Technology Outlook for International Schools in Asia

So How Is the American School of Bombay Doing?

Last week the New Media Consortium (NMC) published a new Horizon Report: the 2014 NMC Technology Outlook for International Schools in Asia.  This report was the result of collaborative research between a number of international schools in the region, with the aim of informing school leaders about significant developments in technologies that support teaching, learning and creative inquiry in primary and secondary education.  The American School of Bombay did not participate in this initiative and thus, the report is an important touchstone for us to see in what areas we compare to other international schools in the region.

The Cloud and Mobile Devices

This latest report considered sixty different technologies that will be important to international schools in Asia over the coming five years.  Cloud computing and mobile apps have already reached mainstream use in many schools, and international schools in Asia are seen as leading the way with creating their own cloud networks to increase access to content from mobile devices. ASB began heading to the cloud several years ago – in fact, this was a critical step to take as we transitioned into our platform agnostic BYOD laptop program two years ago. We are also now exploring a BYOD secondary device where students use mobile devices.

Learning Analytics

Parents who attended the recent State of the School meeting will know that ASB has started to use learning analytics to track student progress in order to identify where individual students need extra help and where they are excelling.  In many schools in Asia, learning analytics are around 2-3 years away from widespread adoption, though some individual schools are currently using this technology in the pilot phase.

Makerspaces

Makerspaces are technologies being adopted in the near term in Asian international schools though in other regions of the world this has been slower to make an impact on education, with it being more on the 2-3 horizon for adoption.  Games and gamification are also listed as technologies that all schools will adopt, though the international schools in Asia appear to be incorporating this into school curricula several years ahead of other world regions.

Online Learning

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are identified as gaining traction, though not becoming mainstream for around 2-3 years.  However, hybrid models such as the Flipped Classroom are proving successful in Asian international schools.  In this model instructional videos are placed online for students to access from home, so that class time can be devoted to more hands-on and immersive activities.   Free and open courses that can be accessed from anywhere are very appealing to parents and students. Currently over seventy students are taking over fifty different online courses as electives as ASB. This is our third year of offering a bouquet of online elective courses ranging in Culinary Arts to computer programming.

Students as Creators

Another trend that has been identified by international schools in Asia is the shift from students as consumers to students as creators.  Rather than learners demonstrating their knowledge of a subject by taking tests and writing papers, they are increasingly being encouraged to create video reflections and bring their creative ideas to life by making new products.  As a result, school leaders in Asia are starting to rethink their physical spaces and how the school day is structured to promote more critical thinking and creativity. Two years ASB completely redesigned its physical spaces so to maximize student learning in the 21st century.

Personalized Learning

The NMC report stresses that it’s important to address the issue of work/life balance as technology rapidly evolves and becomes more accessible.  The report highlights the need for both teachers and students to understand how to maximize productivity online and with their various devices, while not relying on these tools too much.  However these technologies, when applied effectively, can be powerful portals to personalized learning.  A student’s collection of mobile apps reflects their interests and learning preferences.  Giving students more autonomy over how they learn and what tools they use, is a growing trend at international schools in Asia.

Overall, according to the trends identified in this recent report, ASB is clearly ahead of the curve. In addition to what the report covered, we are a BYOD school who is exploring new innovations from Research and Development initiatives. The existence itself of an R&D department along with teacher and parent task forces currently makes us relatively unique, although with the growing attention it has drawn, we can predict that other schools in the region will soon be following this example.

With grateful acknowledgement to Maggie Hos-McGrane for co-authoring this article.

Horizon Report K-12 2013 and American School of Bombay

Photo by Alan Levine Creative Commons licenses

Photo by Alan Levine
Creative Commons

The annual Horizon Report, while not a “prediction tool”, but more a barometer of where educational technology trends lie in business, education and government, is eagerly anticipated each year. The Report for K12 was released very recently and its alignment to the American School of Bombay is worthy of note. While the Report sees a trend of adoption of under a year or less, ASB has already moved forward on all four of the trends chosen by the analysts of the Report.

True to my “easterly” disposition, I will present a big picture view of ASB’s alignment with the Horizon Report.

Time-to-Adoption: One Year or Less

BYOD: The technology team carefully investigated and prepared for a move to a BYOD program for at least a year before introducing the program to the school. Because of the state of readiness, teachers were invited in to the program even earlier than originally anticipated. The program was introduced at a small scale for the first year and will scale up to include all teachers and students from grades 4 to 12 in August.

Cloud Computing: ASB began making a move to the cloud about 5 years ago in anticipation of the popularity and necessity of basing services and storage on the Internet rather than on local servers. Because of this, we are way ahead of the trend and have already fully adopted and embraced cloud computing in our practices. It is an accepted part of our culture and its integration can be seen most obviously in our daily use of Google apps.

