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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

MELISSA Final Event

A lovely little article about our final event. Thanks to Laban Bagui

Prof. Cantoni also utilised the short visit to Cape Town as a social and business opportunity. The 5-day visit kicked off with the final event, followed by a solid dinner at Marco's African Place (although the Mopani worms proved to be too much, perhaps). With colleagues from MELISSA and the Youth Hospitality Initiative (YHI) then headed to RLabs the following morning. RLabs is "a global movement that provides innovative solutions to address various complex problems." We met Brent Williams, one of the directors. His enthusiasm was inspiring, and we could certainly see many possibilities for collaboration. Afterwards, we introduced Prof. Cantoni to Kirstenbosch, one of our nation's beloved botanical gardens. We then proceeded up Table Mountain, which is a must for any visitor to Cape Town. While you're at it, please vote for the mountain to become one of the New7Wonders of Nature. Afterwards, we had an in-depth discussion with our friends from the YHI, followed by an extraordinary dinner at the Kalk Bay Harbour House: Live Bait.

The following morning, we thought it a good idea for our Italian visitor to experience a classic wine tasting in the Franschhoek valley. First stop, Graham Beck. This is a rather fancy place, with fancy wines and fancy tables (although, one unlucky guest's table basically exploded...spooky). Next, Solms Delta. This place seemed more "close to home", and we were made to feel very comfortable by our local host. Oh, the wine and food was also delicious.

On Monday, we met the CPUT Dean of the Faculty of Informatics and Design, Prof. Johannes Cronje, as well as the HOD Prof. Bennett Alexander, and the IT Programme Coordinator, Prof. Retha de la Harpe. Our hosts were spirited and introduced us to some of their research activities at CPUT, particularly the Kujali Project. After having a short closing meeting with the MELISSA team, Prof. Cantoni headed home. Overall, this wrapped up a successful project visit. 

Monday, 5 September 2011


We've received some very positive feedback from our training participants. The graph below indicates how respondents perceived their ICT skill level, both before and after the course. Overall, this is a positive indication of the impact of our training programme.

MELISSA Final Event 2011

The MELISSA Project will soon host its final event for 2011 in Cape Town, South Africa. This one-day event is scheduled for 6 October, and will grant an opportunity for our delightful participants to discuss some of their experiences with the project. Prof. Lorenzo Cantoni will also be making a keynote address. Further, this event is a great networking opportunity for learners, educators, and professionals interested or working in the field of e-learning (and -training!)

More details to follow soon!

 Cape Town: the venue for this year's final event

ReSNES Colloquium 2011

We've recently submitted a paper to the Research Network for e-Skills (ReSNES) Action-Research Colloquium, to take place in South Africa in November. This is about educators in the MELISSA programme and their discourses surrounding interactions with ICTs in schools. An abstract of it below:

Considering the pivotal role educators play in the education system, it is expected that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) interventions in schools will be effective only if educators are willing and able to appropriate the intervention to their actual needs, and derive real benefits. One of the barriers to the meaningful integration of ICTs in education in developing countries is the lack of alignment between what funders and project implementers intended (on the one hand) and the social meanings educators assign to the technology (on the other). The aim of the study reported here was to understand the discourses around education and technology, as articulated by educators in disadvantaged contexts in South Africa. Data for the study was collected through in-depth interviews with teachers from under-resourced schools in Cape Town, in the Western Cape in South Africa. The results show that teachers appreciate the value of ICT in education and are willing to adopt it. However, at the same time, they feel they lack capacity and support to effectively achieve that goal. The study also shows that global discourses on ICT may deny teachers in disadvantaged communities the power to voice the challenges they face when integrating ICTs in their teaching processes.

The colloquium will be hosted by the South African Department of Communications. For more info on this paper, please contact us.

