based learning, and given limited resources, what does an effective ICT-enabled Zambian school look like? Moreover, how can one bring existing initiatives and stakeholders together in synergy to realise this model in a sustainable way? To address these questions, we participatively compare a number of class-sized sets of different technologies emerging as most promising, including handheld devices such as tablet PCs, different netbooks (e.g. such as netbooks aimed at the education sector, netbooks with low-energy screens), WikiReaders, self-assembly robotics kits, plus supportive non-digital tools, such as standard wipe-clean slates.
Teachers will then develop model lesson plans around the chosen ICTs, paying particular attention to adopting active, enquiry-based learning approaches that research indicates are most effective, while addressing issues of gender equity. Each set of of technologies is trialled in different school contexts, where we gather qualitative data concerning effectiveness, where criteria for evaluation include usability, software/resource availability, power requirements, robustness, integration with interactive teaching. Towards the end of the project, we tentatively generalise the findings to other similar school settings. These generalisations are tested in a second phase, that itself will lead to models for ICT-enabling primary schools in Zambia.
To find out more, email bjoern(at)aptivate(dot)org
2 Project Report (extracts)
Björn Haßler, Sara Hennessy, Tom Lord, Andrew Cross, Alan Jackson, Matthew Simpson, "Appropriate New Technologies to Support Interactive Teaching in Zambian schools (ANTSIT)". A joint report from Aptivate and the Centre for Commonwealth Education (University of Cambridge). Final Report to DfID. (March 2011). Full report (2 MB), Text only version (600 kB). (Also see here for screencast.)
2.1 Executive summary
Our research in Zambia investigated mobile forms of digital technology used to embed interactive forms of teaching and learning into classroom practice. The project explored what kinds of mobile devices and uses can create an environment supportive of learning through active participation and collaborative inquiry within under-resourced and under-privileged school communities. It also examined the constraining factors. The specific focus was on using netbook, tablet and laptop computers, e-Book and wiki readers, digital cameras and mini-projectors along with Open Educational Resources and Open Source software to support students’ learning in mathematics and science. We evaluated a variety of educational ICTs in two Zambian primary schools over 30 visits in a period of 6 months. Data collection methods included interviews, post-lesson surveys, classroom observations, and video recordings. The work was carried out by Aptivate in conjunction with the Centre for Commonwealth Education at the University of Cambridge, and with iSchool Zambia.
Our recommendations include:
- ICTs should be procured in sets comprising a teacher laptop and student laptops, as well as provision for storage and transport.
- Continuing professional development opportunities are essential for teachers to become familiar with the mobile technologies and to make creative use of them.
- ICTs should be used in conjunction with non-ICT resources, such as mini blackboards, because these add significant value cheaply.
- Robust and cheap netbooks (e.g. the Classmate netbook) are presently the best candidates for classroom use. Android-based tablets can support interactive, collaborative learning effectively but technically (in version 2.2) they are not yet ready (early 2011). Keyboard-based data entry in Flash games can be particularly difficult. However, devices running Android 3.0 should be considered for future procurements, including an investigation of suitable onscreen keyboard or docking stations.
- We would not recommend mixing devices within a single class, but if more than one class set of computers was procured, it may make sense to purchase a set of netbooks (for tasks requiring a standard operating system), as well as a set of tablets. However, cost and setup/maintenance issues need to be considered.
- Teacher and student laptops need to be configured well so that effort expended in lesson preparation is not prohibitive.
- Resource sharing with student laptops needs to be considered; local wireless networks can be deployed effectively to achieve this.
- Teachers want laptops to allow them to study outside of school. Microfinance could allow teachers to buy laptops which would build their skills and promote successful application of ICTs in schools.
2.2 Recommendations (Section 5, p. 62-64)
In this section we offer some advice for teachers, school administrators, and education ministers on how to choose the best technology systems, and to support their effective and sustained use.
Teacher development opportunities are essential. When first exploring new ICTs, teachers both in the UK and in Zambia tend to use technology as a one-to-one substitution for non-ICT-based activities (such as students copying from the projector replacing copying from the blackboard), rather than to promote inquiry-based learning (such as using open-ended ICT-based activities to develop problem solving skills). In order to take advantage of the ICTs in this way, professional development opportunities need to be provided, such as school-based workshops, peer observation and discussion. Although this was not the subject of the present pilot, it is advantageous to take a whole-school approach, working across all teachers, grades, and subjects. Depending on capacity, this could be rolled out gradually. (This is the focus of our ongoing OER4schools work.)