Mobile Learning: This past year, the Research and Development team at ASB initiated a prototype of mobile devices in the classroom at all three levels. A larger prototype is being introduced in August with many more teachers and assistants being supported through funding for devices and apps and with professional development to support them. The area of PD will certainly be a challenge as this is still new territory in terms of existing research and pedagogy. At this time, a team of three educators is developing an online course which will be offered through ASB’s Online Academy which could be one avenue of support for teachers using mobile technologies in the classroom to support learning.

Online Learning: ASB introduced its Online Academy about two years ago. Initially, it was meant to support parents and teachers in their understanding of the technologies and digital citizenship and ethics, but was quickly opened up to those outside the school due to demand. The original vision did not include ASB’s students, but over time, it became apparent that existing online courses did not always satisfy ASB’s students’ needs, so several courses for ASB students are currently under development. Additionally, high school students were offered a variety of online courses as electives for the first time this year and will expand with more beginning in August.

I would like to offer a few observations about ASB’s success in anticipating these trends:

–> ASB is small enough as a school entity to remain agile for the implementation of change.

–> The creation of a Research and Development team of volunteer ASB educators, and more recently, parents, has served to provide a space for experimentation and growth. Prototypes are encouraged and then analyzed for success. Because the team is made up of teachers and parents, buy-in is is built-in for new approaches and initiatives.

–> ASB leaders recognize the importance of careful study and preparation before making a “big move”, such as the move to cloud computing and the BYOD program.

Let’s take a look at some of the other trends that are highlighted in the Report that are already being investigated or supported at ASB.

Learning Analytics: ASB has invested heavily in this area by offering significant training to staff recently about data analysis and by participating in several types of third party testing and examinations.

Open Content: The ASB Online Academy offered its first open course in January, a course about online and cybersecurity, and is exploring the facilitation of more open courses or even scaling them to a ‘MOOC”, massive, open, online course, which may be the first to be offered by an independent school.

Personalized Learning: ASB has been way ahead of the two to three year schedule suggested by the Horizon Report. The construction projects of both campuses last year were inspired with the desire to create learning environments that would foster personalized learning. Additional staff have been hired to increase the teacher-student ratio. A large bouquet of online courses have been offered to high school students so that they could have more choice in their learning opportunities. A move to changing the school calendar has opened the door to the possibility of several “inter-sessions” being offered through the school year which provides even more learning opportunities for multi-age, inter-disciplinary courses for students at all divisions.

3D Printing: The school has purchased several 3D printers and is supporting the training of a group of staff members to participate in Maker and Design Thinking Workshops.

Challenges:

Driving change forward in so many directions at once is difficult in any environment and can take a toll on staff. Turnover of staff from this year to next is quite high; this could be a drawback or it could be an opportunity – professional development and training must be handled shrewdly so that the school leadership achieves buy-in and investment by new and returning staff. Successes must be celebrated and an environment of exploration and inquiry must be fostered. Tolerance of “failure” in such an environment of dynamic change and experimentation is important. Leadership will need to inspire vision, hope and value for the staff.

These are exciting times to be an educator! I look forward to negotiating the future of learning along with my colleagues at ASB.

“Schools That Work”

(Posted earlier this month in the NAIS Teachers of the Future blogs)

This year I experienced a sort of existential crisis of my faith in educational systems. It may have been a result of some kind of re-entry culture shock after spending two summers in Africa working with teachers and visiting many rural schools. But I don’t think I am alone in this experience. If you follow the blogs and listen to the conversations at education conferences, you can’t help but notice a certain sense of urgency and even despair regarding the state of education in North America (some might even say the Western world).

This crisis in faith took on a personal note as I watched my youngest  child flounder aimlessly in school, unengaged, disengaged and tuned out – and yes, he was attending a top-rated independent school. This year we moved him to a public school, where he is a little happier, but even he is very much aware that the quality of his education is lacking.

Ironically, at the same time as technology has become all but ubiquitous in homes and classrooms due to the pervasive use of mobile gadgets, phones and computers, many of us educational technologists are openly acknowledging that mere access to technology is not a guarantee to increased learning outcomes.

I began my own informal quest for “schools that work”. As I have traveled a fair amount recently for conferences, I have often sought out peers in my network and asked if I could visit their school. Of course, I read some excellent books recommended by other educators (see below for list of Dangerous Books to Read). Because I have hosted a webcast for the last three or more years, I have also had many thoughtful conversations with educators from around the world.
Of course there is no such thing as the perfect school which can accommodate every student. However, there are some common denominators that “successful” schools seem to share. Here are my observations:
  • Positive school culture where student leadership and initiative are overtly and implicitly valued
  • Reality-based learning is valued and included as part of the core curriculum and is integrated with community service
  • Professional learning communities are established where colleagues share wisdom, knowledge and mutual respect
  • Innovation and new ideas are embraced; failure is “permitted” in non-threatening atmosphere
  • Teachers have sense of autonomy over their courses in order to permit creativity and innovation
  • Teachers collaborate on inter-disciplinary projects
  • Parent involvement is valued
  • Sense of global citizenship and responsibility is fostered
  • Place of technology is seen as a tool to undergird practices stated above
It is my belief that the key to the creation, development and maintenance of any of these common denominators is school leadership with a strong vision.

