Tag Archives: UNESCO

Memo #5 from Mobile Learning Week 2015

Paris, France
February 27, 2015
The last day at this year’s Mobile Learning Week was a research seminar. The goal of the seminar was to bring together researchers as well as practitioners and policymakers to discuss the types of research that is available and needed around mobile learning, with an eye this year on women and girls.  With our longstanding interest and work in mobile learning research, I was excited participate in these discussions and to be part of the closing MLW2015 panel about the intersection of mobiles, women/girls and leadership.
At first glance, these three terms or concepts – mobile devices, women/girls’ empowerment, leadership – may seem to be an odd mix with little apparent commonality.  Each is a rich topic in their own right and in many circles, justifies their own dedicated conferences and research.  That is why this year’s Mobile Learning Week, as a collaboration between UNESCO and UN-Women, was such a fascinating idea and experience.  The big question is where do these three weighty concepts intersect and how can they be leveraged together to yield greater impact for all.  With the benefit of hindsight now, it is obvious that through the week’s keynotes, panel discussions, breakout sessions and workshops, the real goal of this year’s event was to uncover this unique intersection.  Not an easy task but one that I think was very successfully summarized in this closing panel.  I felt honored to be able to share my interpretation of this challenge (and potential solutions) as a panel participant.  Here is a short synopsis of some of the remarks I shared on this panel.
As we learn from the annual Speak Up data, while girls and boys have similar perceptions on the value of digital tools and resources, including mobile devices, on their learning, the way they want to use technology can be very different. Girls are particularly interested in using mobiles to connect, create and collaborate with others.  Underlying these activities is a deep felt passion to share ideas and to have a voice in local as well as wider range issues that affect their lives. After spending the week with conference representatives from all over the globe, I have a new appreciation for the immense power of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to enable girls and women to have a voice, a voice that in many parts of the world is not socially or culturally the norm.  In that sense, the impact of mobile devices on women and girls is indeed a new sense of empowerment.  And while we don’t often think about that in the United States, I think the impact can be similar in many circumstances.  Beyond sharing ideas, we also learn from Speak Up that girls like the idea of using their mobile devices to create and share various forms of content.  This type of content creation can be to develop skills or to gain feedback from others on their work. Earlier in the week, I learned about an interesting Silicon Valley nonprofit called Technovation (http://www.technovationchallenge.org/home/) that provides a program and competition for girls around mobile app development to solve local problems. This type of activity brings together the idea of skill development with content creation in a way that has high relevancy for girls.  Again more empowerment at play!

 

When I think about the types of skills that girls are acquiring through their use of mobile devices and mobile-enabled content, the concept of developing a next great generation of women leaders comes clearer into focus. When I talk with corporate and university leaders about the types of skills that today’s youth need to acquire to be successful in the new economy and society, the refrain is amazing consistent.  The skills that have the highest value include communications, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and computation thinking.  These are also the same skills that leadership gurus say are essential for leadership in a global, information-intensive era.  As noted earlier, the girls themselves articulate the relationships between their use of mobile devices and the development of these types of skills. Given the need for the development of new skills, and a new attitude about the potential of women and girls to be full participants in leadership roles in work and society, the responsibility of mobile devices in supporting these twin goals cannot be ignored.  It simply makes common sense now.  So, as we close out this year’s Mobile Learning Week, our new discussions post-2015 should be not about if access to mobile devices is important for women and girls, but rather, what we need to do to position these tools to enable and empower new capabilities and opportunities for all.  I look forward to continuing this discussion throughout the year and leveraging what I have learned at this year’s Mobile Learning Week to inform our work at Project Tomorrow.

Memo #4 from Mobile Learning Week 2015

Paris, France
February 26, 2015

This year’s Mobile Learning Week was a collaboration of UNESCO and UN-Women.  The collaboration led to a unique theme of how to empower women and girls with mobile devices.  The keynotes, panels and breakout sessions therefore focused on this intersection of technology and gender, and the topic of gender-sensitivity was front and center throughout the week.  But let’s be candid.  Some people do not know what gender-sensitivity means, and too many people have misunderstandings and wrong assumptions around women and girls’ interests in mobile learning.  My goal with this blog posting is to demystify the important topic based upon the research that we did for this week’s workshop. Let’s jump in by examining this gender-sensitivity from several levels!

