Posts Tagged ‘social change’

iPad as disruptive innovation in education

iPad in classroom

A recent meeting with a friend who is interested in technology in education, a NYTimes article More schools embracing iPad as a learning tool and recent flood of attention on the growing tablet PC market got me thinking about the potential of tablet PC’s (Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab etc) as a disruptive innovation for education.

Here’s are 5 attributes of tablet PC’s that I think may help to tip the current education system.

1. Data driven. For the first time in education history we have the opportunity to monitor students progress in minute detail through tablet PC’s. A good example of this is the TeacherMate learning systems which has already been relatively successful.

Teachers can see which students are falling behind and where they need help. It also shows areas where students excel. This opens the potential that given this data, education can be personalized to some degree to fit the needs of each individual student. If advances in biotech allows us to dream a future of personalized drug treatments, why can’t we dream an age of personalized education? There could be a core curriculum that every student must fulfill, however with data on each student, they could also have a tailored curriculum that meets their aptitude, interests and areas where they excel.

2. Open ended. Many mention the benefits of tablet PC as a replacement for heavy and expensive textbooks in the classroom. Yes, that’s an obvious solution, but I think they are missing the point.

I don’t like the notion of technology being relegated to eBooks in schools simply because this makes them just digitized versions of a the traditional closed knowledge system: books. There is nothing wrong with books. Books have worked fine for hundreds of years and I am sure they will continue to serve us for the foreseeable future. But there is something not quite 21st Century about text-“books”. Especially the kind that is government vetted, approved and issued, as we have in Korea.

Tablet PC’s are open-ended meaning apps can be developed that not only teach the core concepts but can be open to tap the infinite and dynamic knowledge that is embodied in the Web. This is one of the founding principles of OLPC (One Laptop Per Child initiative). If OLPC’s are doing this already in developing countries where they are deployed, why not in our classrooms?

3. Networked. Kids learn from each other. As Mitra Sugata mentions in his inspiring TED Talk: The child-driven education, kids are consistently teaching each other. If you look at how a teenager does her homework, you’ll see that she is consistently messaging her peers for information. In this always-online, socially networked world, knowledge-making and learning has become inherently collaborative.

A networked device allows for communication, collaboration and peer learning. Learning to collaborate is key to surviving in this ever increasingly networked society. As Steven Johnson points out in his book, Where good ideas come from (also see: TEDtalk, animation), innovations come less from lone geniuses in our midst but as a result of collaborations that build on the knowledge and ideas within fluid networks.

4. Portable. There are no cables attached to an iPad, and the battery lasts a whole day. This is more significant that it sound. This means kids can use them for a whole school day. This means they can work by themselves, in a classroom setting, in the library or huddled around a desk with their peers in a group project. It goes with them wherever they go. We still have “computer labs” in schools, where kids come to interact at fixed times in their curriculum. Being portable means they have a personal assistant with them at all times, with the all above mentioned attributes that this entails.

5. Interactive. The new tablet PC are inherently interactive because they are touch enabled. Being able to touch something is a giant leap from the moderated experience of typing a command, or click a mouse on a screen. Touching something evokes an emotional response, which allows for a far more satisfying user experience as anyone who has seen kids interact with an iPad would attest.

Tablet PC’s force developers of educational application to rethink the whole user experience (I would hope). It brings a whole new dimension of interactivity to applications that go far beyond the point-and-click variety. A storybook for example cannot be just a “flip the page” experience. Characters and objects need to be responsive. You may even be able to rearrange the story and it’s outcome by directly interacting with the story.

Touch-enabled interaction really opens up a whole new area that had been explored only in limited ways on a desktop computer environment. You can now have the constructivist learning environment that Lego afford. We have yet to see these types of applications come into full blossom, but I am sure it’s only around the corner.

Maybe I’ve painted an overly rosy picture of technology. Every technology has its perils. I can tell you that my 4 year-old is already addicted to my (now his) iPad. Technology makes things worse a lot of times, but that should not take away for the opportunities it does afford us. We have to be mindful and vigilant about its pitfalls, and make sure kids are interacting with technology within a guided, safe environment. No conscientious parent would let their kids wander by themselves in the streets, which is tantamount to what we are doing if we allow kids to access the open web, by themselves with no control or moderation.

