Reflecting on 2009

Filed Under (Education Beyond Borders, ICT issues, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 10-01-2010

Tagged Under : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reflecting on 2009

Kenyan teachers at TWBC Workshops in Mbita Kenya (credit: Sharon Peters)

Kenyan teachers at TWBC Workshops in Mbita Kenya (credit: Sharon Peters)

On many occasions in 2009 I described myself as an ordinary teacher who has had extraordinary opportunities. I am very thankful for those extraordinary opportunities and for the many, many inspiring teachers and visionaries I met over the course of the year.

Top Ten Special Moments

Take2 videos - footage shot in Sudan

Take2 videos - footage shot in Sudan

1. Working with Karin Muller of Take2 videos:

Karin Muller, who created Take2 videos non-profit organization, has definitely been one of the most inspiring people to personally touch my life and my teaching practice. Karin skyped into my classroom to provide assistance to my students to first understand the documentary process and then create their own short documentaries based on the footage of Darfur refugee camps that she provided. Her stories and those of whom she chronicled are unforgettable. We have shared many rich conversations; I would love to meet her face to face someday. More about my students’ work with Take2 and the sites where you can learn more can be found here and here.


2. Selecting team for Teachers Without Borders Canada

From start to finish, the TWBC (now EBB) team that I led while in Africa was top shelf. The team was comprised of Jody Meacher (QC), John Schinker (Ohio), Zac Chase (IL/PA), Lois McGill-Horn (Manitoba), Ian Vailingitham (ON) and Noble Kelly (BC). Belonging to a team that collaborated so well at a distance and even better on the ground in Africa was a rare opportunity. My teammates were professional, hilarious and big-hearted – a fantastic combination. I returned from Africa with a hunger and a drive to work full-time with such a team. I am still looking….

3. Students working with XOs and Doctors Without Borders

I have had a particular fascination with the XO laptop and have not only brought a few with me to Africa, but had a few more donated to me over the course of the past year which my students were able to appreciate. My students were asked to develop educational content using the programs on the XO and then we were able to ship several of them over to Nepal and Kenya. Unfortunately, they never reached their destination in Nepal due to customs restrictions (possibly corruption), so I learned the hard way to work with trusted NGOs who are working on the ground. Nevertheless, the student learning from experience of developing content for a real audience was very valuable. Another authentic learning opportunity came about when my students working on the Darfur video project were able to skype out to an administrator of a Doctors Without Borders Camp in Sudan (who was in Canada at the time). They later used some of the audio from the interview and incorporate it into their documentary.

4. Kiva

It seemed like one day I was showing the Kiva video - A Fistful of Dollars - to my grade seven advisory class and the next they had taken charge of a plan to approach the Students Council to donate money to Kiva. They worked for several weeks on a multimedia slideshow presentation to persuade the Student Council to provide a loan and follow it through their high school career (four more years). I was very proud of their initiative, dedication and enthusiasm of their undertaking. They truly owned the idea, the process and the vision.

5. NECC – winning award

It was an iffy project and one of my students thought it would never take off and go anywhere, but the Darfur Video Project ended with a big bang in spite of many false starts. The pairing of a terrific idea (Karin Muller’s amazing video footage of a Sudan refugee camp and with her unwavering support) and engaged and hard-working students was the recipe for success for this initiative. I knew that overall the project had significant educational merit, but I was stunned and delighted when it was awarded first place for the Online Learning Award by ISTE. The recognition entirely belongs to Karin and to my students.


6. Partnering with two NGOs in South Africa

We have terrific NGO partners in Africa and these partnerships make all the difference in cross-cultural initiatives. A good deal of communication and coordination is required. For several months ahead of time, we were in regular communication with our partners, Edunova and Khanya. Communicating online with anyone in Africa is always challenging, but their dedication helped us to contextualize our preparation for our visit with teachers in South Africa. I thank John Thole (Edunova) and Kobus van Wyk (Khanya) especially for their roles in this initiative. I learned a lot through our interactions; they were excellent cultural interpreters who understood the challenges of their educational system and the teachers themselves. I look forward to another season of working with these fine people and hope our partnership will be even stronger this year.

7. Twitter moment

Sharon explaining XO to Dan Otedo

Sharon explaining XO to Dan Otedo

Probably my favourite twitter story for 2009 was when I took a chance on my twitter network and asked if there was anyone out there who would be willing to donate an XO laptop to a teacher in Kenya. The story begins when I asked Dan Otedo, a leader of our partnering NGO in Kenya (African Centre for Women, ICT), if I could bring him a souvenir from Washington DC, knowing that Kenyans, in general, are big fans of Obama. I was expecting him to ask for a baseball cap or tshirt. To my surprise, he responded, “I would like an XO laptop”. Now one generally cannot just pick up an XO in any of the Washington DC souvenir shops, so I was in a bit of a quandary. So I put the request out on twitter. To my great delight, a follower of a follower responded! She shipped the XO to one of our team members and so Dan was able to get his hands on one of these amazing machines. The generosity of others never fails to touch me. And the power of twitter is not to be underestimated!

8. Visiting the islands of Lake Victoria, Kenya

Visiting any part of Africa is special – having the opportunity to visit remote communities – those on hard-to-reach islands, is particularly special. Our team was able to spend a day visiting 3 islands in Lake Victoria. On two of those islands, we visited at least one primary school. Just as most other schools we visited on the mainland, these schools were very poor and lacked electricity and resources. However, the children on these islands also were affected by the remoteness; they had probably never seen electrical powered devices or automobiles until they have opportunity to leave the island. The conditions on the islands are very bad. On one of the islands – the one furthest from the mainland, I felt as though I was in the wild west or in some surreal Star Wars movie (remember that bar scene in the first movie?). It was the closest I felt to being in danger of my time in Kenya.

