Mobile Learning writes a cautionary article about mobile learning in Africa and, while the title might seem negative, there’s no doubt there is an embrace of mobile learning technology to increase learning.

It’s key lessons are consistent with the problems of implementing technology anywhere: Primarily, projects need to be more about connecting people and less about technology. Additionally, that TEACHERS are a critical and essential component in ensuring the success of mobile learning.

Read the entire article below or from the web site.


Only projects that work with existing education systems will improve learning and cut poverty, says Niall Winters.

You’ve no doubt heard of the mobile phone revolution sweeping Sub-Saharan Africa — perhaps mobile money transfer, or mHealth. The hope is that mobile technologies will transform lives by improving health, education, finance and women’s position in society.

However, as knowledge management expert Piers Bocock notes, there is a vast disconnect between the companies that produce and market these technologies and on-the-ground implementers — with the hype perhaps best exemplified by former US President Bill Clinton.

Referring to a 2010 UN report, Clinton stated that mobile phones “are one of the most effective advancements in history to lift people out of poverty”. However, the report was clear that impact depends “on the context and on the environment in which ICTs are introduced and used”. [1,2]

Some may ask: what could be wrong with this focus on the mobile phone revolution? Don’t we all support progress?

In short, no.

While innovation is welcome, in some cases, how it is implemented risks increasing — not reducing — marginalisation. I’ll discuss just one example from education: teachers and their role in mobile learning projects in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Excluding teachers

Let’s begin with a simple question: when was the last time you heard the voice of teachers from Sub-Saharan Africa extolling the virtues of mobile phones in education? I’m not talking about nicely staged interviews — I mean really telling us how their teaching was fundamentally improved.

“It is a mistake to run down teachers’ professionalism to justify technology use in education.” – Niall Winters, University of London

Now, a second question: when was the last time you heard that teachers in Africa are not trained properly, are demotivated and that the formal education systems in which they work are weak? My hunch is that you’ve heard much more about this than you’ve heard teachers praising mobile technology.

My concern is that some people use the problems with education systems to justify excluding teachers from the design and development of mobile learning interventions. Teachers’ voices are marginalized. And mobile operators association GSMA (to take just one example) characterizes the teaching profession in a way that divorces it from progress and innovation.

The difficulties teachers face are used as a starting point for criticism, rather than as a motivation to address systemic issues. A good example of this is how the technology community has openly welcomed 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra’s work on learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge, even though his approach to achieving this is highly contested among educational researchers and practitioners. [3]

It is a mistake to run down teachers’ professionalism to justify technology use in education.

Creating an alternative vision

Instead, we need to create an alternative vision that values and prioritises teacher involvement in mobile learning.

First, begin by acknowledging that supporting teacher involvement is a messy, time-consuming and resource-intensive process. And commit to it — there is no magic technology bullet.

Second, understand that many teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa work under tough conditions; and build on research that analyses how these affect their teaching. An in-depth 2012 study in Tanzania, for example, found that teachers wanted to improve their qualifications and be respected but were constrained by resource limitations and the demands of daily life, which UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) clearly recognizes: overcrowded classrooms, malnourished students, low pay and a high-pressure workload. [4]

Third, learn from the One Laptop per Child program. Its uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa was generally judged to have failed because of a lack of integration with education ministries.

It is teachers who will support students with mobile learning interventions and help safeguard success. They need a central role in truly multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Build local capacity

Clearly, more investment in teacher training is needed within — and beyond — mobile learning programmes. Research has shown the crucial role teachers play in designing, developing and implementing education technologies.

Three things need to happen to support a more central role for teachers: reconfiguration of mobile learning projects, an increased use of participatory methodologies and less techno-centrism.

Reconfiguration requires a level of self-reflection. We know that many mobile learning projects are funded by sizeable donations made under corporate social responsibility budgets.

This often means a central role is played by the non-expert funder, not the teacher. If corporate funders stepped back, teachers would have more space to take on the more central role required.