As with many things, it is hard to innovate from within. Just ask Michelle Rhee. However, there are rare opportunities that we can leverage to make change happen. I certainly wish that this time technology, in the form of tablet PC, in the right hands and minds, is the push we need to upgrade our antiquated education systems.

Photo credit: macattck (flickr)

Up close with Ashoka founder Bill Drayton

Bill Drayton in Seoul

Up close with Bill Drayton

On June 3-4, I had a rare opportunity to be up close with Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka. He was invited as the keynote speaker at “International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship 2010”, an event hosted by Korea Development Institute (KDI) and Korea University in Seoul. I was asked by Ashoka to be a volunteer interpreter for him during his informal schedule, meeting with members of the Korean press and other meeting with interested parties.

Here I’ve compiled some recurring themes that Drayton repeatedly emphasized throughout the various meetings:

Everyone a changemaker

On many occasions he reiterated that he mean this quite literally. Everyone needs to be a changemaker. He observes that the rate of change and people causing change is increasing exponentially (he often motions with his hand an arc rising upwards). We live in a world where change is omni-present. All institutions need to adapt very quickly. How do we survive in a world that is ever-changing? By being changemakers. Those who cannot adapt will be left behind. He rhetorically asks, do you want to become Detroit or Silicon Valley?

The most powerful force in the world is an pattern changing idea in the hands of a changemaker.

Selecting Ashoka fellows

Surprisingly, Drayton says that good social entrepreneurs are not always the great workers, leaders, or managers. However, the following are common to all good social entrepreneurs:

1. New, system-changing idea
2. Creativity
3. Entrepreneurial qualities
4. Social impact of the idea
5. Ethical fiber

Of all these qualities, Drayton puts highest emphasis on the last, ethical fiber. Social entrepreneurs never work alone, but recruit hundreds or thousands of people to make change. Unless they can establish trust in the people they work with, they won’t get far. They need to be able to cascade the changes, and often in the process recruit people who in turn become changemakers themselves.

When interviewing candidates, Drayton talked about using the “cliff test”. He would imagine being at the edge of a cliff on a dark, windy night with the candidate beside him. He would feel the uneasiness rising up and at the moment of fear, if he feels can still trust the candidate, it’s a good indication.

Team of teams

The role of Ashoka is to provide support to social entrepreneurs, through its network, consulting and legal help provided by its partners, (which include McKinsey and many law firms) and in some cases with funding. Ashoka’s strength lies in the network of fellows, now numbering close to 3000, working across all continents, and its collective knowledge. One entrepreneur can make a difference locally, however with a network of entrepreneurs you can begin to see what is happening and where things are heading on a global level.

Drayon explains that the highest level of social entrepreneurship is “Collaborative Entrepreneurship”. How do you see and move the world to the new paradigm? What is the fundamental change that is coming? How do you discover that? When you have a network of fellows collaborating across borders to tackling tough issues such as human trafficking, education and the environment, you can begin to see a much greater impact.

Empathy and the young

How do we educate our young to adapt and work with change? Ken Robinson in his TED talk, mentions the need for creativity in our education. Drayton enlists the concept of empathy. Young children need to master empathy. Unless children master empathy, we will not be able to see a world where we collaborate to solve big issues facing humanity. Schools traditionally teach knowledge and rules. This is not enough and tend to inflexible in keeping up with the rate of change that is happening in the world.

Here Drayton mentions the work of Mary Gordon who is also at the conference and her movement Roots of Empathy. Ashoka aims to have within 5 years 80% of all primary school principals to be aware the importance of empathy in school.

Young children need to master empathy, older children and youth need to practicing being changemakers. This is where Youth Ventures, an initiative started by Ashoka fits in.

Drayton mentions the greatest gift we can give a child is the permission to make change, to tell them, “why don’t you do something about it?” And then get out of the way and let them do their own thing.

It’s about empathy, teamwork, leadership and changemaking.

Hybrid systems

Traditionally there is a gap between business sector and citizen sector. One seeks to maximize profits, and seek out new markets, while the other is concerned about serving local communities. When you bring them together, in hybrid value chains new levels of productivity can happen.

2 examples he mentions are:

Drip irrigation is an agricultural technique that delivers just the right amount of water to crops, allowing arid land to be cultivated. However this technique is cost-prohibitive for impoverished farmers. Businesses have the resources to mass produce the equipment. However it was the social entrepreneurs, who is keenly aware of the farmer’s needs and can work with the local community and the farmers, who find a way for businesses to serve the farmer and to access this new market.

