Category Archives: Business

Are South African schools ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution?

As a developing country still dependant on labour-intensive industries such as mining and agriculture, South Africa is at a risk of not optimally taking advantage of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the rapid advancement of new technologies that is building on the developments of the third industrial revolution (the advent of electronics and automated production). According to Klaus Schwab, the Founder and executive chairman of the WEF, the fourth industrial revolution ‘is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres’.

The increasing intersection between physical and digital technologies is changing the world of work in several key ways. As Schwab says, ‘physical products and services … can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value’. Today’s worker needs to understand how digital and physical components can combine to create faster, more efficient and effective products and hybrid solutions.

In education, the challenge is to equip learners in South Africa to function effectively in the 21st Century, and use technology to innovate, collaborate and create.

Skills for the 21st Century

The digital revolution has changed the way we live, work and interact with one another. The skills that are considered most necessary for the 21st Century focus on how best to navigate this digital environment. These skills are divided into learning and innovation skills information, media and technology skills, and life and career skills. These skills can broadly be categorised into cognitive skills and practical skills.

21st Century skills: the three Ls

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning divides 21st Century skills into three categories: life, learning and literacy skills.

Learning skills such as critical and creative thinking as well as the arts of collaboration and communication are more important than ever. Global trade and industry and the global dissemination of information means that learners are emerging into multilingual and multidisciplinary work environments. As Thoughtful Learning says:

‘To hold information-age jobs … students also need to think deeply about issues, solve problems creatively, work in teams, communicate clearly in many media, learn ever-changing technologies, and deal with a flood of information.’

The growth of digital technologies and the extent to which we rely on them in the workplace means that learners need to acquire not only information and media literacy but technology literacy too.

Crucial 21st Century life skills include flexibility and social awareness as well as leadership skills and the ability to be productive and proactive.

Education experts in several countries are finding that there is a mismatch between the skills learners acquire in the course of ordinary school learning and the kinds of versatility and varied literacies employers require.

The importance of 21st Century skills

In today’s job market, an understanding of how to use digital tools effectively, while working collaboratively and across multiple disciplines is vital. In order to teach these skills at school, a new learning framework is required that embeds these 21st Century Skills in the curriculum, imparting subject knowledge while developing the required practical and cognitive skills.


From the Partnership for Learning

So how can South Africa prepare its’s learners for this new world of work?

Cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity are currently covered by the South African curriculum. However, digital tools can enhance and extend this while at the same time providing learners with exposure to digital technology. Key amongst these are, as listed in the Integrating ICT in Education book:

  • Personalised learning – Learners progress at an individual pace. The challenge of offline/non-digitised learning is that learners are expected to keep up with (or slow down to) the majority of the class. Digital education enables teachers to pace learning according to individual needs. In this way, it facilitates the acquisition of cognitive skills at the level of each learner’s ability, allowing some learners opportunities to practise more and others to go ahead when they are ready to do so.
  • Expanded learning – Expanded learning refers to additional learning opportunities outside of the usual classroom teaching and learning scenario. Digital education is able to offer learners across the ability spectrum additional opportunities to either extend their knowledge and skills by having access to extension materials or to consolidate and/or improve their knowledge and skills through doing support activities and by practising similar tasks.
  • Increased engagement – Learner motivation is key to engagement and hence learning. Digital education methodologies such as game-based learning offer opportunities for teachers to increase learner engagement with the subject matter and thereby improve learners’ performance. In addition, access to varied and current content online allows learners to not only enhance their knowledge but also to develop their ability to engage critically with information.
  • Collaborative learning – Digital education makes collaborative learning easy to implement. Digital platforms allow for three key things: teachers can set group tasks; learners can collaborate with one another to complete tasks; teachers can monitor learners’ individual contributions and progress towards completion. In addition, collaborative learning scenarios give learners invaluable opportunities to critically evaluate one another’s inputs and to communicate with one another in order to solve problems through teamwork.
  • Assessment for learning – Digital education enhances the teacher’s capacity to assess learners both diagnostically and formatively in order to accurately identify the cognitive skills that are lacking. In so doing, digital assessment programs enable teachers to offer personalised learning opportunities that are appropriate and effective. Further, game-based learning programs assess learners in a way that makes the assessment process invisible to learners who experience each task as yet another challenge in a competitive environment.

