Chronicling Africa: Week 2 in Review

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:

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!)

Class blogmeister

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

Buddy Press

Visualizing Tools

Mindmeister (concept mapping)
Gap Minder

Educational Webcasting

Edtech Talk

Ning Communities

Interactive Whiteboard Revolution
Global Collaborative Ning

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….

Part Two: From Ridiculous to the Sublime – Twitter

Thanks to Marj and Brandy (fellow nomads in the course) for their advice for my second pass at Twitter. Marj passed along some academic research reports on this phenomenon (some of which were hidden behind a wall) which demonstrates the fascination we have with this communication tool:

Java, A., Song, X., Finin, T., and Tseng, B. 2007. Why we twitter: understanding microblogging usage and communities. In*Proceedings of the 9th WebKDD and 1st SNA-KDD 2007 Workshop on Web Mining and Social Network Analysis* (San Jose, California, August 12 – 12, 2007).
Krishnamurthy, B., Gill, P., and Arlitt, M. 2008. A few chirps about twitter. In *Proceedings of the First Workshop on online Social Networks* (Seattle,
WA, USA, August 18 – 18, 2008). WOSP ’08. ACM, New York, NY, 19-24. DOI=

Huberman, B., Romero, D., Wu, F., Social Networks that Matter: Twitter Under the Microscope. First Monday 15(1), Jan 2009.

Honeycutt, C., and Herring, S. C. 2009. Beyond Microblogging: Conversation
and Collaboration via Twitter. In *Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii
international Conference on System Sciences – Volume 00* (January 05 – 08,

Just like so many of the tools out there, it is not inherently valuable to learning – it is what we DO with it and HOW we use it that makes it valuable. And just as with so many other tools, educators have been at the forefront of creating, innovating, and thus exploiting learning opportunites with the tools. I have learned a great deal from these innovators – twitter has permitted me to have vicarious access to their thoughts and experiences in a way that is more immediate, I think, than blogs offer.

In this screencast, I explore just how viral twitter has become, reasons for twittering and some advice and tips from twitter experts.

I am also attempting to embed Jing in the blog post. However, after multiple tries, am giving up for this time!

Twitter Take Two

Twitter: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

I haven’t yet decided whether it was in a moment of sheer madness or sheer genius that I signed up for a course in emerging technologies two months ago with George Siemens and Dave Cormier as the instructors to the online course (out of the University of Manitoba).

As part of the course, we have been asked to provide a presentation on one of the applications that could be said to represent an emerging technology. I believe I was the only one of the course participants to claim twitter as my presentation topic.

I settled on the title “From the Ridiculous to the Sublime”, although I was tempted to use “How Twitter Saved My Life and Made Me Lose My Job” (this is a joke; I am gainfully employed!).

Twitter remains an object of ridicule and disdain as well as ferocious loyalty and praise.

In my five minute Jing screencast, I demonstrate my twitter home page and show off a few of its capabilities.

However, those five minutes went by screamingly fast, so I wanted to briefly include a few other questions here in my blog.

To understand JUST how viral twitter has become, you might want to look at the links I have collected in my delicious bookmarking.

Why are we fascinated with Twitter? My response is based on my observations of teenage behaviour (I have access to quite a few of those!). The need for instant gratification from our network is huge. Being able to receive almost instant feedback about our thoughts, ideas and experiences, as well as our questions is a powerful force.

Why are we repulsed? For those of us who want more – deeper, and more thoughtful from our communication may find twitter quite mundane and even narcissistic. For some time after I returned from Africa, I found it hard to take.

How is twitter a learning tool? The value of twitter definitely relies on the quality of the network – those that you are “following”. I happen to think that I follow some amazing folks who challenge me and make me think. Most of whom I follow are educators. We help each other out when we are confounded with problems and seek answers. We support each other when we are feeling down or frustrated. We share resources with each other and alert our network to breaking news around the globe. Twitter has become replacement for email because I have found recently that “direct messaging” a person in my network gets there faster than an email (or as fast).

