eMails and the curriculum

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015 | education, Learners, trends | Comments Off

When was the last time you used one of these?

When was the last time you used one of these?

How many letters do you lately find in your letterbox?  And how many paper based letters do you post in the red post boxes?  Compare that with the number of emails you receive and write daily.  For most of us, emails are now the preferred way of communication, to such an extent that we hardly make use of snail mail.

At school we were all taught how to write letters: the personal “Dear Mary” type, as well as the more formal “Dear Mr Smith” business letters.  We were taught about form, register, good letter writing techniques and even some letter writing etiquette.

Did you know that this is still what is being taught in South African schools?  This in spite of the fact that learners may never have seen such a letter in their life!  The writing of emails is not part of the curriculum of language subjects.  It is true that the writing of emails is part of the CAT (Computer Application Technology) courses, but relatively few learners take this subject at school.

Of course, a few teachers have already taken the bold move to “extend” the curriculum unofficially by including email writing in their classes … but these ones are the exception.

This is just a small example to illustrate the long way we still have to go to prepare learners to function efficiently in this digital age.

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Do teachers need a Learning Management System (LMS)?

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015 | Implementation Issues, trends | Comments Off

How necessary is a Learning Management System (LMS) for teachers?  Some claim that it is an essential foundational element of e-learning, whereas others believe that the concept of an LMS is oversold.

An LMS can do a lot for a teacher.  In addition to being a repository for learning content and materials, organized in a way that they can easily be retrieved, an LMS manages learner engagements and results, and provides teachers and school managers with useful learner and class management information.

The problem is that many teachers feel that an LMS is way too complicated and that it takes too long to master all its functionality.  So how do we solve this problem?

A stamp album meets a specific need.

A stamp album meets a specific need.

Let me use an analogy.  As a philatelist I started collecting stamps many years ago.  My first schoolboy collection consisted of about twenty stamps, which I kept in a cigarette box.  As the number of stamps increased the small box was no longer good enough and I needed a way in which the stamps could be displayed easily – that’s when I discovered a wonderful tool called a stamp album.  When the collection developed into country and theme sub-collections, one album was not enough.  Eventually my study had to be refurbished, installing rows of shelves for the albums and specially designed drawers to store duplicate stamps in catalogued envelopes.

The point of this is that I did not require an elaborate system at first; the need developed progressively, and so did the solution.

I would argue that the same is true of teachers and an LMS.  Initially, when starting to use technology at school, teachers may only need a simple digital folder to store lesson plans and perhaps a spreadsheet to keep record of learner scores.  As they continue using technology and come to realize they can do new things, they discover new needs and would be looking for better storing and reporting systems.  Then – one day – they realize: the solution is an LMS!  And once they get the hang of it, they will never do without it again.

NOTE TO e-EDUCATION IMPLEMENTERS: Don’t force an LMS down the throats of teachers … grant them the time, space, training and technology to grow into the adoption of a Learning Management System.

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An exciting new partnership is revolutionising access to innovative teacher training methods

Friday, August 28th, 2015 | training | Comments Off

Online education company, GetSmarter and University of the Witwatersrand School of Education (WSoE) have announced that they have partnered to offer a new online short course in the educational sphere: Strategic Implementation of ICT Integration in Education. This course is part of an initiative to develop the technology skills of teachers in classrooms across South Africa.

Broadening access to top quality education

The new partnership between GetSmarter and WSoE aims to increase access to top-tier university programs in the educational faculty, a sector of Africa that, in comparison to countries across the world, is behind in practical skills training for teachers. GetSmarter’s core purpose of Improving Lives Through Better Education is now not only brought to life by their current business portfolio of industry relevant short courses aimed to provide career advancement to working professionals, but now also by enabling the teachers of South Africa to possess the technical skills they need to be better teachers and therefore improve the lives of the young minds they teach.

This exciting new offering by WSoE is in line with their industry leading short courses offered via their Wits Plus programs, an initiative focussing on part-time, evening classes. Now Wits is able to not only offer contact based learning, but also courses that are 100% online and accessible to anyone with access to an internet connection and computer. The partnership formed out of the mutual belief that the educational achievement of South Africa’s youth is a key determinant of South Africa’s future economic growth, and therefore improving educational attainment should be seen as an urgent priority for South Africa.

Rob Paddock, chief academic officer at GetSmarter explains:

“We believe that South Africa’s future economic prosperity hinges directly on improving the quality of the teachers already working in our schools. In order to do this, we need to revisit the ongoing education models for our educators, and reimagine a system that can help teachers develop their practice in ways that will benefit students. To this end, the Wits School of Education (WSoE) and GetSmarter have forged a partnership to offer cutting edge online teacher development programmes for in-service teachers throughout Southern Africa.”