Integrating ICT in Education. 2017. Cambridge University Press

Why curation could be the future of publishing

If you’re an educator, the need to create educational content can sometimes take away time from other educational and organisational roles. Curating content, rather than creating it, has become a viable way to produce engaging, stimulating educational materials that present learners with clear information pathways. What exactly do we mean, however, when we talk about ‘curating’ educational content?

Curating is selecting and arranging to add value

In Michael Bhaskar’s Curation: The Book, the author talks about ‘the power of selection in a world of excess.’ In a world where there is so much high-value content freely available online (content that is available for re-licensing), creating new material isn’t always necessary. Digital technology has resulted in information overload, too. There is so much content available that it is harder than ever to digest all the information available for a given topic.

Curation, as Bhaskar points out, has always been a facet of intellectual work, from newspaper publishing to museum and gallery curation. If you think of how displays are curated in a museum, insightful items are arranged to convey a thought-provoking broader understanding of a topic (human history, for example). In a similar way, curating educational content gives you the power to arrange individual, high-quality items into an edifying whole; a whole that gives higher value as the sum of its parts.

Why curate educational content?

Besides giving you the power to arrange existing items of content to form a broader selection that adds value, curating content has additional pros. You can take content that is high in informational value but weak in structure and create better clarity and cohesion, for one.

Curating content also makes readily available educational materials more discoverable. Through content curation, you can introduce learners to valuable educational resources they might never otherwise discover. 

Another perk is simply the time factor: When you curate content instead of creating it, you have more time for other vital pursuits such as lesson planning.

Can I just re-use quality content I find in my own educational materials?

Whether or not you can use content in your curation process depends on what kind of license it is shared under. More and more content is shared under creative commons licenses that allow liberal re-use and even reworking. Open education hubs such as Edutopia provide lists of open source educational resources where you can find everything from free lesson plans and activities to additional web resources that provide teaching supplements.

Curating educational content – what about quality standards?

One concern for some educators is the issue of quality control in curation. When you create content yourself, it’s true that you have a high degree of control over content. If you vet every resource you curate thoroughly to ensure it meets acceptable standards, this shouldn’t be an issue.

As a rule, .edu and .org resources tend to be the most factually reliable and tend to have a more rigorous editorial process than .com resources.

Given the sheer abundance of educational material available online, creating your content from scratch is optional. Curating educational content gives you the added advantages of being able to hand-pick the very best resources and arrange them into a whole that adds value and gives learners an engaging, stimulating experience from start to finish.

The changing role of the publisher in the age of plenty

By way of some background, I am currently the digital publishing manager at the African branch of Cambridge University Press (CUP), the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Prior to joining CUP, I worked as a consultant conceptualising and implementing innovative digital solutions for academic and local government initiatives in South Africa. During this period I launched The Ulwazi Programme with colleagues from the eThekwini Municipality. This collaborative digital library project collated user-generated, local-language, indigenous knowledge content and published it openly under a Creative Commons license. Based on this experience, as well as my desire to explore how a traditional publishing business could engage with with the open movement and the plethora of freely-available content online, I applied to attend the Institute of Open Leadership (IOL) workshops. The week-long sessions were intense; a bootcamp in open licensing and open education. More importantly, the workshop brought together some of the top minds currently working on open ideas. In formal and informal discussions, these mentors shared their thinking with me on open business models, providing examples of successful and sustainable open initiatives.

Mabusi showing the new recruits the Ulwazi website

Mabusi Kgwete from the Ulwazi Programme training volunteer fieldworkers on how to use the MediaWiki platform. Photo by Niall McNulty, CC-BY

Understanding rights, and why they matter now more than ever

Everyone who spends time online is now a producer of content. It’s how the digital world works. And this content is multifaceted too. It could be the blog posts you write, photographs you take and share, research articles you publish, videos you upload — the list goes on and on. Fortunately, as the producer of the content, you get to decide how to license it. You can retain copyright (current standard and in most cases automatically assigned); you can decide to use a Creative Commons license and retain some rights; or you can release the content into the public domain, relinquishing all rights.