The final island we visited, Mfangano Island, was remarkably special and stood out from the other two. There we met Chas Salmen, a graduate student completing his thesis in medical anthropology (now a medical student in the US), who had studied the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst the fishing communities due to prostitution. He, and many Kenyan nationals, were fund-raising to build a community centre that would house an amphitheatre, testing clinics, an Internet centre, and a radio station. The official opening of the building was in December 2009. The computers for the centre were held up in customs, but soon this remote island of 19,000 would have a fully functional community centre. The vision for this project was staggering and one of the most inspirational I have encountered. To my great delight, our organization has been invited back to Mfangano to provide ICT training for its teachers using the resources now available in this incredible initiative. Truly, this was one of the high points of not just my visit to Kenya, but to my entire year!

Chas Salmen on Mfangano Island

Chas Salmen on Mfangano Island

9. Meeting Mama Sara

It was a completely serendipitous and unexpected meeting. We had been told that the Obama homestead was within a half hour of our travels between Mbita and Gilgil, our next destination. I asked our American team members if they were interested in making a small detour so we could visit the homestead. Receiving a positive response, I asked our Kenyan drivers to make the detour – they were thrillled! I promptly fell asleep in the “way back” of the mutatu to be awakened a short time later… on a Kenyan farm. I was a bit confused. We stepped out of the van, showed our passports to the Kenyan soldiers and went out to look around the basic Kenyan farmyard – no one else seemed to be around. We found two gravestones – one each for Obama’s father and grandfather. While we were taking photos of this, a woman stepped out of the house and informed us, “She is taking breakfast and will see you soon.” Okay, who was “she”?? “She” was Obama’s grandmother – actually, the stepmother of Obama’s father. In a little while, she did join us. A guest book was passed around which we signed. She answered of our questions through a translator and we had our photo taken. About 7 weeks prior to my visit to Mama Sara’s farm, I was in Washington D.C. The difference between those two locations was vast. And yet, there was that one connection….

Mama Sarah - Obama's Grandmother

Mama Sarah - Obama


10. Special conferences

Last year, I had the privilege of attending a few conferences. The three that stand out were Educon, NECC and CCK09 Online. My daughter attended Educon with me again in January and was warmly welcomed by the staff and students at Student Leadership Academy. I recall many good conversations that shaped my thinking for the future. It was also my opportunity to talk to Zac Chase about Africa; he later was selected as one of our team members. Attending NECC had not been in my original plans. The timing was too close to my departure to Africa. But when our Darfur Video Project won first place, I decided to attend to accept the award. The three and half days were a blur of meetings, presentations and running around to find resources to bring to Africa. I left from Washington to New York to catch my flight to South Africa. Though my experiences in Africa eclipsed the conference, it was an unforgettable intense 3 days of very fine conversations and reunions with special friends. It was indeed an unexpected blessing to attend NECC. And finally, the opportunity to share the podium with John Thole (Edunova) for the CCK09 online conference was very special because it gave an opportunity for an African to use an online platform to a global audience about technology advancements in that continent.

John Thole admiring the Cape Town sunset (credit: Sharon Peters)

John Thole admiring the Cape Town sunset (credit: Sharon Peters)

Final Thoughts

Here are some final thoughts summarizing some key ideas and insights from my year:

Having the opportunity to return to Africa brought about better understanding of differences in culture and how culture influences the adoption of technologies. Africa is ahead of us (in North America) in using mobile technologies in resourceful and innovative ways. This is borne out of necessity and accessibility. We could learn much from them.

Working on a team of like-minded, passionate, dedicated, and deep-thinking educators is an invaluable experience that has changed my perspective on education. A team like this can accomplish a great deal and I deeply wish I can have that experience again in the future.

Taking risks as an educator or as a student is under-valued in our current system. Some of the remarkable experiences of my year were not due to expertise or especially superior intelligence on my part (I wish!), but to the risks I was willing to take to pursue projects and relationships.

Reality-based learning projects offer excellent opportunities for students to learn 21st c skills as they become empathetic global citizens. I have become a strong advocate of these kinds of projects.

We have entered the second decade of this millenium. I am more excited than ever. We live in exciting times to be an educator and I have high hopes and optimism for 2010. I wish the same for you.

Thoughts from Final Report for TWBC ’09

Filed Under (Education, Education Beyond Borders, ICT issues, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 12-10-2009

Tagged Under : , , , , , ,

Sharon showing Dan the XO machine on Lake Victoria, Kenya

Sharon showing Dan the XO machine on Lake Victoria, Kenya

Screenshot of eGranary in Mbita Kenya

Originally uploaded by sharonpe

After weeks of reflection, I have finally composed and submitted a final report as team leader for TWBC ’09 (now renamed to Education Beyond Borders) and our trip to Africa.

Below are some of the highlights of the trip.

Schedule:
July 3 – arrival through Johannesburg to Cape Town

July 6-10 – Workshops offered by Teachers Without Borders Canada (now Education Beyond Borders) team partnering with Edunova to 40 E-learning superintendents of the ministry of education in Eastern Cape (cancelled)

Revised:

July 6-10- Workshops offered by TWBC and Edunova to teachers in Philippi Township at Liwa Primary School. Approximately 50 in attendance

July 13 -”Bootcamp” Workshops offered to Townships’ Principals and ICT leaders hosted by Somerset College (independent boarding school) by Edunova; TWBC team members provide background facilitation and a brief panel session at lunch

July 14-17 – Workshops offered by TWBC to Khanya facilitators (50+) and Edunova facilitators (about 10).

