Engaged Learning and ICTD in the University Curriculum

 

CONFERENCE REPORT 

 

TITLE: International Conference/Workshop on Engaged Learning & ICTD in the University Curriculum

DATE/VENUE: June 3 -5, 2014, Concorde Hotel Shah Alam Selangor, Malaysia

ORGANIZERS: Asian Institute for Development Communication (Aidcom) and Universiti Selangor (Unisel)

COLLABORATORS: Cornell University, USA and UN-Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communications Technology for Development  (APCICT)

SPONSOR:Selangor State Government

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Background

The International Conference/Workshop on Engaged Learning & ICTD in the University Curriculum, held from 3- 5 June, 2014, attracted 150 participants from 23 countries throughout the world.  They were Albania, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Thailand, Turkmenistan, USA and Uzbekistan.

The main objectives of the Conference were to: (i) promote ICTD education in university curriculum (ii) encourage students to become involved in community experience and how ICTs could be employed to manage this process; (iii) review the draft “Guidebook for Managing an Engaged Learning Course in ICTD” to further improve the contents; and (iv) Explore future strategies for using the Guidebook to incorporate the approaches into the university culture and curriculum.

The Conference was thought necessary in light of the ongoing global initiative by The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to build human capacities in information and communication technologies for development (ICTD), especially in developing countries.  Recognising that young people are a vital part of this initiative, UN-APCICT developed its programme “Turning Today’s Youth into Tomorrow’s Leaders”, which has as its central approach, the coverage of ICTD education in university curricula. The Primer Series on ICTD and Youth (in five languages) was thus launched in February 2012 as a resource for institutions of higher education in the region. It is now being used in over 90 universities in 13 countries, with more than 6000 participants to date. UN-APCICT also provides advisory services to universities and academic institutions on how to introduce the Primer Series issues in classroom curricula.

In addition, it was realised that although institutions of higher education use various approaches (including “service-learning”, “engaged learning”, “volunteerism”, and “internship”) to extend students’ learning through community development, often there is no structured link with ICT within the curricula.  In response, UN-APCICT recently developed a “Guidebook for an Engaged Learning Course in ICTD” (tentative title) in collaboration with Cornell University (USA). This Guidebook aims to provide practical guidance for government officials, faculty members, students, communities and other stakeholders to understand the concept of engaging students, prepare and manage field activities, and evaluate benefits. 

 

Opening Ceremony

The first of its kind in Malaysia, the Conference was officiated by YB Dr Hajjah Halimah Ali, Chair of the Executive Council for Education, Higher Education and Human Capital Development, Selangor, Malaysia.  Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, Chairman, Aidcom, Malaysia; Dr Hyuen-Suk Rhee, director, UN-APCICT/ESCAP; and Dr Royal Colle, International Prof Emeritus, Cornell University, USA also shared the stage during the Opening Ceremony.

Dr Hyeun-Suk Rhee explained that UN-APCICT’s mission to build human and institutional capacity in ICT for socio-economic development is in line with objectives brought forth by the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).  She said that UN-APCICT has produced 10 Modules (soon to be 11) for government agencies and policymakers to equip them with the necessary knowledge to use ICT for national development. This programme has been institutionalized in 27 countries in the Asia Pacific, and together with other similar agencies, it has spread to Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. A sister organization to the UN-APCICT will shortly be established in Nicaragua with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank and the Korean government. However, UN-APCICT is also cognizant of the importance of raising awareness amongst the leaders of tomorrow, i.e. youth. Thus it began to look at how ICTs for development could be incorporated into universities, resulting in the launch of the “Turning Today’s Youth into Tomorrow’s Leaders” programme.  Some 90 universities have now been exposed to this engaged learning (also called ‘service learning’) programme, which recognizes youth as development partners. She felt that this Conference was timely in generating further dialogue between stakeholders and discussing steps to move forward. 

Dr Royal Colle felt that the Conference was an important step forward, placing stakeholders on the frontier of three major movements that are reaching into all corners of the world: (i) the increasing use of ICTDs for development (e.g Google’s Project Loon); (ii) the integration of new communication technologies into higher education curricula (UN-APCICT being one of the major supporters in this field); and (iii) the ‘re-invention’ of universities to incorporate elements of public service (‘engaged learning’). He felt that the next logical step was to work on blending these movements, i.e. combining ICTDs with university curricula and engaged learning. Several institutions in Asia are already doing some good work in this area, such as the Hong Kong Polytechnical University. Similar resources need to be built up in other universities within the region. 