However, this enhanced role cannot be supported without appropriate methodologies. Participatory approaches in development go back at least to the early 1970s and are still used in various ways — including giving a voice to marginalized people in the debate over the post-2015 developmental goals.

There is a vibrant Human-Computer Interaction for Development community that promotes user-centered approaches to technology design, use and evaluation. In my own work over the years, including in a current project for training community health workers in Kenya, we extensively use participatory approaches to help design and develop mobile learning interventions.

The idea that techno-centrism or even solely content-based solutions can address important educational challenges by themselves must be dropped. Research shows they can’t. [5]

The path to success is clear: the risks of increasing the marginalization of teachers — and by extension students — can only be ameliorated by understanding teachers’ practice, co-designing interventions with them and providing them with training.

Projects which work with existing educational systems, not against them, should have priority funding. Only then can mobile learning be seen to work for teachers, for their students and for the alleviation of poverty among those at the margins of society.

Niall Winters is a reader in learning technologies at the London Knowledge Lab at the University of London, United Kingdom. He can be reached at

Mobile Learning in Africa References

[1] UN Conference on Trade and Development Information Economy Report 2010: ICTs, Enterprises and Poverty Alleviation (UN, 2010)
[2] Clinton, B. The Case for Optimism (Time Magazine, 1 October 2012)
[3] Mitra, S. Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud (TED, video posted February 2013)
[4] International Journal of Educational Development doi: 10.1016/j.ijedudev.2012.01.003 (2012)
[5] Winters, N. Why mobile learning on its own won’t solve the access problem (LIDC blog, 13 November 2012)



3D CAD Dentistry

3D CAD Dentistry

“When I went to Dental School I never thought I’d be a CAD programmer”

said Dr. Marxen smiling.

As someone involved in educational technology, who writes about disruptive technologies in schools and society, there was something fascinating about my trip to the dentist today..

Less than two hours start to finish I received a new crown, as new technologies turn an old 2 WEEK process into a routine office visit. Amazing.

My Visit- A brief overview:

They used a special camera/measuring tool to image the teeth–a small wand that clicked with an image of each tooth surface. Afterward, the computer displayed a three-dimensional build of the area that looked like a detailed topographic map.

The dentist then rotated the image to inspect all the adjoining surfaces, then aligned the top and bottom teeth which included the new, virtual crown.

The technician (thank you Carol) outlined the area for the new crown on the computer much like one would use the lasso tool on Photoshop, before using a blur-like tool to remove high spots that were clearly, brightly colored on the computer image of my new crown.

After adjustments were made on the computer, the tooth was sent to the 3D milling machine in the next room. (see video below)

Eight minutes later the tooth was made. Next, it was hardened and baked white in a small kiln at nearly 900 degrees. After it cooled, sealers were applied before being cemented into place.

Dr. Marxen feels really good about the exacting nature of the technology which creates 3D manipulable images that easily allow him to see the fit around all surfaces and match in biting surfaces, prior to “printing” the crown to his Sirona Cerec 3D milling machine.  He likes the ability to maximize the time in one appointment to minimize invasiveness, reduce repeated trauma in the area of the jaw, and the safety in securing a crown immediately for protecting the affected area.


Power, Potential, and New Learning

Consider the power and capabilities of 3D printing & milling as CAD capabilities become more cost-effective and extend to other industries & institutions. How will this technology change our world?

Consider these recent news highlights:

Implications for Education?

I find the realization of this once science-fiction technology–that is now a reality, to be fascinating:

  • What will students of the (very near) future need to learn?
  • What kinds of skills and trainings will future workers people need to have to be successful in their chosen careers? Dr. Marxen didn’t expect to be a CAD programmer and now this technology has increased the effectiveness and efficiency of his practice.
  • How will values be shaped when you can create anything you’re able to conceive?
  • And alas, how will we deal with the many lawsuits/patents/hacks that will occur as the ability to imitate and own items we ‘manufacture’ at home?



