Thursday, November 08, 2007

the myths of innovation: there is a method for innovation

In the last two days, I have posted a summary of the first and second chapters of Scott Berkun's book, the myths of innovation. In the third chapter, Scott shows that despite the conventional belief that there is a systematic approach to innovation, there is not such a thing, hence the myth: There is a method for innovation.

The myths stipulates that there is a methodological (or systematic) approach to innovating – more so that can be read in cookbooks or how-to manuals. Taken this way, there are myth posits that there are calculated risks and steps toward an innovation. Paradoxically, if there are known steps or risks toward an idea then it is not new and therefore not an innovation.

Innovators are driven by unsystematic desire, curiosity and dreams. These in themselves do not translate to an innovation until they are translated to a commitment – to hard work in a certain direction that might extend for years. However, there can be a direction change when new knowledge or an intended innovation arises. In the equation, there are personal interests and ambitions that drive people during the innovation process. In addition, a number of innovators are driven by the quest to make more money. Clearly, a mesh of factors contribute to the basic need to innovate, and with the different combinations, there cannot be a single methodology for innovation.

There are however common challenges that all innovators face including finding an idea (creating the initial curiosity); developing a solution to their idea; sponsorship and funding of the innovation process; reproduction of the solution so that it can be optimized for profit; reaching the potential customers; beating the competitors; proper timing on when to announce the innovation; and keeping the lights on. These challenges are further influenced exponentially by the unpredictability of the innovations, and the intended market or customer base.

However, there are paths that can make the innovation process easier or manageable: Self knowledge so that decisions are guided awareness of environments or challenges; passionate intensity toward success and willingness to look back and reconsider assumptions; starting it small and growing as new insights and ideas are realized; and honoring luck and the past – “acknowledging that you can do everything right and fail, and do many things wrong and succeed.” (Berkun, 2007, p. 51)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

the myths of innovation: We understand the history of innovation

Yesterday, I posted a summary of the first chapter of Scott Berkun's book, the myths of innovation. As interesting as the first chapter is the second one. It rubbishes the idea that the history of innovation can be completely understood - or written.

What makes history? Who defines it? What defines a hero(ine) or heroism?
People and events are transformed to legends and legendaries as an effect of time – all the times. Their (people and events in history) are influenced by “circumstance, world politics and chance” (Berkun, 2007, p. 21) and the location the people are and the events take place.

Further history is written by people after events have shaped up meaning a) that what goes in the history books is not necessarily the truth b) that history is written as a means to a certain predefined end e.g profit for book sale, political advancement of an agenda c) that due to the diverse sources of information historians use, they are bound to impose their perspectives or opinions as facts d) there is a possibility that crucial facts about a historical event are overlooked and e) Oversimplification of historical events so that they can fit a certain timeline, that does not necessarily show any relationship between when the event in question happened and when it started.

When these shortcomings of history and its making are applied in the field of innovations, they lead to a number of assumptions or beliefs such as a) every innovation being adopted is an improvement in all spheres and contexts of the innovation it replaces b) representation of historical events as timelines while in essence there might be no direct progression (without detours or feedbacks) on the timeline.

From the foregoing discussion, it is illogical to assume or believe that we understand the history of innovation.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

the myths of innovation: Innovators and the myths of epiphany

I am back to blogging after a well deserved break.

I am currently reading Scott Berkun's book, the myths of innovation. It is good in informing me about research am doing for my doctorate on adoption of eLearning. The first chapter is very interesting, which in away questions where good (or great ideas) come from, and how they are generated.

Where do great ideas come from and how are they produced?
The myth of epiphany – a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something – posits that whenever an innovation arises or is reported, tales of its magic moments are the first to appear. This is more so because myths are “often more satisfying … than the truth” (Berkun, 2007, p. 6). When innovations are being reported a number of myths go with them: Newton’s apple story and gravity; Archimedes and the bath tub;

However, innovations don’t happen in just one magical moment, and they are not completely new either. They are a build up of (hitherto unknown) innovations, a combination at times – where if any of the components is missing the innovations would not be realized. Therefore, imagining that epiphany plays a pivotal role in the innovation process is misguided. Probably, the epiphany – or the magical moments come when the last bit or last piece of an innovation is put into place, or when something being made for a different purpose realises some new use (e.g. Viagra).

One thing that arises though through the myth of epiphany is that there is need for innovators or creative thinkers to take breaks (go under apple trees; take a bath) so that they can experience the magical moment (the Eureka or wow moment).

This reminded me of my physics lessons whenever I encountered the famous inventors. I used to have a perception of them being lazy. In the Newton and the apples instance, I could add...
Newton was (probably) so lazy to climb on to the tree, or get some form of scaffold to get apples from the tree. Instead, he spent most of the time under the tree waiting for the apples to fall. The idea of him questioning gravity, in this case, came when he was fully satisfied? His question therefore was now that I am satisfied, why are the apples still falling (on me) instead (for example) of flying up?

Friday, August 10, 2007

what is the diffusion of eLearning like in Africa?

