30,000 Km later

Acacia Tree in Maasai Mara

I am trying to catch up on blog posts….

Here is a letter I wrote to my colleagues upon my return two weeks ago. It contains a fairly good overview of my experiences in Africa.

The original was written on Aug. 14th:

30,000 Km later….

Hi all,

After an uneventful 44 hours of traveling, I returned home yesterday from an incredible and intense 6+ weeks of experiencing education firsthand in South Africa and Kenya.

It was a privilege to be a member of the two Teachers Without Borders CANADA (now known as Education BEyond Borders) teams – the very first teams to go abroad from Canada. My team members were first class educators from across the country. Due to a prior commitment, I left the Kenyan team a week early; this week, they are presenting workshops to about 70 elementary teachers in the rural Naivasha district (about an hour outside of Nairobi). I am feeling as though I am going through withdrawal from being a part of “the collective”.

Our visits to South Africa and Kenya exceeded our expectations. Not only did we meet with hundreds of teachers in large and small groups for workshops, meetings and school visits (where we met thousands of students), we also formally met with District Education Officers, officials from the ministries of education (in both countries), principals and heads of schools, heads and members of various NGOs, the Kenyan Institute of Ed. curricula advisors, and the representatives of CIDA at the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi. We were warmly greeted by all. The content and delivery of our workshops made quite an impression on all the educators (phew! this was a big concern) and we laid an important foundation for many, many return visits in the future. Our goal is to invite South African and Kenyan educators to be on the teams presenting workshops next year. Our vision is to build both sustainability and capacity as we move forward.

Of course, I also went on safari and had a good deal of time to have fun along the way. My team members had extraordinary senses of humour and I laughed my way across half a continent.

In the next few days, I will upload some videos for those of you who would like to hear singing and watch dancing of the African students. (That is done and you can find them here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1Ckf8B2MMQ, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBnIrJu1kiI&feature=related, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSAu-yPoLq0&feature=related )  Some awesome Maasai dancing there!!

I was the team member known for her enthusiasm about technology – and was teased almost relentlessly about the XOs. I do tend to get a bit passionate about their potential in developing nations…. 🙂

The two XOs donated from LEARN were gratefully received by Fezeka High School in Gugulethu township, Cape Town (a Xhosa school) and by Longonot High School in Naivasha District of Kenya. I brought with me a total of four XOs which had been donated. Each of the schools mentioned received two XOs. Once again, a very sincere thanks to LEARN!

The Flip camera was given to an inspirational principal I met on our recon mission to the Laikipia District (Mt. Kenya region) who is connecting with a school in Canada with an organization called Kenyan Sister Schools Project. Next year, we will be offering workshops to teachers in that district as well.

Overall, I have been very humbled by the exceptional individuals from the NGOs (Edunova, Comfort the Children, Khanya) and talented educators who I met along the way.

As for what’s next, it is very likely that I will be one of the leaders of a team returning to at least South Africa next year – and I am looking for willing recruits to be on my team! Let me know if you are interested….

I hope you are all enjoying your last few weeks of summer….

cheers,

Sharon

Education in Maasai Land

Giraffes in the Maasai Mara National Game Reserve, Kenya

Another report from my summer mission with Teachers Without Borders Canada (now known as Education Beyond Borders):

After another day of being bumped and jolted along the Kenyan semi-arid savannah (and an extension of the Serengeti), I am now sitting at my tent contemplating the last few days. It is difficult to call a structure a “tent” when it has a paved flagstone balcony with a hardwood floor interior. I am overlooking a lush gully and a tree with a mommy hyrax with baby on a branch not 12 feet from me. I blame them for my poor night’s sleep last night – hyraxes are incredibly loud nocturnal rodents!

In the last two days, I have seen many lions, lionesses and cubs, giraffes, wildebeest by the thousands (it is migration time from Tanzania to the Mara), wart hogs, cape buffalo, dick dicks, zebras, monkeys, baboons and even the very rare black rhino. The lions and wildebeests have been particularly fascinating – not at all shy in our presence. I have been within 20 feet or so (in a vehicle) of lions many times. They are completely nonplussed by our presence – even the majestic black-maned male who had no problem sharing his attempt at a love life with one of the females in the pride!

