There is a view which suggests that a new approach to economic development
is required. Its principal advocate is perhaps CK Prahalad. He argues that aid
is useful and can play an important role in helping a country or region overcome
a short term crisis.
But in the long term, he postulates, a more sustainable approach to development
is required. And he suggests that the principal agents for long term development
should be commercial organisations rather than humanitarian or aid oriented
ones (Prahalad 2002).
This paper offers a project which tries to encompass some of these ideas and
incorporate them into a coherent undertaking. In doing so, it may highlight
one way of helping poorer regions of the world to begin to catch up with the
So, in the section which follows, the paper offers a discussion of some of
the broader economic and development related issues before narrowing down the
focus onto some of the specific implementation techniques and technologies which
are potentially beneficial.
The paper then introduces the project. It discusses it in some detail, including
the methodology and specification language to be used as well as the application
and the underlying technology to be deployed.
The paper concludes with some reflections on future directions of further research,
and on the likely outcome and potential impact of the project.
Parahalad (2002) is of the view that, while there are always a few examples
of large international organisations behaving badly, in general the poor are
suffering not from too much exposure to the attention of big business but rather
from the absence of interest from larger commercial organisations.
He argues that the steady rise in the standard of living of consumers in the
west is as a result of the new products and services which these same organisations
compete with each other to bring us. If they were to put in a similar level
of effort on behalf or the world's poor, we would see similar results in terms
of their standard of living.
The problem, he believes, is that big business doesn't believe it can make
any money at that level. Prahalad and others are seeking to convince large organisations
otherwise. Hart and Christensen (2002) agree but posit that under-served markets
are often more likely to be addressed by new companies for whom even the custom
of the poor and under-resourced is valuable.
In terms of the most useful technology for the poor, it seems the mobile phone
has little to rival it. It appears to be one of the few technologies which the
poor can afford (to use if not always to own), which offers opportunities for
entrepreneurial activity among the poor, and which offers tangible benefits
in terms of access to information and resources which would not otherwise be
possible. And it can also provide access to novel but relevant financial services.
Electronic markets are known to reduce transaction costs in the west. But transaction
costs are typically prohibitively high in poorer parts of the world. The need
for the same kind of cost reducing facility is even greater in developing nations.
And thanks to the increasing popularity of the mobile phone in these regions,
there is now a means of accessing these new electronic markets.
Marketplaces for physical goods and services as well as agricultural goods
and services will certainly prove useful but arguably the most important resources
that the poor lack are relevant information and education. A marketplace which
can hope to offer these will likely prove particularly valuable.
In order to achieve effective results, the marketplace will need to encourage
vendors to be mindful of constructivist, collaborative and lifelong approaches
to education while at the same time being aware of the limitations of mobile
phones and the need to design the learning material with these limitations in
And in order to minimise development and maintenance costs, appropriate technology
should be employed in the construction of the marketplace – open source
and object technology seem particularly useful in this regard.
Mobile phones represent a far more heterogeneous environment than PCs. They
come in a multitude of specifications with differing levels of features, capabilities,
handset prices and network services. A one size fits all approach to product
provision is unlikely to work here. Rather a blended learning approach is called
for, where a portfolio of products and services is offered and the user decides
what and how much to choose at any moment in time.
Therefore podcasting and videocasting based services could be made available
for those with more sophisticated handsets, more disposable income and access
to a PC; simpler text (or even voice) based services could be offered for the
Thus, in principle, a marketplace for information and education products; with
relevant offerings built on sound pedagogical principles; with an appreciation
of the strengths and weaknesses of the technology employed; and with a portfolio
of relevant, contemporary products and services ought to be fairly beneficial
to the region it serves.
We have made the case for the learncasting exchange; let us now turn to its
construction. This section specifies in some detail the project to implement
The aim of this project is:
- To implement a ‘learncasting exchange’, a generic and flexible
blended learning exchange.
A blended learning exchange can be thought of as a shared repository for learning
related files. This would include podcasts, videocasts, articles, SMS messages,
tutorials and any other files with content which might be used to assist student
Ultimately, the system will be a combination of an exchange for all things
learning related and a social network – ie. an online learning community
with an extensive range of tools for communication and collaboration.
It should also enable access to most of the content by mobile phone and it
will be implemented using open source software.