Why is this topic important? 
Based upon the Speak Up data as well as results from several mobile learning evaluations conducted by Project Tomorrow, we have observed that mobile learning has a gender component.  When students are asked about how they want to use a mobile device to support their learning, girls and boys have different aspirations for schoolwork usage. For example, middle school boys want to use a mobile device to find online videos to help them with homework. Comparatively, middle school girls are often more interested in using their smartphone or tablet for collaborations with classmates, taking notes in class and communicating with classmates and teachers. Despite best efforts, instructional materials including digital content that are used with mobile devices may not be as gender sensitive as they could be.  Given that reality, it makes sense that we should dig more deeply into how digital tools and resources are either reinforcing or debunking traditional gender based norms and/or stereotypes. The goal therefore should be to more gender-sensitive or responsive in our plans for and use of those digital tools so that all students have an equitable opportunity for education.

What is the definition of gender-sensitivity?  
There is an extensive body of research on the many terms used when discussing gender issues in education including gender-unequal, gender-blind, gender-specific and gender-sensitive.  Per the research, the three defining characteristics of gender-sensitivity are as follows:

  • Gender-sensitivity considers gender norms, role and relationships
  • It takes into account the impact of policies, projects and programs on women/girls and men/boys
  • And it tries to mitigate negative consequences of the gender impact.

Comparatively, gender-blind see no differences between how girls and boys approach instructional materials or technology.  Instructional materials that are gender-unequal or bias are developed to favor one gender over another.  Gender-specific is similar but without the inherent negative consequences.

How can we become more gender-sensitive in our selection of instructional materials for use in classrooms by girls and boys?
As noted above, the research on this topic including case studies and implications for a wide range of instructional materials is available through multiple sources.  However, despite the extensiveness of the research, there is surprisingly very few resources that could be used by a teacher, school or district to evaluate the tools and content that they are using within instruction. For our workshop on Monday, therefore, we developed that kind of tool that can help you identify the gender-sensitivity of the digital content you may be using with students right now.  The Guide for Evaluating Gender-Sensitivity within Digital Content includes a list of “questions for consideration.”  The questions are categorized into four themes:  categorization, imagery and language, storyline and results.  While the guide will not give you a grade or score for your digital content, it will help to instigate new discussions around gender-sensitivity, the use of digital content within instruction, and education equity.  The best news is that you can access this guide on our website.  Check out both versions of the guide (one for digital content and a similar one for digital games) at www.tomorrow.org/UNESCOworkshop.html.  If you use the guide within your school, district or organization, let us know your thoughts on this new tool.

Memo #3 from Mobile Learning Week 2015

Paris, France

February 25, 2015

While all of the keynotes, plenary sessions and small group discussions at Mobile Learning Week have been fabulous, my personal favorite so far has been a panel discussion on the intersection of mobile devices, girls and literacy.  As I tweeted earlier today, it was hard to keep up with all of the insightful comments, ideas and suggestions from the rock star panel.  Speak of rock stars, check out this panel lineup – and if you don’t know these folks, I highly recommend that you Google them and connect with them on social media. That is exactly what I did today!

  • Shaheen Attiqu-Ur-Rahman (Bunyad Literacy Council)
  • Gulser Corat (UNESCO)
  • Shafika Isaacs (International Education Consultant)
  • Matt Keller (XPrize Foundation)
  • Steve Vosloo (Pearson, South Africa)
  • Dan Wagner (University of Pennsylvania)

It is hard to digest the entire 70 minute panel discussion in one blog posting, but here are 5 key takeaways that 12 hours later I am still thinking about.  Remember, the topic was about how mobiles can enhance literacy for all people, especially girls.

  1. Mobile devices enable two-way communications for adults and kids to comment and discuss what they are reading.  A printed book does not allow you to give immediate feedback on the content or to facilitate a discussion with folks around the world.
  2. The inclusion of mobiles into discussions around how to improve literacy is actually instigating new conversations about what we mean when we say literacy in 2015.  The expanded version of literacy now seems to include not just reading, but different forms of writing including commentary, ICT or technology literacy skills, and critical thinking skills.
  3. As per Ms. Attiq-Ur-Rahman, mobiles enable women in particular to have a voice; having that voice supports greater self-confidence and efficacy; having that new self-image promote the ability to create changes that impact women’s lives.  Those changes can positively impact not only the woman, but also her children, her family, her community and her society.
  4. Having a stake and a voice in her life empowers the woman or girl to think beyond simply being a consumer of content and technology, and instead becoming a creator of digital tools and resources.
  5. Mobile devices, wireless technology and mobile learning resources are uniquely qualified to nurture, support and sustain changes in how all people, adults and youth, look at their world and their place within it.  The ability to tap into knowledge through your fingertips, to have tools in the palm of your hand to support learning, and to be able to conveniently and effectively follow a passion for learning or entrepreneurship may seem second nature today in the US, but in most of the developing world, these are dramatic game changers. Despite this potential, a unique refrain throughout this week has been the challenge of how to scale and sustain mobile learning projects.  Much more work is needed here in both the developed and developing world.

