This UNU International Institute for Software Technology (UNU-IIST) programme will define, implement and apply strategies and technologies to support education and research. The development and deployment of learning environments will go beyond standard “delivery” models of education and will explore collaborative learning and peer-production approaches as well as new assessment techniques by leveraging the new possibilities that information technology provides: interactive learning systems, immersive simulation environments, and intelligent tutoring. While the contributions are intended to be broadly relevant, there will be a particular focus on the needs of developing countries and issues of sustainable development. The programme will use a multidisciplinary approach driven by principles of high quality pedagogy and research, with use of computing as an enabling technology. The programme will support evidence-based policy by developing and disseminating tools and techniques to assist in formulating, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating policies at all levels. Initial work will focus on support for benchmarking of university research performance. Emphasis will be placed on techniques that support mission diversity.
Education is the key discipline in fostering capacity building in developing countries. Since UNU-IIST has entered this discipline only during the last biennium, it would be most effective to seek a twining partnership among prestigious institutions in industrialized countries with a long history and expertise in education and educational technologies.
Partnerships that may evolve towards twinning have been established with the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK; and the Institute for Educational Technology (CNR-ITD), Genova, Italy.
UNU-IIST has recently signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China (ISTIC). An agency of the Ministry of Science and Technology, ISTIC conducts analyses to support science and technology policy in the country. Activities under the MOU focus on developing tools and techniques for evidence-based policy and on conducting benchmarking analyses of research activity in China in areas of strategic importance such as sustainable development. To further formalize the collaboration, we have agreed to establish a lab for Policy Informatics as a three-way partnership, including Elsevier, which will provide a variety of resources. While the board of directors of the lab will consist of representatives from ISTIC, UNU-IIST and Elsevier, the lab will have an open structure so that other collaborating partners may join in lab activities. This lab will provide an important presence for UNU-IIST in mainland China, opening the possibility of tapping into research funding from the mainland, which is not available to institutes in Macau.
This programme is coordinated by Research Fellow Antonio Cerone. Aspects and projects of the programme related to evidence-based policy in higher education and research will be led by Director Peter Haddawy.
There is an overwhelming consensus that education (from primary through tertiary, including research) is a vital component of sustainability strategy. Skills such as envisioning, critical thinking and reflection, systems thinking, and building partnerships are considered essential in achieving a sustainable future. But the high quality education required to impart such skills cannot be adequately provided through traditional approaches such as classroom instruction. The human resources are simply not available, particularly in least developed countries. There is an urgent need to explore new, innovative approaches to increasing access to education, increasing quality of education and providing more flexible learning that is better tailored to local needs — all areas in which ICT has great potential.
Furthermore, there is a need to develop research capacity in developing countries to better enable them to take control of exploring, planning and implementing their own most appropriate sustainable development paths. Given the scarce financial resources in many developing countries, areas of research focus must be carefully chosen so as to achieve maximum value from investment at a level that will have noticeable positive impact upon society. Availability of objective data is critical in ensuring that strategic research decisions make the most effective use of resources and maximize benefits across the socioeconomic spectrum.
This programme has three main objectives: 1) to develop and deploy learning environments that go beyond the standard “delivery” model of education by leveraging the new possibilities that information technology provides, 2) to support the UNU degree programmes, and 3) to develop and apply tools and techniques for evidence-based policy in higher education and research.
In order to address the issues identified as the purpose of the programme, new strategies and technologies will be defined, implemented and applied to enhance education and research in developing and transitional countries through joint projects and other forms of collaboration with partner institutions in developing and transitional countries. This will be accomplished by supporting UNU postgraduate degree programmes and by providing evidence-based policy support.
Research on technologies for education will be driven by pedagogical principles. It will require understanding needs, designing effective pedagogical approaches to addressing them, developing and deploying technologies that embody those approaches, and finally evaluating their effectiveness. At the same time, pedagogical approaches will be inspired by the new possibilities that information technology provides for creating more engaging, interactive and personalized learning environments.
Research on tools and techniques for supporting evidence-based policy will be primarily applied and needs driven. There will be a natural tight linkage between research, policy support, and academic community support. Research will consist of developing new tools and techniques and applying them to derive analytical results in those areas that will be of interest to policymakers.
This programme is naturally linked to the other UNU-IIST programmes in two ways: other programmes will both provide important testbeds for methodologies and technologies developed within this programme, thus contributing and providing feedback to their evaluation, and acquire and implement established methodologies and technologies, developed or facilitated by this programme, to support their educational efforts on the long-term.
UNU-IIST serves as the coordinator of the UNU strategy for technology-enhanced teaching, learning, and research. Research in this programme will be linked to this broader UNU-wide initiative so that results feed into it and so that the initiative provides a testbed to evaluate novel approaches.
The use of distance learning technologies will increase access to education for women who are often denied physical participation in educational programmes due to family and cultural constraints.
The work in technology-enhanced learning is intended to benefit the academic community, particularly in developing countries. The work in support for evidence-based policy is intended to benefit institutions of higher education and government agencies involved in research funding and in research policy.