A holistic approach to inquiry-based learning. ICTs are not, and should not considered to be, the sole resource for inquiry based learning. They do not replace non-ICT-based tools, but rather are integrated into an inquiry-based learning landscape. When using ICTs, for instance for projectbased work, other resources are needed, such as measuring tapes, counters, boards for writing. In creating inquiry-based learning environments, we thus have to take a holistic approach, and create environments with a range of resources. We also need to bear in mind, that non-ICT based project work is possible, and that we can support teacher to do so with tools that are very cheap and can be ubiquitous in a school (such as mini-blackboards) for a fraction of the cost of the ICT installation. Thus it makes sense to introduce such non-digital tools (with appropriate pedagogies) alongside the introduction of ICTs. For instance, in a school with 1000 students, each student can be given access to mini-blackboards for the cost of a small number of netbooks.
To be successful ICTs need to be integrated into project based or curriculum based activities. This ideally means connecting with the “real world” in some way. Imagine a project that is graphing the growth of plants. The ICT brings a rich experience with the use of spreadsheets and graphing. But if the entire budget was spent on ICTs and none was left for cheap non-ICT resources like tape measures then the ICTs lose their interface to the real world.
Mini-blackboards are interesting in this regard. These blackboards can be used in project-based activities to provide a bridge to the ICTs. Moreover inquiry-based and collaborative learning with ICTs can be supported with these inexpensive non-ICT tools.
Enable ICT-ownership through microfinance. Generally Zambians, like most of us, are keen to have access to and own ICTs if possible. Teachers often are enrolled in higher education (for instance by distance), and being able to use ICTs as part of the studies is an additional incentive for teachers to own ICTs. Teachers in government schools also have government contracts, with (at least in principle) regular incomes, and there is a degree of disposable income. We recommend to enable ICT-ownership through a microfinance scheme, supporting teachers to upskill themselves.
Possible classroom deployment (“right now, 2011”). Based on the current pilot project (with limited scope), we make the following recommendations regarding purchase decisions. We recommend purchasing a blend of equipment, consisting of
- Mini blackboards (or mini whiteboards as appropriate, ideally school-wide, at least a class
- One teacher laptop with wifi hub (for small deployment)
- One projector
- Student netbooks (maximum group size 4, for instance at least 20 for a class of 80)
- Trolley for transport, storage, and charging of netbooks
The teacher laptops should be configured with an an environment that teachers are familiar with, and while Ubuntu is the preferred option from a maintenance point of view, Windows should be considered as an alternative, if the teachers can draw on an existing support network. The student netbooks should be configured with Ubuntu, to keep the environment as rubust and easy to maintain as possible. In terms of cost of student netbooks, it is possible to procure netbooks for less than $300 per unit. Netbooks with swivel screens are useful but expensive, so at present laptop form-factor is recommended.
For larger deployments, especially with internet connectivity, provisions need to be made to manage resources and bandwidth carefully.
Consistent environments for student computers. We recommend that student netbooks are set up with Ubuntu, with the following provisions:
- Student accounts need to be restored to default state on each login. (Students files should be moved to documents location, and automatically be deleted after a period of time.)
- Lock down panels, so that students cannot unlock them
- Superfluous elements (such as the calendar) should be removed, as they tend to be distracting, and get the students stuck.
- Distracting notifications (such as virus warnings, requests for updates, etc) need to be disabled in student accounts.
- Login should be password less, wifi should connect automatically, enabling the machines to just be turned on.
- The default web browser should be configured with a default address, for instance on the local network, that allows students to access their lesson materials in a single click. (If there is only a single classroom set in use, the starting page could be the resource page itself, otherwise the students should just need to click on the name of their teacher, the title of the current lesson or similar.)
Future classroom deployments (“post 2011”). Technology changes quickly, and future deployments will need to take new technological developments into account. At present, it seems that tablets running Android could be a suitable solution for student laptops. Touch displays do support interactivity and collaboration, but for accurate use (e.g. for mathematics) a stylus may still be needed.
Increased networking and collaboration. Further work towards developing a network of interested stakeholders to facilitate discussion around ICT use in primary schools in Zambia is needed. Potential stakeholders include government (such as the in-service teacher education department at the Ministry of Education), schools involved in the fieldwork, higher education institutions (such as the Institute for Distance Education and the School of Education at University of Zambia), and other initiatives and organisations (such as iSchool.zm themselves). Our plan is to continue networking meetings and to expand the number of interested parties. Our attendance at the prominent e-Learning Africa conference in Dar es Salaam in May will provide an important opportunity here.