Guest post: Can Internet kiosks facilitate meaningful learning in remote places?

The Avenues mission reminds us that being part of our school means both focusing on the lives of our students and shaping education on a global scale beyond campus walls.

Children at the Hello Hub in Kidubuli, Uganda

Children at the Hello Hub in Kidubuli, Uganda

Project Hello World is a non-profit organisation based in the United Kingdom. It helps communities in remote regions of the world build solar-powered Internet kiosks to support learning, often in the absence of teachers and schools. Inspired by the work of Sugata Mitra, "Hello Hubs", as they are called, promote a model of learning called learner-directed collaborative engagement. This means that a small number of students control the kiosk while others watch and co-direct. The surrounding students learn through vicarious engagement with the kiosk. 

In June 2016, Avenues began working with Project Hello World to extend their curriculum development, educational research, and design and engineering efforts. In addition to this research and development, Avenues students built a Hello Hub in New York later that year with the support of teachers Katy Garnier and Ivan Cestero, school leadership, and the Project Hello World team. This presented students of Avenues with an unprecedented opportunity to engage through the network of Hello Hubs and learn with peers living in remote regions of the world.

Research Summary

Can Internet kiosks facilitate meaningful learning in remote places? The existing research, though preliminary, suggests it can.

Can students learn to use a computer without taking classes?

Three groups of students ages 12 to 13 were selected randomly from four sites across India. Group A (31 students) had a kiosk but no computer classes. Group B (31 students) had neither kiosk nor computer classes. Group C (42 students) had both kiosks and computer classes.

After the kiosk had been in the villages for at least one year, all students were given the eighth grade computer science examination, which is a 70-minute practical examination, 90-minute written and five-minute oral theory exam. A month before the exam, all students were given the computer textbook so they could prepare.

Results

  • In the practical exam (35% is passing):
    Group A (no class, yes kiosk) scored an average of 58%
    Group B (no class, no kiosk) scored an average of 5%
    Group C (yes class, yes kiosk) scored an average of 55%
  • In the theory exam (35% is passing):
    Group A (no class, yes kiosk) scored an average of 41.67%
    Group B (no class, no kiosk) scored an average of 12%
    Group C (yes class, yes kiosk) scored an average of 55%

In the practical exams, students who only had access to a kiosk scored higher on the exam than those who had computer classes. In the theory exam, those students with only a kiosk scored only slightly lower than those who took computer classes.

What kinds of learning can learner-directed collaborative engagement support?

116 children ages four to eight were tested from two different villages in India on three basic measures:

  1. Test for intelligence: Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices (SPMRS)
  2. Test for personality: Catell’s High School Personality Questionnaire. The composite scores on leadership potential (LP) and creativity potential (CP)
  3. Test for kiosk usage: Frequency of Usage Test (FUT) survey.

Based on the results of the frequency of usage, students were divided into frequent (62) and infrequent (54) usage groups. School examination scores in mathematics, science and English were compared between frequent and infrequent users when the kiosk was installed and again two-and-a-half years later.

Results

  • In one village, frequent visitors scored higher on the intelligence test than infrequent visitors (62 vs. 54, p < .05).
  • Changes in mathematics scores were significantly improved with frequent versus infrequent users (3.16, p < .05), but improvements in science and English were not statistically significant.

Although we do not know exactly how students used the kiosk, more frequent use appears to aid learning mathematics, but not all subjects. This subject difference could be because math applications were more frequently used than other subjects, or because of the quality of the instructional materials.

Can a group of students meaningfully learn by watching one student engage?

Since many kiosks use learner-directed collaborative engagement, it is important to know the educational benefits of observing another learner. In one study, 80 randomly selected Japanese students learning English were paired based on their English and video game playing abilities. A music video game in English was selected. One student played for 20 minutes while the other watched, and this was repeated five times with breaks. Students were tested on 41 vocabulary items from the game both immediately after playing and two weeks later.

A young man helps three girls at the Hello Hub in St. James, Uganda, with some research. 

A young man helps three girls at the Hello Hub in St. James, Uganda, with some research. 

Results

  • On average, watchers recalled 3X more vocabulary items than the players (21.70 vs. 7.23, p < .05).
  • The recall test two weeks later also revealed that watchers remembered 3X more vocabulary items the players (16.13 vs. 5.15, p < .05)

Students who watched another student play learned vicariously and were better able to recall the vocabulary in the video game. This flies in the face of traditional thinking, which holds that personal engagement trumps passive observation. One possible explanation for this is that students playing the game had increased cognitive load—that is, the game mechanics distracted—reducing the cognitive resources available to concentrate on vocabulary. Additionally, it appears that vicarious engagement in this model is higher than typical passive observation, and it also created a safe, motivating context for watchers to participate and learn.

Avenues Research

This research shows promise, but it is new and preliminary. The Avenues-Project Hello World partnership aims to extend and strengthen this research base: to understand how technology can best benefit these students academically and emotionally; to document and research the challenges associated with technology-based learning in remote places; and to enhance the usability and reliability of the Hello Hubs themselves. We are combining this rigorous research with hands-on work that focuses the efforts of our students, the Avenues team and the people and communities of Project Hello World. This partnership holds the potential to meld new technologies with the much older values of community and service, offering new paths for children to learn worldwide.

Sources

  • “Hope‐in‐the‐Wall? A digital promise for free learning” by Payal Arora, British Journal of Educational Technology, 2010, 41(5), 689-702.
  • “Learning from a free-access digital information kiosk in Africa: An objectivist-constructivist investigation” by Johannes C. Cronjé & Dirk Burger, Aslib Proceedings, 2006, 58(3), 218-236.
  • “A model of how children acquire computing skills from hole-in-the-wall computers in public places” by Rhitu Dangwal, Swati Jha, Shiffon Chatterjee, & Sugata Mitra, Information Technologies & International Development, 2005, 2(4), 41.
  • “The relationship between environmental factors and usage behaviors at ‘Hole-in-the-wall’ computers” by Jennifer DeBoer, International journal of educational development, 2009, 29(1), 91-98.
  • “An initial investigation to voluntary and unstructured access to computing” by Rita Grobler, 2005
  • “Application usage of unsupervised digital doorway computer kiosks in remote locations in South Africa” by Kim Gush Ruth de Villiers, Proceedings of the 2010 Annual Research Conference of the South African Institute of Computer Scientists and Information Technologists, 2010, 93-103.
  • “Computer skills development by children using’hole in the wall’facilities in rural India” by Parimala Inamdar, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 2004, 20(3), 337-350.
  • “Hole-In-The-Wall’ Computer Kiosks Foster Mathematics Achievement-A comparative study” by Parimala Inamdar & Arun Kulkarni, Educational Technology & Society, 2007, 10(2), 170-179.
  • “The effect of interactivity with a music video game on second language vocabulary recall” by Katsuko Kuwada, About Language Learning & Technology, 2010, June, 74.
  • Children’s acquisition of computer literacy skills in the Mamelodi Digital Doorway Project by Mmankoko Ziphorah Morolo, Doctoral dissertation, University of Pretoria, 2007.

By Gray Matters, the research and development group at Avenues: The World School, New York, dedicated to providing research-based answers to common faculty questions. (This blog post has first been published in November 2016 on OPEN, the news and discussion blog of Avenues: The World School.)