Does it follow Roger's diffusion of innovation theory (see Rogers, 2003 - Diffusion of Innovations)?
Or does it subscribe to Gladwell's Tipping Point theory (see Gladwell, 2003- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference)?
Or is my worry just an innovator's dilemma (see Christensen, 1997 - The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail)?
Or is it time we looked at the democratization of innovations (see von Hippel, 2005 - Democratizing innovations)?
Or we can explore the myths about innovations (see Berkun, 2007 - the myths of innovations)?
Or maybe we are just crossing the chasm, somehow (see Moore, 2001 - Crossing the chasm)?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Volunteer Computing

I have not posted in this blog for the last month or so. I took a break to do some base work, though that has proved to be counter-productive. I guess am more productive when am doing the mind2finger thing and letting the world know my thoughts as I encounter them, or at least when I come across something new, rather than consolidating so many thoughts and waiting for a grand posting that will never be. This does not mean, soon or later, I will be making a grand post. But it is just another resolution that procrastination should never again creep into my dictionary.
This week I am participating in a workshop on volunteer computing, as a trainee. First a disambiguation of volunteer computing. Maybe for some, like I did when I received the advert for the workshop, would think more of volunteering as the process of offering oneself to do some work (often) for free, at free will. My thinking was the workshop was how to prepare me to volunteer my computing experience through offering my services to others. Well, I was not that far off from what volunteer computing; only that the focus of the free will is different, but the purpose is mainly to server others. Volunteer computing is an arrangement in which people (volunteers) provide computing resources to projects, which use the resources to do distributed computing and/or storage.
Having defined what volunteer computing is, we need to look at projects that require massive computing resources that might benefit from it, and also the technology (software, hardware and people) who would drive such projects. For a start, we got introduced to the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC project). We got introduced to the client and the server technology and the credit system that is used to encourage volunteering. I will be posting more on this shortly.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My home is becoming bigger and better

I have decided to pull most of my postings and resources online to a single places. As you all know, a fundi likes to start working when all the tools and materials are on-site. This saves on time, and it is also convenient because the fundi does not need to get out of the site to look for extra tools and materials. In the new home, it is not only about blogging, there will be additional tools, gooddies and not-so-good-enough things - ALL related to eLearning. For a start, I have a content management system up and running, moodle is up and running, and a wiki is coming up soon.

In the near future, my favourite learning management system KEWL will be coming on this site.

Once again welcome.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Net Geners Part II

Yesterday I put forward an introduction to Net Geners. Today, I highlight what Sword & Leggott (2007) call the Seven Principles of educating the Ne(x)t Generation.

1. Relinguish Authority
When we renounce our own exclusive status as erudite experts, placing our students in the role of teachers and ourselves in the role of students, not only do we model for them the benefits of life-long learning, but we allow them to experience firsthand what every seasoned teacher already knows: If you really want to master a subject, teach it.
2. Recast Students as Teachers, Researchers, and Producers of Knowledge
Teaching to the future demands that we imbue students with a sense of intellectual purpose, instill in them a desire to make a difference, provide them with opportunities to reach a wider audience, and furnish them with the tools to break new ground.
3. Promote Collaborative Relationships
Teaching to the future involves harnessing the collaborative impulses already at large in digital culture and directing them toward educational ends, so that "group work" shifts in our students' perception from an eyeroll-inducing educational gimmick to a cutting-edge skill worthy of cultivation and scrutiny.
4. Cultivate Multiple Intelligences
Education for the future needs to address all of these many abilities [spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, and mathematical-analytical], teaching students to be aware of and make use of their own particular gifts
5. Foster Critical Creativity
Criticism looks back; creativity looks forward; and in the meeting of the two glances, sparks fly.
6. Encourage Resilience in the Face of Change
Critically creative people regard obstacles as opportunities; they welcome challenges because the act of surmounting impediments so often leads to unanticipated insights.
7. Craft Assignments That Look Both Forward and Backwards
This double vision [to preserve, yet also to transform, the past] is the core attribute of teaching to the future.
Read full article: Sword, H., and M. Leggott. 2007. Backwards into the future: Seven principles for educating the Ne(x)t Generation. Innovate 3 (5). (accessed June 3, 2007)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Net Geners

We have come up with clever names to identify and classify generations. Now comes the Net Generation which has been give quite a number of names (the Dot Com generation, the Millennial Generation, Generation Y, the Internet Generation, iGeneration, ). Net geners are members of the Net Generation, and in demographic terms, though no clear demarcation is available is agreeably the people who have grown up with the digital technology (what Mark Prensky would call digital natives). This generation, to some, is a cohort of people who were born between 1982 and 2001.

The net geners are characterized by their:
High digital literacy: It is a generation of people who have been born and/or brought up when most of the digital devices are available e.g computers, internet, iPods, etc
Connectedness and socialisation: It is in this generation that the connectedness between peers, especially using online social software and sites (myspace, facebook, Hi5,, tagged etc).
Multitasking: They can been seen doing an assignment, chatting with friends on IM, view friends profile online among other things at the same time.
Consumption and production of digital information: Being born in the age where Web 2.0 is the net buzzword, net geners not are not only passive recipients of information, but also they participate in its creation.

For more information on the Net geners and implications in teaching and learning, check out the current and previous issues of the Innovate magazine.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Many Teachers Loosing Jobs? I Disagree!

The Kenyan Minister for Education Prof. G. Saitoti, while opening the eLearning Africa Conference, is quoted to have said that thousands of teacher could loose jobs if and when eLearning is fully implemented in Kenyan schools. I disagree. We might probably need more teachers, or retraining of most of the existing ones.

In addition, he is quoted to have said that eLearning is cheap and requires less man power. I disagree. eLearning is not as cheap as it is usually advertised, neither does it require less man power as hyped. To the contrary, eLearning is a very expensive initial investment. The costs of hardware, software, training, material development and the like are so high. Also, not ALL learning can be done through eLearning!

