The February 2015 issue of the Gender & Mobile/Learning Newsletter is now available! You may access the newsletter on the web by clicking this link.

This had to be one of my favorite issues to put together since it provided me with a good excuse to chat to friend and colleague Dr. Mmaki Jantjies of South Africa. Mmaki is a legend in my book, having completed her PhD in three years flat while her husband was doing a PhD at the same time! If only I could be more like her in my own doctoral pursuits!

More related to this newsletter is that Mmaki’s work in mobile-assisted language learning is revolutionary: it allows users to switch between their mother tongue language and the language that is the medium of instruction for the STEM subject they are learning. Before her groundbreaking work, I had not heard of much activity in this area. What a truly meaningful and incredible contribution by a woman working in mobile. I am sure you will enjoy reading about the interview with Mmaki in the newsletter as much as I enjoyed conducting it!

kidogokidogoIt was also a great pleasure to read about kidogo kidogo, a social enterprise that is helping to broaden women’s access to mobile technology. This is achieved by designing fashionable phone cases which are sold, and the profits from these sales are then used to subsidize the cost of a phone purchase for women in Tanzania.

There are loads of people doing incredible work in gender and mobiles, and in our next issue I do hope we can feature men doing work with mobiles and perhaps women, too! If you have any ideas, please be in touch.

In this issue, we are delighted to spotlight a friend and respected academic colleague, Dr Mmaki Jantjies. Mmaki is a University of Warwick graduate who developed innovative software as part of her doctoral studies to help make multilingual STEM mobile learning possible. She is now the Information Systems Department Head at North-West University in South Africa. In this interview, she shares insights into her work in mobile learning, as well as career advice for other women who may be considering a career in computer science. She’s a Woman in Mobile we admire!

G&M Newsletter: What led you to study computer science?
Mmaki: I studied it in high school as a subject. I was interested in it because there were a lot of opportunities in this area.

G&M Newsletter: Can you tell us a bit about your PhD research?

Mmaki: I was looking at a framework that could be used by other computer scientists to develop software for use in educational environments. Many computer scientists tend not to know how to do this. I wanted to explore how we could improve education through the use of mobile devices in multilingual contexts in STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

mmaki visual

      Data from Mmaki’s research

One of the things that I found is that in most developing countries, children learn in their third, fourth and fifth language. English in South Africa is like the third, fourth or fifth language for these children. So most of the time they judge [their responses to school assignments] based on the English language rather than the actual content that they are responding to because of the language barrier. Because children have so much access to mobile phones as opposed to computers, I thought: “Why don’t we tap into the availability of mobile phones?” Then they might be able to use their home language in addition to English.

G&M Newsletter: Given that your PhD focused on mobile learning, can you tell us if you have a favorite mobile learning app?

Mmaki: I can say my favorites are the ones that I developed! I thought that I tailored the apps to a situation that was unique in a context that was unique. I found that when I was working with the teachers [to introduce and use the apps in class], they actually wanted to implement them because South Africa is moving towards a paperless classroom. Also, I prefer my apps because they are multilingual and we as South Africans value that – content that is available in our home language because of what we are trying to push with multilingualism, because we come from a history of having to use only one language. We are trying to embrace multiple languages and keep them alive.

G&M Newsletter: Can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

Mmaki: Right now, in the department I work in, we are trying to re-position our research area. So, one of the things I am going to get engaged with with my students is how to improve the effective use of mobile learning and ICTs in schools in South Africa. I also want to support research initiatives that deal with anything related to ICT supporting women. Finally, working on developing applications that can support teachers and children in schools for the purpose of learning STEM-related subjects.

M-Thuto, a mobile learning app Dr Jantjies developed

M-Thuto, a mobile learning app Dr Jantjies developed

G&M Newsletter: What advice do you have for other women who are interested in pursuing a career in mobile technology?

Mmaki: Start with the small things before actually going on to study technology. I know someone who still uses diaries to keep records – I mean it’s a good thing – but if you want to move into the field of technology, start with yourself. I think that you cannot motivate other people to use technology to make their lives easier if you’re not using it to make your own life easier.

G&M Newsletter: Thank you so much for your time!

To find out more about Dr Mmaki Jantjies, please visit her page on the University of Warwick.

When cruising my usual tech news outlets, I came across what I thought was going to be an article packed full of innovations that help women, wherever they are, change their lives for the better, spurring real progress on the gender equality front. Alluringly titled 10 simple gadgets that empower women around the world, I clicked the link hoping for the best but unfortunately got a list straight out of the 1950s. electric gender ad

The items deemed top 10 “must haves” included an oven, a washing machine, water filters and breast milk warmers. To be sure, the issues these gadgets help address are completely worthwhile: creating safer cooking methods, decreasing the number of hours spent washing clothes by hand, helping to provide clean water and properly warmed nutrition for infants, respectively. However, these tech tools only empower women superficially – the chores they are expected to do on a nearly daily basis remain their responsibility.

This top 10 list is a string of band-aid solutions that will help women have more time to do more gender roles-based work, adding only a marginal life improvement. Furthermore, this “improvement” may still be out of the reach of the women intended to benefit due to the relative high costs of the tech offerings, even if they are thousands of dollars cheaper than what can be had for an equivalent gadget in the West. Real empowerment would be the creation of gadgets that not only help women “lighten their load” but also challenge the structures that force women to carry that load to begin with.

They want gadgets that are way more empowering than the ones found on that list!

They want gadgets that are way more empowering than the ones found on that list!

