Nurturing ICT innovation in education


When he was the schools minister, Jim Knight was well-known for embracing ICT and its role in education. He is now supporting the Nominet Trust to help nurture the innovations of the future and here lists his favourite entries from this year's Nominet 100

I have worked around education and technology for eight years and have often felt frustrated that the two have not been combined more effectively to do great things – I was therefore delighted to be involved in curating the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 (NT100 – a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues), to celebrate those ventures that have. So, what were my favourites?

There are many enterprises featured on Nominet Trust’s Social Tech Guide that are disrupting conventional approaches to education, but for me it is important that innovation in this area is enabling teachers to do things that were previously inconceivable, and preferably at scale. Two that stand out in achieving that scale are Coursera and Khan Academy. 

Coursera was a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) pioneer, and Khan Academy has done something similar for school-age learning. This opening up, of free, high-quality learning is a wonderful gift to anyone who can access the web. There is more to do in encouraging the less educated to take advantage of these opportunities, but that should not stop us from celebrating the extraordinary achievements of these two projects.

A criticism of MOOCs is that they haven’t found a solution to open source assessment. Although the 2013 NT100 project Knewton has not solved that problem, it has managed to improve adaptive assessment and is truly doing something that was previously inconceivable with technology – changing the follow up questions according to the answers.

As a learner quickly demonstrates mastery the questioning can move on and challenge them more at the top end, or it can explore further where a learner has got stuck. This in turn allows the teacher to properly understand where learners most need their help.

Assessment is the best friend of accreditation, and I am a huge fan of Mozilla’s Open Badges in disrupting this closed world. Their badges are infinitely flexible and available to anyone, as long as the evidence used to award the badge is accessible online. It has huge potential to bring agility to the world of skills recognition, as the dynamic nature of the economy demands new skills faster than accredited qualifications can keep up with.

Establishing the best ways to teach 21st century skills that will drive the digital economy is a challenge regularly debated, often with a focus on coding. Raspberry Pi is a real innovator in teaching coding. This simple, cheap device gives access to almost anyone to be able to learn coding and quickly see results.

So far my selections have been focused largely on the needs of the more advantaged parts of the world. However, some of the best innovations are at work in the developing world, using technology to tackle educational disadvantage at scale.

There are three stand out examples in the Indian sub-continent. BBC Janala is a great example of how using the technology that learners already have access to can deliver education at scale. In Bangladesh this service is teaching English using simple mobile phones, underpinned by television, newspaper and website support. 

In Pakistan TeleTaleem is trying to deliver education in remote areas using satellite vans to connect learners with tablets back to teachers based in studios within Islamabad. Finally, Hole-in-the-Wall started in Delhi and is demonstrating the power of computers to engage children who otherwise have no education. This demonstration of how children want to learn, are naturally curious, and can then teach each other, is hugely inspiring.

My other two favourites originate in Brazil. Catraca Livre is an online tool to find free, or very cheap, services that are worth doing. It is creating learning communities by bringing people to creative spaces and helping them to develop together.

All of this online activity depends on digital inclusion. CDI Global began in a favela in Rio, and now educates more than 90,000 people a year in 800 community run centres in 13 countries in Latin America. It is helping people take part in things more easily by being online. This is a cause close to my heart, as I chair an organisation doing something similar in the UK, Tinder Foundation. I am also a board member for CDI project, Apps for Good, a programme which allows young people to design and build apps to support them with matters close to their heart.

There are plenty more inspiring examples of social tech from the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 and the Social Tech Guide. These projects are just some of my favourite “Ed-tech” innovations making learning possible in ways that we couldn’t do before. As more continue to emerge, I look forward to welcoming them into my next top 10.

  • Lord Jim Knight is the former schools minister and now a member of the House of Lords. Lord Knight has worked extensively in education, technology and digital inclusion. He a visiting professor at the Institute of Education and is a keen supporter of Nominet Trust’s digital skills agenda.

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