In addition, he believes that the use of eLearning is not age restrictive as with formal school. I also disagree. Age restriction in education if anything is a people issue not a technology issue. The idea of open learning, and open learning universities that have operated without using technology is a clear testimony. While the flexibility offered by eLearning is an advantage to the working class, admission criteria in formal learning institutions need to be revised to cater for the restrictions imposed on age and prior learning.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Reflections on Africa Day!

Today we celebrate the Africa Day. We are celebrating at a time when we have a strong call to end armed conflicts in some of our African states (Somali, Sudan and others), Corruption and civil inefficiency, economic downfalls (e.g in Zimbabwe), media freedom (e.g in Kenya, South Africa etc), Diseases (e.g HIV/AIDS) among other social evils and problems.

One of our greatest enemies in Africa is ignorance and poor governance. For us to ensure political stability we need to do something in educating the masses, and ensure that our systems and structures are well formed to make sure that the political leadership is kept at checks always. This, I believe is one of the mandates of the African Union: Cultivating politcal stability and ensuring rapid socio-economic development in Africa.

It is encouraging to see that the AU intends to increase the use of VSAT technology for communication between member states. Although this is not sufficient for what Africa needs for development, it is a good starting point in seeing that the political leadership sees the potential of communication, more so using technology.

Even though a lot has been down to reach were we are, so much more need to be done for use to reach where we dream of being. We need not only to work towards the objectives, but also to make personal sacrifices. The sacrifices that most of the freedom fighters in Africa made. If we all made sacrifices, and do everything we can and to the best, then Africa our great continent will prosper.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What would you do if you had all the technology?

If all the questions of access to and availability of technology were address, what would you be doing with it?

There are concerns, some genuine, some out of proportion on the use of communication media like the blog. For example, some politician in South Africa feel that the government should lay down policies to regulate blogs and their content because they have been used to malign and mudsling politicians. A columnist is up in arms for what he calls "air guitars of journalism".

There are also concerns on the use of mxit a popular mobile chat service. School going children are addicted to it and on top of having poor concentration in classes, there are reports that some have fallen into the traps of sex predators.

These two examples show cases of technologies that are available and accessible to a good number of people that are subject to abuse. How to use them for the benefits of both the users and the wider community has been put into question. I therefore think the question on what to do with a technology that is available and accessible to a people, especially for educational purposes is in order now. For now, do we wish away the dangers of the use of this technology, and assume that with time good will prevail over the evil.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

In eLearning, Whose Voice Should be Heard?

We have the main players in eLearning as the researchers in online learning best practices, the technology providers, the learning material experts (in my case the lecturers), and then the recipients(learners, students).
The researchers will come with all the best practices (some tried and tested others just too theoretical or imaginative). The technology providers will come with "the best tool in the market that would do just everything you would want to do in eLearning". The lecturers will be the source of knowledge to be transfered to the learners, and in most cases would not care how it reaches their learners as long as it is convenient for them(lecturers). There is the learner, who needs to acquire the knowledge using the most convenient means available.
While the researchers come with the 'dos and don'ts', hoping that the technology provider will incorporate them in the technology, the technology provider provides a product that in most cases does not reflect the dos and donts, which leaves the bulk of the work to the lecturer. The lecturer has to juggle with the technology, the research and the students' interest. The technology provider would market the technology as "cutting edge" and will not always have the lecturer's and students interests at heart. They all all in the game for different reasons. On the other hand, the target audience, the students, would want to have the best and like any other consumers, they would want to demand how, when, and in what state their materials is presented. This tends to insert more pressure on some of the players. Hence the question, whose voice should be heard?
For now, I would argue that the technology providers voice is the king, and we have technology as the main drivers of our eLearning initiatives. There is a gradual move towards the target audience voice but still it has a lot of influence on the technology providers and how they market their products.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

SANTEC Seminar on Blogging for Quality Learning

Blogging for quality learning a seminar by SANTEC is currently underway. Please join us for the next few days on as we explore the area of edublogging in particular.

To join the live seminar you can just login to the SANTEC site ( , follow the link to SANTEC seminars . You need to be registered to participate, and registration is easy. You can contact me if you need help.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Utopian View of Technology in Africa

Last week, I happened to be at a forum where the Zimbabwean Minister of Science and Technology Development, Hon. Olivia Muchena was speaking. Her topic incidentally was about "ICT Research Innovation in Zimbabwe and Opportunities for Cooperation with the EU", and it was very interesting to listen to her talk of the achievements of her government in enhancing and creating enough 'digital opportunities'. Like giving a report card of her government's achievement in taking the computing power to the people, she showed, even with pictures and jokes how there is so much progress in Zimbabwe in regards to digital revolotion despite the "negative balance of payment", neglect from the developed world and the situation that everyone knows of. One of the jokes was a paraphrased one about how the Zimbabwean scientists discovered that 5000 years their ancestors were using wireless technology to communicate. Although it is true (since in the olden days, we (read Africans) used drums, screaming, ululations, smoke as a means of communication which is wireless in nature), this kind of wireless communication is not what we need in the 21st century.
It is during her presentation that I got thinking of how technology (more so the digital technology) has been touted as utopian (techno-utopian). Presenting creative solutions to all the problems that we are facing currently and with the potential to revolutionalise every human aspect. In it, there is an ideal (and imaginary) vision of a world without pain, suffering and death. Even though the idealistic view of utopia may never be realised, there is power within the communities that have been failed by the sytems and structures (political, economic, social or otherwise) create alternative systems.
With the tough choices we are presented with in Africa - limited infrastructure, limited human capacity, lack of finances, and even lack of political will, the power of the community in Africa to develop is still there. We still have the power to revolutionalise, as Africans the way we live, and how we can use the resources at out disposal for an improved life. However the great question still lingers: where do we start?