July 18-25 – Visits to schools/classes + additional workshops for Edunova facilitators; requests for visits from various schools (John Pama Primary, Siyazhaka Junior Secondary, Mkhanyiseli Primary School, Phakama Secondary School)

July 26- Arrive in Nairobi

July 28- Arrive in Mbita on shores of Lake Victoria – 2 concurrent sets of workshops offered to teachers in the area; partnering with The African Center for Women, Informations and Communications Technology(ACWICT); ICT workshops for about 50 teachers. Participating teachers are hand-picked by the District Education Officer.

August 10 – Arrive in Gilgil at Utumishi Academy for 1 week of workshops for 75 selected teachers in the Naivasha District; partnering with the Kenyan Ministry of Education. Workshops in maths, science, English and ICT will be offered. Participating teachers are hand-picked by the District Education Officer.

We head home on August 17th.

ICT Team Members 2009

Lois McGill-Horn: Background with Microsoft Certified Teachers Program and high school multi-media. (independent school, Winnipeg, MB)

Zac Chase: Secondary English teacher with background in online environments, PD and integrated ICT skills (public school, Philadelphia, PA)

Jody Meacher: Elementary teacher with a large variety of subject areas and strong skills in ICT integration (public school, Granby, QC)

John Schinker: Secondary teacher; IT administrator with a solid background in networking and hardware (public school, Stow, OH)

Ian Vaithilingam: Secondary maths and science teacher with solid background in SB integration (public school, Toronto, ON)

Sharon Peters: ICT integration, Secondary English, co-team leader (independent school, Montreal, QC)

Noble Kelly: co-team leader (president and founder, TWBC)

Preparation
The team began to meet once a week over Skype (VOIP application) beginning in April ’09. At the time, we believed we would be providing elearning workshops for Eastern Cape facilitators during our first week in South Africa. A good deal of time was spent on familiarization with the moodle environment and discussing best approaches for delivering content.

We created a moodle environment and used it to collect and store digital content.

While there was some frustration expressed that our time could have been used in a more efficient manner as we planned, the commitment to the weekly meetings was taken very seriously by the team members and it fostered team-building that served us well once we were in Africa.

When Charles Robert Adjah contacted us in late May with the unfortunate news that we would not be able to go forward with the elearning workshops during the first week in July, we had to change our plans and rebook our tickets to go straight to Cape Town. Noble Kelly, John Thole and I made a perhaps hasty decision to change the timing of the workshops and advance it by a week to July 6-10th. This added additional pressure to Edunova who was only in process of training a new leader whose was responsible for organizing the workshops on the ground in Cape Town.


Week 1 – July 6-10 2009

Our first full day in Cape Town was spent providing background culture and context to the new team members. We spent some time at the primary school hosting the workshops so we could familiarize ourselves with resources and the stability of the school computer lab and Internet access. Two SmartBoards were also in other classrooms.

The logistics of registration and refreshments were handled very well by Edunova.

Workshop content included basic computer skills, ICT strategic planning, effective presentation skills (PowerPoint), Internet search skills, lesson-planning and evaluation of ICT. In general, feedback from the participants was that they desired more time for hands-on practice and thought that one week was too brief. We received many enthusiastic responses from the participants. Since we have returned to Canada, I am very pleased to say that I have heard from a number of those South African teachers. This year is a marked difference from last year when we heard very little from them. The ning site we created for the teachers (http://ictchamps.ning.com/) remains active – this in large part to the efforts of Khanyiso Tose and Quinton Davis from Edunova.

Week 2: July 13-17 2009

The participants to this week’s workshops were Edunova and Khanya ICT facilitators from across the province. About 70 facilitators participated representing a large number of schools.

Workshop content included social networking for professional development, moodle training, building ICT vision, modeling ICT integration, emerging technologies, and laptops for teachers. Again, a ning site was created for the Khanya facilitators (http://capefacs.ning.com/).

Week 3: July 20-25 2009
The final week was spent in debriefing meetings with Edunova (Monday) and Khanya (Friday), school visits and additional ICT workshops to the Edunova facilitators (SmartBoard, multimedia and moodle).

The debriefing meetings were valuable times for communication and clarification about frustrations, disappointments, expectations and communication.

School2School Classroom Connections
Each TWBC team member had been encouraged to be on the lookout for potential school2school classroom connection teacher partners. Several teachers were approached and agreed to try to maintain contact after the Canadians returned home. To date, some emails have been exchanged. As well, several video skype meetings have taken place between two teachers in particular, Mncedisi Soga (Siyazhaka Junior High, Cape Town) and Ian Vaithilingam (Toronto). Plans are in the works to maintain contact even after the change of academic year for those in the southern hemisphere. A donated Flip camera was given to Mncedisi, Maxwell Foma (Phakama Secondary School) and Zoleka Mzonyane (John Pama Primary School) in order to support the potential of video and photo exchanges between classes and students. The Edunova facilitators were asked to provide some support to this initiative.

Again, feedback from participants was very positive. Reflections posted throughout the week in the ning forum discussion areas show insight and enthusiasm from the workshop participants.

Mbita Kenya Workshops

A special note of thanks to Dan Otedo, our awesome NGO partner and cultural interpreter!!

Venue:
The Suba Resource Centre is a unique establishment and, for the first year of TWBC’s visit to Kenya, I think it was the most appropriate choice. By having it there, we recognized the accomplishments of those volunteers who had worked so hard to create and maintain it. The choice of venue did not go unnoticed by the DEO who felt a school would be far more appropriate. The success of the workshops in an establishment outside of the reach of the ministry of education underscored to the ministry the need to become more involved in this initiative.