Where does the learning take place? I think the learning takes place in the short, abbreviated conversations we have with each other. We don’t always agree with each other, but we can challenge thinking and offer different perspectives. Often I have to resort to emails when 140 characters just isn’t enough.

Who is twitter for? Twitter is for anyone who wants to build a network of excellent minds whom they can tap into.

Why do I use twitter? I will be honest here – much of what I twitter falls into “social twittering”. However, I am a firm believer that sociability (or sociality) is an important ingredient to learning. I observed this amongst my teenage research participants for my thesis work. My twittering often involves an exchange of information and ideas as well. I try to share as much as I “take” from my network. And I cannot stress enough that it is the quality of folks in my twitter network (those that I “follow”) that make the difference between narcissistic nattering and conversation that matters.

I would love some feedback on this brief presentation about twitter! Apparently, I have to improve this preso for next week’s class, so where did I lack clarity? What information is lacking? Let me know!

Chris Betcher and Interactive White Boards

Chris Betcher and I have been colleagues online for over two years due to our mutual interest in global projects and social tools of the Internet, but I finally had the great opportunity to meet him face-to-face today for the very first time. When I heard he had plans to come to Montreal while on a visit to Canada, I asked to meet him, of course. And then when I found out he was in the midst of publishing his first book and it was about Interactive White Boards, well, I seized an opportunity. Interest in Smartboard (Interactive white board) training is at an all time high here in Montreal. Just like many so other places on the globe, interactive white boards are being installed (or have been installed), but solid professional development on how to use the IWBs is lacking.

My own Smartboard skills have grown stale. I will readily admit this. Chris and I had a lively conversation about whether there is more to this technology hardware than what it seems. He convinced me there was. So I asked for a personal tutorial which grew into a workshop that drew more than 20 educators on a holiday break. So it was that Chris was invited to my school in order to present a 4 hour workshop to educators in the Montreal area. I was impressed that so many gave up a day of their Christmas holidays to attend this workshop.

And it was good! I have observed myself that bringing in an outside expert seems to resonate more with teachers than their appreciation of a local yokel, at least as a catalyst to discussion.

It was a successful day on a number of levels.

First, I was challenged to ratchet up deeper thinking opportunities for my students. It is not about the playing around with tools and buttons – it is about creating visual and audio materials that we can use to draw our students into meaningful discussion and engagement. Chris showed us that the interactivity of the Smartboards does not occur on the white projected screen at the front of the class, but in the classroom as we interacted with each other to create and share knowledge, insights, ideas, and so on.

Secondly, Chris challenged the workshop participants to consider taking responsibility for their own professional development and showed them many ways in which they could do that. Knowing how many top level Quebec educators were in that room was heartening to me. They agreed! Of course, I am hoping that they will explore some of those professional development strategies themselves and that they will, in turn,  influence other educators.

And finally, it was encouraging to me to see educators from so many different areas of education meet in one room to discuss how to create better learning environments for our students. Our participants ranged from public to private, early elementary to adult vocational, new teachers to heads of school, and from novice to quite advanced users of smartboards. The expertise represented was phenomenal. How often can we meet that range of educators in one place? We need to do this sort of thing more often. Chris wisely pointed out that we needed these opportunities to share our expertise and grow from each other, but also that we have tools to also communicate with other such educators around the world. He showed us which tools could facilitate that.

Just checked my twitter reports from the last few hours. Special thanks to those who checked out our Ustream livestreamed video (begins about 10 min into video) of the workshop from across the globe. We had visitors from Utah, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Maine, London UK, New Hampshire… and a very special visitor from Nepal!

How about that? Just over two years ago, I met Chris Betcher through other online friends and today he made an incredible impact on some of the best leaders in education in Quebec. Who still doubts the power and potential of a PLN (see Alec Couros’ recent post on this!)?

Here is a compilation of the resources we discussed today. Please share more through your comments!

How has your PLN changed the educators in your sphere of influence? This would make an interesting study!

CCK08 and Connecting the Dots

Perhaps it was more than a little ambitious of me to attempt participation in CCK08 while beginning a new job, while maintaining meaningful contact with educators in Africa, while taking a French course, while fulfilling some of my previous consulting contracts. Oh yes, and I have a family, too, who occasionally appreciates my household management skills!

