Chronicling Africa: Week One (TWB-C 09)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 thoughts on “Chronicling Africa: Week One (TWB-C 09)

  1. You are touching on an important issue when you mention “information overload”. We are grappling with finding the tipping point: when is it too much? Where do you pitch? Where can we leapfrog? (but keeping in mind that it is unwise to leapfrog over a unicorn!). I value the interchange of ideas with you and your team – it helps all of us to get a better understanding of this crucial issue.

  2. Hi Sharon, I respond to this posting as I sit your presentation on Emerging technologies. My organisation currently assist Khanya to train teachers in Basic ICT skills. We find that information overload is a real challenge. In one group you would have a diverse interest, skills and knowledge. With some teachers you can introduce advanced tools and they will fly with it. Others are just interested to do their mark schedules in Excel. A suggestion maybe is to plot an ICT development path for educators and provide scaffolding for them to progress at their own pace and to ensure that all arrive at the same place (like the teachers you trained) but at different times. And when they arrive there, it would have been a meaning journey and the skilled acquired would be fully internalised and effectively used. Providing too many tools/skills on teachers who are not ready might also not be productive.

  3. gadija pringle says:

    I feel what you doing is very good. It helps people and shows them things from a different view. Everyone doesn’t have a good background in I.T , but its good to know that there are people helping us…
    i admire you

  4. Overload is natural – and not just with tech. I experience overload every time I attend a Creative Memories regional or national convention.

    One valuable tool to combat the overwhelming feeling: at the end of each day, have participants jot down 1 or 2 things they learned that day that they are excited to apply. Have them be specific: what project will they use? How will they use this tool in their classrooms? What is their SMART goal (with SMART being an acronym – see for details) in relation to this tool or idea? In other words, what really hit home and what will they do next week to move forward with this knowledge?

    This step takes only a few minutes (can take more time if you ask some people to share what they wrote), but forces them to take a few minutes to reflect and plan. If you ask them to list just one or two things EACH DAY, they will have a specific list of action items or projects by the end of the week which can be prioritized for implementation.

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