YB Dr Halimah alluded to a section of the Principles of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) which states that every person should be able to access, utilize and share information and knowledge to achieve their full potential in promoting their own sustainable development. She  lauded the use of ICTDs as a tool for social development in both urban and rural areas, and said that enhancing the use of ICTDs for this purpose requires increased cooperation between agencies and countries aimed at specific  capacity building initiatives, particularly for young people.  She therefore was glad to note the role that Cornell University and the UN-Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communications Technology for Development  (APCICT), together with  Asian Institute for Development Communication (Aidcom) and Universiti Selangor (Unisel) were playing in this regard.  She also quoted the Chief Minister of Selangor State as saying that “every inch of the Selangor State is a campus”; thus,  young people should also look beyond university walls  to learn so that they can contribute to development. 

 

Summary of Presentations

In his Keynote Address entitled “Engaged Learning: Bringing it to Life in a Network Society”, YM Tengku Datuk Dr Mohd Azzman Shariffadeen Tengku Ibrahim, Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, spoke about several main parameters:  the rise of knowledge; the network society and its implications; challenges in knowledge-based transformation; challenges in higher education; and the way forward. He quoted work done by Peter Drucker (author of “The Age of Discontinuity”); Daniel Bell (“The Post-Industrial Society”); Manuel Castells (“The Rise of the Network Society”);  Don Tapscott (“Wikinomics”); and for a look at the dark side of ICTs,  Ian Angell (“The New Barbarian Manifesto”). He hoped that the Conference would result in a guidebook for engaged learning, complete with policies and strategies which will go on to become real programmes in universities. 

Presentations were also delivered by 14 experts from the industry, including regional and international organizations , universities, and non-governmental organizations. The following comprise the main points from these presentations. 

Ma. Theresa Velasco from the College of Development Communication, Los Baños, Philippines, said that there were several schools of thought on development communication. She spoke at length  on the evolution of the College’s curriculum, including its modules on engaged learning . She also presented her views on whom the development communicator of the 21st century should be. 

Dr Roger Harris from the Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovation (ISITI) and the Center of Excellence for Rural Informatics (CoERI)at University Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS),  provided highlights of a project initiated in the 1990s called e-Bario, which brings computers and the internet to the isolated Kelabit communities living in Bario in the remote highlands of northern Sarawak.  (The e-Bario project has since been replicated in 15 other villages).  Starting with the establishment of a Telecentre (using satellites and solar power), computers were introduced into schools.  This has now become a community-owned initiative. In addition to tourism (creating employment and business opportunities), Kelabit children, who typically are sent to boarding schools in urban areas at around 12 years old,  are more confident in the use of ICTs ( and English, since much of the internet is in this language).  Other outcomes include the e-Bario Knowledge Fair, Radio Bario, and e-Bario Innovation Village. The Knowledge Fair is interesting because it is a reversal of the concept of a conference, i.e. academics and bureaucrats go to the communities at a specified date, they are given a limited time to speak, but the greater focus is on the community  presenting their views so that the external participants can understand their problems and develop appropriate ICT solutions.  

The following session focused on UN-APCICT , specifically  its “Turning Today’s Youth into Tomorrow’s Leaders” programme. Presenters included Mr Michael Riggs, Programme Officer, UN-APCICT; Dr Usha Reddi, ICT and Development Consultant, UN-APCICT; Dr Chan Basaruddin, Professor, University of Indonesia; Mr Ammar Hussain Jaffri, President, Pakistan Information Security Association; and Ms Ariunerdene Nyamdavaa, National University of Mongolia. Mr Riggs gave an overview of UN-APCICT, and spoke about the varying states of readiness and ownership of ICTDs within the curricula of universities in the region, and the challenges faced. The Panel Moderator, Dr Hyuen-Suk Rhee, Director, UN-APCICT, also showed participants resource materials (including a Primer series developed specifically to support ICTD education) which are being used in many countries and languages. Dr Reddi expanded upon Mr Riggs’ presentation : e.g. some institutions in the region were too specialized in one discipline; and where does ICTD fit into the curriculum, as a social science or technical subject. Through her involvement in Training of Trainers workshops in 18 countries looking at the Primers, Dr Reddi noted the vital role that local resource persons play in the roll-out of the ICTD programme, as well as localization of Case Studies and language. Dr Basaruddin said that the publication of the Primer in 2012 was timely for the University of Indonesia, which at that time was revamping its programmes. With the Primer, the focus then shifted from computer literacy to ICT for development, specifically relating to the MDGs. Ms Nyamdavaa briefed participants that the National University of Mongolia is working with UN-APCICT on its ICTD component for students. Using the Primer as the main guide, localised Case Studies  were included, as well as encouraging students to share experiences (”it is shared memories which make us what we are”). In the case of Pakistan, Mr Jaffri said that last year, a Task Force was set up which has, as one of its main objectives, implementation of the use of ICTs for development. Current initiatives include widening broadband access to villages in the five Provinces and encouraging youth and women to be comfortable with computers. 