Our trip to the Maasai Mara is our TWB’s “break” after a grueling two weeks of workshops and visits to officials and schools. On Saturday, we experienced an incredibly memorable visit to a remote Maasai school near Naru, They invited us to share their environment day and we all planted trees to commemorate the event. Of course, this was first preceded by a long 3 hour ceremony of speeches (translated into 3 languages!) and some memorable dances and songs by the young people at the primary school where it was hosted. Can’t wait to post my videotape of the dances onto Youtube!

Imagine the pastoral Maasai planting trees! This tribe has been one of the most resistant to cultural changes of all the tribes in Africa. Even now, they are a migratory people who rely mostly on tending herds of cattle, sheep and goats for survival. But some of their people realize that the land is running out and it is time for the Maasai to make changes to their ways. We heard many many appeals on behalf of gender equality for Maasai women during the speeches on Saturday. Many are trying to find a way to prevent early marriages of the young women (at age 12 or 13) and to promote further education of the young men and women. The numbers of Maasai students drop significantly between Standard 6 and 8 (grades 6 and 8). The young women (still young teenage girls) are being given away in marriage and the young men are undertaking the responsibilities of minding the herds.

I think I witnessed a small part of history on that day when I heard passionate appeals by Maasai women for their young girls, trees being planted by a pastoral (not agricultural) people, and education being touted by the Maasai as a way to preserve their culture. The issue of female circumcision was barely touched upon, but the women serving on our team had a lively and heated discussion about its practice afterwards when we debriefed.

During our visit to the school, we were also shown the well which had not been dug deep enough (hence little water during dry season) and told that the drought this year in Kenya (which has hit the nation very hard) has resulted in no food being available for the students for their lunches. Imagine my discomfort when I was later served a bowl of rice, ugali, lentils and precious meat for lunch as an honoured guest.

Tomorrow we return to Limuru and travel up to Laikipia the following day in order to spend three days visiting schools in that region and laying the groundwork for another TWB team to work there next summer. We have a meeting with the District Education Officer in the area and will make a formal request to work in that region in a year’s time.

In the last five weeks, I have had the incredible privilege of meeting the most extraordinary people who have a heart for the education of Africa’s students and who have made incredible sacrifices and contributions to that end. I hope that their faces and names will remain seared upon my soul. Already I am going through a certain amount of withdrawal as I anticipate my return to Canadian society. Reverse culture shock is almost certain. I think it will take me some time to process the conversations I have had and the events I have witnessed. This trip has exceeded all my expectations and then some.

I have visited many places in the world; Africa hits one in the gut at an elemental level. It is more than just the people – it is the variety of cultures, the sights and sounds of so many languages, the give and take in trying circumstances, the creative improvisation when something breaks down or gives way, the sense of time not being a real pressure. And, of course, being a team member of TWB has given me access to real people in the culture living in real circumstances – not just a tourist who sees the nice parts of the country. Indeed, our “vacation” to the safari of Maasai Mara has placed us in the situation of being a “mzungu tourist” and it has been an entirely different experience for us – somewhat uncomfortable after seeing the grittier side of Kenya.

Somewhat like parenthood, I was not adequately prepared for Africa. One can read and be informed; living it is another thing altogether. I have picked up some literature about Africa by Africans when I have been here – I plan to be that much better informed for my next visit!

“Jambo! Karibu Sana, Mzungu!”

“Jambo! Karibu Sana, Mzungu!”

Students at a Primary School in rural Kenya

Teacher and Noble Kelly with XO in Kenya

Students in the doorway of their classroom in Kenya

When we arrived at the Nairobi International Airport, our Kenyan hosts greeted us with “Welcome to Kenya! You are very welcome here (white person)!”

And so we have been treated throughout the past two weeks. Below is a brief explanation and report of our time in Kenya so far.

Form 3 Students at Miti Mingi High School in rural Kenya

What happens when you take ten Canadian teachers from four different provinces and education systems and have them meet for the first time in a foreign African country in order to create PD workshops in three short days for teachers in that culture?

One might be tempted to think they would not have much success.