Tomorrow in our 4th Memo from Mobile Learning Week I am going to discuss the issue of gender sensitivity and digital learning.  This has very direct implications for how we are going to universally tackle the sticky challenge of scale and sustainability.  Despite that, I am impressed that UNESCO in collaboration with UN-Women has taken on this big topic of women, girls and mobiles for this year’s MLW.  While there were many very thoughtful leaders talking about this topic during the Symposium, let’s be candid: too many people have misunderstandings and wrong assumptions around women and girls’ interests in mobile learning.  My goal with tomorrow’s blog posting is to demystify it a bit based upon the research that we did for this week’s workshop.  Stay tuned!

Memo #2 from Mobile Learning Week 2015

Paris, France
February 24, 2015
It is not often that I have the opportunity to attend a conference and focus on my own learning. Too often, I am consumed by preparation for my own sessions and presentations without any time to really absorb the energy or ideas generated by the event itself.  Not today.  Not at MLW2015.  With over 500 attendees representing over 80 countries here at this week’s Mobile Learning Week, I cannot help but sit back and be a student at this conference.  Here are 3 things that I learned today that I wanted to share with you.
1.       There are so many innovative and amazing projects involving mobile devices and digital content going on all around the globe.  With this week’s focus on women and girls, the projects are even more interesting for their emphasis on female empowerment and equity of opportunity.  I am also so impressed with the passion of the project leaders – whether that is a nonprofit/NGO, a government agency, an affiliate of the United Nations, or a company – everyone is excited and eager to share their story, what they have learned from their projects, and ask for help where needed.  The spirit of partnership development is alive and well here.  However, just as we see in the US conferences, too many projects are still “campfires of innovation” without any real plans or processes in place to scale, replicate or sustain their efforts.  Scaling projects is tough work – and often takes a different set of skills than project implementation.  I learned that this challenge is truly a universal one and that is actually good news. It means that there is a unique opportunity to share ideas and strategies beyond borders – and with a greater number of participants.  Two (or two million) brains are better than one on these types of challenges!
2.       Cherie Blair of the Cherie Blair Foundation forWomen was a speaker at today’s Symposium. Her foundation is doing important work supporting women’s education especially in terms of driving self-sufficiency and economic development.  They are a high impact nonprofit organization that has focused on collaborative projects to extend their impact – smart.  I was especially impressed with how they are engaging with technology to support their mission.  Mrs. Blair gave several examples of using mobile devices and blended learning help women develop the skills they need to be successful entrepreneurs in Africa.  My takeaway from her talk was some new ideas around how digital tools such as mobile devices can not only extend learning for students, but can be employed to support life-long, life-wide, life-deep learning in all kinds of communities, with all kinds of different goals.  In that sense, mobile provides a way for the learning to come directly to the learner.
3.       One of the day’s high profile panels was about providing equitable access to women and girls and thus, equalizing opportunity. The panel was top notch and included speakers from Intel, the Wikipedia Foundation and Mozilla amongst others.  All women, all passionate about equity, opportunity and the future.  I was especially impressed with Doreen Bogdan, who is the Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership for ITU, the International Telecommunications Union, a specialized agency with the United Nations.  The mission of this agency is to connect the world – simple task.  Her remarks focused on the need to connect more girls to technology careers and she shared some startling statistics on the decrease over the last few years in women’s interest in STEM careers.  We have tracked through the Speak Up data the lack of any real movement in terms of increasing girls’ interest in STEM fields, but the idea that we are slipping backwards was frightening.  ITU supports an interesting initiative called “Girls in ICT Day” which is a global event to shine a light on technology career opportunities for girls and women.  This year the event will be held on April 23.  As someone who has spent a career in the technology field, this hits home to me.  Check this out – and let me know how you think we can work together on this with your organization, school or district.
Wednesday is the second day of the two day Mobile Learning Symposium.  The Symposium includes inspiring keynotes and plenary sessions – and a myriad of small, Tedtalk like sessions on all kinds of topics related to girls, women and mobile learning.  Another full day of learning!  Be part of the experience by following me on Twitter (@JulieEvans_PT).  I can’t wait to share with you tomorrow my insights from this event (and the people I am meeting) in our Memo #3 from Mobile Learning Week 2015!