Dr Shorna Allred and Dr Amy Somchanhmavong, both from Cornell University, presented their findings and observations on how students and communities can work together to plan, prepare and carry out engaged learning. Dr Allred began with a description of the Global Citizenship & Sustainability Program, a collaboration between Cornell and Thailand’s Mahidol University. With the chosen issue of how flooding (caused by climate change & natural disasters) affects communities,  the Program provides for  in-country learning experiences in both countries and a component for US and Thai students to reflect on their engaged learning experiences. The community partners were local governments in both the US and Thailand, specifically those relevant to flooding. Real –life scenarios presented themselves through the catastrophic flooding in Thailand in 2011 and around the same time, the impact of hurricanes Irene and Lee which hit the Atlantic coast of the US. Dr Somchanhmavong elaborated on Kolb’s Learning Cycle as the guiding pedagogy : “What were your learning experiences” ?, “So What”? , i.e. making sense of your experiences and research”?; and “Now What”? i.e. how would you apply what you’ve learnt. She then described in greater detail how the Program was implemented,  the educational strategies contained therein, and the main features such as Leadership & Global Citizenship, teambuilding, and cultural awareness. In the Q & A session, the speakers clarified that (i) these experiential learning processes have been recorded, analysed and disseminated through the use of ICT tools; (ii) the difference between the Program and a ‘simple’ student exchange programme is the strong community involvement and rigorous research component. 

Dr Usha Raman (University of Hyderabad, India), Dr Manoj Kumar Gupta (University of Kathmandu, Nepal),  Dr Chantana Wech-o-sotsakda (Mahasarakham University, Thailand), and Dr Sook-young Ryu (Seoul Women’s University:) used Case Studies to illustrate how an ICTD curriculum could become a reality. These Case Studies were, in brief: (i) University of Hyderabad: a community radio station project; a magazine which tells the stories of people displaced by ‘development’; and teaching rural children to be their own advocates by taking photos/videos of their environment. The University houses the UNESCO Chair for Community Media);  (ii) University of Kathmandu: the Faculty of Computer Science & Engineering requires its students to become interns in the industry, field trips are organized in Nepal and India, and students stay in rural communities for a week and assess how to solve problems using ICT. A major part of their marks comes from these kinds of EL activities: (iii) Mahasarakham University, Thailand:  the Faculty of Informatics focuses on computer literacy projects for adults and youth living in rural areas;  and (iv) Seoul Women’s University: focuses on instilling in students the need to employ ICTs with a heart, and not merely as tools to achieve development, enhances the abilities of women leaders in service learning, and generally adopts a  “learn to share; share to learn” approach.  During the Q & A session, panelists were asked how involved are the communities they work with in the decision-making process.  They agreed that some communities are less participative (‘beneficiaries’) and others are more so (‘ co-participants/co-learners’). Whatever the situation, every effort must be taken to continuously engage communities and local governments,  starting from the research and planning stages. 

The next session was a discussion between participants , with the theme of “Where does ICTD fit into the university curriculum, and where does ICTD Engaged Learning fit?”. To set the stage,  Ms Christine Apikul  of UN-APCICT provided an overview of the key concepts and ideas which had been brought up in previous sessions, as well as presented her views on how ICTs have made it possible for young people to be active online participants in crafting software for development and platforms such as  HARRASSmap (Egypt) and iNaturalist.org,  to encourage interactive dialogue. Participants then began to discuss several points, including: (i) there are plenty of students who would be willing to be involved in engaged learning, but this presupposes that there are communities who would be similarly interested. One of the best approaches might be for students to collaborate with a grassroots organization which can put them in contact with communities for them to learn about issues and come up with appropriate  ICT solutions: (ii) the academic staff must also be more involved in the research and engaged learning process rather than what so often happens, i.e. leave the students to try to formulate ICT solutions to perceived problems; (iii) ICTDs can fit easily  into the university curriculum as long as the main objective is to equip students which skills which are applicable in any field. 