So what do you think? What have I missed?

In late June I will be working with a team of international teachers (volunteers with Education Beyond Borders) in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. We will be facilitating ICT (Information, Communication Technologies) workshops for thirty-five top level administrators in the province whose mandate is to implement an ICT programme in their province – the largest by population size in the country – and the poorest. Most of the schools lack a fully functional computer lab. Some of the schools lack even electricity. The government leaders recognize the necessity of ICT training to prepare students for the 21st century in a rapidly recovering nation. Yet, the chief problem identified by the head of this programme (with whom we are working) is lack of support by the principals of the schools. We have a daunting task ahead of us.
After our time in the Eastern Cape, we move to Cape Town for three weeks to work with our NGO partner to facilitate workshops for teachers in the townships. Our partnering NGO has recognized the importance of school leadership in the process of ICT integration and offers a three-day “Bootcamp” for principals which is followed up over time with visits and support. We are trying to share this model with the initiative in the Eastern Cape.

Last August, I had the incredible opportunity to work in a very rural district in Western Kenya where our team helped to facilitate ICT workshops for the local teachers. Before the workshops began, we visited many schools and on one day we hired a boat to visit schools on the remote islands in Lake Victoria. Although the District Education Office arranged our boat trip, we did not contact the schools before our visit so that we could catch them in action. Our first stop was Kibuogi Island – so remote you will not find it on Google Earth. We landed on the shore and walked up the hill to the primary school. In spite of the fact that it was barely 10 AM, the principal was so drunk he could barely walk. His staff of teachers (five or so thoroughly disgusted men and women), sat with him in his “office” for our conversation. It was pretty clear that morale was low. The teachers clearly felt forgotten and very discouraged in their jobs. We finally managed to persuade one of the teachers to join us the following week for the workshops. Erick joined us and would later prove to be one of the most enthusiastic teachers of the more than fifty teachers who participated. Using his cell phone he occasionally texts me from his remote island to let me know how he is doing. In December he shared that our workshops inspired him to return to university for further studies. The drunken principal has been replaced this year.

Visiting the Primary School on Kibuogi Island

Visiting the Primary School on Kibuogi Island

We gave Erick a Flip camera. The children on the island (which has no electricity) have never seen even a car or bicycle before. With the Flip, Erick can take footage when he visits the mainland and show his students such things. We also encouraged him to use the camera to document his students’ experiences so that we can appreciate this tiny forgotten island.

The drunken principal of a school on a remote island will remain with me as a powerful analogy of the necessity for school leadership with vision in order to empower students and teachers to greater possibilities and learning opportunities.

As I have sorted out this existential crisis, which is gradually moving from cynicism to optimism, the issue of leadership has become critical. How do we, who may not be in leadership positions, become change agents to promote “schools that work”? How can we encourage vision for change in our school leaders? How do we support our leaders who do promote change but who may be unpopular (change is not easily embraced by all, after all). How do we know when it is time to move on?

In some ways, this blog post is my swan song to the NAIS. Reading Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element is a dangerous thing. After four weeks in South Africa in June and July, I will move to Maputo, Mozambique to follow my passion and join the staff at the American International School of Mozambique. After only one year of public high school, my son is very much looking forward to completing his high school education in the IB programme of that school with students from 50+ nationalities. I am thrilled that I will be able to continue my volunteer work with community service and education in Africa.

Other Dangerous Books and Essays to Read (which have greatly influenced my thinking, practice and this blog post):

Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen, Michael B. Horn & Curtis Johnson
The World is Open by Curtis Bonk
Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky
What Matters Now (compilation of short essays with proceeds going to “Room to Read”)
Drive by Daniel Pink

And, of course, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen (Stones Into Schools is on my list to be read)

So What is the Big Idea? BigIdeasFest conference in Half Moon Bay

I do a lot of conferences. Add to that the 6-7 weeks of time I have spent in July and August in Africa in ’08 and ’09 providing workshop facilitation with Teachers Without Borders Canada to teachers in Kenya and South Africa and you can believe that I have seen a serious amount of PD models of meetings.

