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Reflections on the Intel ICT in the Classroom Conference – 5-7 July 2011

I write this blog post 34 000 feet in the air en route to Cape Town having left a very cold Joburg where I attended the Intel ICT in the Classroom Conference. SchoolNet South Africa were the organisers of the event and it was my first encounter with this organisation.

This blog post is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the conference but is rather a reflection of the experiences of the last three days. Here are my immediate thoughts :

1. Seeing 500 teachers come together from across the country, reflective of the diversity in our nation, united in their passion for changing the education paradigm so present in many classrooms was wonderful and gave me hope (despite my reflections in point 3 below!).

2. The organisers of the conference did not generate much excitement about the event prior to the first day. There was very little social media action around the conference – this was surprising and perhaps even disappointing.

3. I am amazed at the lack of self-discipline among many South African teachers. People arrived late to almost every plenary and workshop – at times almost an hour late. Many left workshops early because the workshop ran a little late and lunch or tea was waiting – including during a workshop in which international presenters were video-conferencing from the USA! The desire of people to help themselves to copious amounts of tea snacks without care about who was still to come was disappointing. Is it any wonder then that while at the conference I heard about a series of workshops scheduled for teachers in an under-privileged area of Cape Town that had to be cancelled as the teachers were unwilling to attend after 15h00 but were more than happy to leave their teaching to attend during the time pupils were at school? I find this distressing given the disastrous results of the Annual National Assessments – when will teachers take their responsibility seriously? Can we really then expect these same teachers to implement seriously all that they learnt while at the conference? For the sake of our children, I hope so!

4. Obviously I did not attend all the workshops but the ones I did attend were certainly worthwhile. I did not attend any presented by the overseas guest presenters and was delighted to see the incredible knowledge and creativity on display from local teachers. We really do have world-class people right here in South Africa.

5. Proper signage from Day 1 would have been appreciated. Signs indicating from the car park where to register and clear signage of where the various workshop venues were, were sadly lacking. This fact was tweeted by several delegates within the first hour of the conference. I would have hoped that the organisers were monitoring the backchannel and that they would have reacted by simply printing and laminating clear signage by the morning of Day 2. Unfortunately this did not happen. The map in the conference booklet was not very clear and led to further confusion.

6. I thoroughly enjoyed the plenary sessions. Excellent input from Jane Hart, Naomi Harm and John Davitt certainly helped delegates consider their role as educators in the 21st century. I was challenged by these individuals and learnt a great deal from what they shared. It was fantastic that SchoolNet SA could bring in three world-class experts to share with the delegates. I did wonder whether we might see a South African presentation in the plenaries at the next conference.

7. It was wonderful to be able to assist Maggie Verster with the backchannel during the conference. More local teachers joined Twitter at the conference and were able to join the conversation during the event. The wifi provided by Peter Henning of St John’s College was excellent despite taking strain at various points during the conference. The tweet summaries may be found here : Day 1; Day 2; Day 3

8. Day 1 concluded with the awarding of the Microsoft Innovative Teacher Awards. All 22 finalists were presented to the delegates with a description of what they had done in their schools. What struck me the most was that many of the finalists’ projects were really simple in concept and had been implemented with excellence. It was clear that there will be many teachers in schools all over South Africa who could qualify as prize-winners if they entered this competition. Congratulations to all the winners – you are the change-agents South African education needs in classrooms! One observation, also noted by someone who tweeted into the conference, was that the prize winners were not representative of the South African demographic. When I asked about this I was told that the quality of entries from previously-disadvantaged teachers and schools was not of a good enough quality and that not many from these schools had entered. If this is true, the work of organisations such as SchoolNetSA and EdTechConf has only just begun!

9. I was privileged to meet some truly wonderful people at the conference. The networking aspect of events such as this are what make them such powerful agents of change. The challenge is to engage with new contacts after the event. I was able to follow new folks on Twitter and I had several folks follow me. We need to engage with each other in constructive ways now that the connection has been made. I left the conference unclear as to how SchoolNetSA would facilitate ongoing discussion between those who were at the conference. We encouraged delegates on Twitter to continue using the conference hashtag (#schoolnetsa11) as a means of growing their online learning experience but I am not sure how many will do so.

10. The conference dinner was superb. Delegates appreciated the brief address by Parthan Chetty of Intel, sponsor of the dinner. The Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre provided a fantastic meal and venue while the vocals belted out by three talented singers set the scene for a night of dancing, singing and opportunity simply to have a good time!

 

All in all, the conference was a positive experience and exposed me to some incredible teachers from around South Africa doing wonderful things with ICT in their classrooms. I also left feeling motivated to continue the path of developing our ICT strategy at school. The conference was certainly not the best I have been to and there were aspects which I would want to see changed. However, it was time and money well spent and I am glad I attended. I certainly hope to attend next year’s event and continue my journey into learning more about ICT in the classroom – perhaps I’ll even submit a proposal for a workshop!

I look forward to building on the knowledge gained this past week and to being part of this evolving community of education game-changers in South Africa. My thanks to the organisers of the conference for enabling this conversation and learning to take place.

