I WORK WITH several third level lecturers in the Limerick Institute of Technology who believe the creative use of information and communication furthers the development of society. In my little corner, this means articulating skillsets three to five years before they become mainstream.
Our curriculum development efforts happen not because we have a special team of researchers plodding away in the ether. Rather, we have front-line technologists who prepare their lectures while immersed in emerging technologies.
From past experience, we know that the by-product of our educational efforts are seen in small and medium-sized businesses. Our students spend 12 weeks inside businesses, working as designers, web developers, video producers, and copywriters. We are reviewing the current cohort's summertime work experience at the moment.
Aside from these kinds of work experience, I believe we need to explore links to agencies where ICT skills can aid in community development. That puts us into the frame of ICT4D. We want to ensure a by-product of State investment means we are facilitiating Information and Communications Technology for Development (ICT4D).
When done well, ICT4D brings and understanding of community development, poverty, agriculture, healthcare, and basic education into the mix. Adovcates for each of these area exist in Irish society but Exchequer funding is squeezing their development. In LIT, we have a Masters Degree in the pipeline that involves hands-on practical work with emerging economies. That's good, but there are community development and basic education targets that could be woven into the BSc in Creative Multimedia and deliver a positive ICT4D result. Some of these easy wins involve setting up mobile learning facilities through OpenSource server installations or developing syndicated learning objects for Coder Dojo.
Richard Heeks from the University of Manchester articulates a vision of what ICT should do for development. In his vision, the I relates to information, specifically “library and information sciences”, the C is associated with “communication studies", the T is linked with “information systems" technology, and the D for “development studies”. It is aimed at bridging the digital divide and aid economic development by fostering equitable access to modern communications technologies. It is a powerful tool for economic and social development.
One of the factors I see in lecture theatres and during group work is how third level education can aid disadvantaged people by showing them a pathway that can lead to a better life. Part of the reason institutes of technology are established in Ireland is to boost local economies. The socio-economic demographic living withint three miles of the front doors of many Irish IOTs often feature pockets of low incomes, wide expanses of social housing and patterns of long-term unemployment. Politicians establish a third level institution in those employment black spots and expect all boats to rise.
This pattern of third level intervenion follows scientific evidence that has shown the application of information technology can result in poverty reduction. From practical experience gained after spending more than 10 years teaching inside the Irish third level system, I know the by-product of what we teach can result in the proper use of ICT to direcly benefit the disadvantaged.
However, I think we should take our game to a new level and attempt to liaise more directly with non-governmental organisations and businesses to improve socio-economic conditions.
This interdisciplinary extension of how we measure the effectiveness of our current programme does not fit into the standard metric of the Irish Exchequer, the source of funding we use to keep the doors open. In fact, some of my colleagues know that any loss of focus on the job at hand--to attract, educate, retain and graduate high-quality third level students--could result in failure to achieve the raw numbers upon which our positions are protected. I agree. But I also think that some on-going research needs to be embedded in the current curriculum to ensure we integrate the by-product of the growing number of conferences, workshops and publications in the fied of ICT4D. More than any other agency for change, we can bring to the table practical and scientific validation tools that could improve results in current and future projects.
I'm starting a new year by looking at the informal community of technical and social science researchers from Ireland who attend ICT4D conferences and who share their thoughts via social media. If you're one of these ICT4D advocates, please get in touch.
Richard Heeks has a blog that started this chain of thought.
Bonus Link: Ade Oshineye -- "Niche topics won't make you rich" on Google Plus, August 10, 2012.