Reflecting on 2009

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

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!

Images from Kenya (TWBC09)

I am using some of our precious bandwidth to share some of my favourite photos from Kenya so far! More to come when I can.

Tomorrow we begin our workshops for fifty local teachers from about fifteen schools in the Mbita area on the shores of Lake Victoria. This region faces the greatest incidence of HIV-AIDS infection in Eastern Africa with an infection rate of up to 40%. The consequences from this are devastating for every sector in the community.

Sharing Our Expertise in Developing Nations

Not to be outdone by his world-travelling wife, my husband Doug just returned from a week in rural Jamaica on a construction project for a school. While there, he and 15 other men from our church repaired plumbing and built a chain link fence, basketball and tetherball courts, and an Internet cafe. He was the prolific blogger of the trip and put to shame my posts to my trip to Africa a few months ago!

On that note, Teachers Without Borders Canada (now known as Education Beyond Borders) is gearing up for return trips to South Africa and Kenya in July-August ’09. The applications for the teams (we are seeking between 15-20 educators – hopefully a multinational team!) can be found on the TWB Canada site. One must join our organization and then the group (South Africa or Kenya) in order to request an application. I will be leading one of the teams to South Africa this time around and am quite excited about the potential line-up of workshops and school visits. We have received an enthusiastic invitation from our NGO contacts there and I am eagerly looking forward to building on the relationships we began last year.

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.

“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!

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!