Dr Sujin Butdisuwan, Dean from Thailand’s Mahasarakham University gave his thoughts on how ICTD-EL can be institutionalized into the university culture.  He outlined nine key indicators in a well-rounded ICTD-EL programme, including philosophy, student development activities, academic service to communities,  and the preservation of arts and culture, while some of the student learning outcomes are a sense of ethics, cognitive skills, responsibility, and enhanced communication skills. These indicators form the basis of several programmes which the University now offers. The prerequisites for a successful ICTD-EL component in universities, in Dr Sujin’s view, include: the university itself (clear policy, procedures & strategy to include EL into its programmes); and for the EL activities to be showcased so as to motivate new generations of young people. 

On the last day of the Conference, a special session was convened to review the draft “Guidebook for Managing an Engaged Learning Course in ICTD”. Leading the discussion, Dr Royal Colle said that at Cornell University, engaged learning and internationalization have become priority areas. He presented a video of his colleague from Cornell University, Dr Richard Kiely, Director, Center for EL & R, who spoke about how engaged learning affects the culture of colleges and universities; the challenges of including EL into the university environment; and how to support the pedagogical approach in universities. This session was also a workshop to further define an ICTD for development guidebook for the benefit of students, and indirectly, Faculty members, government agencies, as well as people out in the communities where the service learning will take place. Some of the features in the Guidebook include the characteristics of service learning, keys to successful partnership, cultural immersion, as well as case studies of universities where service learning is being carried out. Dr Colle also mentioned one of his preferred partnership choices i.e. community learning centres. Feedback on the structure and contents from participants on the draft Guidebook was gathered throughout the course of the conference, but most particularly during this session. Also discussed were the next steps to refine and improve the Guidebook, and activities to carry forward in the future. 

 

Outcomes

At the end of the conference, participants had a greater understanding of (i) the importance and viability of incorporating ICTD education in the university curriculum; (ii) the relevance of the UN-APCICT Primer Series in this process; (iii) the various approaches that can be employed to engage students in community development; and (iv)potential areas of collaboration and partnership between all parties.  Meanwhile, UN-APCICT and Cornell University were able to obtain feedback which will assist in further developing and refining the contents of the draft Guidebook. 

 

Closing Comments

Prof Dr Hj Anuar bin Haji Ahmad, President & Vice Chancellor, UNISEL, said that universities need to be multi-disciplinary in order for engaged learning to be successfully implemented, as well as being familiar with the use of ICTs as communication tools. He opined that as a society develops, values must be retained in the face of political and social challenges, and ICTs for development as well as engaged learning  is a very good approach in this process.  UNISEL, with its tagline of “Shaping Society” is thus happy to be a co-organizer of the Conference, and extends its appreciation accordingly to YB Dr Hajjah Halimah Ali, Chair of the Executive Council for Education, Higher Education and Human Capital Development, Selangor, Malaysia;  Dr Hyuen-Suk Rhee, director, UN-APCICT/ESCAP; Dr Royal Colle, International Prof Emeritus, Cornell University; as well as the speakers who shared their valuable experiences. 

In her closing address, YB Dr Hajjah Halimah Ali  lauded the participants and speakers at the International Conference for having  the mindset, “heart-set” and “soul-set” to make this world a better place for all. Congratulating the co-organisers UNISEL and Aidcom, in collaboration with UN-APCICT and Cornell University, on a successful conference, she said that the event reaffirmed the concept that ICT is widely recognized as having a role to play in the lives of ordinary people, promoting social change, and helping to meet the relevant Millennium Development Goals such as widespread digital access by 2015.   Noting that three international conferences on engaged learning and ICTD had been held in Geneva, Tunis, and Madrid, she was happy to note that the first such conference in Asia took place in State of Selangor. Ensuring that no one should be excluded from the benefits of a global information society is a challenge for governments, societies and also academia. More can be done; for example, ICT is not yet fully utilized as a tool in areas such as food production, and improving access to government services, especially from the grassroots level. It is therefore essential that youth, being the leaders of tomorrow, acquire the necessary knowledge to drive this process forward. She called upon UNISEL  to ensure that the deliberations during the Conference are put into practice. 

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Report prepared by Asian Institute for Development Communication (Aidcom), August 2014

 

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