You may have heard how a mobile app developed by a Kenyan farmer improved farming methods and increased milk production. Or, how a fully touchscreen computer tablet, the Cardiopad, designed by a 24-year-old Cameroonian engineer, is diagnosing heart disease in rural households with limited access to medical services in Cameroon. Or, that a new low-cost 3G education tablet, Wise, is being launched in 2013 in South Africa, promising to change learning in schools. New technologies combined with a pioneering spirit to improve lives are already changing the way we learn, work, play, think and imagine.
Every day, there are reports of tweetups, hackathons, webinars and blogfests that are aggregating the collective experience of innovation and entrepreneurship across Africa. How are they changing the learning, teaching and skills development landscape in education, health, agriculture, banking, mining and security in Africa? How are they influencing the behaviour of learners, teachers, farmers, decision-makers, policy influencers and investors in Africa? How are they changing traditional practice, institutions and systems in all of these spheres?
These are some of the key questions that will guide our conversations at eLearning Africa 2013. We call for an open examination of experiences, projects, investments, policies, partnerships and research that focus on African traditions, change and innovation in learning, teaching and skills development. Hosted by the Government of Namibia in 2013, eLearning Africa calls for proposals on the following sub-themes:
Web 2.0 technologies like blogs, wikis, mash-ups, podcasts, RSS feeds, user-generated content; mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets which access the mobile web; social and professional networks like Facebook or LinkedIn; microblogging sites such as Twitter; chat platforms like Mxit, WhatsApp and BBM; cloud-based data and communications services like Gmail, Dropbox, YouSendIt, Flickr, YouTube, Google Groups, Wikipedia, Evernote; Voice over IP such as Skype; retailing services such as iTunes, Amazon, Android Market...together these technologies are rapidly changing our daily lives.
More and more Africans are accessing, processing and producing knowledge through their mobile phones. By the end of 2012, Africa will have more than 735 million mobile subscribers. Imagine the possibilities for learning, teaching, skills development, entrepreneurship and employment.
An array of education tablets and related applications are entering the learning environment in Africa. Pilot initiatives with eReaders have shown improvements in elementary school learners’ motivation to read. These mobile devices, alongside the growth in cloud computing, application development, social media, open platforms and crowdsourcing, combine to offer explosive shifts in learning, teaching and skills development, many of which are already manifest in a number of African countries.
Mobile devices are accompanied by smarter products and solutions in shared resource computing, desktop virtualization, the use of smart boards and iBoxes and better connectivity solutions.
What kinds of mobile apps are being developed to enable these devices to be used optimally for learning? What gaming solutions are being tried in African learning environments?
Green IT solutions, assistive technologies for learners with disabilities, new renewable energy and infrastructure solutions have been explored across the Continent but why have they not yet been widely implemented? What cost factors are involved and how sustainable can these solutions be in resource-challenged environments?
eLearning Africa calls for a CONVERSATION on the VALUE FOR LEARNING that MOBILITY, THE CLOUD AND THE CROWD bring to Africa. How do these combinations promote literacy and numeracy in early learning and among adults? How do they improve the quality of learning, teaching and skills development? How do they promote learner motivation and improve learner performance? How can they reach those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs), especially girls and women?
We call on African digital pioneers, bloggers, hackers, free thinkers and developers to promote their ideas for learning at eLearning Africa 2013. We encourage the organisation of demonstrations, blogfests, devfests, training in mobile apps and tweetups that show how learning quality, access and equity can improve with the support of Web 2.0 technologies in varying African settings.
We call for papers that provide examples of pilot initiatives and scaled-up programmes demonstrating how learning resources can reach larger numbers in remote areas; how teachers, lecturers, mentors and coaches can grow and be supported by these technologies. We welcome new research that enhances our understanding of the effects these technologies are having (or not) on the eLearning Africa network.
Let us also talk about Africa and technology hype in education. Let us be critical. We call on sceptics to challenge dominant worldviews on the ability of digital technologies to leapfrog education in Africa.
Today digital mobile technologies make it possible for learning to happen everywhere, all the time and for everyone. Our traditional notions of formal, non-formal and informal learning are becoming increasingly fluid and their boundaries increasingly blurred. Many have advocated the rise of new pedagogies, new learning spaces, new genres, and new literacies. How are these emerging in varying African learning contexts? Digital storytelling, the 'flipped classroom', project-based learning, peer learning via online chat platforms, personalised learning, and the extensive use of texting, gaming, videos and photo sharing are enabling cognitive, emotional and spiritual learning, well-being and personal development. How are African youth shaping their identities and navigating different learning spaces with these technologies?
These new ways of learning are often referred to as 21st century learning. They are said to enable the development of the skills necessary for 21st century environments, such as problem solving in complex settings, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking skills. Is the concept of 21st century learning relevant for different conditions in Africa?
New digital technologies also open up avenues for cyber bullying, Internet addiction and the violation of privacy or personal security. What are the core values that underpin the changes in learning that are unfolding?
eLearning Africa calls on educationalists, content providers, publishers, pedagogues, learning experts and researchers to share their insights, research, analyses and conceptual frameworks on new emerging forms of learning and identity formation. We call on project leaders, practitioners, teachers, learners and youths to tell us about their practical experiences with applying digital media in African learning environments.