July 28th-July 31st – School Visits

Visits to the following schools were made during a three day period:

Waware Secondary School (George Okeyo – Principal)
Kamasengre Secondary School (Okomo Peter – Principal)
St. Joseph’s Kakrigu Secondary (William Obwaya – Principal)
Nyandenga Primary School (Reuben Ogwang – Principal)
Obalwanda Special School (Reuben Molo – Principal)
M.A. Academy (Charles Okiki – Principal)
Kombe Primary School (Iscar Okombo)
Kibuogi Island Primary
Rembo Island Primary

These visits were absolutely invaluable in providing the team with deep insights into the issues and challenges facing the education system in the Mbita area and in Kenya in general. We were also able to make face-to-face connections with teachers who later came to the week of workshops. Without that personal contact, I am certain those teachers would not have come to the workshops. I think of two teachers in particular – Hellen Odenga and Erick Omondi Ojwala who were persuaded to come to the workshops only as a result of our visits to their schools.

Workshop Content
It was apparent that most teachers had little access to computers and were very beginner users of computer technology. It was also apparent that the teachers faced grave challenges of basic resources and access to professional development opportunities. We therefore thought it best to provide a good deal of methodology and teaching strategies that they could incorporate into their teaching practices with or without ICT tools.

Daily Schedule:

7 – 8:30 – Suba Centre open for Practice

8:30 – 10 – Session 1

10-10:30 – tea (practice)

10:30 – 12 – Session 2

12- 12:45 – Lunch (practice)

12:45- 2:15 – Sesson 3

2:15 – 3:45 – Session 4

3:45 – 4:00 – Reflection

4:00 – tea (practice)

4:30 – Open for Practice

Monday:

Session I – get to know you session – ice-breaker

Session II – Why integrate technology? What is ICT?

Session III – Basic trouble-shooting of a computer -

Session IV – Use Word to model

Tuesday:

8:15- 8:30 Review – Multiple Intelligences quiz

I – Info Literacy – eGranary

II – Info Management in 21st c

III – Using Info Lit – search strategies in lab

IV – Multiple intelligences -

Wednesday:

Skype chat with teachers in North America – very powerful!

I – Cooperative Learning -

II – Basic PPT –

After Lunch – “How are we doing so far?” Check in

III – ICT Vision + Planning

IV – Finding Teacher Resources -

Thursday:

Review

Backwards Design -

Storyboarding and Digital Storytelling Pt 1

Rubrics + Evaluation -

Storyboarding and Digital Storytelling Pt 2

Friday

Storyboarding – Finished Products

The Way Forward – Dan Otedo

A debriefing meeting with the newly installed local DEO, John L. Ololtuaa took place on the final day before the awards ceremony. He appeared to be an enthusiastic supporter, though very new on the job.

Challenges:

Fragile and faulty equipment paired with unanticipated power outages (of which there were fewer than expected!) made the week challenging. The team was very flexible in changing plans, sometimes in the moment, and we would carry on in spite of power interruptions. Fortunately, having the Flip cameras, cell phones and laptops with powered-up batteries helped us to just continue on. By doing so, we also showed the teachers that they did not have to rely on a computer lab in order to use ICT tools for educational purposes. The Kenyan teachers were amazed at how much could be done with such simple tools.
eGranary:

The installation of the eGranary was a highlight of our visit to Mbita. It seems like such a simple concept, yet it is such a powerful resource for people who have so little access to educational resources. My hope is that power can be restored soon to the Suba Centre so the computers can be turned on again and the eGranary be used. An issue to be raised now is how much we should get involved in making certain that this resource be used to its full potential.

In closing, I just want to reiterate the phenomenal outstanding job the team members contributed to this initiative. It was not just that the content and even the delivery of the workshops was, in my opinion, world class, it was their generous spirits and the way they could relate to the Kenyans that made our visit such a success. They were willing to take risks, make sacrifices and form relationships in a demanding situation. We did not experience conflicts or disagreements. Without a doubt, these individuals were outstanding professionals even after we returned “home” every night, hot, dusty, and sometimes overwhelmed by the needs we saw around us. We laughed together quite a lot.

My experiences in July and August stretched me beyond what I had expected. I learned a great deal from my colleagues on my team and quite a bit from South African and Kenyan educators as well. It is not a trip that would be advisable for future team members – two countries, three venues and four sets of workshops meant too many people to meet and keep up with! However, I have no regrets about my decision to do the long haul this time around. It meant being able to witness the return of teachers from last year to report how much TWBC workshops had a lasting impact on them. It was a remarkable and gratifying life moment. It would be a privilege to serve as team leader again in the future – thank you, TWBC for this incredible opportunity!

Chronicling Africa: On to Kenya

Filed Under (Education Beyond Borders, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 31-07-2009

Tagged Under : ,

Cross-posted on Education Beyond Borders site

Kibuogi Island student receiving soccer ball from TWB team

Kibuogi Island student receiving soccer ball from TWB team

I am writing this while being bumped and jolted along miles of deeply rutted highways on the plains below the Great Rift Valley as we travel to the Maasai Mara for team building. After we landed in Nairobi, We met seven additional members to TWBC/Education Beyond Borders team who will form a second team providing maths, science and English prof dev opportunities to two additional locations in Kenya. Maasai pastoralists, dressed in their traditional brighly coloured blankets, can be seen leading their herds of cattle, sheep and goats.

Yesterday we flew out of Cape Town – and I must admit that it was with a strong sense of sadness to leave behnind strengthened as well as new friendships.

It is difficult to compare my experiences from last year to this year – it was a different team and we were ground-breaking our relationships and approaches. This year we strategized – or attempted to – more carefully where and for whom we provided our workshops and sessions.