MELISSA updates

It has been a busy few months. Training has been completed at our four schools in Group B, and we are now in the process of analysing data. We've also worked on a number of publications, some of which are pending review. One such paper discusses our blend of qualitative and quanitative methodology. An abstract of it below:

This paper presents challenges and trends emerging from an on-going project, named MELISSA – Measuring E-Learning Impact in primary Schools in South African disadvantaged areas). MELISSA measures the impact of exposure to ICTs in teacher training and learning. The intention is here to understand and analyse changes in attitudes to and uses of ICTs. To accomplish this goal, the MELISSA team applied a mixed investigative approach, merging qualitative and quantitative methodologies. This paper intends to offer an evaluation of the respective (blended) approaches. Although the project is not yet completed, preliminary data will be extracted to demonstrate the feasibility of both quantitative and qualitative analyses. It is hoped that more light will be shed on the question of whether measurement is an effective means of gaining project insight. It may be examined if both approaches (methodologies) are necessary and mutual counterparts to one another. Ultimately, this paper will describe a critical approach to measuring e-learning impact in disadvantaged contexts; one that may advance a better understanding of qualitative versus quantitative measurements.

We hope to present this at this year's CIRN Conference in Prato, Italy. If you'd like to know more about it, please contact us through the comment box.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Training Day: 11

Back in our favourite location: Langa, day 11. I arrived quite early at the school, did the usual rounds at the secretary's office (only experience can tell you that you need to formally announce your presence on arrival), and proceeded to set up the PCs. Only to learn, to my not-so-astonishment, that the internet was capped. Alas, one of the problems most - if not all - our schools have is that of bandwidth. They have ridiculous bandwidth caps - something like 3 or 5 GB per school per month. Just think how easy it is to reach that limit after a thousand kids and fifty teachers have visited the lab. Nonetheless, we had to make due...I've been in this situation before, and honestly, the first few times I panicked. It wasn't an option today: these teachers were motivated (could it be because the aircon was working again?), and arrived on time as well. Even the former 'class rogue' pitched up (aircon?).

I happened to notice that certain local sites were still functioning, including Google's local engine. I then decided to combine Google capabilities with that of the ever-evasive MS PowerPoint in what I shall here refer to as: the slideshow special. Oh and by the way, our Post Doc and new Doc was on-site as well, which was awesome: we had three skilled people to manage a room of six. That's hands-on right there. I first asked teachers to create personal folders on the server. Then I proceeded to do an MS PowerPoint introduction. I asked teachers to compile a slideshow that was relevant to what they taught in class (i.e. biology, math, health, etc.). This then involved searching the local Google for pics and information on those very topics. Fortunately we were able to copy pics (I should say thumbnails) from Google into our presentations. I proceeded to demonstrate how PP animation is done, and teachers were so excited by the results. All in all, I think it was a fruitful session: we combined basic internet functionality with basic presentation software, and I think such a combination can be useful if deployed well.

Several teachers asked for some kind of 'work pack': a PDF or similar which illustrates everything I taught, step by step. This is something we did during the former module as well, and it is something I still need to do (aside from the introductory one I already copied onto each school's server). Due to the fact that I've improvised - quite significantly! - I haven't really had the opportunity to sit down and condense everything into a nice PDF. That's it for today, will check back in soon!

Our doctoral candidate Patricia

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Training Day: 10

Langa, day 10 (of training). Because this school had 'discipline training' on a Thursday, we moved their slot to Tuesday. Note to self: one of the most important things of school training modules is that you need to constantly improvise. That means having to readjust your time schedule on short notice. Also, you need to evaluate the progress of the 'class' and always be sure to accommodate a slower/faster pace. Anyway, so the first problem we had yesterday was punctuality. Yes, we operate on African time. Which always means we start 30 minutes late. I arrived an hour earlier yesterday, announced myself at the secretary, and requested her to make an announcement that teachers be on time for the module, which starts (promptly, in an ideal world) at 14h30. I then proceeded to prep the room, making sure we have connectivity, and that the module content is loaded and ready to go. However, only three teachers arrived..and only at 15h00. 

I don't always get why. But yesterday it seemed like they were still busy in class. But the Department only allows research until 15h30. Which means, given that they take 10 minutes to log in and access the net, we only have like 20 minutes left! In any case, I made due with what was happening and we started with creating personal folders on the common server. I then did a recap on the previous lesson by asking teachers to create a new Word document, with a WordArt header on top. By this time, another three teachers joined us, and our Post Doc - and future Module 2 trainer - handled them separately. We then proceeded to Internet Explorer, navigated to Google, and searched for images. We then pasted relevant images - "things I like" - into Word, rearranged them and saved the document. Two teachers were extremely happy with what we've done: documents like these are very useful as classroom worksheets (apparently), and for the first time they were shown how to create it themselves. 

