Reflecting on 2009

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

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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

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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: 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

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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….

Chris Betcher and Interactive White Boards

Filed Under (Education, educational technology, ICT issues, social computing, web 2.0) by Sharon Peters on 03-01-2009

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!

Tectonic Shift in Thinking

Filed Under (Education, Education Beyond Borders, ICT issues, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 14-07-2008

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It has been a difficult day as I learned of the tragic death of one of the two leaders of my daughter’s experience trip here in South Africa. After many hours of waiting, I was finally able to contact her and share her grief for a young man whose life had held so much promise. The teenagers in the experience group have decided to continue on with the trip. My daughter told me she loves the country and people of South Africa and Sephira would only want the group to move forward with the trip.

Meg was awarded a bursary by her school to join in on the trip and, of the choices offered to her, South Africa was her top choice. I was able to meet with her a couple of times when she was in Cape Town almost two weeks ago. How special for two of us to enjoy this beautiful country together.

A few of you have asked for Konrad and I to post a podcast, and we would have done it, except for the throat infection I have acquired which has left me without a voice (not a bad thing, some of you would think!).

Our workshops ended last Thursday. I think I could say that they exceeded everyone’s expectations – the participants, the people from the NGOs who have assisted us, and ourselves. John Thole, the head of Edunova, one of the NGOs, said that he had never seen a set of workshops where there were more participants at the end than at the beginning! When one considers that the educator participants gave up a week of their holiday in order to attend – in the worst of the winter weather, without incentives, it is truly amazing. They gave us very positive feedback as well.

We were at Fezeka High School in Gugulethu Township last week for these workshops. At first, the educators, most of whom were from a Xhosa background, were very subdued and seemed shy. By the end of the week, I knew a different group of men and women. Many of the 25 or so participants did not have an email address and knew very little about computers. The school has a fully functional computer lab with Internet access at their disposal – however, with 25 computers serving a school with 1700 students, one is staggered at how little REAL access the educators and students have to computer technology. A home personal computer is unthinkable for most of the students.

The principal at Fezeka, Mr. Bobi, has only been at Fezeka since April. He attended the workshops faithfully every day – what a model for his staff! One of the first outcomes of the workshops was that he asked that a new timetable be assigned for computer access for all of the teachers and students. Before that, only certain classes had had access to the lab.

While we have been afforded some terrific opportunities to sight-see in Cape Town and nearby places, it has been the conversations with people at the schools and in the NGOs (Education Without Borders, Edunova and Khanya) that has struck me most. The South Africans are very self-conscious about their young democratic state and the need to further their educational system. They are very self-conscious about their “lack” of skills (particularly ICT skills in our situation). And so I have found them to be very open about change – I have stated on more than one occasion that if only those of us in North America could be so aware of our own “lack” and of our need to change!

We covered a lot of ground in four days of workshops both weeks – moving the educators from signing up for an email account to file management to collaborative sharing through wikis and blogs. Every morning we began with a short keynote, then teachers went into break-out groups to discuss amongst themselves how change could be negotiated in their own contexts. I was amazed at their passion and creativity as they discussed how to move forward to integrate ICT into their own school situations. This gave them an opportunity to take ownership of their school’s progress. It was during the breakout sessions that I witnessed the educators articulate a vision for where technology could augment the teaching and learning at their schools. Teachers were empowered. Light bulbs went off….

During all four days, three students, with whom I had earlier made contact over skype and email, showed up and acted as aids for some of the time of the hands-on workshops. Lwando, Tobago and Bomi would also videotape part of our sessions. Some of the time I let them experiment with the four XOs that I had brought with me. Over the weekend, they each had a video camera to take footage of their lives in Gugulethu Township – footage that I hope I can return to Canada with so that Canadian students can edit. I had some great conversations with the students – they have touched my heart.

On the final day, we were given an amazing performance by the award-winning Fezeka choir. Would you believe that over thirty of the student choir members showed up to sing for us during their vacation? Their performance was incredible – African gospel to local folk songs – even with a bit of dancing thrown in! We were moved beyond description. I hope to gain permission to podcast what I was able to record. It will send shivers down your spine.

One of the most touching moments for me personally was when were handing out certificates to the educators at the final ceremony.

She made her way through our line-up, shaking her hands with the five Canadian teachers from TWB, and stopped at me. In her wonderful Xhosa accent, she said, “I must give you a hug – you must be very strong to be a woman with all of these men!”

I laughed and gave her a big hug.

Like many other areas of the world, I observed that men made up the ranks of the management teams and leaders – particularly in the area of ICT. It was important for me, as the only woman on the TWB team, to be a model to the many educators who were women. Competency and confidence with ICT is not reliant upon gender.

I realized the other day that over the past two weeks I have undergone a tectonic shift in thinking – about educational equity in the face of great odds, about cultural differences, and about my own race and gender. I have a great deal yet to learn and to understand. Without a doubt, this has been the most profoundly gratifying initiative that I have experienced.