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How The Internet Is Revolutionizing Education

This powerful infographic shows the impact of the internet on education.
The author/illustrator asserts that higher education is no longer only for the elite as anyone with an internet connection can access it. That seems like a contradictory assertion – doesn’t the fact that only 30% of the world’s population have internet access make it elite by default?  (Stat from http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm – figure as at 31 March 2011)
How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education
Via: OnlineEducation.net

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The Literacy Imperative

I am unashamedly an eager proponent of the use of technology in education. I passionately enthuse about the role of social media and am constantly amazed at the arsenal of technical gadgetry teachers now have at their disposal.

Today I saw firsthand how critical it has become for us not simply to bring these web tools and gadgets into our classrooms but also to teach digital literacy to our pupils. As I waited to be served at our local copyshop, a lady walked in and began a conversation which went something along these lines :

Assistant : May I help you?

Lady : Yes, I want to look at the computer.

Assistant : What would you like to do?

Lady : I want to use the computer.

Assistant : Would you like to print something?

Lady : No, I want to find something.

Assistant : What would you like to find?

Lady : I want to find a job.

Assistant : So you want to use the internet.

Lady : Yes.

At this point the shop assistant walked the lady over to one of the computers and explained how the payment for internet services would work. She then left the lady and came back to serve customers. I watched with interest as the lady opened Internet Explorer and discovered that Google was the homepage. She typed in “Worcester jobs” and waited. After a minute she realised that nothing was happening and looked around helplessly. Fortunately for her at that moment a friend of hers entered the shop. The friend showed the lady that she had to use the mouse to push the “Google Search” button. As the search results came up showing over 3 million results she sat staring at the screen clearly overwhelmed. Her friend suggested clicking on one of the search results and they both then sat looking at the resulting site. They then returned to the search results and the process repeated. This went on for about 10 minutes. It appeared to be a complete waste of time as at no point was anything transcribed from the sites or email enquiries sent. After the final site visit the lady visited the counter, paid her money and left.

It was painfully obvious that this woman had little or no knowledge of how to use a search engine properly or even how to navigate around an internet browser. I could not help but wonder what kind of job she was looking for. There cannot be many jobs in the marketplace today that don’t require some sort of basic digital literacy and so I fear that her chances of landing a job are drastically reduced if what I saw reflected her ability on a computer.

Although I am tired of the clichéd “preparing our pupils for the 21st century” (we’re 10 years into the 21st century – its arrived!), it does ring true that if we are serious about sending our pupils into the world with the knowledge, skills and values required for success, we have no choice but to be taking the teaching of digital literacy very seriously indeed.

As much as it is nice to speak of what teachers can do with Web 2.0 tools and interactive software and so on, the first priority in the classroom must be to teach our children to use a computer. In a middle to upper income stream school, we can safely assume that most of our children will know that basics of keyboard  and mouse use, and have some experience in basic word processing skills. They will most likely also have explored the internet at some point and will have used various interactive tools such as video games in their lifetime. There are however many communities in our country where this is not the case. Communities where computer use is considered a luxury and where the priority is survival not bandwidth.

The digital divide is very real. How we solve it is a complicated and lengthy process which must involve government departments, NGOs, corporates and so on. In the meantime, schools have to be teaching the basics. I salute the Khanya Project for their efforts in this (see this post as well).

I still cringe at the thought that there are 4,7 million illiterate adults in our country and a further 4,9 million adults who are functionally illiterate (figures from Project Literacy). If this figure is to improve we have to continue improving the literacy programs in our schools and at the same time bring digital literacy into our curricula and classroom practice. This has to be a priority for all those involved in education and for any who care about the future of our wonderful land.

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Magic Tech Or An Expensive Paperweight?

I love this poster!

Slide_ToolsversusTeaching

This photo and many like it can be found in the Great Quotes About Learning And Change group on Flickr.

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Bridging The Digital Divide – Is It Working?

I came across a news Khanya Project logoarticle published by the Western Cape Education Department which speaks of their success in rolling out computers to all state schools in the Western Cape through the ambitious Khanya Project. When one considers the vast differences in socio-economic status which bedevil the education system in South Africa, this is indeed a remarkable achievement. However the article states that the installation of these computers will bridge the digital divide and it is with this sentiment that I would argue.

I do not believe that bridging the digital divide is simply putting in banks of computers in schools. The teachers in these schools need to be taught how to use these computers to go beyong the Google research-type project.

Are the pupils learning to utilise social networks in responsible and safe ways? The recent OuToilet saga would seem to indicate that many of our pupils do not have the maturity or online safety awareness to cope with the reality of a networked world where privacy is becoming a very real issue.

Are our schools allowing their students to use their cellphones as part of the learning process? See this for more on cellphones in the classroom – Mobile Phones In The Classroom

Do our curricula incorporate the teaching of IT skills beyond the basic usage of word processing? Are we teaching digital citizenship as a core subject to prepare our pupils for a world in which these skills are no longer an optional extra?

Do our teachers feel competent enough to teach these skills to their pupils or do they feel that they are in fact the ones who need to be taught?

There is so much that can be done at a very basic level with technology in the classroom. The Khanya Project’s investment into WCED schools should mean that the Western Cape should be leading the way in technology integration – but is it? Significant headway has been made and the folks at Khanya should be congratulated on what they have managed to accomplish.

However I would argue that all the investment in hardware and software will eventually come to naught if our teachers are not equipped properly and our principals do not have the vision or knowledge to make it a priority in their schools.