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.

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!

 

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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.

The August issue of the Gender & Mobile/Learning Newsletter is now available! You may access the newsletter on the web by clicking this linkMama Zambia

This particular issue of the newsletter appears to be dominated by mobile network operators (MNOs), and in this case that is a very good thing! MNOs often get a bad reputation since they only seemed to be concerned with their bottom line. While this is undoubtedly true, who says you can’t make money AND do good at the same time?

This issue features an Airtel Zambia partnership with Internet.org to offer the popular MAMA app to people in the country. Although Airtel Zambia will not generate any revenue from this, indirect benefits should be a handsome reward. Bangalink (Bangladesh), Airtel Uganda, and Zain (South Sudan) also provide a few products and services that I hope we will see scale in the coming years, especially Zain’s training to teach women how to create mobile apps!

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

While it is difficult to make a choice, I think my favorite story from this issue is definitely about Instagram’s first female engineer. Instagram's female engineer This was such an important story to me because it honestly shocked me that with how much I see girls and women using Instagram, this is the first time they’ve had a female engineer on board. How did they manage to figure out what women want without having women to help them?

One can’t help but wonder if this was a coordinated PR scheme by Instagram to appear to be one of the “good companies” in the wake of the abysmal and absolutely appalling performances of most major tech companies when it comes to gender and ethnic diversity.

Although a writer for The Atlantic rightly argues that simply tallying up “enough” female tech workers is not a sincere or sustainable way to address the hiring disparities among the top tech firms, at this point it is a start. Let’s not forget the old adage about crawling before flying.

Nevertheless, with as much innovation as we see coming out of these companies, how is it possible that no one has innovated in the HR department?! It will be good to see what happens over the next few years in this space.