Are resource-constrained national education systems and their institutions harnessing the potential of digital technologies? Or are they not exploring this potential at all? If not, why not? How can governments make optimal policy choices about the ever-increasing pool of technologies available to them? How do such choices disrupt existing norms and standards, curricula, formalised assessment, and qualifications frameworks?
What alternative approaches are emerging to accredit learning? Has a “badge ecosystem” emerged in Africa as an alternative form of learner assessment?
How are learning institutions making investment decisions on the use of technologies? Some learning institutions have decided to ban the use of mobile phones altogether whilst others have developed fair and responsible use policies. What prompts such different policy responses? Which policy responses are most appropriate?
Can we talk openly about costly innovations that have failed? Why have they failed and will they fail again if we try again? What needs to be done differently?
How are African learning stakeholders responding? What are the voices of learners, parents, employees, private companies, management, principals, lecturers and teachers saying about the influence of these changes?
We call on policymakers, change agents, investors, government decision-makers, consultants, advisors and system engineers to enrich our conversation on the transformation of Africa's education systems.
How can we develop a new imagination with regard to the promotion of access to quality, equitable learning for all in Africa? What new ways of thinking are needed? What are the conditions that encourage an innovative mindset? Who are Africa's innovators, entrepreneurs, pioneers and philosophers?
Where are the hubs of innovative thinking, research and practice in Africa? How are universities, governments and the private sector working together to grow a culture of innovation on the Continent?
eLearning Africa calls on African digital pioneers, scientists, trailblazers, inventors, innovators and free thinkers to engage with us on new thinking, new discourse, new language and a new imagination to tackle Africa's education and development challenges.
Africa has boasted a rich oral culture of learning since the days of the Ghana, Mali and Songhai empires. “Orature”, comprising myths, legends, folk songs, folk tales, proverbs and dance served as rich pedagogical practices in traditional African societies. Stories served to amuse, express feelings and teach ideal forms of behaviour and morality. In West Africa, there were griots - ‘walking dictionaries’, historians, or verbal artists - who memorised the history and legends of a whole people and would recite them and teach their apprentices or audiences, publicly or privately and through direct instruction. Rites of passage and related ceremonies also played an important role in the transition of learning from adolescence to adulthood.
Amidst the explosive growth in technologies, what value remains of these rich traditions, learning in one’s mother tongue, and growing our local and indigenous knowledge and cultures in a rapidly changing environment? How relevant are traditional tools of communication and learning today? How do new technologies challenge existing social relations and cultures?
Some believe that the rejection of African heritage will create confusion, loss of identity, and a breakdown in intergenerational communication. Others believe that tradition and traditional behaviour have reinforced division, localism, racism, sexism, patriarchy and xenophobia. Tribal traditions demand conformity, discouraging individuality and creativity because they are focused on strict obedience to the rules and authority of the elders. Some also believe that they are the biggest challenge to 21st century learning in Africa because they are resistant to change; they lag behind in awareness, capacity, the use of new technologies, new ways of learning and teaching, and new ways of governing and managing education and training systems. Can new forms of learning and teaching coexist with traditional frameworks, traditional methods of learning and teaching and traditional forms of assessment? Are new technologies and associated behaviours fundamentally disruptive to tradition or do they open up space for the digitisation of tradition? What are the core values of the individuals, communities and societies in Africa that guide our changing learning practice in the 21st century?
eLearning Africa calls on African scholars, historians, chiefs, researchers and digital pioneers to enlighten our conversations on how best to engage with tradition, change and innovation in learning.
It is estimated that ten African economies feature among the fastest growing economies in the world. Some people speculate that continuing on such a growth trajectory will change Africa's status in the global economic landscape. Sustaining such growth is dependent on robust education and skills development systems that develop life and employability skills, especially among the growing number of NEETs in Africa, and that upskill and reskill those currently in employment. Are we geared up for this?
Similarly, it is estimated that in five years' time most Africans will have smartphones, albeit that many of these may be considered 'fake' phones or are second-hand smartphones handed down by those who have upgraded their devices. How will networks evolve? Will the cost of accessing data via the mobile web decline over the next few years? What will be the nature of the next generation services that are likely to emerge from a more evolved technology architecture? Some believe that a more generalised mobile society is emerging on the Continent as a mobile-centric lifestyle increasingly dominates the lives of all Africans. Under such conditions, what are the possible shifts that will occur within the learning domain in Africa? How will education institutions and systems respond?
eLearning Africa calls on trendspotters, speculators and scenario planners to engage us in a conversation on the nature of innovation in Africa and how the Continent's learning landscape is likely to change in the future. What are the different scenarios or futures that may emerge over the next five, ten or fifteen years? What will happen to African tradition and culture?
In our attempt to foster real conversation, eLearning Africa calls for a diverse range of conversation methodologies including research papers, demonstrations, training workshops, tweetups and presentations. We also call for innovation in conversation methodologies and we are open to exploring the 'flipped conference', unconferencing and many other forms of dialogue.
We call for contributions that are situated within African contextual realities. We encourage stories from the coalface; tales of implementation, experience and practice. We call for reflections on lessons learned and research papers, theories and analysis on innovation, tradition, change and learning in Africa.
Consistent with African tradition, eLearning Africa is committed to facilitating high-quality conversations. We propose the following quality criteria for all contributions: