Seeds of Empowerment, an offshoot of a research project at Stanford University, aims to increase access to basic education for children living in extremely marginalized communities around the world. 206 Seeds of Empowerment is making use of the Stanford Mobile Inquiry-Based Learning Environment (SMILE), a learning methodology that allows pupils to use mobile phones to generate and share their own educational materials in an interactive way.
The first Seeds of Empowerment project in Latin America to use the SMILE platform was launched in 2011 in the Argentine province of Misiones. It involved the support of the provincial government, telecommunications operator Telecom and a local NGO. The project was initially implemented in 10 rural and suburban primary and secondary schools, and was expected to expand to 20 schools in 2012. The overall objective of the project was to incorporate mobile technology in encouraging critical thinking, creativity, literacy and scientific thinking among students.
The pilot, which took place in August 2011, included training workshops using smartphones and tablets with the Android operating system. 207 Students and teachers were able to participate in various workshops with SMILE methodology, which allowed them to learn through innovative teaching methods and to generate dynamic content in real time using mobile devices. Every smartphone was pre-loaded with several applications associated with various subjects in the school’s curriculum. Each mobile device served three children, and students used the applications to generate questions about lessons or curriculum, working individually or in groups to compose questions on a topic and search for multimedia support to illustrate their questions. 208 The application compiled the students’ questions, allowing them to rank questions in addition to answering them. Results were generated in real time, allowing the teacher and students to see which questions were ranked the highest, which were the easiest, and which were giving students the most trouble.
According to Stanford’s School of Education, one of the SMILE pilots, in August 2011, focused on civic engagement at an urban high school located in northern Argentina. 209 Students were challenged to use SMILE to think critically about what it means to be an engaged citizen in their community. Specifically, students were asked to generate questions for their peers relating to moral dilemmas that might arise in their community. Questions generated by the students addressed issues such as homelessness, suicide, stealing, school bullying, and violence. Each group staged a skit to represent the concepts and captured their skits with photos to generate multimedia questions on their handsets. They would take pictures of ambiguous civic circumstances and create questions for their peers, such as “What would you do in this situation?” or “Who do you think is responsible for this?” By rating each other’s questions, students came to the realization that the best questions were those that divided the class in terms of responses, whereas less-complex questions would not highlight the differing views of their peers. According to the researchers, after three rounds of creating, answering and rating questions, the high school students were generating profound and challenging questions that were relevant to local concerns.
206 UNESCO, “Turning on Mobile Learning in Latin America,” (2012), at 23, available at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002160/216080E.pdf .
207 Misiones Online, “Tecnología móvil para educar: aporte de Telecom a escuelas misioneras,” (August 11, 2011), available at http://www.misionesonline.net/noticias/index?dia=11&mes=08&anio=2011&permalink=tecnologia-movil-para-educar-aporte-de-telecom-a-escuelas-misioneras .
208 Op cit , 21.
209 Stanford University School of Education, Office of Innovation & Technology, “SMILE Pilot Studies,” available at http://suseit.stanford.edu/research/smile/pilot-studies. According to the website, the Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment (SMILE) is basically an assessment/inquiry maker which allows students to quickly create own inquiries or homework items based on their own learning for the day. For example, students can freely take a photo (Shown in Figure 1) of a diagram or any other object from their own textbooks or any phenomena discovered in their school garden or lab and create a homework item.