These markets have been too risky for the businesses to enter, with returns on serving the poor uncertain. Farmers don’t have the financial means to purchase the equipment individually. However when the social entrepreneurs lays the bridge between the two, it’s a win-win situation, with the businesses gaining access to an untapped market and the farmers benefiting from higher production and two or three-fold increase in yield.

Also in Colombia, an Ashoka fellow approached a high-end tile manufacturer and proposed a line of high-quality but low-cost tiles that could serve the low-income market. This new line of tiles ended up being highly successful.

In the past 9 years running, over half of all Ashoka fellows have changed government policies and over three quarters have changed patterns in their field, proving their value is in bridging gaps between the government and businesses and the needs of local communities.

Drayton’s message for Korea

Social entrepreneurship has been a little slow in coming to East Asia. Korea is not alone in being unprepared to deal with a future where change is ever-accelerating. It is not alone in not working with and adequately equipping its young to be changemakers. Most of the youth culture around the world is not empowering.

In a meeting with Vice-Chairman of one of the most successful conglomerates in Korea, SK Energy, Drayton suggested that SK could,

  • Work with children and young people to find changemakers and network them,
  • Make sure that children learn empathy, in the schools they support, and help them practice making change,
  • Tell stories of people making change in your corporate advertising.

Essentially he was saying, “take on a big pattern changing idea for society.” He pointed to Walmart and its work and commitment to sustainability.

He also challenged the media to find young leading social entrepreneurs. To tell the success stories, and support role models.

Social entrepreneurs don’t build big organizations. They build big movements.

It seemed to me that all his points had a symbiotic relationship with each other. You need changemakers to create a better world, however changemakers don’t work alone. And you cannot imagine a world of changemakers without addressing how the young are taught to empathize. It felt like I was listening to Drayton’s personal journey. He started Ashoka 25 years ago by seeking out and supporting changemakers around the world. After conducting thousands of interviews in the pursuit of changemakers, his hard-won conclusion, institutionally embodied in Ashoka, is: our future, and the hope for a better world, lies with how we raise our children.

I could not agree more.

Bill Drayton in Seoul

Bill Drayton

  Bill Drayton in Seoul

With Bill Drayton and Vishnu Swaminathan

The dilemma of content sharing for universities

iTunes U

iTunes U

Republished from

Recently I’ve participated in brainstorming session for a premier university in Korea on how to make its lectures available online.

Ever since MIT started offering its lectures through its OpenCourseWare (website) initiative in late 2002, many higher education institutions have been offering lectures online through various channels: YouTube and iTunes just to name the obvious.

The YouTube Effect

The explosive popularity of sharing sites such as YouTube seems to have radically changes the way we consume media.

Part of the popularity of YouTube lies in the ease in which you can “take” video, hosted on YouTube, and embed it on your site. This is no trivial change. Previously content was a guarded commodity. Some readers my remember that in the early days of the internet, “deep linking” (linking to a page other than the homepage) was a controversial issue, which seems almost comical in today’s internet environment. Others devised ways of keeping users on their website as long as possible, and only allowed consumption of their content on the site.

With the rise of user-generated content, and the legal framework that Creative Commons affords in terms of copyright protection, the line between between the ownership/authorship of content hosted on such content sharing sites as Youtube, Flickr, SlideShare and to some degree digg are being blurred.

YouTube really doesn’t distinguish between the content being on their site or your site. This is important in that it recognizes that is is impossible to neatly categorize the content and it is transferring that burden of organization, categorization and contextualization of the content to users themselves. YouTube has so much content that it cannot (and does not) predict how users will use the content on its site. They leave it up to the users to contextualize it by embedding in their sites. A funny video of a cat may be just cute entertainment on someone’s personal site, whereas it could be a serious example of feline behavior on an academic site. YouTube is saying, we provide you easy access to the content, you provide the context.

David Weinberger writes a whole book on this issue. In Everything is Miscellaneous he writes:

We are building an ever-growing pile of smart leaves that we can organize as we need to at any one moment. Some ways of organizing it – of finding meaning in it – will be grassroots; some will be official. Some will apply to small groups; some will engender large groups; some will subvert established groups. Some will be funny; some will be tragic. But it will be the users who decide what the leaves mean.