At the beginning of our final week in Cape Town we had a healthy post-mortem with Edunova and aired our frustrations and challenges from the previous two weeks – as well as the many months of planning before that. We identified breakdowns of communication and the necessity for transparency of goals and expectations. Just as importantly, we discussed the importance of earlier planning for the following year.

The younger and less experienced Edunova ICT facilitators expressed a better understanding of the need for orientation and communication in planning. Next year we hope to work much more closely with them and much earlier.

For each of the groups we worked with, teachers, principals, and provincial ICT facilitators, we had created a ning space to better facilitate communication, collaboration and sharing of resources. For each of those spaces, core facilitators were assigned to oversee and moderate the online community and foster its growth.

We spent one day working closely with the Edunova facilitators with more indepth training in multimedia ICT integration and moodle training. For two days we visited classes of learners and shadowed a teacher who had come to our workshops two weeks ago. We all agreed it was a highlight of our time in Cape Town – seeing young learners in their classes. We left behind several Flip cameras at three schools in order to kick off school exchanges.

Definitely a high point of my week was being asked to take over the teaching of a class of 50 grade 7 learners. I asked them to divide into groups, pose a set of questions based on their recent study of matter and materials, and use a Flip camera to record their responses.

I was amazed at the how seriously they took their “assignment”. To my astonishment, all seven groups completed a first go, complete with video footage!They should be proud of their efforts. Unfortunately, their school’s computer lab had recently experienced a burglary of the equipment and it looked as though it would be some months before they would have a working lab.

——

We are now in Mbita after another nine hour road trip on the dusty and rocky roads (mostly unpaved). Mbita is a somewhat large fishing community along the shores of Lake Victoria. In two days we have visited seven schools and are currently working at the SUBA community centre examining the status of the 12 standalone computers the centre houses. To our dismay, while the computers are in excellent shape, they are lacking video and audio drivers and updates which may prevent the use of Windows movie Maker and Photostory 3. Today we are also hoping to install the eGranary unit along with a laptop. We also brought with us wireless remotes for some of the desktops so that they can be connected to the eGranary as well.

We thought we would have a house to ourselves here in Mbita, but that did not work out, so the six of us are staying with a couple in the community who are very involved in education at the national level. Jane and Daniel have been rich sources of information about the culture and Kenyan education system. Their generous hospitality has been overwhelming to these wuzungu (white folks).

The pace in Kenya is much slower and, in some ways, a welcome relief to my own hectic North American lifestyle.

Tomorrow we head off to Mfangando Island in Lake Victoria to visit 3 very remote schools.

We are tired teachers who are working late every night on our upcoming workshop sessions and rising every morning and out the door for many visits with teachers and students.

Thanks for your continuing support and encouragement. We would love to hear from you if you are following our travels….

My experiences this year have given me new insights into how Kenya’s journey of Information and Communications Technologies will be considerably different from ours in Canada. I have much to think about as we plan our workshops for next week.

Chronicling Africa: Week 2 in Review

Filed Under (Education, ICT issues, online collaborative learning, social computing, South Africa, Teachers Without Borders, web 2.0) by Sharon Peters on 19-07-2009

Tagged Under : , , , ,

Week 2 in Review

This past week was particularly intense and busy. On Monday, we spent the day at a local private/boarding school which was hosting an ICT bootcamp for principals of one of the townships. The sessions were run by Edunova, our partners, over the two-day bootcamp period. We were asked to provide a session about sustainability of an ICT implementation plan over the long-term. On Tuesday, we began our four days of sessions for ICT facilitators of Khanya and Edunova (a Western Cape province-wide event). These are the facilitators that are assigned multiple schools and provide the ICT training and support for the educators in the schools of the townships. With about 60 or so facilitators present, each with a minimum of four schools, some with 35 schools (!) for whom they are responsible, we were potentially reaching a huge number of teachers. Many facilitators traveled from large distances in order to attend this event.

Throughout the week, we experienced no end of technical difficulties – Internet connections that would inexplicably slow down or die altogether, mysterious power outages, server errors, browsers and java that had not been updated enough to support the web-based tools, and so on. I experienced more tech difficulties this past week than possibly in my lifetime! The frustrating thing was knowing that the hardware itself was certainly robust to support what we were asking, but that it was mostly human error that was responsible in some way (by not updating or by putting too many barriers into a system to provide easy workarounds!).

The TWBC team managed to pull off a world-class set of sessions in these conditions nonetheless – with dignity and grace! Whenever we encountered a technical difficulty (at times merely within minutes of each other), we carried on without batting an eyelash and would either move on to something else or persevere in the existing conditions. One was left with the feeling that these kinds of tech difficulties were part of the everyday fabric of life in this part of the world.

Here is a breakdown of the schedule of sessions we offered:

Tues. AM – 2.5 hours of Emerging Technologies- newest and cutting edge stuff for classrooms (within scope of possibilities) – Made more challenging by computer lab constraints and power outages.

Tues. PM – Social Networking for Continuing Professional Development and classroom learning and Professional Learning Networks – how to create self-driven CPD through online resources and establishing contact with global educators. We set up a ning for the ICT facilitators to use for collaboration and sharing of resources. They loved it! Very positive feedback.

Wednes. AM – Building ICT Vision – Whole-school planning; Building an ICT plan with partnership from various community stakeholders (very well received)

Wednes PM – Modeling ICT  integration – solid models/ideas/lesson plans of seamless integration of ICT tools and environments and where to find more (The facilitators marveled at how difficult it was to create lesson and unit plans and think through how to naturally embed ICT tools to support this – many examples were created by them that they could carry away with them to share with their teachers).

Thursday AM – Presentation of Google Apps for Education – Where Sharon discovers that IE6 does not support google docs (!!). Lots of technical difficulties, but we persevered and wowed the facilitators with the possibilities of google docs and other google apps.