This week we will visit schools and classrooms with the students and teachers. I hope we can continue to have meaningful conversations that have only just begun.

Our wiki for the presentations

Fezeka Workshop Blog (please note all the blog comments contributed by the new edubloggers of South Africa!)

Teacher in Africa asks, “How can ICT make me a better teacher?”

Filed Under (Education, Education Beyond Borders, educational technology, ICT issues, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 25-06-2008

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I have been a bit shy about sharing the news about my trip to Africa with Teachers Without Borders, but so many of you have been asking that it is about time that I share more of what we have been planning.

The last few months I have been quietly gathering resources that will be coming with me – somehow squeezing into my luggage allowance of about 100 lbs. Thank goodness I can put a lot of resources either online or on a CD or flash drive!

Below is my itinerary – in a nutshell and from what I know so far:

June 26 – departure for Cape Town, via London UK (meet with Terry and Elaine Freedman for the day, June 27)

June 28- arrival in Cape Town, work for two days with team members David Dallman, John Ehinger and Noble Kelly on workshops

June 30 – meet with ICT Ministry of Ed folks in Cape Town

July 1 – begin workshops for about 35 teachers on implementation of ICT in the curric. – I will be presenting the info lit workshop – Internet search (for beginners)

July 2 – continue with workshops; Konrad Glogowski, our fifth team member, arrives straight from attending NECC in San Antonio; my daughter Meg arrives for a 5 week program with World Learning: Experiment in International Living

July 7 – second week of workshops for a different school

July 14 – class visits at Fezeka High School – we get to meet real students!!

July 19- panel discussion at principals’ conference

We are partnering with NGOs Edunova and Education Without Borders. The people from those organizations have been incredibly wonderful in arranging these opportunities for us. Emails have flown back and forth for a few months now – as well as a few audio and video conferences.

On July 19th, Konrad, Noble and I overnight to Nairobi Kenya and then drive to the Lake Naivasha region. We will catch up with the rest of our team of ten teachers from across Canada who will be delivering workshops to about 120 teachers in that region. Again, we have been partnering with an NGO, Comfort the Children. I have had a chance to videoconference with teachers and a few students from a school already.

Our first few days, we will have the opportunity to do classroom observations as we finalize our workshops for the teachers. We will be providing resources in the area of math, science and English (I will be helping out with the workshops for the English teachers). I am hoping we will also have ample opportunity to meet students.

On July 25th, we will begin the presentation of workshops.

On August 10th, I will fly home a week earlier than the rest of the team so that I can collaboratively present a workshop with my long-time Internet project partner, Reuven Werber (whom I have never met f2f) at CAJE in Vermont on August 14th.

Here is a list of some of the resources I plan to take (some of which I plan to leave behind):

  • 4 XOs – (all generously donated! Two donated by LEARN, two others by indiv)
  • 25 1 GB flash drives with portableapps installed on them
  • 6 manuals on ICT in education (some generously donated by a certain USask prof)
  • 1 lightweight LCD projector + set of laptop speakers
  • 2 webcams
  • 3 digital videocams (including one Flip Camera)
  • Various books and manuals for English
  • CDs and DVDs with more resources and content on them

Konrad and I also have a dream about taking as much video footage as possible of our discussions with teachers and students AS WELL AS putting the cameras in the hands of the students and having them take their own footage which we can then take back to Canada and have students edit.

Three of my own personal goals for the trip:

  • Find teachers willing to enter into a long-term mentoring relationship – North American-Africa – using the tools and environments of the Internet to foster and sustain the relationship
  • Match classrooms for collaborative learning projects – there has been much interest in both South Africa and Kenya for this!
  • Develop relationships between students through the video footage – having students “tell their story” – one group of students taking video footage – the next group editing it -

In August, when I return, I am very delighted to share that I will be returning to the classroom at The Study in Montréal, teaching English and Computer Studies – a great blend for me! They have been very warm in welcoming me on staff and supportive of my trip to Africa.

You can imagine how I already have some ideas about global collaborative projects…. :-)

One of the schools where we will be in Cape Town solicited questions and issues they would like for us to address during our workshops. The questions gave us a good idea at the level of understanding that ICT can play in the overall curricula, but most compelling was this question: “How can ICT make me a better teacher?”

I think I would need more than just even one blog post to tackle that one! It has been on my mind for weeks now and probably a good question all of us in educational technology should be asking ourselves regularly. Behind that question, I think I sense a certain disbelief that ICT really can “make better teachers”. And perhaps that person is right! I realize that I will need to keep focused on “why ICT in education”and be prepared to justify its use in education. I would love to hear your thoughts on that!

My hope is to be regularly updating my blog throughout my trip, although I may be going off the grid when I am in Kenya due to limited access to the Internet. You are welcome to join me on our adventure!

Workshops on google site

Filed Under (Education, educational technology, ICT issues, online collaborative learning, social computing, web 2.0) by Sharon Peters on 28-05-2008

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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:

http://sites.google.com/a/wearejustlearning.net/presentations/Home

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!)