Sunday, May 13, 2007 Convenient? Motivating?

Most of the definitions I have come across on eLearning dwell on the use of technology to teach and learn. To many of us, the use of technology for teaching and learning would imply just our learning material and the technology, without really questioning how we can best use the technology or modify our learning materials or experiences to optimise the learning process. In our learning designs we should consider among other things our learners motivation (both to learn and use technology), their prior knowledge, and their learning preferences. In addition we need to do an evaluation of the current technologies to ensure that we are using the best and the easiest for our learners. Moreover, we need to adapt our learning materials and process to suit the our students and technology features that we have considered.

Although I have come across comments like “students are now finding eLearning convenient and fun” and lecturers are “more confidence in using technology for teaching and learning” I disagree, at least I have not seen that in the part of Africa I am in. For convenience yes, the fun bit might be coming but not here with us. Similarly, the confidence levels of the use of technology especially by the lecturers is in most cases wanting. For it to be convenient and fun for the learners, a thorough consideration should be taking on how it is employed. For the the lecturer, a complete mindset shift is required so that first, they can understand the importance, benefits and potential of eLearning, and then use it for teaching and learning. Until then, convenience, fun, and confidence will be alien terms in the use of technology for teaching and learning in Africa.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What is in a Language?

This week, while in Mozambique, I encountered a context that made me ask myself a question that was once asked when I was learning Principles of Programming Languages. In Maputo, the majority of the people speak Portuguese (as the only international language), and here I am, without any knowledge of Portuguese (and ignorant of the fact that there might be people in Africa who would not understand a word in English). Then the question, what is in a language? I know different disciplines would try to approach this questions differently. For an anthropologist, something like culture, community, society might come up, while for a computer science person, things like functional, and procedural approaches would probably be considered. Whatever the discipline, I believe there would be some form of agreement in that a language creates some sense of identity, pride, and to a lesser (though important fact) economic power (a language sells).

I have worked in eLearning projects where we preach of contextualization, localisation, or adaptation of learning content, processes and scenarios but my experiences here made me appreciate better their meaning and importance. The ideas being preached should enhance the identity of the learning to the specific target, which in turn can create a sense of pride among the audience. Once this is achieved, some economic transformation might occur.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Research and Technology Use in Africa and the Blame Game

why has the use of technology and research and development in general so limited (in terms of funding, use, and advancement) Africa? Well to answer this question is a presentation from the Minister for Communication, Sciences and Technology, Botswana, Ms Pelomoni Venson-Moitoi. In her presentation at the IST-Africa Conference, she said that in the political and economic scenes in Africa, research plays a minor role, and to the politicians, sometimes (if not all the times) research is seen as a "waste of time". Most of the research policy that has been employed in Africa is based on demographic studies, and always aimed at pleasing the electorate, or at least for the politicians or administrators to advance their own interests. This in most cases has lead to the oversupply of some developments with very short-term effects, and to the neglect of the most important projects that would have long-term and far reaching results.
What this means is that, most research that has been done in Africa, is not documented in Africa, but elsewhere. And the little that is in Africa, is too complex for the average politician to understand as "most of the time the we [politicians] do not know what you [scientists and researchers] are talking about, yet we are embarrassed to admit".
As a remedy, the politicians and the scientists need to talk freely, and without the "arrogance" or the jargon (that is seen as arrogance by either sides) to ensure development for Africa, and the governments in Africa start implementing development programmes informed by research and at the same time funding research. To illustrate this, she said that the problem is no longer one sided or belonging to the political class alone as "the trap is no longer for the mice" (refering to an infamous joke of a farmer trapping a mouse, chicken, pig and cow):
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. What food might this contain?" The mouse wondered - he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning. There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Beassured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone.

That very night a sound was heard throughout the house - like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever.

Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient.

But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig. The farmer's wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her
funeral; the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.
She further said that what is now needed to move forward the development agenda for Africa forward is a sense of urgency(speed) and commitment and that the legislation in Africa should be developed towards research and development based on research. Core to this is collaboration and sharing in research and research findings. She said, the way science and research is treated in Africa is like witchcraft in the African mythology (which should remain top secret, and should never be document but passed on through word of mouth to selected and trusted few).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Labourers and Slaves of the 21st Century

Some of the myriads of problems that are facing the generations, especially in Africa and the rest of the developing world is unemployment. For example, the International Labour Organization reports that despite reported increase in economic, human development, and productivity there is no matching reduction in unemployment and poverty in Africa. While the estimated unemployment rate in the world is 6.3%, in Africa is at a high of 10.3% not to mention that some of the 'employed' in Africa are working poor (according to ILO persons working but still living on less than US$2 per person in the household, per day. This is what I would call modern day slavery).

Although the working poor and the unemployed would be more likely to be associated with the uneducated, the case in Africa seems to be different. The access to higher education, for example, is limited to less than 5% in Africa as compared to the global average of 16% . Paradoxically, Africa with its low enrollment rates suffers a very high unemployment rate of its graduates that seems to incline that the number of graduates are more than the markets demand. In as much as we might want to attribute this to the slumps or slow growths in our economies, I think there is still the issue of niche training, retraining, education and reeducation that is required in the 21st Century labour market.

