While most of the monitoring and evaluation work I’ve done with Jigsaw Consult is in international development, it is interesting to see how startups – both in Africa, and in the US, are approaching some of the same issues.
Two startups from the US that have come to my attention lately are BrightBytes and Learnmetrics (formerly Ontract). Basically, they are platforms which provide learning analytics, which can then be used to assess the relative value of using various learning technologies. Brightbytes is quite explicit about how the whole learning management chain can be used to inform classroom use and higher-level ICT use policy, while Ontract focuses on the learning analytics.
One of BrightBytes’ products, Clarity, aims to quantify use of existing ICTs in order to inform use about future ICT acquisition and course design:
This is just one of 4 data-driven areas identified by professor Christopher Bishop as key to the future of mobile and connected learning at the Future of Wireless conference in Cambridge last week. Alongside BrightBytes’ focus on course design, and Learnmetrics’ focus on student performance, Prof Bishop identified “Instructor Activities” and “Science of Learning” as key to the future of education.
Two startups addressing the “Science of Learning” and “Instructor Activities” are startups from East Africa which pitched at Pivot East last week. While Kytabu was the winner in the “Mobile Society” category, another finalist was Skoobox with its academic-networking platform for students to share and make the learning process more connected and open. Skoobox is essentially a social networking tool for students, which has the potential to measure the collaborative and social side of learning. It is difficult for teachers and schools to know how students are learning from each other if they are not able to access that network. It may be inappropriate or simply a waste of time for teachers to follow their classes on facebook or twitter. Hopefully, better analysis of the social side of learning can shed new light on how collaboration works for mobile connected students. While there isn’t much to emerge from Skoobox yet, it will be interesting to see if they capitalize on the opportunity to monitor and evaluate the social side of collaborative learning.
Another finalist at Pivot East was Schoolmaster solutions which promised a whole range of school management solutions. While it seems to be aimed more at the heads of schools rather than instructors per se, they do include a module/product entitled “Teacher Professional Development- integrating ICT in teaching & Learning(Teachers Track)” and a product related to Instructional Design. While one might hope that Schoolmaster solutions might have a part to play in the fourth area mentioned by Prof Bishop, their appalling website leaves plenty of questions about their capacity to deliver a usable product.
Monitoring and Evaluation of ICT use in education certainly has a long way to go, and it is encouraging to see that Kenyan and other African commercial competitors are involved in the early stages. The four startups highlighted here seem to have gaps pedagogically in conceptualising learning within the ambitious plans they suggest, and some are more successful and polished in executing their ideas than others. For my money, Kytabu, though less ambitious than the others is most likely to have an impact because of their simple vision of short-term textbook leasing for inexpensive tablets.