Maasai Classroom

This was our initial challenge as we arrived in Limuru, just outside of Nairobi. We had very little time to acclimatize to the culture and understand how the education system in Kenya operated. On our first day we were invited to the office of District Education Officer (DOE) in Naivasha so that we could learn more about the area and schools. He was an enthusiastic supporter of our initiative and had arranged thirty-five of the high schools to send two teachers each to our workshops. The following day, the directors of the Kenyan curriculum invited us to Nairobi to the Kenyan Institute of Education (KIE). They gave us an overview of the Kenyan curricula for English, science and maths. As well, they invited us to provide a report of our visits to the schools and with the teachers.

Fortunately, we have been very well supported by our partner NGO, Comfort the Children (CTC), who are on the ground here in the Naivasha area and who arranged our visits with the DOE and KIE. They have gained a good deal of respect here for their own initiatives supporting the local economy through micro-businesses, health care and the environment.

Nonetheless, I had a certain amount of apprehension about the expectations placed on the success of our workshops. We are the very first Teachers Without Borders Canada (now known as Education BEyond Borders) team to work in Kenya. The short visits to one or two schools before our workshops provided insights into the stark realities that teachers face in Kenya – overcrowded classrooms, very very few resources, pressure to succeed at state standardized tests that seemed to focus exclusively on evaluating trivial minutiae through trick questions. A very limited number of university spaces are available each year in Kenya, which exerts great pressure on students to succeed. In fact, a limited number of high school positions are available as well, so the Standard 8 (gr. 8) exams also have high stakes associated with them. Also, while caning was banned a few years ago, we were left with the impression that this mode of discipline was still used in some places by teachers in order to maintain control.

Of course, we also faced a certain amount of tension within our group as we groped to understand the differences between our provincial curricula as we created the content for our workshops. Just struggling to find time between our visits so that we could prepare was trying for us as many of us were attempting to deal with jet lag and huge cultural differences. By the third day, though, we had worked through our differences and had created some great resources and materials for the teachers.

For each of the 7 workshops, we began with a brief 20-30 minute overview of the topic and then broke into groups to promote interaction and dialogue between the Kenyan teachers. The ministry of education here does not provide professional development in Kenya. Teachers have had very little formal professional development opportunities. Two of our workshops challenged the teachers to consider models of informal self-driven professional development within their own learning communities. Other workshops on the topics of project-based and objective-based learning, cooperative learning, assessment, learning styles and study strategies were provided.

The feedback from the teachers was very positive. They especially enjoyed the interactive sessions where participation was encouraged. This is a very different model from the typical Kenyan classroom where teachers lectured from the front to a passive audience of students.

My Canadian colleagues very much have impressed me with their professionalism and creativity throughout the workshops. It has been a privilege to work with them and I have learned a great deal throughout this experience. As well, I have been awed by the professionalism, knowledge and creativity demonstrated by my new Kenyan colleagues.

Noble Kelly, our TWB prez, had hoped we would quietly make our way into Kenya and do a few workshops with some interested teachers; instead, we have made quite a splash here. In rural Kenya, it is difficult not to notice ten wazungu (white people) visiting schools and small towns. At times I have felt like we are a traveling freak show on wheels. This past week, we had follow-up visits to schools at their invitation after the workshops. A few times, while standing amongst hordes of students, I would feel my long fine blonde hair stroked, handled and caressed. Small children have no shyness and run to greet us wherever we are. They especially LOVE to have their photo taken, so at times we have caused near riots by simply bringing out our cameras.

The Kenyans particularly enjoyed Konrad Glowgowski’s workshops. He has been a great companion throughout my TWB experience in South Africa as well as Kenya. Konrad’s fascination with photography knows no bounds. I can confidently report that we now know that he will take photos of absolutely anything and has come close to causing international incidents. He has not been able to upload many of his photos due to bandwidth limitations here in Kenya (my chief frustration here), but I encourage you to check out his flickr site late in August when he has been able to get to a reliable connection. We have had a great deal of fun discovering strangely-stated signs in South Africa and Kenya – we should have a fine collection by the end of the trip. This morning, when we were invited to the Canadian High Commission, we were told not to bring any cameras. Of course, I couldn’t help asking Konrad after FINALLY being admitted, “So Captain National Geographic, what part of NO CAMERAS did you not understand?? Not one, not two, but THREE cameras?!”

