Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Digital Divide: Web 2.0 just for rich kids?

I've blogged here before about my doubts about just how relevant digital technology really is when compared with some of the immense problems in the world, such as hunger, child labour and extreme poverty. My thoughts have been heading in this direction once more recently, especially as I have been planning a Social Studies unit on child labour. 

I've found huge amounts of material and ideas that I could use with my class, with this World Vision site 'Born to be Free', and this child labour webquest being most helpful. Yet the content of these and other sites has been almost overwhelming. Seeing such hopelessness and despair forces me to consider what my response needs to be. And there needs to be a response.

To be honest, it really made me wonder if I was doing my masters degree in the right area. I had to ask myself, "Is this just a degree in cool gadgets for rich kids?"

So I had a hunt around over the last week on the internet to see what was out there in terms of the role of ICTs in development contexts, where perhaps these equity issues are at their most extreme and I was surprised to find a whole field that I didn't know existed. It is known as ICT4D, or ICT for development, and is focused exactly on bridging the digital divide that exists between the haves and the have-nots.

The wikipedia entry gives a good overview of the field and provides some links for those who want to explore further. This ICT4D wiki has a huge number of links to resources, journals, blogs, people, and institutions, all devoted to ICT4D.

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is a good example of an organisation, which, with corporate sponsorship from the likes of Google, Apple and others, is trying "To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning."

 (Image credit: Kicukiro2 by OLPC, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License)

At first I was a little cynical about this. After all, these people need food, not web 2.0, right? Well, yes, obviously in the most dire cases. Yet access to education and information is fundamental to escaping poverty. I highly recommend this short video, Zimi's Story, about the effect having one of these laptops has had.

Of course the digital divide exists not only on an international scale, but locally as well. One only has to look at the amazing work done by Dorothy Burt and the crew at Pt England School to see the impact that effective use of digital technology can have on motivation and learning in a low socioeconomic context.

My current paper is called 'Change with Digital Technologies in Education', and I think there will be scope to really explore some of these issues in much greater depth. In fact, I'd like to gear the remainder of my course in this direction, if at all possible (and I think it will be).

Digital technologies are not just for 'rich kids'. They are a tool with the potential to really change lives around and provide a way out of poverty.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Classblogmeister: Motivating with ClustrMaps

I've blogged here before, on a personal level, about how motivating it can be to have a real sense of audience. If you know that what you are writing is going to be read, there is much more chance that what you write will be written with that audience in mind. Hopefully this results in a more interesting, coherent and well-structured post.

It is easy to feel, when blogging, that you're speaking to an empty room, and unless there is some way of knowing who is 'out there', it is easy to lose that drive. The statement below can be easy to believe, and can sap motivation:

However, I have really seen evidence with my class of how proof of audience can increase motivation. Classblogmeister has a built-in feature which allows student to see how many times their post has been read.

You can see that this post has been read 111 times. I didn't point this feature out to my students, but it didn't take them long to find it (rather excitedly, I might add!).

Early on I wanted to capitalise on this motivation by having them add ClustrMaps to their blogs.  To guide them through the process I made a page explaining how to add a ClustrMap to a classblogmeister blog, which went through the steps and included screenshots of what they needed to do.

I followed this with an example, using one of my learners' blogs. This helped most of them understand what was required. I was surprised by how easy they learnt how to do this, and this skill will be useful for them later when they wish to add other kinds of widgets as well. My learners were enthusiastic about this, and when I suggested that they tell any family or friends living overseas about their blog, they seemed very keen to do so, so they could start seeing little red dots appear on their map.

These ClustrMaps also came to me for moderation, and were incredibly easy to approve using the New Approval Tool on the teacher account. I was able to approve as they came in and had them all done in about 15 minutes.

One morning I called over one of my students after noticing her Clustrmap was indicating some international attention (still not sure why this one in particular received so much attention!). She was blown away by the thought that she was being read on a number of continents. I asked her if she felt more motivated to blog again having seen that: "Definitely!" came the response, giving another reason why blogging is such an effective writing tool.