During the development of this module I realised that the smaller things can really make a difference. Something as simple as pasting images from a search engine into a document - these are what they seem to like and enjoy. And best of all: it doesn't require major bandwidth, nor advanced (browsing) skills. I came into this module again with these awesome software tools in mind, that I really wanted to WOW teachers with. But I did not really get that they are WOWed with the slightest information, in this case, that of creating a personalised worksheet. Until tomorrow! 

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Training Day: 9

We didn't run around so much this week as in the last. Our school in Athlone postponed their session, and our school in Gugulethu had unexpected computer trouble. In fact, they had some folks over from "insert institution here" who installed the Talking Stories software. The 'sudden' result being stubborn and dysfunctional computers..I don't know what happened; we may need to reassess things at this school since they are now at least 4 sessions behind. This was also the case in the former module, and we're now almost out of options! 

Some good news though, was that our one school in Langa had a really good session. Teachers were requested to use Google - as our preferred search engine - to find information on "things they like". We demonstrated to them how to find, copy, paste, and rearrange pictures from the net onto Word. I asked them to repeat these steps on their own, adding a 'definition of e-learning' in there. This is a first step in familiarising them towards the internet and some of its basic functionalities. We will move on to more advanced systems next week, where I'll start introducing several e-learning tools (and e-teaching aides). This was the more exciting bit in the previous module, as teachers really enjoyed online tools that help them with administrative duties and lesson preparation. But, I'm concerned about their overall skill level. Teachers are not nearly on the level where they (can I say?) should or could be. This perhaps speaks to our own methodology, but also to the level of training we assumed they received from Khanya. We'll have more next week, until then.. 

Friday, 11 February 2011

Training Day: 8

I quickly dashed off to Athlone, to give a teacher his laptop back (which he asked me to repair). I don't mind actually helping the teachers out with their laptops...anything that would encourage them to use the devices with more confidence. I then proceeded to Langa, where the participants were quite late. This is a definite annoyance at some schools; they seem to operate on a time which differs from mine. And I understand teachers are slow to get to the training, given it starts right after school ends. But there's nothing we can do to avoid this, since no one but no one wants to be there after 15h30 anyway.

We eventually started off with MS Word - as a brief recap of the previous module. There was I think one teacher who was quite skilled, and she outperformed anyone else. But the rest were, although not entirely new to the program, what one would call 'beginners'. I focused on the formatting abilities of Word once more; things like increasing text size, changing fonts, B/I/U, inserting images, and the like. These are for me the very basic, yet fundamental, functions in Word. Our participants did seem to enjoy it, especially near the end when I asked them to demonstrate what they've learned without any help. And this basically took up the hour. We had to reschedule next week's sessions for this school; I'll visit them next Tuesday. Until then!

Before I forget: an interesting factor that I noticed yesterday was that all teachers/participants were women. And then I thought: the majority of our participants across the 6 schools are women as well (most of them Xhosa). I wonder what this may say about gender, digital immigrants, culture, and professional learning. Are there more female teachers than male (which in this case would solve the intrigue)? Are female teachers more inclined to be digital immigrants/unskilled in ICT? Whatever the case, this dynamic is definitely worth exploring in the future. Let's hope someone tackles it!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Training Day: 7

Langa, day seven. Since teachers have completed the questionnaires, and watched the introductory videos, we proceeded with a recap on the previous module. We started off with MS Word - the majority noted that they were not experts in this program, so I kept things simple. I focused on basic formatting and editing, which included: typing, paragraphs, spacing, text effects, inserting clipart/pictures, keyboard shortcut, print preview, saving, and exiting. Even though it was dreadfully hot - aircon not working - teachers were patient and seemed to cope well. I devised a small 'test' in which I asked teachers to repeat everything I taught them without any assistance. And hey presto, they managed to do this extremely well.

That was it for the hour. I'm still deciding whether to continue with the MS Office package, or just move on to the internet training. In my opinion, our teachers are not quite ready to tackle advanced internet capabilities...and we need to keep this in mind. But at the same time, there are awesome tools out there, of which could be quite valuable for teachers. I guess we'll see how it goes.