So what exactly are your rights as a content-creator? That all comes down to copyright. Simply put, this refers to the legal concept that gives the creators of intellectual property ownership over the things that they create, and the right to say how others may use their creations — for example, to receive compensation for their use. As defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the works covered include anything from “books, music, paintings, sculpture and films, to computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps and technical drawings.” Copyright basically applies to any “creative” work and prevents other people taking an individual’s Intellectual Property (IP) and using it without their permission. Additionally, this is the case whether the intention is to make money from it the use or not. It is important to understand, as WIPO further explains inUnderstanding Copyright and Related Rights, that copyright is generally accepted as “declaratory” — that is to say that a work is considered protected as soon as it comes into existence. Once in place, copyright is generally understood as preventing the reproduction, distribution, copying and public performance works, and also includes the translation and adaptation without consent. Copyright is enforceable by law.

Traditional copyright is, however, not the only option for content creators. You can also choose to use an alternative licensing framework, such as the one offered by Creative Commons.These freely available licences encourage sharing and dissemination, operating alongside traditional copyright and allowing the creator to explicitly set the terms of use. By indicating that content is licensed in such a way, users can access and make use of licence on the Creative Commons website that combine traditional legal wording, user-friendly wording, and digitally-recognisable code that helps search engines and other platforms identify the work as Creative Commons-licensed. The particular appeal of Creative Commons licensing is that it grants specific permissions in advance for others to use the work, all while ensuring that the author gets credit for their creation. For example, you can require that anyone who uses your content to share the work they produced with it under a similar license. You can limit commercial use of your content. You can decide to limit adaptations of your work, all while granting users to share it as is. Essentially, through your choice of license you can decide exactly how the content you create is shared and used, including derivative works.

One of the direct outcomes of attending the IOL workshops was to critically examine my personal content output, and how I had licensed it. I have a Flickr account, where I have uploaded several hundred photographs, as well as a personal blog where I write about education and technology. Both were licensed using Creative Commons, but with noncommercial and share-alike restrictions. I’ve realised that these licenses, while open, did not allow the adaptation and re-use I believe in, especially when it comes to the potential for innovation and new creations. I also realised that I had chosen them out of a misplaced fear that someone might benefit commercially from using the content I’ve created. Logically I know this fear is largely unfounded and any commercial benefit will be because they have spent time and effort developing this content further. Based on this realisation, I have now changed the licensing on all my online output to CC-BY, allowing for both adaptation and commercial use. Let’s see what happens 🙂


A lotus flower blooming in the Durban Botanic Gardens – now available for re-use and remixing. Photo by Niall McNulty, CC-BY

Part of my work now, as a member of the IOL group, is to look how open resources can be incorporated into existing product development processes at CUP, building a business case for open through small, successful projects. At the same time, I am interested in the changing role of the publisher — what purpose does it serve when there is an excess of freely available, high-quality content available online?

But first, is Cambridge an open university?

The University of Cambridge states that it “is committed to disseminating its research and scholarship as widely as possible” and supports staff in making their research freely available. There is an open policy in place at the institution, which guides how researchers and staff make content and data available, and a board that oversees this work. The University itself hosts a research repository which includes published articles, conference papers, datasets, theses and video content — basically anything that is considered research output. There are also internal teams available who assist with preparing content and data for open distribution, advise on funding requirements with regard to open access, and provide guidance on sharing datasets.

Cambridge, United Kingdom. By Niall McNulty, CC-BY. [Cropped from original]

CUP, as a unit of the University, has an open access publishing division called Cambridge Open, centered on academic journal and book publishing. The principles of Cambridge Open (paraphrased) are:

  • Knowledge is for everyone. No one should be denied the discoveries and advances of learning or the ability to contribute to the pool of knowledge — whatever their academic status, means of funding or country of origin.
  • CUP has long history and reputation for producing high quality, authoritative content and the Open Access programme develops this further by bringing together a greater diversity of researchers and thinkers, creating a vigorous and fertile exchange of ideas.