Speaking of connections, I have come to a new appreciation of the high speed bandwidth so readily available in North America. Here in Kenya, we have one connected computer in our hotel and although we have rented a modem for wireless access, we might as well not even try to get online in the evenings when the rest of Kenya also seems to be trying to use the Internet. Electricity often fails, but life goes blissfully on. Of course, we are in the coldest part of Kenya in the coldest part of the year, so we have had fires in our cabins every night in order to stay warm.

Our aforementioned visit to the Canadian High Commission went very well as we met with those associated with CIDA (Cdn International Development Agency). They provided us with greater perspective into the roles of NGOs in education in Kenya as well as some ideas of where to look for further support and funding.

We have visited a number of schools and witnessed some astonishing situations where teachers have extremely challenging conditions. Yesterday we visited a primary school in Maai Mahui (pronounced “My Maw Hoo”; where our workshops were held; the “armpit of Kenya” and where the sex trade flourishes) where teachers had classes of 100 students. These students come from very poor circumstances – some are orphans and some are displaced from the recent violence that occurred back in January. The HIV infection rate in Maai Mahui is about 60%. We were able to have a brief meeting with teachers who gave us a glimpse of the harsh situations of their communities and the teaching conditions. When we tactfully attempted to bring their situation to the attention of the Canadian High Commission folks, we were told there were many schools in even worse dire straits.

I have been very moved by a number of the Kenyan teachers with whom we have spoken. They are dedicated, well-educated and articulate men and women who are giving their best in difficult circumstances. The students I have seen (and I have seen thousands by now) are well-behaved, polite, and curious about who we are and what Canada is like. The other day I showed my laptop to a group of Form 3 students (gr. 11 – however, many were between the ages of 18-20) and they told me they had never seen a computer before.

Tomorrow, we will visit a Maasai community who is celebrating an environment day. On Sunday, we head out to the Maasai Mara for a 3-day safari. When we return, we will head north to Laikipia, just past Mt. Kenya, to visit a school there in order to lay the groundwork for another TWB team next summer. Any volunteers for that team?

On August 10th, I return to Canada, a full week ahead of my TWB colleagues. They will be giving workshops to about 80 elementary teachers during the week of August 11th. I have a prior engagement at a conference in Vermont, so I will be very reluctantly returning early.

Students taking video footage in rural Kenya

Please leave a comment – I would love to hear from my friends!

Tectonic Shift in Thinking

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!)

Update from Cape Town – Week 2

Kids at Langa

Originally uploaded by sharonpe

First of all, thanks to so many of you who have emailed, twittered or messaged me in the last two weeks – your support and kind wishes have been appreciated! I am also touched by the great interest that has been shown in this initiative by Teachers Without Borders in Cape Town and Kenya.

Although it has not always been easy, so far this has been one of the most immensely rewarding experiences that I have had.

For much better coverage of our experiences in Cape Town, check out Konrad Glogowski’s blog posts and flickr stream.

Here are some of the experiences and perhaps disconnected thoughts:

I have never been so conscious about bandwidth. It is very expensive here and coming from North America where it has been so relatively cheap for so long, it puts a certain amount of perspective on the use of web-based apps and environments.

Building relationships through conversation is the key to successful partnerships and collaboration. I have had a number of low key one-on-one conversations with teachers over the past two weeks which has really helped with openness and receptivity of new ideas. I have learned a great deal about the culture and history of Cape Town and South Africa through the conversations I have had. The people of this country have made great strides in so many areas in such a short time. Education is greatly valued and I have been very impressed with some of the initiatives and supports that have been put into place in order to further the educational opportunities.

Our first set of workshops was very well received. We were surprised that we could take them so far in such a short time – from file management to wikis, blogs and moodle! Many of the teachers were eager to learn how to create their own web sites.

Accessibility to computer equipment and the labs is very difficult. The teachers last week were so encouraged by the news that the cost of equipment is quickly dropping when I showed them the XOs and the Flip camera. Personal home computers are not the norm here in the townships.

Cell phones are used by just about everyone. We had a number of interesting discussions about how to use cell phones as educational tools. Often the best ideas came from the teachers themselves as they were already thinking outside the box about innovative educational practices.