The dynamics of the workplace (globalisation, speed of service, changing demographics etc) needs some tailored and quality training, both of new entrants and the incumbents. In this way, we are sure to ensure, sustainable economic developments and a increased demand for high quality labour.

Fortunately, the time is right for just-in-time and highly customised training using technology. eLearning provides a means for the training and education required for the 21st century workforce. Even if we still have issues with the access to the right technology, I believe with the little that we can access still we can make a difference. The sooner organizations and individuals started taking advantage of technology and innovations in the advancement of their knowledge, the better for the our continent, and for the world. My tip for organizations in Africa is to invest into their most important Capital, the human capital, by putting in place mechanisms of training and educating it (using technology) and also to liaise with other educational providers so that they can shape the educational content that is relevant to the urgent and immediate needs of the African continent. This way, I believe we would solve the problem of unemployment and slavery of working and still living on less than a dollar a day.

For this May day, I pay my tribute to:
  • all those who have and are still working to ensure education for all in Africa, and especially Higher Education.
  • all those who are fighting to training and educating the African continent in readiness for, and on how to overcome the challenges of the 21st century.
  • all those who are using eLearning in Africa!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Firefox, FlashGot and DxDownloadFast

For those of us who are not blessed with broadband(high speed internet connections), Mozilla Firefox should be the browser of choice. Recently, I had to download a file that was about 120MB and every time I reached somewhere between 10-90% of the download, my connection would reset and I would be forced to restart the download again. This is a waste of the rare resource so I started looking for a solution. This is what I used as my solution.

1. Downloaded a Firefox Extension called FlashGot (for managing downloads)

2. Downloaded an Open Source Download Manager called dxDownloadFast ( Installed it and restarted my Firefox.

The next time I go to the download page of the document I was downloading, I right-clicked on it and selected FlashGot the download with wxDownloadFast! This saved me time, bandwidth and a great deal of the frustrations I have been going through.

Please use it!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Where is my Overhead projector?

I engaged with a friend today and he was lamenting about the speed at which the technology is moving. I could see the agony in his face when he told me that he was scheduled to do a presentation in a hall, and the only thing in that lecture hall as a visual aid is a computer and a projector. The old-fashioned overhead projectors have been replaced by these new technologies. The pain of having to redo his presentation, and scanning his images so that they can be used on the computer was profound. I asked him whether he has considered attending any of training sessions:
Most of us have a phobia for technology and most of the jargon used in the training leaves us more confused than we were before training. I know of a number of professors in my department who have the same feelings about the technology and they cannot attend training.
I asked him, is this reasons that some lecturers never use the technology in the lecture theatres? He said:
Yes, and more to that there is a cultural bearing. They should have involved an anthropologist to study the culture of the prospective users of the technology so that they can advice them about what need to change first [in terms of culture] for the technology to be successfully used.
Here I see a problem where the technology is being provided but the constituency that should benefit from it is not. I am not sure of the best approach to dealing with technophobia, especially in situations where the individuals [with the phobia] have all the resources and support and training but they cannot still use the resources available. If you have a clue, feel free to let me know.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

eLearning in Zambia Universities

A while ago, I wrote about eLearning in Kenya Universities. Today, I move down south from Kenya to Zambia. Higher Education in Zambia, like indeed the rest of the developing world, is also under pressure to integrate new technologies while its still operating in an environment where telecommunication is poor, infrastructure is inadequate and there limited or no funds to invest in expensive new technology. This is a fact that an initiative under the banner "eLearning in Zambia" has well identified:
As Zambia is increasingly becoming cash-strapped to support establishment and maintenance of physical educational institutions, VIRTUAL LEARNING may be the answer.
Whether this will be the answer, there still needs a lot of action, (and maybe money and time). This is more so because a search for eLearning and related terms in the website of the University of Zambia give no results. A google search for "Online Learning" at the Copperbelt Unversity shows there is online learning offered under the Center for Lifelong Education. For the more than a dozen times I tried to access the site, it timed out, evidence of the limitations we are working with in this part of Africa.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Call to Action: From Promise to Practice

There seem to be a unanimous agreement that the technology for teaching and learning, popularly known as eLearning, has great promises and potential. Unlike the promises that are made by an individual to a recipient, the promise needs action from the recipient. Therefore, for us to achieve and realise these hyped promises and potential, we need to act.
In action, the first step, or a dream is very crucial. I came across a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too....
...Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.
For use to realise the eLearning promise, especially in Africa, we need to begin earnestly and boldly believing that after the first step, after the first initiative, better opportunities will come our way and we will live the eLearning dream.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Viewing Things from the other Perspective

This week am participation in an eLearning training workshop in a different role. Whileas for the last few years I have been participating as a trainer/facilitator, I have a rare moment of sitting back and be trained. It is a wonderful time to reflect on my training - approaches, procedures, traits. I must, however, admit that most of the things on the training programme are something I am well acquainted to. Nonetheless, am taking it as an opportunity to add or learn something probably new, of a different approach to doing the things that I think I do best.
I am also taking it as an opportunity to be away from my common ground, and reflect on other things i.e making my mind wander to lands where I can get new ideas away from the pressures of the working environment.
The only unfortunate thing is that for some reasons (wierd and incomprehensible), I cannot use my laptop in the training room. Something that am finding so hard to stay without....but am trying. I will soon be posting some reflections on what I will learn from this workshop.