They do this by supporting Gold Open Access, where the author or institution pays an article processing charge to be published and the article is then made freely available, as well as Green Open Access, where authors deposit articles or research (submission copies as opposed to final published copies) in institutional repositories. Both these approaches allow authors to comply with funding requirements of many research donors.

Open business models

Sub-Saharan Africa has a vibrant and diverse publishing industry, with local and international players producing content in a number of languages across various genres. Due to market conditions, however, many print books need to be sold at low-price points, e.g. full-colour, senior level textbooks are sold for less than $3 in some countries. At the same time governments and NGOs are constantly looking for ways to make content freely available as budgets for learning and teaching resource material are squeezed. See for example Siyavula, which develops free maths and science textbooks, and ELRU which maintains an open access database of early childhood development resources, both in South Africa. So, my interest lies in what the publisher’s’ role is when content is freely available in the digital environment, how a publisher can engage with and use open resources, how this sits alongside copyrighted content, and what other revenue streams or business models can a publisher embrace to develop sustainable businesses. Paul Stacey, one of our IOL mentors, has written extensively about open business models and how they can generate revenue while contributing to social good (see also the very useful Open Business Model generation tool, adapted by Paul Stacey), and I must thank him for some really interesting conversations we had when he was in Cape Town.

In the past few months I’ve worked on two example projects, outlined below, as well as developing my thinking around a few other potential business models.

Re-using existing content

The first of these involved a recent submission of materials to the Namibian education ministry. The Ministry released a call for submission for curriculum-based content for secondary schools. CUP developed print resources for learners and teachers, as well as an additional digital component. The digital component was originally simply positioned as a value-add, provided freely to teachers who had adopted the CUP course. It included things such as class evaluation tools, rubrics, teaching guidelines, and multimedia content. For the mathematics course, the Namibian authors highlighted the difficulty learners had with certain concepts in algebra and geometry. After some online research, I discovered the 2,600 videos James Sousa had released under a Creative Commons CC-BY license. This license is the most open of the Creative Commons license suite. It permits adaptation, sharing, and repurposing for any use, even commercially, as long as the creator of the work is attributed. The video clips explain mathematical concepts clearly and succinctly, using easy to understand animations. The videos were pitched at the correct level for the Namibian learners and covered the subjects highlighted by the authors as problematic. I contacted James directly to explain how I would like to use his content and to confirm whether he was happy with this. He was, and I agreed to get back to him with any comments from the Namibian teachers. The video clips were selected from those available and mapped to the Namibian curriculum. These were made available on a CD-ROM (Internet connectivity in Namibia is still an issue, precluding online delivery), alongside copyrighted and other licensed content. The open content provided content unavailable from commercial video libraries, allowing us to make the course affordable for Namibian teachers and fulfilling CUP’s mission of disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education and learning.

A sample of one of James Sousa’s openly-licensed videos.

Adapting content for local context

The second project I am currently developing involves conceptualising and producing an online course for South African teachers on using technology to aid teaching and learning in the classroom. The course will prepare teachers inexperienced with regard to digital tools to effectively use them in the classroom to enhance teaching and learner and fulfil curriculum requirements. Written to the ICT level of teachers in South Africa, the course content will be aware of the particular issues that teachers might experience in their classrooms.

At the suggestion of colleagues from Cambridge University, I made contact with Dr. Sara Hennessy from the Education Department at University of Cambridge. Dr. Hennessy has done extension work in training African teachers to use ICTs in the classroom in Zambia, as part of an ongoing research project (see Content produced by Dr. Hennessy and her team is available for re-use and adaptation under a Creative Commons license. This content includes professional learning resources for teachers — focusing on interactive pedagogy for teaching with ICTs — and consists of videos, images, lesson and activity plans and templates.

Although contextualised mainly for Zambian teachers, the content is largely appropriate for the South African environment and can be adapted and rewritten for the local teachers and curriculum requirements. We plan to match (and use) appropriate content from the OER4Schools project and then develop missing modules or components for the course. The course will be made freely available to teachers in South Africa, complying with the original content license of CC-BY-NC.