The teachers who have attended the workshops are passionate and articulate about teaching, learning and education. I am in awe of the conditions in which they teach – unheated classrooms in the winter, class sizes of 40-50, students with peer pressure from gangsters, little access to technology tools. In spite of that, I have heard few complaints – except about accessibility to the technology.

My fellow team members are awesome – while we have had heated discussions at times late into the night about best approaches for the workshops the following day, we have shared good laughs and have supported each other. Our skill sets complement the others – we have a wide range of skills and we have tapped into all of them.

I will have to post more later as it is now time to get ready for our third day of workshops for the teachers.

Far Side of the World

Lion: Bead Work at the Cape Town Bazaar

Originally uploaded by sharonpe

Some forty hours after leaving Montreal, I have arrived safely in beautiful Cape Town.

During my one day layover in London, Terry and Elaine Freedman visited with me at the Victoria and Albert Museum. We went to a fascinating exhibit called “Blood on Paper” which was an exploration of how language can be expressed in various multimodalities.

Terry was able to give me some advice on what to include in a principal’s toolkit we are preparing for a principals’ conference on ICT later in July in the townships of Cape Town. He promised to send me some good links (hint, hint, Terry!).

John Ehinger, a teacher from Winnipeg and one of my team members, caught up with me in Montreal and we spent the two flights getting to know each other a bit. Noble Kelly, our fearless team leader, met us in Cape Town. David Dallman, a teacher from Vancouver, flew in later in the morning

We spent the first day stocking supplies for ourselves in the guest house and spending time with each other while we recovered from jet lag. Later we went to the bazaar in the downtown area of Cape Town where I observed the fine art of bartering South African style!

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

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!

Revisited: Blogging Blues

Mali using skype with students in Kenya

More updates soon on Trip to South Africa and Kenya with Teachers Without Borders.

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who emailed me with concern over the very offensive hacked blog post that went out a couple of weeks ago. I was able to catch it right away and delete it, but could not stop the rss feed from going out (is there a way to recall rss feeds??). I have since taken measures (changed password, upgraded security measures, etc.) to prevent such an awful thing from happening again.

I can barely believe a whole month has gone by between posts. While it has been a busy month, it has been one of much introspection as well as I consider what paths to explore after I return from Africa with Teachers Without Borders. I have learned a great deal this year while designing curricula for the online school, but I have really missed having access to students. At the same time, I believe I am ready now to get back into academic studies. So in the last few weeks, I have been exploring both of those possibilities. I am excited and optimistic about the future!

Over and above my regular responsibilities, I have also become involved in two studies: a provincial-wide study examining the professional development needs of teachers and a self-initiated qualitative study (with Dr. Cheri Toledo) about the use of back-channeling as a learning tool. While I am not able to discuss the results from the PD needs survey, I can say that the results are very interesting, though not terrifically surprising in some respects. It is very apparent that many educators have not yet discovered the tools and environments of the Internet in order to further their own professional growth in a way that is self-initiated and self-sustaining. Those of us who are using online tools and shared learning spaces have a hard job ahead of us to get the word out. It seems, still, in many educators’ minds that professional development is something that is done “to them” once or twice a year at workshops or conferences. The concepts of lifelong learning and professional development are not connecting with many teachers.

The conversations I have had with participants in the backchanneling study have been amazing and inspiring. What a privilege it was to speak with nine innovative educators (from across a wide spectrum of experiences) to hear their thoughts on how backchanneling has enhanced their learning experiences, as well as their observations of constraints and caveats. Cheri and I are now collating the data and moving forward with the next step of examining the data for the themes. We are hoping to publish our results in a peer-reviewed journal and perhaps present our findings at some upcoming conferences.

Backchanneling practices have really exploded in the last year and are one more of the many collaborative approaches that the tools of the internet have afforded users. As with any of these tools, we must be careful not to use it because it is new and different, but carefully think through its practice, that it matches the pedagogy of the learning opportunity, and is a seamless fit into situation (that is, not a distraction away from the “main event”). I have enjoyed the opportunities to be an active listener as I have listened in on speakers and presenters. Sociality often plays a role in backchanneling – this will be another facet to explore as we look at our conversations with backchanneling educators.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas about backchanneling – negative or positive!