Thursday PM – Practical considerations of using ICT with students — Classroom Management in the Computer Lab, basic troubleshooting, and contingency planning. We also offered a session on how laptops for teachers can be used practically in the classroom (1 laptop) to support learning

Friday AM – Choice of a session about SmartBoards (and the Wiimote Board) or training in Moodle

Throughout the week, we took advantage of the ning environment and asked the facilitators to respond to questions in the discussion forums and to blog their reflections on their learning. Very powerful!

Some of the resources we shared in the ning:

Edublogs worth reading:

e4africa
School 2.0 in SA (Maggie Verster)
Zac’s blog
Sharon’s blog
Practical Theory (Chris Lehmann)
Open Thinking (Alec Couros)
Angela Maiers blog

Educational blogging platforms (free!)

21Classes
Edublogs
Class blogmeister

Open Source Blog software (to be put on a server or school server)

WordPress
Buddy Press

Visualizing Tools

Mindmeister (concept mapping)
Wordle
Gap Minder
ManyEyes

Educational Webcasting

Edtech Talk

Ning Communities

Classroom20
Interactive Whiteboard Revolution
Global Collaborative Ning
Smartboard

Open Source Software Alternatives

Of course, all of this makes it sound as if the organization of the week-long event was flawless and well-managed. Not so. I have discovered that three cross-cultural organizations attempting to work in partnership can be fraught with many difficulties. Communication breakdowns, confusion about leadership and ownership, heavy-handed decision-making…. all of these issues were very much apparent throughout the week. Honestly, there were moments when I just wanted to give up on the notion of philanthropic organizations working in developing nations. I have learned the hard way that there will be those who will not appreciate the sacrifices made by TWBC team members and will ask for more, more, more. A certain part of me has had to become hard-edged. Learning who and when to trust has become an issue that I have had to wrestle with quite a lot in the past week. Some of my core beliefs about aid in a developing nation have been challenged – some even shattered. It is difficult to balance these struggles with a reminder of the successes of the past two weeks and the overall goals of our organization – to work shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers in challenging situations for the goal of mutual empowerment.

Four more weeks to go….

Chronicling Africa: Week One (TWB-C 09)

Filed Under (ICT issues, online collaborative learning, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 12-07-2009

Tagged Under : , , , , , , ,


After months of workshop preparation, logistical arrangements and no shortage of communication mixups with our partnering organizations, we completed our first week of workshops for teachers in the Cape Town township area of Philippi. The teachers were an enthusiastic crowd representing half a dozen or more of the local primary and high schools in the area. They were invited to the workshops through the Edunova facilitators who work with them in their schools. By mid-week the teachers expressed a desire to spend more time working with the software or interactive whiteboards, so we adjusted our schedule to suit their wishes.

One of the goals of TWB-C is to demonstrate the importance of networked and collaborative professional development that goes beyond one’s own school walls. To facilitate this ability for this group of teachers, we created a ning – ICT Champs – where the teachers may go online to share, post, collaborate and find resources that address their needs as a South African teacher. The teachers were excited to discover such a potentially empowering tool.

By the end of the week, many teachers were able to create their first detailed Word doc, PowerPoint, forum response and blog post as well as touch and manipulate the interactive white board and video camera. They were also asked to create a lesson and unit that would use an ICT tool or approach. And of course, they now have their own online space to continue the relationships and conversations.

Throughout the week my own sets of beliefs about educational technology were challenged again and again. As much as I knew about the South African culture, I questioned time and again our approaches and delivery. One short week of handling technology tools and software is hardly enough to transform an educator’s practice and paradigm of teaching and learning (with ICT as a support to learning). Addressing the difficulties of the South African system is not within our power or scope. These teachers are frustrated chiefly by lack of access due to economic barriers brought on by larger issues. Theft of computers and computer lab equipment is rampant.

A few of our workshops did present the need to address barriers and work together as a community to overcome them. It was pointed out to them that the power to change and be pro-active rather than reactive had to come from within themselves – and through active partnerships with organizations such as Edunova and Khanya who exist to support the needs of educators to use ICT.

However, many of my own questions arise from what I would call philosophical questions about when and how to introduce ICT practices in cultures of developing nations. Where is the balance to be struck between ICT pedagogy and handling the tools (software, hardware)? When does it become information overload? What emerging technologies should be brought to their attention? What technology tools are already being used in the culture that could be exploited for educational uses (i.e. mobile technologies). What homegrown best practices exist to show them as exemplars?

Tomorrow, we are guests at a Principals’ ICT Bootcamp where we will make a presentation about ICT Leadership and School Vision. Beginning Tuesday, we are offering workshops for the ICT facilitators of Edunova and Khanya for the rest of the week. These are the people who will continue to work with the teachers in the schools, so their professional development and growth are important to the sustainability of ICT support. Well over 100 such facilitators are expected to cycle through our workshops – each representing at least one or more school where they work. Potentially many teachers will affected by these workshops. Because they are ICT facilitators, I have fewer reservations about demanding a good deal of understanding and growth!

I want to thank all of you who have expressed their support for us in the last few weeks – my friends at NECC, my colleagues in Montreal, and many of you through twitter, Facebook, plurk and email. It keeps me going in those down times. Please keep it up!

