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Re: [xmca] Thoughts on Digital Technologies and Poverty

Reading Yrjo's paper reminds me: many years ago when I was "Teaching Space Consultant" and Melbourne University (a job title the administration hope would quietly keep me out of the way) and I was at last making progress in convincing teaching staff that I could succeed in convincing the management to allow us to start redesigning the teaching rooms etc around how the teaching staff actually wanted to teach, instead of how architects remembered University in the 1960s or whatever. Then the University was given money by a charity to build a "Collaborative Learning Centre" in the Library where students could access it for long hours. (A game-changing opportunity, but it was a fait acompli by the time I heard about it).

So what was their conception of "collaborative learning"? - they bought about 100 computers, most of them were put in little carrels so designed that it was impossible even for a student to look over another student's shoulder, and the other half they put in 2 "laboratories" where the each student was hidden behind a screen and the teacher stood at a high bench at the front of the room and shouted into space. But it was "collaborative" because they were using software.

Once the place had been opened, with the aid of the full-time staff put there to offer technical support to students (Christ! If we'd had technical assistance in every seminar room!), we got some round tables made up for about 5 students per table, and placed one computer per table so groups of students could share it and talk about the work etc etc.

But on the other hand, a couple of weeks ago I attended a "local ISCAR" conference in Melbourne where people presented papers, and one of the papers was about how to train teachers to use a room like one I designed in collaboration with a teacher back in 1999. Apparently they are to be found all over the state nowadays. So it was nice to know that I hadn't been wasting my time. And teh round tables are still in use to this day.

Apologies for dumping on everyone. I should get over it!
Denise Newnham wrote:
Dear Mike and Yrjo and all xmca

First of all I wish you a very successful and happy 2011.

Mike the dilemma is one that to my mind hits the poverty sections the worst.
As we saw in our CRADLE project in Botswana (Africa) and ICT's in schools,
it is taken for granted that ICT's will be the answer to weak school
results. How to get heads of educational departments to understand that
ICT's are not a quick fix is really difficult. On the other hand well-to-do
companies spend fortunes on installing computer rooms without having
estimated the use potential. I must admit I share your feelings in the lack
of expansive potential in this type of thinking and when I look around and
see the poverty level and all that carelessly wasted money I feel a degree
of despair. Many children in Botswana do not even enter the school yard
which signifies intellectual poverty.
 It is true that part of this dilemma in Africa is where to begin. Many
rural people do have cell phones although they are not iphones. I found this
out on a bus journey at three in the morning between Maun and Gaborone. A
woman clothed in rags climbed on board at some remote spot and put her very
wet baby on my lap while she retrieved her cell phone from her ample breasts
and proceeded to chat away happily until a second cell phone rang and she
retrieved this from the same locus and spoke on both phones alternately. She
did no however appear to have money for diapers or school fees. Perhaps this
is a sign of the south meeting the west in the 21century but I don't think
that this is going to bridge the poverty gap.
Obviously we have another type of looming poverty in the 21c which comes in
the form of displaced peoples. As European countries tighten up on their
immigration laws poorer countries will be the destination for growing
numbers of refugees and asylum seekers (cf. statistics for South Africa in
2010). What forms of education will these people then obtain? It seems to my
mind that the educational gap is going to widen on this planet and I don't
see how computers are going to step in unless in a truly expansive fashion
as indicated by Yrjo's article. Just as a matter of interest have you read
the article by Bhabha (1996) entitled 'culture's in-between'? (this was to

Well... happy 2011

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of mike cole
Sent: samedi 1 janvier 2011 05:55
To: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
Cc: Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition Internal List
Subject: [xmca] Thoughts on Digital Technologies and Poverty

A quiet evening in a warm dry home sure is a nice place from which to look
forward, backward, and around on a New Year's eve. For a variety of reasons,
I wrote down the following thoughts. Bail at any time!  :-)

Thoughts About Digital Technology and Poverty

The other day I spoke with a friend, the son of a former college, who is now
a professor in a technologically sophisticated field at a major American
university. We were talking about an iphone application related to
education. He thought that the iphone could revolutionize education,
"pushing knowledge out to everyone." I commented that the young people in
the housing project where I work did not generally own i-phones. Sure some
of them texted and all coveted mp3 players, but on the cheapest versions of
the requisite technologies. My friend dismissed my concerns about reliance
on educational practices that excluded a large part of the population on the
basis of class, and hence, ethnicity. It was a new idea for him. Can't
afford an iphone? Really?

The following morning I met a colleague who volunteers to work with staff at
the housing project to provide additional resources for the families who
live there. Christmas is a special time for charities. All is good cheer.
The kids get to "shop with a cop" and the parents get some help as well. My
colleague and a few co-workers organize "Secret Santas" from our university,
arranging for those of us with money to provide Christmas presents for
"needy families." Kind of like the NY Times holiday fund raising drive.

A few days before Christmas, the Santa's helpers delivered the goods: food,
clothing, bedding, toys for the kids, Avon kits for the mom's. Something for
everyone. At the apartment where I was a Secret Santa (having comfortably
donated my money and presents in place of my time and presence) things did
not go as planned. Santa's helpers knew that the family wanted a bed for two
of the children. So they planned to deliver a bunkbed. But when they
arrived, they found that there was no furniture in the house at all, except
two sofas, taken out of the dumpster by other tenants who had been forced to
leave the project because they could no longer afford to pay the subsidized

The dad was home, and so was his almost-grown son. They are both looking for
work. They are attending classes at a local job-training center. So far, no
luck.  They could still pay the rent on the apartment. And the kids could
get by on the meals they could provide. But when the unemployment checks
stop coming, as they soon will, it seems like they may be the next tenants
to move out. Out to where? God only knows.

"You know," my colleague mused after she and her coworkers had recruited
more Santas Helpers to round up the needed furniture and food, "those people
really have it hard. They are looking for work, but there is no work
anywhere in that neighborhood, not for miles around. And they don't have
cars. Even if they find a job, how will they get there in a town like this?
They are very discouraged. I would be too. I sure feel lucky to have a
steady job here."

When I arrived home with this story, my wife, shook her head and replied,
"You don't know even where to begin."

I started to think about the impact of new severe cuts in family services
that California is facing and the disastrous level of unemployment which is
unlikely to come down any time soon for these people. Then the conversation
with my high tech professorial friend came to mind. No, you don't know where
to beign, I replied, But wherever you start, I don't think it should be with
the educational potential of i-phones.
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*Andy Blunden*
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