However, I am pleased about the direction of the CCK08 course in the coming weeks. Finally we will be discussing implications for practice of connectivism in educational contexts.

This is particularly relevant to me as I return to the high school classroom this year playing multiple roles – teacher of English, computer studies and providing tech support to the staff. It is really my dream job!

It has been a few years now that I have used a blended approach (face-to-face and online environments) to teach my courses. Last year was a fine year for me as an intellectual-type sabbatical from classroom teaching as I created curricula for Quebec’s online school. It gave me time to reflect and think on best practices. Now, I am gratefully back in the classroom with all the complexities of dealing with real learners in real contexts. And I am having fun!

My students each have their own laptop and our school has unfiltered access to the Internet. This permits me a great deal of freedom to explore the possibilities of providing opportunities to become 21st c networked learners. Now I just have to figure out what exactly that means and what is the best way to go about it.

The CCK08 course content possibilities are vast. So many readings, forum posts, blog posts and multimedia files to explore. I lurk, skim, filter, listen, sometimes respond, and try to make good judgment calls on what is worth spending time on versus what is not pertinent or relevant to my current situation. At first, this was quite difficult because of some of the more colourful personalities who had a way of diverting my attention….

As I have witnessed the almost relentless introduction of new online web 2.0 tools, and have experimented with many of them, I have had cause to wonder about the difference between the “gee whiz” factor and the tools and environments that truly can be used to support learning for high school students. I have looked around for valid research that supports the use of web 2 tools in education – and often have become frustrated. A few months ago, I decided to revisit the research literature I used from my pre-web 2.0 thesis about online collaboration for high school students and was surprised about how relevant to web 2 that it was. Reflection, metacognition, self-monitoring and self-regulation can all be supported with one tool/environment or another. And I have discovered that a good deal more research is now being published in order to support these skills.

I very much enjoyed one of the readings from the upcoming week of the CCK08 course. Grainne Conole provides an attempt at mapping out an alignment between web 2 applications and various pedagogies. So far, I think I am on the right track with the pedagogical decisions I have made with my students. This past week, my grade 7 students finally received their laptops and I was able to introduce blogging and wikis to them. The blogging community will serve as an environment to promote reflection, responses, and practice writing skills. The wiki will serve as a hub of collective information. They love it! It is a great way to link both of my English classes and to foster democratization of voice and interaction.

Still, I am groping about what it is to be a networked learner, so I have high expectations for the next few weeks of the course.

Some of my questions:

  • What skill sets represent a networked learner (a high school student in my situation)?
  • What is the right pace to introduce new tools and environments?
  • How can I best assess a networked learner? Where is the balance between formative and summative assessment?
  • How can I persuade my colleagues that these are valuable approaches?
  • What is the role of sociality (too little or too much) in order to foster learning in a web 2 environment?
  • How can I find that balance between social collaborative learning and individual responsibility for learning?

Looking forward to the next few weeks!

Workshops on google site

Today I am presenting two workshops for the RECIT (IT) consultants in Québec. The content for the workshops – Cool Tool Duel and Copyright Remix – can be found here:

I thought I would give Google sites a test drive for these workshops and, so far, I am mostly impressed with its ease of use and flexibility. Feel free to leave comments on the pages (be nice!)

Support the English teacher/soldier in Afghanistan!

Paul Park is an English teacher from Saskatchewan who has just been shipped out to Afghanistan on a task force with the Canadian Armed Forces. He is blogging about his experiences from his perspective for the benefit of his students.

Dean Shareski shares an email from Paul that was sent out to the teachers.

If you are a teacher who is interested in having your students follow Paul’s blog, please consider having them read and comment on his posts. They are fascinating and heart-breaking at times; what a terrific way for our students in developed nations to have a first-hand glimpse of the struggles of innocent students and civilians in a war-torn developing nation.

Please consider leaving a comment for Paul – he has left behind family, friends, and safety to serve people in a faraway land who hope for a better – and peaceful – tomorrow.