Memo #1 from Mobile Learning Week 2015

Paris, France
February 23, 2015
According to Dr. Patience Stephens, Director/Special Advisor on Education for UN-Women, it is no longer appropriate or tolerable to do a minimalist job of providing girls and women with the tools they need to improve their lives – most notably with a second-class education. What a true statement – so obvious, but still not reality, especially not in many places around the globe.  With that inspiration and a call to more fully examine how mobile devices in particular can enable and empower change for girls and women, this year’s Mobile Learning Week 2015 was off to a great start.  Today was the workshop day of the weeklong event and I was honored to be chosen from a field of 70 proposals to lead one of the 12 workshops today.  Additionally, our good friend, Dr. Kari Stubbs, Vice President of Innovation and Learning at BrainPOP asked me to participate in her workshop to provide Speak Up research support.  It was a fun and exciting day examining the intersections of STEM, digital learning, games, coding, mobile devices – and girls!  I am excited to share with you 2 big takeaways based upon the workshops today that I hope may lead to deeper discussions on these important issues in your schools, districts, organizations and communities. If they do, I would love to hear back from you!
Take-away #1:  The morning workshop was led by the BrainPOP team and focused on girls’ interest in playing learning games, creating their own games, and learning how to code using mobile devices. Speak Up data provided the contextual background for many of the learning experiences within this workshop.  What I especially liked was the high level of audience participation and interactivity within the workshop.  Participants had multiple opportunities to play different kinds of games and even try their hand at coding.  While playing learning games is always fun, the play/learn experiences was grounded in examining the content through the lens of gender-sensitivity.  While it may seem easy to identify Game X as a “boy-oriented” game and Game Y as “girl-focused,” the audience quickly realized that those superficial stereotypes were inconclusive.  Using a guide developed by Project Tomorrow for this workshop, the participants had a chance to do a deeper dive as game and content evaluators and in the process, learned a lot of about their own biases and potential blindness to gender issues in digital content, games and other instructional materials.  The guide is available with other workshop materials at http://www.tomorrow.org/UNESCOworkshop.html.   We already know that the inclusion of mobile devices increases student engagement in learning. But what if we could prove that using mobile devices helps create more gender-responsive, transformative learning environments for all students?    We have much more work to do in this arena but I was excited to see the level of interest in this topic amongst the Mobile Learning Week attendees.
Take-away #2:  In the afternoon workshop, the focus was on how to design, implement and evaluate a gender-sensitive mobile learning project.  I led this workshop with support this time from Dr. Stubbs. Based upon Project Tomorrow research in this area, we shared a new way of thinking about the evolution of a mobile planning project from a gender-sensitivity perspective, starting from the identification of your project purpose through the synthesis of research data to share with stakeholders.  But first we had to review what we meant by gender-sensitivity.  A simplified version is basically becoming more aware of gender norms, roles and relationships and how those inherent or un-intended biases or opinions influences students’ learning. The real goal here is to develop new mobile learning projects that recognize gender issues and then, strategically and deliberately create ways to minimize the impact of any gender-blind or unequal priorities or values. As you might imagine these workshop topics instigated new questions and ideas about understanding and identifying gender-sensitivity.  Several points that the audience made on this topic intrigued me; I need to do more thinking on several of the points raised. However, several questions came up as to whether the goal of gender-sensitivity was to right the wrongs of the past in terms of unequal learning opportunities for girls, or to aim for how gender issues can be mitigated to the point of truly equal education for all genders. Both approaches are important to consider especially because in some communities, there is an emerging “boy crisis” where male students are feeling like second class citizens in their schools and that perception is affecting their school performance.  Sound familiar?  So, how do we really design, implement and evaluate new mobile learning projects that enable girls to reach for the stars in educational opportunities while not dashing the dreams and aspirations of their brothers?   I have a few suggestions.  Check out the PowerPoint from today’s workshop.  Spoiler alert – the powerpoint includes brand new data findings from Speak Up 2014. Review, enjoy and pass it on: http://www.tomorrow.org/UNESCOworkshop.html.
Tuesday is the first day of the two day Mobile Learning Symposium.  The Symposium includes inspiring keynotes and plenary sessions – and a myriad of small, TedTalk like sessions on all kinds of topics related to girls, women and mobile learning.  It is going to be a full day.  Be part of the experience by following me on Twitter (@JulieEvans_PT).  I can’t wait to share with you tomorrow my new learnings from this event in our Memo #2 from Mobile Learning Week 2015!