NOTE: The video was taken from my cell phone (Note 3) during my visit (that’s my crown in the machine!) and edited using AndroVid Pro while sitting in the dentist chair–prior to uploading to YouTube (which took longer than finalizing and securing the crown).

[Unsolicited shout-out] If you’re in the Washington/Eastside area:
Advanced Care Dentistry
13515 NE 175th St, Woodinville, WA 98072
(425) 483-2442

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist,
Using technologies that haven’t been invented,
In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

– Karl Fisch, “Did You Know”

How Do You Prepare Someone For Something That Doesn’t Exist?

How do you train a person for a job that hasn’t even been invented yet?  In the old days, the mantra of high school teachers was that they were “preparing students for college.”

With a trillion dollars in student-loan debt (the next bubble to burst?), 56% college graduate unemployment, and the rise of social-media engagement scores, college may not be a what teachers should be solely focusing on. (Few high school teachers I talk to are even aware of the r/evolution occurring in higher education)

65% of today’s grade school kids will end up at jobs that haven’t been invented yet
-United States Department of Labor- Futurework – Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century

Fifteen years ago I had the opportunity to sit down with individual leaders of major groups at Microsoft (MSN, Games, programming, education). We talked about their jobs and the skills sets and what students needed to be successful. We talked about computer science degrees and engineering majors. A student I brought asked them about THEIR degrees.

They looked at each other and went around the table: Art Major (Line & Figure Design), Dance, Literature, & Education. They were shocked: All Liberal Arts degrees! This lead to a great discussion among themselves about what their liberal arts degree provided for them and the conclusion was that it gave them a multitude of different ways of approaching and looking at problems and asking questions. One talked about the patterns she loved in dance and how she was drawn to programming because she “saw” patterns in the code.

I was reminded of the above while reading Jeff Utecht’s ebook REACH: Building Communities and Networks for Professional Development, where he shares a story on page four, about meeting an American in Shanghai who coordinated programmers from China & India. Jeff writes:

When I asked him how a person with a BA in Art ends up with a job in the computer/communication business, he talked about his interview with IBM. What IBM was looking for was somebody who could learn, unlearn and relearn quickly. The degree was less important than the skills he had as a communicator and learner.

Technology is rapidly changing the world, cultures and what it means to be “employed”. In his Mobile Learning Conference Keynote address, Google’s Education Evangelist Jaime Casap shared how Google didn’t even exist when he was in high school.

The Microsoft folks seemed to believe the best preparation was learning how to solve problems and “learning how to learn”. Jeff Utecht implies learning how to “unlearn” as well as learning, and communication skills are important to prepare students for the future….What Do You Think? 


Tools for Preparing for the Future: Educational Technology

I’ve been very critical of the snail-like implementation of “technology-as-a-tool” in education. I continue to be impressed with  educators at all levels who embrace the ubiquity of the Internet, devices, and developments to enhance, enrich and strengthen student learning. I admire administrators that allow staff to experiment and safely risk making those changes.

The leaps in civilization during the The Stone Age, The Bronze Age, & The Iron Age were made possible with increased uses of technology. The rapid evolution of the Internet in modern technological history has rendered very little advances in the systematic institution of education.

So, in preparing a student for a world we can only imagine, let’s start with envisioning the future classroom with a great infographic by EnvisioningTech:


Envisioning The Future Of Education

This visualization is the result of a collaboration between the design for learning experts TFE Researchand emerging technology strategist Michell Zappa.

Complete video available for purchase at Video game executive Bing Gordon talks about the role of gamification in tech sectors. —- What new trends will emerge in the next several years? Find out at one of the Churchill Clubs most anticipated events of the year: the 14th Annual Top 10 Tech Trends debate. Be sure to get your seat as we welcome some of the techno-industries leading (and most opinionated) luminaries as they evaluate predictions for the years ahead. Our distinguished panel will rate and debate the trends. And our usual live audience of Silicon Valleys best and brightest—all with opinions of your own—will be asked to agree or disagree.