Chronicling Africa: Week 2 in Review

Filed Under (Education, ICT issues, online collaborative learning, social computing, South Africa, Teachers Without Borders, web 2.0) by Sharon Peters on 19-07-2009

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Week 2 in Review

This past week was particularly intense and busy. On Monday, we spent the day at a local private/boarding school which was hosting an ICT bootcamp for principals of one of the townships. The sessions were run by Edunova, our partners, over the two-day bootcamp period. We were asked to provide a session about sustainability of an ICT implementation plan over the long-term. On Tuesday, we began our four days of sessions for ICT facilitators of Khanya and Edunova (a Western Cape province-wide event). These are the facilitators that are assigned multiple schools and provide the ICT training and support for the educators in the schools of the townships. With about 60 or so facilitators present, each with a minimum of four schools, some with 35 schools (!) for whom they are responsible, we were potentially reaching a huge number of teachers. Many facilitators traveled from large distances in order to attend this event.

Throughout the week, we experienced no end of technical difficulties – Internet connections that would inexplicably slow down or die altogether, mysterious power outages, server errors, browsers and java that had not been updated enough to support the web-based tools, and so on. I experienced more tech difficulties this past week than possibly in my lifetime! The frustrating thing was knowing that the hardware itself was certainly robust to support what we were asking, but that it was mostly human error that was responsible in some way (by not updating or by putting too many barriers into a system to provide easy workarounds!).

The TWBC team managed to pull off a world-class set of sessions in these conditions nonetheless – with dignity and grace! Whenever we encountered a technical difficulty (at times merely within minutes of each other), we carried on without batting an eyelash and would either move on to something else or persevere in the existing conditions. One was left with the feeling that these kinds of tech difficulties were part of the everyday fabric of life in this part of the world.

Here is a breakdown of the schedule of sessions we offered:

Tues. AM – 2.5 hours of Emerging Technologies- newest and cutting edge stuff for classrooms (within scope of possibilities) – Made more challenging by computer lab constraints and power outages.

Tues. PM – Social Networking for Continuing Professional Development and classroom learning and Professional Learning Networks – how to create self-driven CPD through online resources and establishing contact with global educators. We set up a ning for the ICT facilitators to use for collaboration and sharing of resources. They loved it! Very positive feedback.

Wednes. AM – Building ICT Vision – Whole-school planning; Building an ICT plan with partnership from various community stakeholders (very well received)

Wednes PM – Modeling ICT  integration – solid models/ideas/lesson plans of seamless integration of ICT tools and environments and where to find more (The facilitators marveled at how difficult it was to create lesson and unit plans and think through how to naturally embed ICT tools to support this – many examples were created by them that they could carry away with them to share with their teachers).

Thursday AM – Presentation of Google Apps for Education – Where Sharon discovers that IE6 does not support google docs (!!). Lots of technical difficulties, but we persevered and wowed the facilitators with the possibilities of google docs and other google apps.

Thursday PM – Practical considerations of using ICT with students — Classroom Management in the Computer Lab, basic troubleshooting, and contingency planning. We also offered a session on how laptops for teachers can be used practically in the classroom (1 laptop) to support learning

Friday AM – Choice of a session about SmartBoards (and the Wiimote Board) or training in Moodle

Throughout the week, we took advantage of the ning environment and asked the facilitators to respond to questions in the discussion forums and to blog their reflections on their learning. Very powerful!

Some of the resources we shared in the ning:

Edublogs worth reading:

e4africa
School 2.0 in SA (Maggie Verster)
Zac’s blog
Sharon’s blog
Practical Theory (Chris Lehmann)
Open Thinking (Alec Couros)
Angela Maiers blog

Educational blogging platforms (free!)

21Classes
Edublogs
Class blogmeister

Open Source Blog software (to be put on a server or school server)

WordPress
Buddy Press

Visualizing Tools

Mindmeister (concept mapping)
Wordle
Gap Minder
ManyEyes

Educational Webcasting

Edtech Talk

Ning Communities

Classroom20
Interactive Whiteboard Revolution
Global Collaborative Ning
Smartboard

Open Source Software Alternatives

Of course, all of this makes it sound as if the organization of the week-long event was flawless and well-managed. Not so. I have discovered that three cross-cultural organizations attempting to work in partnership can be fraught with many difficulties. Communication breakdowns, confusion about leadership and ownership, heavy-handed decision-making…. all of these issues were very much apparent throughout the week. Honestly, there were moments when I just wanted to give up on the notion of philanthropic organizations working in developing nations. I have learned the hard way that there will be those who will not appreciate the sacrifices made by TWBC team members and will ask for more, more, more. A certain part of me has had to become hard-edged. Learning who and when to trust has become an issue that I have had to wrestle with quite a lot in the past week. Some of my core beliefs about aid in a developing nation have been challenged – some even shattered. It is difficult to balance these struggles with a reminder of the successes of the past two weeks and the overall goals of our organization – to work shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers in challenging situations for the goal of mutual empowerment.

Four more weeks to go….

Chronicling Africa: Week One (TWB-C 09)

Filed Under (ICT issues, online collaborative learning, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 12-07-2009

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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!

Education Beyond Borders (formerly Teachers W/O Borders Canada) Slideshow

Filed Under (Education, Education Beyond Borders, South Africa) by Sharon Peters on 21-11-2008

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TWB’s new newsletter is now available!

Presentation to the Quebec Provincial Teachers’ Association Conference on Nov. 21:

TWB_4_Teachers

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: teachers twbcanada)