Impact: Influencing policymaking at the national level
Target: Government research funding agencies, ministries of higher education, and ministries of science and technology.
How: The programme will provide analyses to assist in formulating, monitoring, and evaluating national policies and programs to support research.
Target: The programme targets postgraduate students (master’s and PhD) in computer science and education from universities in developing countries as well as communities in developing areas.
How: This target will be pursued by enhancing the quality of teaching both in face-to-face and distance learning through the design and implementation of educational methodologies and technology. The programme will organize courses, schools to train postgraduate students and lectures in the use of such methodologies and technology.
Impact: Capacity development in developed/developing countries
Target: The programme targets universities, government and non-government organizations.
How: Universities in developing countries will receive e-learning expertise, technology and tools to enable them to improve the quality of education and the access of people to education. They will also be provided with analyses to assist them in formulating effective strategies to strengthen their research as well as workshops to understand how to use the analytical methods.
Impact: Supporting academic communities
Target: The programme targets academic communities in developing and industrialized countries.
How: This target will be pursued by providing developing countries with technology and tools to support education and facilitating them in implementing technology-enhanced educational programmes. Further, the target will entail facilitating the collaboration of academic communities in developing and industrialized countries through joint research projects, joint distance education programs and organization of international events.
The expected research findings involve six areas: 1) Peer-production approaches to e-learning, aiming to create pilot open source software and open community projects for e-learning purposes; 2) Intelligent medical training systems, aiming to explore the integration of intelligent tutoring techniques into simulators as a way of using the data to provide tutorial feedback to students; 3) Education assessment, aiming at utilizing data on important parameters such as student interaction, student problem solving behaviour, learning rates, and learning outcomes to assess not just knowledge but, more importantly, problem solving skills; 4) UNU strategy for technology-enhanced teaching, learning, and research (UNUOpen), which is intended to be a global and open education market space that will provide a common platform and new standards for the design and provision of higher education courses, programs and educational services, both for-free and for-fee, from UNU and third party education providers; 5) Interdisciplinary and niche area analyses, aiming to develop techniques to automatically generate keyword queries; 6) Knowledge flows, aiming to map flows of knowledge between countries and between institutions, to quantify them, and to semantically analyze them in order to understand what knowledge is being used in what way.
The tools and techniques developed for evidence-based policy will be used to conduct specific analyses on a project basis and more general analyses to be disseminated in the form of white papers. An example is the work currently being conducting to support the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme of funding to support research collaboration with South-East Asia.
Another policy bridging aspect is the Global Research Benchmarking System (GRBS) that will provide objective data and analyses to help universities to benchmark their research activities in traditional subject areas and in Sustainable Development for the purpose of strengthening the quality and impact of research. The GRBS will support each university to determine its own research profile and identify niche areas in which university can be in top tier. It will assist government research funding agencies to set realistic priorities and structure research funding programs, as well as to monitor the effectiveness of those programs. It will support diversity of mission by covering a broad range of disciplines at a fine level of granularity and by including coverage of areas of sustainable development such as climate change, biodiversity, and poverty. An international advisory board has been formed.
The programme is expected to enable developing countries members of the United Nations system to implement higher education curricula specifically addressing their diversities and their sustainability problems as well as providing strategies to contribute to the solution of problems in education. Methodologies and tools developed within the programme are intended to be generally applicable to all disciplines encompassed by the UNU system. In addition to research and education, the organization of broad-based schools and courses, which covers all stages from concept/planning through organization and management to implementation technologies and are customized for specific environments or countries, facilitates wide involvement and cross participation of major stakeholders from government and policymaking organizations, international organizations and non-governmental organizations.
Outputs of the programme will be publications, educational tools and teaching materials. These, in addition to the organization of courses, schools and other international events, will be vehicles for dissemination
Although the provision of education is continuous activity of UNU-IIST, the research component of the programme will have a four year duration. Project proposals submitted during the past biennium and currently under assessment and further proposals to be submitted next year will be competed during the next four years. Years 2012-2013 will be mainly devoted to the development of methodologies and frameworks and years 2014-1015 will be mainly devoted to implementation, application and evaluation.
The performance of the programme will be assessed at the end of each biennium based on the indicators established by UNU and UNU-IIST. Typical indicators will be: publications, citations, ability to attract key partners, tools produced, numbers of tool users, accesses to the websites associated with the programme and to online educational materials.
The multidisciplinary character of the programme and the need to recruit fellows with a background that encompasses both ICT and education is probably the main challenge of the programme. Past experience has shown difficulties in identifying people with sufficient expertise in both ICT and education. Recruiting people with complementary expertises is an alternative option, but may present challenges in terms of communication among the team members and team coordination. An additional challenge is to secure sufficient funding.
The programme is expected to run for a duration of 48 months, from 1 January 2010 through 31 December 2013.
Activities within the programme will involve cooperation between the UNU International Institute for Software Technology and four partners.
Prof. Peter F. Haddawy, Director
United Nations University
International Institute for Software Technology
Casa Silva Mendes, Estrada do Engenheiro Trigo No. 4, Macau
Mailing address: P.O. Box 3058, Macau
T: +853 2871-2930
F: +853 2871-2940