Thus the features of the exchange will include:
- A repository for a wide variety of learning related material
- Classification of the material (possibly using cross-referencing tags)
- Search tools for finding desired objects
- Tools for aggregating material to create a package of learning content
- Facilities for the submission of content
- A high degree of user control of the content of the exchange
- A portal providing access to Internet based learning resources
- Collaboration and communication tools
- Mobile phone access to the exchange
In order to achieve this, the project has a number of subsidiary objectives,
- To implement the site using an object oriented environment in order to:
- Minimise implementation effort and
- Increase the flexibility of the application and the re-use of application
- To use the unified modelling language (UML 2.0) for the specification
- This is the widely accepted standard specification language for object
- To use a high level implementation environment which requires no (or minimal)
programming in order to:
- Minimise implementation effort and the likely incidence of software
errors and thus
- Maximise the quality of the application
- To use open source software as far as is practical in order to
- Minimise implementation costs and
- Maximise access to the source code (when needed)
- To use the eZ publish application as it appears to be the only one which
offers the following collection of benefits:
- Open source
- Object oriented
- Built on the widely used Linux/Windows, Apache, MySQL, PHP stack
- Allows the creation and modification of application classes
- Has built-in e-commerce functionality
- Offers extensive functional flexibility
- Designed to be implemented without the need for (much) programming
- Implemented in PHP (thus there are many free and low cost resources
available to support the application).
This is an ambitious project. It will require a careful and systematic approach
to its implementation. It is thus necessary that an orderly approach is adopted
on at least two levels. First of all, UML is to be used for the specification
of all elements of the system; and secondly an appropriate process framework
such as Open/Basic Unified Process (OpenUP) is to be applied.
UML 2.0 has emerged as the de facto specification language for object oriented
systems so it’s use on the project, given that the implementation is to
be object oriented, requires little justification.
In enterprise class implementations, the (Rational) Unified Process (RUP) is
typically the preferred framework/methodology for object oriented implementations.
This is however a heavyweight framework; far too heavy for a project (team)
of this size. A recent alternative, the Agile Unified Process is significantly
more flexible but is still arguably too heavy for this project (in terms of
the amount of documentary evidence of progress required).
An even more recent derivative of RUP is the Basic Unified Process (lately
renamed the Open Unified Process or OpenUP). In principle this seems much more
appropriate as it is designed for projects with teams of three to six people
involved; it is far simpler than either of the others and will suffice, in all
probability, for this project’s requirements.
OpenUP has four phases. The phases and their objectives are listed below (Balduino):
- Inception Phase
- Understand what to build
- Identify key system functionality
- Determine at least one possible solution
- Understand the cost, schedule and risks associated with the project
- Elaboration Phase
- Get a more detailed understanding of the requirements
- Design, implement, validate, and baseline an architecture
- Mitigate essential risks, and produce accurate schedule and cost estimates
- Construction Phase
- Iteratively develop a complete product that is ready to transition
to its user community
- Minimize development costs and achieve some degree of parallelism
- Transition Phase
- Beta test to validate that user expectations are met
- Achieve stakeholder concurrence that deployment is complete
Within each phase there may be a number of iterations and key deliverables
(Balduino), as outlined in the example below:
- Open Unified Process
- Inception Phase Iteration (I1)
- Elaboration Phase Iteration (E1)
- Elaboration Phase Iteration (E2)
- Construction Phase Iteration (C1)
- Construction Phase Iteration (C2)
- Construction Phase Iteration (C3)
- Transition Phase Iteration (T1)
Project Phase Iterations
A similar pattern of iterations and key deliverables will take place in this
project. The phase iterations follow:
- Inception Phase Iteration I1 – Outline Specification
- Inception Phase Iteration I2 – eZ publish Installation
- Inception Phase Iteration I3 – eZ publish Familiarisation
- Inception Phase Iteration I4 – Outline Planning
- Inception Phase Iteration I5 – Simple Exchange Implementation
- Inception Phase Iteration I6 – Community Exchange Implementation
- Inception Phase Iteration I7 – Test Deployment (Online)
- Elaboration Phase Iteration E1 – Review Content Licensing Options
- Elaboration Phase Iteration E2 – Evaluate Existing Learning Exchanges
- Elaboration Phase Iteration E3 – Detailed Requirements and Planning
- Elaboration Phase Iteration E4 – Improved Site Design Implementation
- Elaboration Phase Iteration E5 – Test Deployment II (Online)
- Construction Phase Iteration C1 – Server setup
- Construction Phase Iteration C2 – Comprehensive Exchange Implementation
- Construction Phase Iteration C3 – Mobile Enabled Exchange Implementation
- Construction Phase Iteration C4 – Social Network/Exchange Implementation
- Transition Phase Iteration T1 – Documentation
- Transition Phase Iteration T2 – Full Deployment
- Transition Phase Iteration T3 – Acceptance Testing
This is going to be a challenging project. It is quite possible that not all
that is specified here will be implemented successfully (or at all). Furthermore,
it is quite likely that some of the iterations will take longer (possibly much
longer) than anticipated.
This is largely because one significant downside to the eZ publish application
is its complexity. It is therefore important to phase the implementation and
start with the simplest elements of the requirement.
Thus the first few iterations are all about the outline requirements definition
and specification, and familiarisation with the software. The contents of each
phase are as follows:
The first inception phase iteration (I1) relates to the production of the
outline requirements definition and specification.
The next inception phase iteration (I2) covers the eZ publish installation
The next phase iteration (I3) starts with one of the default applications
built into eZ publish, the online shop. It then enhances this in line with
a published article (Farstad 2005) or part of the eZ publish site documentation
(eZ systems a and eZ systems b). The article and documentation offer step-by-step
guidelines for the implementation.