Chronicling Africa: Day 3 – Workshop Day 2 in Liwa Primary School, Philippi

Filed Under (South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 08-07-2009

Tagged Under : , , ,

The weather is continuing to hold up here in Cape Town and my team members are starting to doubt the credibility of my stories of cold CT winter days from last year.  About eight or so  Edunova facilitators are shadowing our workshops and providing mentoring support when we are in the computer labs. These facilitators work in the schools and know many of the educators who are here this week in the workshops. They were surprised yesterday at the number of educators who have actually accepted the invitation for the workshops during the holidays and more astounded today when even more educators turned up. I gather a few phone calls went out last night from the participants. One facilitator pointed out to me that it was frustrating that “imported guest educators” were somehow considered more credible than local resources, but I assured him that this was a universal phenomenon and we experienced the same back in our own home contexts!

Today we discussed the “homework” from last night, a reading of Terry Freedman’s Thirteen Reasons blog post (printed out), then we showcased a few ICT student projects and products that we had brought along with us. Later we observed that we should have spent some time deconstructing the projects as a large group first, rather than dividing the participants into small groups and asking them to note the potential positive and negative qualities of the project. Unfortunately, many of them seemed to focus on the content produced rather than the processes of the students.

Later we spent a good deal of time in the computer lab discussing and practicing information literacy and Internet search skills. Last week, while I was at NECC in Washington DC, I had chatted with google guy Daniel Russell and he had passed along to me a copy of a “Google Cheat Sheet” which we printed out for our workshop participants.

We also had a session outside of the computer lab (roughly half of our workshops are not in the computer lab due to practical as well as pedagogical considerations) where we discussed implementation of ICT at the macro and micro level of the school system.

To wrap up our day, we examined the pedagogical uses of a presentation software such as PowerPoint and looked at a few examples of particularly effective presentations.

If it sounds as if it were an exhausting day – yes, it was! We returned to our residence in the evening after the sun had set and some of us (including me) had to crash for a while.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) we will discuss backward design of unit plans and how ICT fits in to support teaching units. We are hoping that by the end of the week the educators can each produce at least one solid unit plan integrating ICT into their teaching practices.

Chronicling Africa: Part 2 – First Day of Workshops

Filed Under (Education, educational technology, South Africa, Teachers Without Borders) by Sharon Peters on 06-07-2009

Tagged Under : , , , , , , ,

“Live-blogging” in Townships Workshops – Day 1

No, not really! :-)

Noble is beginning our workshops by sending SMS messages through skype to the mobile phones of the workshop sessions as a kickoff to the week of workshops.

Today, we start low-tech for our first session by using sticky notes to first identify why we are here, what learning gaps exist in the system, how ICT can be used promote learning, and what barriers exist to using ICT in the system. We are hoping to kick off some lively group discussions as we share our impressions and experiences.

The first session went well and we collected the ideas in order to build a wordle which we will later show them at the end of the day.

Zac Chase was a terrific host and leader of the first session using humour and anecdotes effectively as we warmed up to the educators who were with us.

The next session will have the participants divided into two groups, One group will be in the computer lab and asked to take a technology skills audit (a survey on an excel spreadsheet). They are also given a 2 GB flash drive (generously donated by P from ISTE’s NECC last week!) where we have placed OSS formatted by LiberKey.

We go through basic file management skills with the educators as we model how to use a computer lab effectively

The other group is examining the shift in pedagogy from traditional to digital practices for using ICT and discussing how this fits in to their current practices.

In the afternoon, we broke into two groups and used a second venue with a computer lab so all the participants could have hands-on access to computers. First we had educators create a table using Word (a new skill for most of them) so that they could use it to create a lesson plan. Then we showed them how to create a gmail account – which failed mostly because gmail refused to permit so many new accounts from teh same IP address.

Now tonight, a LONG planning meeting for more to come tomorrow. Boy, will I be tired tomorrow as I attempt to lead two workshops about information literacy, Internet search skills and how to use PowerPoint effectively for teaching and learning.

Chronicling Africa Part 1: Education Beyond Borders 2009

Filed Under (Education Beyond Borders, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 04-07-2009

Tagged Under : , , ,

Cape Town Sunset - Our first night in CT

Cape Town Sunset - Our first night in CT

I have been on the road now for nearly a week now after finishing a crazy academic year of much travel and one of the best teaching years I can remember. The last few weeks have been a flurry of submitting reports, packing for a conference in DC and Africa, saying goodbye to staff and students at one school and meetings and introductions to a new school. When I return from Africa in late August, I will officially begin my new job of directing the technology program and direction at Hebrew Academy in Montreal.

Two days ago, I boarded a plane with four other teacher team members of Teachers Without Borders (Canada) in New York City and after many hours of travel and interesting incidents, we arrived yesterday in Cape Town, South Africa. For Jody Meacher (Quebec), Zac Chase (Philadelphia), John Schinker (Ohio) and Ian Vaithailingam (Toronto), this will be their first visit to Africa. This will be my second year in Africa and even with such limited experience, I will do my best to be a team leader along with Noble Kelly (TWB-C president, Vancouver).

It is now early morning and I am the first of the team to rise, offering me a rare opportunity to finally sit back and reflect on the last year and what is ahead in the next few weeks. The National Education Computing Conference in Washington D.C. had left me exhausted (not surprising!), but I am feeling my energy return. Many thanks to those of you whom I met at NECC! I learned a lot from our conversations! However, it is now time to turn my focus on our tasks in Africa.

After a bit of relaxing last night, we hit the ground running today. We will first visit the primary school in Gugulethu Township where we will be offering workshops this week to about 50 teachers. We will sort out the computer lab connections and print out our materials for the week while we check out the venue. For our new team members, it will be their first experience of the stark realities of Township culture and setting. Later this afternoon, we will have a guided tour of Langa Township – the first Township created during the era of apartheid. I vividly recall our tour last year; this will give our team members an excellent opportunity to be exposed to the history and issues of Township living. I expect it will be an exhausting day for them.