Introducing digital Open Educational Resources into Zambian schools

At the same time I have been exploring other open business models that could support the development and distribution of educational content.

Data as a commercial model

We are constantly generating data by using digital tools and platforms. Feedback in education is a two-way process: learners, through feedback, can revise and improve, but teachers benefit equally from getting feedback on learners’ progress. Learning analytics in educational technology make it easy to identify and flag issues and provide learners with responsive, adaptive learning opportunities. Particular kinds of learner data collection have always been used to monitor progress and reward achievement in education, such as the grading systems used around the world. Learning analytics today are being used to track many more elements, such as:

  • The time learners spend completing specific online tasks
  • How learners engage with educational content both in learning management systems and on social media, e.g. what they access and how long they spend engaging with specific content

In 2011, education theorist George Siemens described how analytics empower educators to make informed changes in education. Educators can understand better ‘how [their] inputs influence or produce outputs.’ When high-quality content is provided freely and openly to learners they generate data through engaging with this content. The data, and its analysis, has value to education ministries, schools and teachers, and can be used as revenue a stream to fund the creation and publishing of open content. This data would need to be anonymised and follow local privacy laws, such as POPI in South Africa. Tech companies such as Facebook and Google have built entire business models out of the commoditisation of data generated by users.

Innovation, pedagogy, and the changing nature of content

The global buzz unleashed by the release of the Pokémon Go game for smartphones in 2016 exemplifies how augmented reality (AR) technology is growing. AR refers to the use of technology (such as smartphones and tablets that have integrated microphones and cameras) to augment or overlay additional digital content to a real-world activity, in real time. Simply put, AR is used to superimpose visual data over real-world backgrounds. As would be expected, the educational possibilities of the technology are innumerable. In 2015, for example, CUP made use of AR when they released the ‘Cambridge Experience’ app for iOS devices. Cambridge designed this AR app to ‘bring classroom materials to life’ and so when users point their smartphones or tablets at the companion posters, course books and other learning materials, additional information such as fact pop ups, educational videos or illustrative photography is displayed on-screen. This functionality adds value to the physical products and makes it possible for educators to give learners a more interactive, novel learning experiences.

In terms of further possibilities in this field, UK-based magazine Education Technology identified applications such as:

  • Enhancing static content such as posters with helpful facts and newer insights
  • Helping learners to visualize complex problems such as maths equations
  • Making abstract concepts easier to understand via animated visualizations

In this scenario, the core content is made available freely to the learner but additional resources that complement the open resource or extends the learner, such as AR data or additional assessment, is available as a premium.


While still in the early phases of my thinking and experimentation around open business models and the relationship to education and publishing, it does seem that opportunities exist to explore new revenue streams that can embrace and re-use open content while at the same time providing sound pedagogic solutions to learners in sub-Saharan Africa that are innovative and of a high-standard. I am interested in developing these ideas further and encourage interested readers to leave comments below or contact me.

Thanks to my mentor Kelsey Wiens (Creative Commons South Africa Lead) for assistance in developing these ideas and guidance in the IOL process.

First published at Creative Commons

Gates Foundation Global Libraries Meeting

bill-and-melinda-gates-foundationI am very excited about an event I have been invited to present at next week in Cape Town, the 2013 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Global Libraries Peer Learning Meeting.

The BMGF’s Global Libraries program supports efforts to supply and maintain free public access to computers and the Internet in ten countries around the world. According to the BMGF, quick and easy access to information and knowledge can transform the lives of individuals and strengthen communities. Yet, approximately 5 billion people – almost 90 percent of the world’s population – do not have access to computers connected to the Internet.

The meeting will be an opportunity to share ideas pertaining to community engagement, partnership building, community needs assessment, and strengthening community and financial support to ensure that the public library lives on into the 21st century.

I will presenting on a project I have managed for the past several years, the Ulwazi Programme, which uses the public library infrastructure, web technologies and the community to collect and share indigenous knowledge and local histories.