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Mapping DSI: Skills and learning

10th October 2018

Introducing our overview of DSI in the field of skills and learning, led by Fab Lab Barcelona.

A huge amount of activity is currently taking place at the intersection of technology and education, with a multi-billion dollar - and rapidly-growing - edtech market across Europe. Alongside this primarily commercial field is a growing trend of digital social innovation (DSI), which we explore in this introductory report.

This analysis, led by Fab Lab Barcelona, finds three main areas of activity of DSI in the field of skills and learning:

  • Initiatives which use technology as a tool in the classroom to enhance learning (the closest to mainstream edtech). Examples include the CreaNova school and Liceu Politecnic, both in Catalonia, which use heavily digital-influenced methodologies in their teaching and learning. Outside the classroom, UK-based Hegarty Maths has been wildly successful among students who use the platform’s videos to learn and practice maths at home for free. In Italy, taking advantage of a recent law change, Book in Progress is a teacher-led effort to produce open, collaborative, digital textbooks and learning resources which are now used by tens of schools.
  • Initiatives which seek to reduce inequality of access and outcomes for education. This might include online mentoring for children from lower socio-economic groups (such as the TutorFair Foundation, which focuses on maths tuition in rural and coastal areas in the UK; The Access Project, which works with secondary school pupils to increase university admissions among low-income groups; and Whole Education’s Language Futures, which links students with native speakers of foreign languages), or offering free courses to help digitally excluded groups get online (such as the UK’s Good Things Foundation or Poland’s FRSI, which work to reduce digital exclusion).
  • Initiatives which support the development of digital skills, not just for employment purposes but also to empower individuals in a digital world. These are the primary focus of this report, and of Fab Lab Barcelona’s work. These initiatives aim to democratise access to digital and physical tools, to empower individuals to take charge of and create impact in their own lives and communities. They simultaneously disrupt existing models and empower people to become agents of change.

DSI initiatives use a range of technologies, including online platforms, digital fabrication technologies, low-cost computers and open-source hardware. There are hundreds of projects, ranging from introducing maker technologies to young people and adults, teaching coding and programming, encouraging digital social entrepreneurship, and supporting coordination, promotion and communication of these technologies through events, conferences, challenges and campaigns. Alongside teaching digital skills, most of the projects seek to promote a range of cognitive and non-cognitive skills, to benefit society more widely, and to reduce inequality and work with underserved groups.

DSI projects in the field of skills and learning are driven by values of community, distribution and decentralisation, and by a commitment to open-source models, access and affordability.

Despite promising growth and some significant successes, DSI projects in the field face challenges around funding, both to start and to scale initiatives, although corporates and some public administrations are providing much-needed support. They also struggle to be accepted and adopted by policymakers, educators and citizens, and (as new concepts) there is relatively little evidence of impact, as well as few formal certifications or qualifications.

Policymakers have a role to play in recognising the importance and social impact of these initiatives, and in helping initiatives (through financial and non-financial support) to better be able to measure and understand that impact. Policymakers can also promote initiatives within formal education routes and build frameworks for recognition and certification. Governments and funders should work more closely and make their money go further by targeting it better (to the best projects, at the right time) and allowing more flexibility within grant and contract agreements. Over the coming months, working with a range of stakeholders, we’ll be continuing to explore how policymakers can support the field.

DSI4EU aims to support the growth and scale of digital social innovation (DSI), tech for good and civic tech in Europe through a programme of policy, research and practical support. This feature is part of a series of introductory texts exploring the landscape, challenges and opportunities for DSI in different social areas. Read the other features in the series.

To keep up to date with our work on DSI, follow us on Twitter and sign up to our mailing list.



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