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.

A Healing Balm – Week 1 on Connectivism course

It’s been one week into the course on connectivism and, while I simply cannot keep up with the critical thinking of many of the participants (due to time constraints mostly), I have discovered that it is providing a way of dealing with my re-entry culture shock after almost seven weeks in Africa.

I especially enjoyed the reading of the “Little Boxes” – it helped me see that I had moved from a position of networked individualism here in Canada to “little boxes” in South Africa and Kenya and back again to networked individualism. This shift back and forth was what I had found most disconcerting. I came to a place where I was comfortable with the “little boxes” in Kenya, because that was just the way things worked, and internet access was just so intermittent. Moving back to instant online access became just too much information overload in the first couple of weeks. Truthfully, I had just wanted to hide my head in my hands rather than go online.

Just being able to identify that shift helped me better understand what I was going through and my frustration with all of it.

Also, when we were there, we were trying to show African educators who did have access to a computer and the Internet the potential of networked individualism. New wine in old wineskins? Now I am wondering if it was a good approach. However, I think it would be ethically wrong not to show them tools that would help them connect to other educators around the world.

I enjoyed a very hectic, but gratifying, first week back in the classroom which prevented me from being all but a lurker in the course. At the end of the week, I treated myself to reading the articles and listening to the audio recording of Dave Cormier, Stephen and George. Slowly munching through the contents….

Connecting Globally with CCK08

Since returning from Africa, I confess that it has been hard for me to express myself online – whether through twitter, my blog, Facebook and all the other social networks to which I belong. I am still processing the experiences of Africa, the “what’s next” with maintaining meaningful contact with my colleagues in Africa, and how to resume living in my here and now. And, of course, I have started a new teaching position at The Study – this has become a new priority as well.

I have been weighing in on the value of online social networks and all the other tools of what we call web 2.0 as well as reassessing to which network or community I will give my time and effort. It has been a valuable time of sifting and sorting and I suppose it will continue for a while.

Quite a while ago, I signed on for the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Online Conference hosted by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Just reading through the introductions of several of the 1600 (!) who have also signed up has been like a breath of fresh air to me. I will be using my blog as a place to reflect on the content and experiences of the conference.

It seems there are a few people who are also viewing the conference through the lens of connecting developing nations. Below are some links that address these issues of digital and education divide:

The Impact of Social Media on now-developing Countries a slideshare presentation by Inge de Waard

Digitally Divided – a video shared by Tom Wambeke

Enjoy!