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.

Overview and aims of this research project

We worked with the teachers to develop lesson plans around the chosen ICTs, paying particular attention to adopting active, inquiry-based learning approaches that research indicates are most effective. Various forms of qualitative data were then gathered to characterise how the chosen technologies were used in this context and how they were perceived. These included interviews with teachers, students, head-teachers, post-lesson surveys, classroom observations, and video recordings of seven lessons. Analysis of this data allowed us to determine which technology-lesson combinations held up best, logistically and pedagogically. The key design principles underlying this process included:

  • Participatory approach valuing the voices of practicing teachers and students in the global South in articulating their needs.
  • Triangulation of perspectives of research team, teachers and learners
  • Triangulation of methods
  • Alignment of project and classroom goals
  • Ongoing assessment throughout the intervention
  • Attention to gender
  • Sustainability
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