Allowing users to take the content is supremely smart for YouTube in that it significantly increases distribution and now that they have figured out a way to advertise within the video frame, a greater source of advertising income.

TED is using this exact model for spreading its ideas.

Shifting role of universities

Back to universities. For universities this climate of content sharing sets up a dilemma.

Universities as an institution have long been in the business of guarding its knowledge and the authors of its knowledge. Whenever you partner with a university the intellectual property contracts their legal department send you is a strong indication of how serious they are about their knowledge. It’s apparent that some knowledge needs to be protected, such as patents, processes and original works. But in this current age, being too strict about protecting knowledge has the negative effects. Universities are not measured in terms of how many books their libraries house but how effective they are in encouraging, facilitating and protecting open discourse, thought leadership and, more so than ever, social responsibility.

Liz Coleman, the president of Bennington College in her inspiring presentation at TED (Feb 2009), A call to reinvent liberal arts education, expresses the urgency of our higher education institutions to be more open, interconnected and socially responsible:

The progression of today’s college student is to jettison every interest except one. And within that one, to continually narrow the focus. Learning more and more about less and less. This, despite the evidence all around us of the interconnectedness of things. Lest you think I exaggerate, Here are the beginnings of the A-B-Cs of anthropology. As one moves up the ladder, values other than technical competence are viewed with increasing suspicion. Questions such as “What kind of a world are we making? What kind of a world should we be making? What kind of a world can we be making?” are treated with more and more skepticism and move off the table.

To share or not to share?

When one thinks about how to describe the premier universities in Korea, words such as exclusivity, high-walled, academic, authoritative and conservative come to mind. This is clash with the values of the internet that shout social, communal, accessible and collaborative.

The motivation behind a premier university in Korea sharing its lectures online seems may seem to be a little more self-serving than socially inspiring: To reinforce it branding and positioning; to create a business model for paid exclusive content; and to provide some public service.

Whatever the motivation, I believe that once the door to access is opened up, it may unintentionally trigger a change that may be irreversible.

Update: Fast Company: How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education is worth reading on this issue.

Korean government offers generous loan terms for poor college students

In a followup to a previous post, Breaking the Cycle of Poverty in Korea through Education: A Social Business Proposal I saw some very exciting news that the Korean government will move to provide long-term full tuition coverage student loans for poor students starting 2010.

It even stipulates that the students are only required to pay back the loan after they find employment over a maximum 25 years. It also supports living expenses.

More detailed article on 헤럴드 경제 (sorry, in Korean) says that the conditions of the loan are:

취업을 못해 일정수준 이상의 소득을 올리지 못하면 상환 의무도 없어진다.
수혜 대상은 기초수급자 및 소득 1~7분위(연간 가구소득 인정액 4839만원 이하)에 속하는 가정의 대학생으로 평균 성적이 C학점 이상이어야 한다. 고소득층인 8~10분위 가정은 기존의 대출 방식을 적용받는다. 특히 1인당 대출 한도액(현행 대학 4년간 최대 4000만원까지)을 없애 연간 등록금 소요액 전액과 생활비 연 200만원을 대출받을 수 있게 된다. 생활비는 기초생활수급자에게는 무상으로, 소득 1~7분위는 소득에 따라 무이자 또는 정상 대출방식으로 지원된다.

Very encouraging indeed. This does remove some of the barriers the poor students had to accessing higher education and bettering their lives.

Still remaining is how to make inroads into the issue of supporting poor kids while they are in school and bridging the gap between them and kids who get private extra-curricular education (사교육).

Update 2009-08-24
Some opposing opinions about the new loans. (in Korean)

The article claims:
– If you postpone repayment after graduating, you still get charged interest;
– Given the current employment market, most graduates will not be able to afford the repayment schedule;
– Loans mean that grants given to low-income students will reduced;
– This may be grounds for raising tuition, since you payback after you graduate;
– For the government providing the loans, this is another long-term, low-risk way of financially exploiting parents and students.

UX for Good

Just launched a new blog which tries to bring together my often intersecting interest in user experience (UX) and social change.

In quite a visionary statement with far before the birth of the internet, Charles Eames said:

Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.

It is an understatement to say that we are today flooded with information. But what to do with that information? I personally believe it needs a purpose, and that purpose is social change for the benefit of ourselves, the communities in which we live in and our environment.

I do want to leave a better future for my two kids. Or at least leave them with the knowledge that I tried.