Monday, March 05, 2007

When iLife did not come to life

A while ago, I talked of a presentation that I was tempted to go. I did go, and I have been fighting the temptation not to write about it. The reason I did not want to write about it is because it confirmed my worries about any presentation by Marketers and while doing their business.First, they use research to inform their marketing. For example, in the presentation I attended by Apple, research has shown that by the year 2009, more than 50% of training will be hybrid and that 80% of students will be using mobile technology. Secondly, use of 'big' and 'unclear' words to confuse their 'prey'. For example in the presentation there was the use of hybrid (denoting the various modes of delivery of learning materials), click and brick (denoting online for clicks and classroom based for bricks teaching and learning). Thirdly, and related to the one above, using catch words - hyped. One specific quote is "Teaching the google-eyed YouTube generation". Another part of the presentation I did not like is getting ideas from other people without attributing the source (O'Reilly's Web 2.0)
Despite all this, I agreed with the presenters on principle that we need a whole new infrastructure for teaching and learning that should include: a collaborative environment, use of rich media in the classroom, learning focused on outcomes, the use the tools that the students are familiar with, and ability to deliver learning when, where, and how it is best received by the intended audience.
In the course of the presentation, there was supposedly to be a demo of the iLife (I did not get to see it) which did not succeed because "the resolution on the computer....and his 'not working for apple'" and after all the person doing the "presentation was an educators not a techie". Its description looked like it might be a good thing but am not ready to dispose my computer for a Mac. I can do most (if not all) the things cataloged as the edge of iLife with my old laptop - using a number of Free and Open Software as I will discussing soon.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Locomotives and coaches in elearning

I remember sometimes listening to a radio interview, a person who had quit a high paying job to start his own business. In the interview, he said he wanted to find out if he is was locomotive or a couch. The idea being, if he is a locomotive, he will just look for coaches to attach to his business idea and off it goes. If however, he was a coach, he was just to halt. For sometimes, I have been thinking of the coach and locomotive idiom presented here as used in the adoption of elearning. But in my case is a situation where some coaches of a fast moving locomotive got detached along the way but due to Newton’s Law of Inertia (simply: An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force) they are moving as though they are still attached. The locomotive captain on the other hand is too concerned about the speed (of getting there) and testing the limits of the new machine in total disregard of the signals that are being displayed showing that some of the coaches might be left or roll back.

It is reality though that a well powered locomotive can pull several coaches. This is the story of the champions or leaders in the whole adoption and diffusion of innovations process. In all the cases considered this are people who are willing to test the “limits of the new machines” and also move fast. They are people, who are willing to bear some risk to determine if they are locomotives or coaches. These risk takers, because of their tendancies, they entice a good following (coaches). Most of these followers do not live a life of transformation into locomotives, and due to the speed of their engine, the risk being left behind.

Can you find an association with the locomotive and the coaches in your environment?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

When they are marketing their wares & elearning challenges

The other day, I attended the mini-conference on ICT and business commerce education. This, as it turned out to be is a meeting between the the education sector (specifically high schools) and the vendors of business applications mainly accounting. Referring to my previous article on marketers and marketing, I instantly had an opinion on arrival of the venue. I however had to contend to the fact that, I had to do what I had to. Even though eLearning is my passion, and how it was used for teaching business in high schools is an important line I would like to see, the presence of more vendors have something special to offer for the high schools was making me uncomfortable.
The first presentation was as boring as ever, it was the key note address for the day, and was delivered by one of the vendors' representative. All though, most of the issues he pointed out were good, in relation to the way forward for the education sectors, he made a comment to the effect that it has to be the vendors way and no other way for the venture to succeed. This is unfortunate, especially because the vendor has managed to entrench itself in the government's ICT plans for school. Its ICT curriculum that is bragging about is too tailor made for it products - and NO OTHER, and it seems to be what the government is using. I have no problem with people being trained on using products from a particular vendor. What am worried about is the future of the students going through this kind of training for academic and professional purposes. I believe we should be training more people on the general principles that are used in any similar application, and leave the very specifics to them to choose. For example, what would happen if the learners leave school for workplaces that do not use products from the vendor? Will the learners start being trained on the general principles or on the particular use of an application? Are we really concerned about the employability of our learners?
Other challenges being faced, are almost the same everywhere in any education setting that I have encountered. First, there is the challenge of teaching with technology where questions are raised on where do teaching on using the technology end, and where do we start using the technology for teaching. Simply put, when do we stop seeing the technology but instead see the educational outcomes of using the technology of teaching and learning?
Second, there is the question of what influence on the outcome of the educational process does the technology have? Are we just using the believe that technology in teaching and learning improves the educational outcomes? What is its influence in the learning process? Is there any empirical evidence? Canadians were quoted to have done studies to this effect, I would like to know what they found out.
Third, there is the question we would want to wish away. That of access. We are very much being bogged down by the question of access that we cannot move beyond it to concentrate on teaching and learning.
There are subtle recommendations that like minded people and institutions should collaborate, communicate, use real-world integration models, and partnerships in education. However, I would warn anyone who would want to enter into any form of agreement or commitment with 'partners' to be wary of blackmail from vendors and others who would like to hijack the process for their own selfish gains.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Of Marketers and Marketing of Technology for Education

Apple is offering a presentation of their iPod (though not explicitly stated) in Cape Town in a campaign code named "Podcasting in e-learning". Some educational experts "will address the key issues and opportunities afforded by podcasting as an educational tool for eLearning." I am tempted to attend, although I am very apprehensive of any marketing campaign. I am very wary of salesmen because I know a good salesman would sell you something you will throw in the next trash bin for twice its market price. However, I would want to see, and be among the people who are in the forefront of the eLearning 'e-volution'. I have a belief (still naive) that podcasting can add value in the teaching and learning process.