On my way to South Africa with Teachers Without Borders

Teacher and Students from Fezeka

I have mentioned to many of my friends in the last two or so weeks my exciting news! I am accepting an invitation to accompany Noble Kelly (prez of TWB Canada) and some others with Teachers Without Borders to South Africa for a few weeks this summer.

This morning, I had the great privilege of skype conferencing with two teachers and an advocate in South Africa along with Noble (who was in Vancouver). It was quite exciting to hear their passion and excitement about some changes happening in their school in Fezeka (a school that has been given support through Education Without Borders in Vancouver), in the townships of Cape Town.

They are in a most challenging situation. I want to share with you part of an email one of their advocates sent me this morning to describe the conditions there.

Teachers at Fezeka in Gugulethu township just outside Cape Town tell me that:

A- Of the 1150 students at the Senior Secondary school this year, some 70% of the students are from single parent families

B- Average unemployment in RSA townships is of the order of 44%

C- The teachers usually play the role of :
1 Social worker
2 policeman
3 nutritionist
4 nurse
5 councillor, Only then are they able to get on with their true teaching Role.

Life Skills orientation is taught instead of the older Careers counceling.
The issue is that the teachers are out of touch with the ever changing needs of commerce and industry.
Township schools are still deprived in many ways due to the legacy of apartheid.

We try and practice a policy of “Hand up not Hand out”.

Family sizes are still very large in township rural black communities with 5.5 children not being unusual among the less educated.
Of the 50 million South Africans, we have approximately 10 million illiterate people, So here one can already see the link between high unemployment and the illiteracy rates.

When school finishes at 2.00pm the children are often on the streets so that they are influenced by all the negative role models of gangsterism to the issues of violence, alcoholism, drugs and sex.

We have a large job to do over the next 5 years if we are not to let the bad influences succeed in taking over from the good!

Expectations are high and service delivery by many government departments has been shoddy to say the least. So this results in much frustration especially on the part of the township inhabitants.

My source for this information also pointed out that no provision by the government has been made for after-school activities that might spare the students from seeking out the negative lifestyle choices (gangs, drugs, etc.). He also mentioned that the incidents of rape of the young women are very high.

There are many who want Fezeka school (today the teachers I spoke with were teachers there) who are passionate to create a different future for their school.

The Fezeka school choir has already attained international recognition for its choir; now they want to provide support and professional development for their teachers so they can use the two computer labs they have onsite in the school.

Today we discussed the possibility of setting up mentoring relationships between teachers abroad and teachers in South Africa and creating partnerships between classes of students.

(If you are interested in partnering with a class in South Africa for grades 10-12, almost all subject areas, please let me know!).

I have an ambitious vision about creating a system to bring together teachers for mentoring relationships – more on that as the plan crystallizes!

Please enjoy the youtube video which shows the dedication of the teachers and students at Fezeka!

C’est quoi, un blog? Meaning-making for Educators

C’est quoi, un blog?

Originally uploaded by Stephanie Booth.

For the past four or five years that I have been in the classroom, I have watched my high school students use online environments and tools. I could speak of many examples and models of great learning that have happened as a result. In my new role of the last few months, I have been asked to give sessions and workshops about the educational uses of such things as blogs, wikis, skype, moodle, and the list goes on. Most of you reading this would know what those terms mean and probably are also aware of many great examples of teachers and students using them.

On the whole, though, I think many of you would agree with me that there is still a great lack of understanding and possibly even resistance on the part of most educators about these tools and environments. So I have been spending a lot of time reflecting about why teachers (and administrators) are reluctant and choosing not to explore the use of these tools. It has also been pointed out to me that in order for teacher practice to change, teacher beliefs must change. How are we going to change those beliefs? I have come up with a few ideas (most of them borrowed from others, so think of this as a summary of those ideas).

First of all, the “techie” language can be off-putting. If teachers do not think of themselves as tech-competent (and what that means from person to person is an individual perception!), they will likely believe themselves not to be competent or skilled enough to try something “techie” like “blogging” or using a “wiki”. After all, these are funny-sounding words.