To that end, I think that we should all help the author of the article, Lyndsey Gilpin, by tweeting her with suggestions of tech that helps empowers women on a level deeper than innovative chore execution. One of the gadgets that would make my top 10 list is the mobile phone camera.

The heART of A Woman Project is a creative and meaningful tech-based approach to women’s empowerment that goes beyond solidifying women’s traditional forms of participation in society. Their mission is to “…provide education to women impacted by poverty, in photography, mobile technology, social media and computer skills. It aims to empower women to have a voice, creative outlet and sustainable income through the sales of photographic art products.”

What I love about this particular appropriation of a tech gadget is that because the price of mobile phones with good quality cameras continues to fall below $100, the use of mobile phones for photography can be accessible for more women, even those at the base of the pyramid.

Sample art work from the heART of a Woman Project

Sample art work from the heART of a Woman Project

Also, teaching women how to take photos,
promote and sell their artwork can provide real opportunities to empower women to become financially independent in addition to helping to build their self-confidence and self-esteem.

What other truly empowering tech gadgets for women can you think of? Leave a comment with your suggestions!

The December 2014 issue of the Gender & Mobile/Learning Newsletter is now available! You may access the newsletter on the web by clicking this link.

In this issue, I was very honored to have long time supporter and collaborator Merel Van der Woude of Butterfly Works contribute a blog post about their new app “Oh my body” which is being released in Senegal.

Oh my body app screenshot

Oh my body app screenshot

The design approaches taken by Butterfly Works are often talked about but rarely realized in practice – or with meaningful outputs – like this app; I think it will be a great tool for young women in Senegal. Definitely check this out if you’re interested in learning about an mHealth app with an educational slant.

A big difference in this issue is that we have redesigned the layout! We hope you will find it a bit easier to read and, as always, that the content is exactly what you want to receive from us. If it’s not, please let me know and do also feel free to make a contribution. We would be happy to feature work or people in gender and mobiles that has you excited!



Official UNESCO Mobile Learning Week 2015 logo

In 2010, I first started researching the potential links between gender and mobile learning. In 2013, I was the first ever presenter to speak on gender and mobile learning at UNESCO. Now, nearly five years after beginning this journey of exploration, it feels like the specialist field of gender and mobile learning has finally arrived: UNESCO has dedicated its entire Mobile Learning Week 2015 theme to this critically under-explored topic.

But why does gender matter to broader field of mobile learning? When most men and women hear the word “gender”, they assume it is only referring to girls and women, or working to take over the male population completely. Both ideas are false yet such assumptions do a great deal of damage for those who wish to engage in gender work that helps provide social transformation for women, men, boys and girls. For the past five years I have worked to publicly engage with the topic of gender and mobile learning in order to help promote gender analysis and awareness in the design of mobile learning interventions. What follows is a description of how I got my start in the area.

agnes and john

John Traxler (left) and Agnes Kukulska-Hulme (right)

Having taught in Africa, Asia, and North America during the time (2005-2009) when we all witnessed the incredible rise in access to mobile communication devices, I at first never considered how they might be used for learning. While studying during my first Master’s degree program, I discovered some of the existing work on mobile learning from academics like Agnes Kukulska-Hulme and John Traxler and became hooked.

By 2009, girls’ education had become a passion of mine because of my experiences as an educator with female youth in a diverse range of settings, and I was also a graduate of a women’s college in the U.S. I had the opportunity to observe how girls are systematically silenced in curricula, classrooms and in their societies more broadly because of prevailing social mores, and also saw how they were more or less guided to careers thought to be more appropriate for someone of their gender. Such issues have plagued systems of education for ages, to be sure, but there has been a significant amount of work done to help redress these issues as well.

My experiences as a teacher and my new found awareness of mobile learning led me to explore the potential links between gender issues and mobile learning, including how mobile learning might be used as a tool for the empowerment of the female populace, in partnership with their male peers. It is important to acknowledge that gender work with the goal of social transformation cannot be done without men and boys since women and girls live with and interact with them on a daily basis and they are change agents in their own right – even for issues that may not affect them directly. Also, it is worth noting that gender issues in education are not always tilted in favor of boys: In South Africa and the Philippines, the situation is reversed, and even in the U.S. there are more women enrolled in higher education than men.

School visit in the Philippines; Filipina girl shows me and my colleagues her school work on a tablet

School visit in the Philippines; Filipina girl shows me and my colleagues her school work on a tablet

As I performed meta-analyses of existing mobile learning literature, I noted that there was scant work done with gender issues despite the increasing evidence of some of the positive outcomes of mobile learning. I believed it was important to engage in this space to better understand the potential and pitfalls of gender and mobile learning work – especially because the number of mobile learning interventions is on the rise, even in developing contexts. If investments were going to continue being made in mobile learning, I felt it was imperative to understand how such interventions might impact the intended beneficiaries, and girls and women in particular, since it is often said that mobile learning can facilitate opportunities for those who are denied or prevented from having consistent access to education, and females are most acutely affected when it comes to such access.

All of this inspired me to pursue a second Master’s degree so that I could more fully explore this area, and this research led to me undertaking PhD investigations in the same area, and I am now in the final year of this program.

PhD fieldwork in Nairobi, Kenya

PhD fieldwork in Nairobi, Kenya

Throughout these five years I have learned a lot, but I think the most important lesson that I have been taught is that gender and mobile learning is not a passing fad or a topic deserving of superficial consideration among mobile learning intervention designers. In my own work, I have seen just how much power and influence men, girls, women and boys can have on the outcomes of a mobile learning intervention. Understanding how and why gender matters in mobile learning could help everyone working in the field create more effective and sustainable interventions.