In my mind, when thinking about attending this presentation, an article I read a while ago by Heather-Jane Robertson - "Towards a theory of Negativity Teacher Education and Information and Communication Technology" linger in mind. In the article, there is the warning of the vulnerability of educators to take any technology with the 'naive faith' in its promises. This vulnerability, unfortunately, is perpetuated by the marketers who back their marketing on research that has either failed or is inconclusive. Robertson disputes the 'findings' claimed to have been arrived at by Apple that "Classroom Computers = Remarkable Results" and how Apple applies its marketing campaign to win educational customers.

In the light of Robertson's sentiments about the claims on technology, and with my apprehension about marketers, I am enticed to go there to listen, and maybe see what 'e-volution' in learning Apple is claiming to bring us. I know, imaginatively, Apple is targeting the education sector through this campaign because it is a rich and wide market. I also, know some of us will fall for the marketing campaign without knowing whether whatever we buy, will be more useful in the next trash bin or will indeed 'extend the learning experience beyond the walls of the lecture hall."

See: Robertson, H. 2003. Towards a Theory of Negativity, Teacher Education and Information and Communication Technology, Journal of Teacher Education, 54(4): 280-296


A blog, short for web log is a personal journal or diary (that is frequently updated and published) intended for the general public. Blogs are usually hosted on a Web site to represent personal reflections, experiences, ideals, reactions etc regarding a topic or a series of random topics. Words that are closely associated with it are blogging (verb), blogger(noun), and edublog.

Edublog is a blog that is intended for educational purposes e.g in a Learning Management System. Though, in its infacy, edublogging presents a flexible way to learners' expression of ideas, conversations, dialogues, regarding not only their encounters in the classroom, but also things outside their classrooms that enhance or hinder learning. Developing a blogging culture, in my opinion not develops the learners' creativity but their writing skills and to some extents desire to learn further so that one can write credible journals.

To the educator, it may be a way to present him or her with an opportunity to understand the learners' passions and talents. This would allow him nurture or tap the talents to the benefits of the learners and the whole learning process.

Edublogs are not without challenges. There are the questions of getting the learners motivated to write and share their journals. To the educator, the challenges of showing the learners' how the edublogs can be used for learning purposes - given that a good number of educators do not have an idea of what blogging is.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Question of Access....Again

Today I encountered a new faculty member who wanted to start learning about, and using eLearning. Having contacted me last week to schedule a consultative session, I went in high spirits, ready to show all that I believe about eLearning and what it will provide to her teaching experience.
Part of my mission (as usual), is to go through some of the (perceived) benefits of eLearning, and then exploring what the options are given the specific requirements of the customer. All went well, until the time came for demonstrating what the customer could do with technology. I discover the technology that I am bragging about is a mile or two ahead of what my potential customer is using. Worse, an indication that the hardware need to be upgraded is met with a stun NO with question - What will my students use to access this technology if I am still behind?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Is it PR, irony or doublespeak?

I wrote a while back two articles related to the patent application by blackboard (From blackboard to whiteboard and Life after blackboard). This week, Blackboard is in the press again for two reasons. 1) the patent office is re-examining its patents and 2) Blackboard announces Patent Pledge in support of Open Source Software and Home-grown Content Management Systems.
It ironical that they had to issue this pledge when they have a case pending in court and when their patent is to be re-examined - although they claim they have a high chance of success.
Isn't it doublespeak their claim that the
Pledge commits Blackboard not to assert U.S. Patent No. 6,988,138 and many other pending patent applications against the development, use or distribution of open source software or home-grown course management systems anywhere in the world, to the extent that such systems are not bundled with proprietary software..
without naming the 'many other pending applications'? What of the contradictory statements:
the Pledge, Blackboard promises never to pursue patent actions against anyone using such systems including professors contributing to open source projects, open source initiatives, commercially developed open source add-on applications to proprietary products and vendors hosting and supporting open source applications.
Q. How can you have "commercially developed open source add-on applications to proprietary products" that is "not bundled with proprietary software"?

All in all, I agree with them that this is "unprecedented for a product company such as Blackboard" to conceal and misrepresent facts to appear to be friendly or in support of the general public good.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Where do we go from here?

I have been keenly observing and reading what bloggers have predicted for eLearning in 2007. With all the predictions, or at least the ones I have set my eyes on, what struck me is that there was nothing new. At no one time, during my reading did I stop to think...aha...! This is a new idea, I have not heard of it!
  • From the use of open education resources to the use of games in education.
  • From the need for staff retention, training and retraining using eLearning to the mourning of lack of necessary skills for eLearning development.
  • From the growth of new online universities to the transformation of traditional universities.
  • From the use of outsourced learning materials to the use of in-house developed materials.
  • From use of new words to explain what has always been to just repeating the song - maybe in a different tune - you all know that we are better than me.
So, have we reached the end to eLearning or we are just laying in waiting for the Next Big Thing?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What eLearning Promises