The word “blog” itself has a certain non-academic pejorative connotation to many educators (and a lot of plain ordinary folks too!). They associate it with self-obsessed personal journals about “blah, blah, blah”. My own thesis supervisor told me with great pride he has never read a blog and never would (and this is a prof in educational technology – go figger!).

In a blog post by Johannes Strobel, a prof who was on my thesis committee and has since moved on to Purdue University, he writes:

“We need to realize that we don’t own terms, we don’t own meaning of terms and by entering a discourse with anybody else, we enter a stage in which shared meaning is rare and needs often first to be established.”

While reading Alec Couros’ recently published dissertation, I was reminded of Rogers’ classic Diffusion of Innovation Process where he states the important characteristics that innovation adopters look for:

1. Relative advantage – is the degree in which an advantage is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes.

2. Compatibility – is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with the existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters.

3. Complexity – is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use.

4. Trialability – is the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis.

5. Observability – is the degree to which the results of an innovation are viable to others. The easier it is for individuals to see the results of an innovation, the more likely they are to adopt it.

Rogers, E. M. (1995).Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.

Relative Advantage and Complexity

So instead of just using those terms as I demonstrate how blogs and wikis (and others) can be used in the classroom, I think I may try a new approach with my presentations. I think it is important (and please feel free to disagree with me – I welcome dialogue on this) for us to be showing or at least noting the academic research that supports the uses of these tools and environments in the learning process. Surely there is more than just the “gee whiz” factor to using web-based tools with our students? Along with this, I want to start to referring to these tools and environments in a generic fashion, something like online shared learning spaces or collaborative learning spaces. After all, the terms blog and wiki just might die soon enough or more likely morph into something else given the dizzying speed of Internet change. I think it is probably better to use a term most educators could readily understand and even approaches appropriate and acceptable (by the majority) pedagogese.

Drawing attention to the research literature and published studies adds considerable validation to our practices of using these spaces and persuading others to give them a try. Just from my own practices and successes in the classroom, I have become convinced, as many of you have as well, that these online social and collaborative spaces permit greater affordances for learning, and thus, better learning opportunities for our students. Of course, nothing replaces a great teacher and great teachers are still needed to design activities and situations that will make best use of all the resources that are available. Great teachers, I would also hope, would want to know about ALL the great resources at their disposal as they design learning and evaluation situations and activities.

A great example of such research was brought to my attention yesterday and we are all awaiting more about Konrad Glogowski’s dissertation on blogging the classroom. Please do let me (and others) know of any new research studies that have shown the benefits of using online shared learning spaces in education. My own thesis (pre-“web 2.0”) contains a fair amount of references of research literature about computer-supported collaborative learning.


I have been working on a way to show our Québec educators how the use of these tools and environments fits in to our new (and quite progressive) Québec Education Program. Here is a reworked diagram of the elements needed to be taken into consideration for the creation of learning and evaluation situations used to develop competencies (we assess “competencies” according to our program) which I have augmented with where the tools and environments fit in:

(Augmented from diagram in Cycle Two Secondary, Quebec Education Program – Cross-Curricular Competencies )

It may be a good idea to be thoroughly familiar with where these online shared learning spaces and tools fit in with the curricular standards and goals and one’s particular school, district, board or state.

Trialability and Observability

We need to allow new adopters the freedom to fail and give them support and encouragement as they experiment with new technology “stuff”. Realistically, we have ALL been beginners at one time or another and it might be a good thing to refresh those memories (as painful as they are) to share with our adopting colleagues.

Success is addictive! We should be tooting the horns of all the brave new adopters as they move forward into new territory. After all, many of us can probably recall that often those successes were lonely experiences with few or none to share. Let’s applaud new adopters for any of their successes. We now have the network to do that!

One more thing I wanted to add to this post. In my own thesis study, I noted the importance of the presence of sociality in online communication on the part of my students. They had fun with each other! At the time, there had been a push to keep students “on task” in their online behaviour. Now I see there is great value in playfulness and sociality as we communicate, collaborate and create online together. Nowhere is this more apparent than FaceBook where our students’ lives (and even our own) carry over to these online social spaces. We need to add that important spice of play to even the school “work” environments as it very much enhances the learning process.

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