Usually, I know a bevy of the teachers who will attend the conferences or workshops and have a fairly good idea of what the venue will be like. So when it was suggested to me that I attend the inaugural BigIdeasFest conference in Half Moon Bay, I had to take a serious look at the line-up of speakers and check out my “network” to see if anyone knew anything about it. And the responses were scant. However, the venue was very close to some family members and the description was sufficiently enticing that I decided to take a chance and signed up for the conference.

When I arrived at the conference, I only knew one person who was also attending. It was pointed out to me at the first dinner that it seemed to be a conference where the majority of the people knew only 1 or 2 other people and that made it an unusual sort of event.

On the one hand, so far the conference has pushed me out of my comfort zone – which was surprising to me, because I really hadn’t realized that I had had a comfort zone. After asking so many *other* educators to step outside their comfort zones while in Africa and at other workshops I have led, it is a good idea occasionally to place myself in that position of trying something new and taking a risk in a new social situation.

Of all the conferences I have attended in North America, I have to say that I find this conference to be the closest to the model we are using in Africa – participatory and constructivist. We have been divided into smaller groups of “action collabs” that have been given the task of creating a new model of education at either the classroom, school or systemic level. My action collab is msde up of a wide range of persons spanning from high school students to policy makers to NGO leaders to educators – young and old. We have already had many lively debates about how we are going to go about addressing the question of what we are designing.

About half of the conference time has been devoted to either keynotes or listening to rapidfire presentations by notable innovators in education such as Dennis Bartels of Exploratorium, Marco Torres, Dr. Erin O’Connell, Gever Tulley, Founder of the Tinkering School, and Tony Jackson, VP for Education of the Asia Society. Fifteen minutes per rapidfire presenter just didn’t seem like enough for these very worthy educators.

You can follow the twitter list I created for the conference for more “in the moment” reactions to the conference.

A GREAT book that I read in preparation for this conference was The Global Achievement Gap. Everywhere I turn I hear other educators echoing many of the thoughtful ideas expressed by Tony Wagner in his book. I should have read this book ages ago – it has been incredibly galvanizing to me.

I look forward to learning and stretching even more in the next few days!

PLNs as a cool tool – from ReThink IT conference

It’s been a week of conferences and I am finally getting around to posting some of the outcomes.

Early last week, I had the opportunity to use prezi again for a 3 hour workshop about how and why to use multimedia tools for education:



Then late in the week, I was challenged to a cool tool duel against two other IT facilitators in Montreal. Below I relate my approach as I shared it in the CAIS community ning:

I also wanted to share the outcomes to the Cool Tool Duel that took place between JP Trudeau (Selwyn House), Vince Jansen (LCC) and me, Sharon Peters (Hebrew Academy).

As a way in demonstrating the power of an educator’s Personal Learning Network, I asked six global educators to hop aboard a FlashMeeting during the duel and share *their* cool tools. I had heard Alan November (the keynote) state many times the importance of including global collaboration as a way of promoting the skills our students will need in their learning careers. It seemed appropriate to demonstrate this to our audience of educators.

To that end, I invited John Thole (director of Edunova in Cape Town, South Africa), Derek Wenmoth (director of CORE-Ed, Christchurch NZ), Chris Betcher (independent school educator, blogger, author, podcaster, Sydney, Australia), Lucy Gray (U of Chicago, moderator of Global Collaborative Ning), Dr. Cheri Toledo (Illinois State University, author, researcher, webcaster), and Brad Ovenell-Carter (independent school educator, asst head, Island Pacific School) into our cool tool duel. With the time zone differences, this took no small effort, but I was very very pleased when all of them accepted the invitation unhesitatingly and enthusiastically.

A special outcome of the FlashMeeting (now recorded) was that these six educators had an opportunity to meet each other and grow their own networks. In fact, they were so excited about meeting, they started a Google Wave where their conversation continued!

Here are the tools that were shared between all of us during the “duel”:

John – Ning

Chris – Screentoaster, Layar, Wikitude

Derek - eXe, QRCodes for Droid

Lucy – Screenr.com, PlanetFoss, Planetfesto

Brad – Tweetie2 Tweetie 2 Review: The Best iPhone Twitter App, Period – Tweetie 2 …
, Kaltura – Open Source Video Platform

Cheri – The Differentiator

Sharon (I had a few lined up as backup plan):

FlashMeeting

Twitter Lists

Forty-Two Interesting Ways to Use Pocket Cameras (care of Tom Barrett)

Complete Guide to Google Wave

VUE: Visual Understanding Environment (I think Brad showed me this)

Google Fusion Tables

Personas

The other folk (Vince and JP):

OpenOffice

FramebyFrame

Moodle

Mathnet.net

Animoto

graphic organisers

Pixlr

Xmind

Visuword

The Prezi I used for the Duel:



Chronicling Africa: Part 2 – First Day of Workshops

“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.

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!

Continuing the Conversations Far and Near

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.