An article by Vinay Choubey: E-learning and its Benefits, lists some of the promises of eLearning. I will paraphrase them according to my understanding, eLearning promises to:
  • Anytime, anywhere access: you do not need to travel, and you have the flexibility of where and when to access your learning materials
  • By making hard and boring subjects more interesting and appealing, eLearning can "make learning exciting, engaging and compelling".
  • Through the use of online societies and networks, learning cooperative and collaborative learning is achieved.
  • ELearning can be conveyed using a variety of media including computers, PDAs, mobile phones - making it more convenient for the learners to use the most appropriate media.
  • ELearning allows the learner to manage and take control of the learning process.
  • ELearning is embedding the culture of learning within organisations.
Choubey also states the features of eLearning (read the article). I will however highlight on two features:
  • Learning is self-directed, allowing students to choose content and tools appropriate to their differing interests, needs, and skill levels
  • Draws upon hundreds of years of established pedagogical principles.
Learning being self-directed- and allowing learners to choose content of interest can only be for leisure learning but not for academic purposes. For Higher Education institutions, the the objectives of the course are well set, and the learner has to achieve them to earn credits for that particular course. On eLearning drawing up from hundreds of years of pedagogical principles - this is still questionable, and it has formed a question of research for the past few years: Do we need a different pedagogy for online learning? Or how do we change or align the traditional pedagogical knowledge for technology enhanced learning? This are still questions we need to answer when designing eLearning courseware.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Driving high adoption of eLearning - the 4 As

Why are people not adopting eLearning? Michael Grant and Rick Nigol in their archived webnar titled Driving Higher Adoption for Your eLearning using A "Four A" approach offer a four-A approach to eLearning adoption.
1. Accessibility: how easy is it for the target learners to access and use technology?
2. Attitudes: what level of comfort do the target learners have with technology that would position them to learn through technology?
3. Ability: how competent are people with technology and with learning through technology?
4. Appropriateness: do people have a preference for accessing learning through technology?
The also answer the question "why care about adoption?" - saying that the value of eLearning is only achieved if people use it, and even "mandatory programs do not always get adopted". There so many studies that have been done on adoption of innovation - using different models and approaches (e.g the Theory of Planned Action, Technology Acceptance Model, herding or bandwagon effect) but none of them seem to get explain or give solutions on how to drive high adoption of innovation.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What determines the Success of an eLearning Iniative

A while back, I posted about determinants success of online initiatives. Over and over I have been trying to define what success in terms of elearning for Higher Education would be. Are there set criteria that can be employed to measure the success? What can be used to measure the success of eLearning? Is it the number of online course available? Is it the number of students who are engaging with the eLearning courses? Is it the LMS/LCMS (learning content management system) in use? Is it the ROI from the eLearning investment?

I am searching for real answers to the questions I have asked myself, hopefully I will be able to share them with all of you sometimes soon.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

All for Text Books and Digital Publications

Today I woke up two hours late than I usually do. Immediately after doing the morning rituals - showering, having breakfast etc, I turned on my computer to catch up with what has been happening in preparation for my first work-day in the year tomorrow. After more than three weeks of a restful break. I have several dozens of emails to read - and maybe act on - but what first caught my attention as I was going through my news alerts of my favorite topic - eLearning - is a digg from Kenya's eduvision entitled PDA's instead of textbooks in Kenya. As I went through it, I remembered a similar project by the International Association of Digital Publications in collaboration with the South Africa Institute for Distance Education. Both project aim at bringing low-cost educational technology, and access to educational content to the developing countries. The former focuses on Primary Education (and secondary), while the latter's focus is on Higher Education.
The principle behind the two projects is identical - availing cheap technology, and educational publications to the poor students of Africa. How cheap this is, is my first question. Secondly, if it is just content, without customization, localization, or contextualization, how is it going to enhance teaching and learning - or we are just making our students the legendary donkey that carries loads of books but does not have an idea of what it is carrying? The other question is the sustainability of these projects, what would happen when the donors support dries out? Seeing the the technology in use is foreign, mainly single sourced, and with no local expertise, I see a gloom future. For sustainability, we should have local experts who can drive the projects, processes and the technologies beyond its pilot. Do we need, for instance, to send the eSlate used in Kenya to its manufacturer when a reprogramming of the ROM is necessary? And in the same note, opening up these technologies for competition, and for using open standards will make them cheaper over time or at least avail more enhanced and better tools for the clients.
A question for eduvision: on this page, it is stated:
(and does so inexpensively: the necessary bandwidth to equip every primary and secondary school child in Africa with EELS would cost less than $2,000 per month)
Is the $2000 the cost of bandwidth for the whole of Africa? Am persuaded not to believe it.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Have we Fallen to the Traps of Technology Vendors in our eLearning Match

Sometimes in the journey to the promised land - where eLearning or teaching and learning with technology will be the in-thing, we need to climb atop a mountain so that we can have a clearer view of where we are coming from and where we might be going. We need to find out what is a fact, and what is a hype in the elearning campaigns of latter-days. Does the flexibility - anytime, anywhere learning imply improved learning? Is there research that has been done - other than by the vendors - to support that notion that a class with a computer is superior to a class without? Or are we preparing our Nations' workforce for a future with working with technology, computing technology - meaning even the nannies will be babysitting using a computer? Is there tangible research to show that eLearning leads to an eased or reduced workload for the academic staff?
My opinion is, in most of the promises of eLearning that have been well articulated, we have fallen to the traps of the innovative vendors and their marketers who have discovered a rich and wide market for their products. I am yet to see a research - done by by a non-aligned force to show that: a) there is improved learning in the use of computers in the classroom; b) in future, all the work will be done using the technology and hence there is need to incorporate computer training in the classroom; c) there is in fact, a reduction in the workload of an academician when using technology of teaching and learning; and d) the cost of eLearning investment subside over time.
The aim here is not to trash or discredit what has been achieved already using eLearning, but rather to ensure that people are making the right decision with the right kind of information - backed by credible research not marketing slogans. At the top of the mountain, we need to look at where we are going, and project and predict the future based on facts.