Ian and Zac with a new friend in Langa Township

Ian and Zac with a new friend in Langa Township

We are working with facilitators from Edunova, a non-profit organization that provides ICT training and hardware to schools in the Townships. We are also partnering with Khanya, the ICT arm of the ministry of education in Western Cape. Both organizations have offered phenomenal support in logistics and provision of long-term sustainability and capacity-building. I am very much looking forward to our reunion with some of the facilitators whom we met and worked with last year. They impressed me very much and I have thought of them often in the last year.

John Schinker with young new friend in Langa Township

John Schinker with young new friend in Langa Township

Between Monday and Friday, we will offer ICT integration workshops to teachers who are relatively new to using technology to support learning. Many do not have email accounts, so we expect they will be very new to using computers. Internet connectivity in this part of the world is not entirely reliable and can be quite expensive. Our workshops offer a blend of technical procedures (file management and navigation) and pedagogical theory and practices of integrating ICT into education. We will try to offer primary and secondary/ subject-specific approaches as well as general topics – quite a challenge!

Hopefully throughout the next few weeks, I will be able chronicle our experiences and offer glimpses of the some of the very special teachers and situations we encounter along the way. Stay tuned!

Education Beyond Borders (formerly Teachers W/O Borders Canada) Slideshow

Filed Under (Education, Education Beyond Borders, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 21-11-2008

Tagged Under : , ,

TWB’s new newsletter is now available!

Presentation to the Quebec Provincial Teachers’ Association Conference on Nov. 21:

TWB_4_Teachers

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: teachers twbcanada)

Continuing the Conversations Far and Near

Filed Under (Education Beyond Borders, educational technology, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 28-09-2008

Tagged Under : , , ,

Students in Kenya

Originally uploaded by sharonpe

So far it has been three weeks of following along with the Connectivism and Connecting Knowledge (CCK08) online course. I like the way it has multiple entry points and permits lurking as well as active involvement through the use of the moodle forums, the blog, the webcasts and elluminate discussions (all archived). This suits my style of learning in the 21st century – anytime, anywhere learning. But then, I have the tools and the access to the bandwidth ….

With a crazy new classroom schedule in a new school, it has been very difficult, if not impossible, to join most of the synchronous events. But I have been following the forum posts and watched, often in fascination, the conversations that have emerged from those who seem to have much more time than I do to process and engage in discussion. Listening to Stephen, George, Dave Cormier and other guests this week has often left me wondering if I had missed out on the four prerequisite courses (!) that are required to understand some of the headier ideas that are mentioned and discussed.

I am trying to do the readings, but they are not as interesting as either reading a debate or conversation in the forum, or listening to the archived elluminate and webcast sessions. There is just something about that dynamic exchange back and forth that is so much more appealing than the reading of text or even slides.

Because this is such an important topic, I have asked a couple of African educators to participate. One tried, but the high bandwidth demands of the online environments proved to be too expensive for him. And so the digital divide widens because of economics….

Thanaga is a high school English teacher at Miti Mingi School near Gilgil in Kenya. He sent me an email yesterday addressing my questions about the dangers of connectivity in African education. Here is his response:

About your questions, I would really want to participate in the course but our connectivity is limited and very expensive. However am glad to share my opinion through you.

I believe that change is inevitable and internet universal internet access is an eventuality that will catch on for every body eventually like the TV access. Just like TV access we cannot really be able to filter and edit the content for our learners. All we can do as internet people is to try and equip teachers with the information that they need to counsel learner on the wise uses of the internet. Granted there will be culture shock and negative effects when African learners eventually have unfettered access to the internet. But I believe these influences are far out weighed by the benefits we gain from the access. Just as you people in the developed world are grappling with this influence, we also fight to contain ti even as we enjoy the benefits of thee access in terms of the education.

Further more, issues like racism; pornography and hatred are issues that we already encounter even now without connectivity. In that connection then, they would mot be entirely new and I believe with training on what to expect, teachers can handle the influence. Therefore, what we should be striving towards is to enable the access even as we prepare parents, teachers and the children’s guardians on what to expect and the possible ways to deal with it. We should not fight change but embrace it. We should also proactively prepare for the effects than wait to do damage control when the harm is already done. Hope my views have shed a little light to you and your colleagues in the course. Feel free to write to me whenever you need my input.

I wish there were an easier way for us to communicate then just over email. Even so, he wrote his response on a Word doc and then attached to an email because of the cost of being online.

I discovered this summer how much we take our easy access to high bandwidth for granted.

My friends in South Africa have it a bit easier in terms of access, but the schools have monthly caps on their bandwidth usage that would make most of us blush. Unfortunately, they usually seem to run out of their bandwidth before the month’s end.

I also heard from a 16 year old South African student from one of the schools where we worked two months ago:

i was thinking of you this cold afternoon, how are thingz there?
any way we are doing fine here enjoying the XO’z as we always had.
ohh before i forget tomorrow we gonna be visited by S.A’z madam speaker
we also have an opening ,of our new Technology lab and we were given 20 new PC’z .
this is how thingz are this side of town.miss you.

It was encouraging to hear that the school had more computers donated!

We live in interesting times. From my office in Canada, I can communicate, albeit simply, with some educators and learners in Africa. My friend Konrad Glogowski has taken his African experience to an entirely different level by creating a Kenyan classroom showcase in Second Life. I very much look forward to the guided tour Konrad will provide to my students later this week – we will be in Montreal, he will be in Toronto. How I wish my African friends had the bandwidth to join us…..

Sometimes a theory of connectivism sounds like it is only for the elite who have education, access to tech tools and bandwidth. Nonetheless, I will continue to lurk, learn and advocate for ways in which we can promote education for all.