SGSSS Open Competition

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The problem of rural education in Colombia is complex and critical for structural peace in Colombia. Among the many efforts to tackle this problem, the Colombian government is endowing schools with laptops and computers. Using educational technologies to solve educational problems has been a pattern worldwide and has not achieved the desired results (Cuban & Jandric, 2015; Facer & Selwyn, 2021). This project explores the economic and political context of  innovation and educational technology in Colombia and asks:

  1. How can educational technologies and practices be positioned to design for social innovation, agency, and diversity in Colombian rural schools?
  2. How do rural teachers imagine educational futures in which educational technologies portray real value for their pedagogical practice?
  3. How should educational technologies be designed to enable valued capabilities by rural learning communities?


Colombia is a highly unequal country, and its educational system plays a vital role in reproducing this inequity (Garcia & Fergusson, 2021). The scenario is worse for rural-public schools, which suffer from the educational system’s worst quantitative and qualitative indicators. Decontextualization of the curriculum, epistemological violence, inequity in the availability of resources, armed conflict, and the digital divide, among many other constraints (Arias, 2017; Montoya et al., 2022; Sánchez et al., 2019) characterize rural schools. The Colombian government considers tackling the rural education problem a crucial axis of structural peace (Colombian Ministry of Education, 2018). Still, it fails to understand what “rural” means in “rural schools” by not recognizing their agency and diversity (Sánchez et al., 2019).

Often seen as a quick fix for larger, systemic inequalities, the field of educational technologies (EdTech) is backed by a worldwide multibillion-dollar industry (Regan & Khwaja, 2019), supported by claims of efficiency, enhancement, and technological solutions to educational problems (Facer & Selwyn, 2021). Researchers question this instrumental stance toward educational technologies as it proves not only to not be ineffective (Cuban & Jandric, 2015; Facer & Selwyn, 2021) but also to narrow our understanding of technology’s role in education (Bayne, 2015). It is important to contest the thought of out-of-the-box educational technologies by accepting that they are “not-yet” what they claim to be (Ross, 2017); thus, they are not a panacea to solving the rural education problem. On the other hand, adopting an open-ended stance toward educational technologies can allow us to design and imagine new sustainable futures.

Following the worldwide trend of endowing schools with hardware and software as a “technological fix” to educational problems, the Colombian government granted schools educational technologies in the first decade of the XXI century.  Even though teachers have been up-skilled to use these new devices, the implemented educational technologies are decontextualized from teachers’ everyday pedagogical practice (Molina & Mesa, 2017), as these technologies are designed from an urban perspective (Felizzola, 2010). Furthermore, the provided technologies might force unsuitable pedagogies into these contexts, intensifying the existing educational inequality (Facer & Selwyn, 2021). This project does not advocate for an anti-technological stance but aims for pertinent and realistic uses and design of educational technologies.

The emerging field of “design for social innovation” is promising in its application and ethics when designing solutions for complex social problems (Manzini, 2015). The field invites us to think that communities, and their members, are agents involved in designing solutions to their problems (Manzini, 2015; Escobar, 2017). This field is pertinent for our Southern research and practice (Connell, 2007), as it involves an onto-political (Law, 2004) stance that goes beyond colonial epistemology and methods through recognizing the people’s needs, knowledge, and agency involved in the problematic contexts. This recognition is aligned with the making of sustainable futures (Escobar, 2017; Constanza-Chock, 2020) beyond the current single narrative of development and “educational quality.” In this manner, recognizing the agency and autonomy of Colombian rural learning communities will be a heuristic to design for social innovation and to generate innovative approaches to understanding the purpose of educational technologies in rural schools.

Design is the planning and acting for intentional change in a complex and messy world (Nelson & Stolterman, 2014), and it is pertinent to foster social change in educational institutions (Goodyear, 2021). To harness the potential benefits of educational technologies in rural schools, it is necessary to navigate and negotiate what matters for rural learning communities (teachers, students, and families). And from that point, facilitate a design process to generate a capability-based model that integrates educational technologies following the values of these learning communities.


Initially, I will undertake a literature review to define the theoretical benefits of including educational technologies in Colombian rural schools. This literature review will begin with a mapping and analysis of digital education’s theoretical benefits and pitfalls. In this literature review, I will also report and analyze social innovation projects in rural schools developed through digital education in other Southern American countries.

Second, I will do a political economy analysis (PEA) of the Colombian educational system with a focus group of nine rural schools in the zones of Boyacá and Cundinamarca. The PEA will allow me to understand the “incentives, relationships, distribution, and contestation of power between different groups and individuals” (Mcloughlin, 2014). The results of this PEA will allow me to characterize the constraints and possibilities to develop a social innovation process using educational technologies in rural schools in Colombia.

Finally, I will co-design, with rural teachers, a model to incorporate educational technologies in rural schools. I will use participatory design (PD) and speculative design (SD) methodologies. Following Manzini’s (2015) social innovation principles, PD methodologies will provide rural teachers a platform to define and make visible the “rural education problem” in their own words. This will be done through workshops in which design tools will enable participants to visualize their needs, constraints, and values. As an outcome of these workshops, participants will co-create, using SD methods, possible future scenarios in which their rural schools are intervened by educational technologies.

With the second group of rural teachers, we will work on the co-created futures scenarios to understand what is valuable and desired in educational technologies. Speculative methodologies are used not to predict possible futures but to critique and understand the present (Markham, 2021) using these scenarios as conversational prompts (Manzini, 2015). Finally, these preferences will be coined into a model using a capabilities approach (Sen, 1992; Manzini, 2015; Constanza-Chock, 2020). Underpinning the desired capabilities of different members of rural learning communities is a novel sociotechnical approach to inform the design and development of educational technologies. This methodological framework is a unique one, both in terms of the context it is focusing on and the combination of methods for analyzing seemingly intractable problems.


The project is based on respectful, reciprocal, and relational approaches with participants in co-designing social innovation (Akama et al., 2019). Thus, participants will be co-creators, essentially acting as researchers themselves; hence reciprocity and PD methods are necessary.  Also, I will follow the ten principles of Design Justice (Constanza-Chock, 2020) to position myself as a researcher and overcome power asymmetries. Furthermore, participation in the project will be voluntary through active, informed consent (Mertens, 2018). I will also contemplate BERA’s (2019) Ethical Guidelines for Education Research to follow British ethical standards. Finally, technical considerations will be followed, such as name anonymization and safe data storage (Punch & Oancea, 2014), to ensure data protection and ethical treatment of participants data. 


This project has the potential for impact in five main areas. First, the project will make the needs and voices of rural teachers visible so that policymakers and other stakeholders can make decisions with more fidelity to the lived experiences of these rural teachers. Second, the literature review and the PEA will provide new evidence for future policies, ed-tech investment, and development funding. Third, the project will have a model as an output, providing a bridge between educational theory and practice. Fourth, through my non-profit organization, we will join efforts with other stakeholders to enact the created model. Finally, I will engage in public discussions and the dissemination of findings through an event and social media to bring together a wide range of stakeholders. 



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