The next iteration (I4) relates to the production of an outline plan for the
The next phase iteration (I5) relates to the implementation of the most critical
of the main application components, the exchange. This covers the implementation
of a simple initial version of the exchange.
The next iteration (I6) covers the implementation of a community exchange.
Most of the features required for this iteration are provided by pre-existing
eZ publish application components; they provide simple user communication
and collaboration tools.
The next phase iteration (I7) covers a test deployment of the application
including appropriate application configuration.
The first elaboration phase iteration (E1) involves the evaluation of the
main content licensing options open to the project.
The next elaboration phase iteration (E2) is concerned with an evaluation
of existing learning exchanges with a view to noting good practice, interesting
functionality and attractive features; and including them in the requirements
and appropriate specifications of the blended learning exchange.
The next iteration (E3) provides a detailed definition of requirements and
And the purpose of the next iteration (E4) is to improve the design (aesthetics)
of the site.
The next iteration (E5) covers a test deployment of the application including
appropriate application configuration.
The first construction phase iteration (C1) is concerned with setting up the
servers for hosting this application and others. Perhaps a dedicated server
would be most appropriate for the application itself but a virtualisation
server with a number of virtual machines would be a useful test environment.
The next construction phase iteration (C2) covers the implementation of a
The next construction iteration (C3) is about making the learning exchange
mobile enabled; it covers facilitating access via mobile phone (and PDA).
It will provide SMS and WAP access facilities. It will also introduce a mechanism
for facilitating mobile payments.
The following construction iteration (C4) is concerned with creating a social
network with extensive communication and collaboration tools.
The first transition phase iteration (T1) covers the production of appropriate
user and administration documentation.
The next iteration (T2) addresses fully deploying the application in a production
environment. This phase iteration is also concerned with scaling, security
and other performance issues.
The final iteration (T3) is concerned with planning and conducting acceptance
The UML Specifications
As mentioned above, the specification language for this project will be UML,
the widely adopted specification language for object oriented systems. In addition
to being the de facto standard for this kind of specification, it also appears
to be consistent with the structure of eZ publish.
There are a few diagrams which are likely to prove much more useful than others
for an eZ publish implementation, namely:
- Use case diagrams
- Class diagrams
- Package diagrams
- Object diagrams
- Activity diagrams
In keeping with the nature and philosophy of OpenUP, the development of the
specification should be seen as an iterative process, starting with a relatively
simple representation of the aspect of the system under consideration and progressing
to a more complete and comprehensive representation.
Furthermore, the specifications may well be drawn in part from other suitable
specifications in the public domain (with appropriate acknowledgment of sources).
CONCLUSIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS
There are a number of further potential research publications which could result
from this project. Some of the possibilities are highlighted below:
- A paper comparing the performance and satisfaction ratings of the blended
learning exchange with those of similar applications implemented elsewhere
- A paper reviewing the inherent value and attractiveness of blended learning
- A literature review on blended learning, perhaps highlighting the success
factors of such sites
- A paper reviewing the educational and economic impact of the exchange on
the region it serves
These are a few of the possibilities. There are, of course, many more potential
publications and potential lines of further research.
In principle, there does seem to be good reason for optimism that the learncasting
exchange might make a useful contribution to the educational and economic development
of the region it serves.
In practice there are likely to be many misconceptions built into its implementation,
many required features which have been omitted and redundant ones included,
many important political considerations which have been overlooked, and many
technical challenges which have compromised functionality.
It is likely to require a substantial amount of effort to implement it, a substantial
amount of effort to sell it, and a substantial amount of effort to maintain
and refine it in the light of the likely future demands of its customers and
the emerging competitive landscape.
And yet, there may nonetheless be good reason for optimism. It may just be
that in time it manages to deliver some of the benefits it promises. It may
just be that it, and a number of other initiatives in the poorer parts of the
globe, begin to make an impact on the enormity of the problems faced.
We can only hope that this turns out to be the case.
Prahalad, C.K. (2002) “Strategies for the Bottom of the Economic Pyramid:
India as a Source of Innovation”, Reflections, Vol. 3 Issue 4,
Balduino, Ricardo, “Basic Unified Process: A Process for Small and Agile
Projects”, IBM, http://www.eclipse.org/proposals/beacon/Basic%20Unified%20Process.pdf
eZ systems a “Building an eZ publish site”, eZ systems, http://ez.no/products/ez_publish/documentation/building_an_ez_publish_site
eZ systems b “Building an eZ publish shop”, eZ systems, http://ez.no/products/ez_publish/documentation/building_an_ez_publish_shop
Farstad, Bard (2005) “Build an eCommerce Website with eZ publish”,
Hart, Stuart L., & Christensen, Clayton M. (2002) “The Great Leap”,
MIT Sloan Management Review, Vol. 44 Issue 1, p51-56