Education is the single most important tool we have to effect change in our country. By empowering teachers with critical new skills in technology, we can radically improve teachers’ skills and therefore provide students with a better chance of success in the future” Says Reuben Dlamini, the Course Convener from Wits School of Education.

Improve current teaching practice throughout South Africa

The Strategic Implementation of ICT Integration in Education short course is designed for teachers currently practicing in the primary, secondary, tertiary and higher education sectors. In addition, this course is particularly suited to teachers in the formal sector and trainers in the informal sector, learning and teaching professionals (education developers, instructional designers, etc.), people new to online or blended teaching, or those who want to improve their current teaching practice, as well as anyone interested in educational technology or online instruction. To apply for the course, students need to be current teachers in practice.

Teachers will complete an online short course which will focus on the development of effective teaching methods, using technology. GetSmarter’s Virtual Learning Environment brings teachers on the course together and enables them to swop ideas and debate various teaching methods with the support and guidance of their Head Tutor, Kobus van Wyk. Students will have to complete various assignments and tasks to achieve a minimum of 50% to successfully pass the course, and upon successful completion, will receive a certificate of competence from WSoE.

Diversifying the reach of WSoE’s current offering

Wits understands distance learning and the competencies needed to successfully execute online courses, and recognises GetSmarter as the leaders in online education. These 2 power houses aim to eradicate barriers to teacher training in South Africa, which will hopefully open doors to many more opportunities in the educational sphere.

Rob Paddock explains:

“Our vision is that the partnership will allow WSoE to extend and diversify the reach of their current offerings through GetSmarter’s industry leading online education competencies. By leveraging the unique competencies of these two respected institutions, it is our hope that this partnership we will prove a new model for effective, accessible and research-driven teacher education in Southern Africa.”

In an African and South African context, there is an opportunity for this form of distance learning to transform education, and it can be claimed that GetSmarter and WSoE are leading the way for a brighter future for South African teachers and students alike.

With over 8 years experience in the field, GetSmarter brings a practised and proven learning model founded in pedagogical expertise, and a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that promises to replicate, and even enhance, the very best features of the traditional face-to-face classroom.

Visit for more information.

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Clear statement of purpose required for ICT implementation in schools

Friday, June 5th, 2015 | Computer Usage, technology | Comments Off

When an attempt is made to take technology into schools without clearly stating how the technology is to be used, one can hardly expect success.  “Doing so because it seems the right thing to do” is not enough reason to launch such an initiative.  It must first be determined what purpose the technology will serve in the school.

  • Is it to improve administration?
  • Is it to improve communication?
  • Is it be to make learners digitally literate?
  • Is it be to improve teaching?
  • Is it be to improve learning?
Why do we do this?

Why do we do this?

A lack of purpose is often the result of a lack of understanding on the part of those initiating and driving e-learning projects.  It is important to determine and agree, up front, what the desired outcomes of technology implementation in a classroom, school, or group of schools will be. This must then be clearly documented to serve as a constant reminder of the purpose of the undertaking.

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Project management essential for ICT initiatives in schools

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 | education, technology | Comments Off

This won't happen successfully in the absence of project management

This won’t happen successfully in the absence of project management

It is a mistake to think that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can simply be procured, dropped at a school … and that the school will then be magically transformed into a state-of-the-art educational center.

Technology implementation in schools is a multi-disciplinary activity, requiring the integration of tasks performed by diverse professionals:

  • artisans must create an environment in which technology can operate
  • technology experts must install the equipment
  • communication experts must create a networked and connected environment
  • subject experts must ensure that relevant content is available
  • trainers must train teachers in the usage of all aspects of the system.

To make sure that all project activities are delivered on time, in the correct sequence, within budget and meeting quality criteria, project management capacity is required.

A lack of such capacity has resulted in haphazard and failed projects in the past.  Let’s learn from our mistakes by making sure that adequate project management procedures are in place when contemplating ICT implementation in schools.

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The real problem of e-learning

Thursday, February 5th, 2015 | education, technology | Comments Off

Many look at e-learning as an education solution.  Some teachers achieve magnificent results when they capitalize on the power of technology.  But why are these successes the exception, rather than the rule?

Is "e" perhaps the problem?

Is “e” perhaps the problem?

The problem with e-learning is that there is far too much emphasis on the “e” and far too little emphasis on “learning”.  The focus in any classroom must be learning.

A good teacher who wants to make sure that learning happens will use any available tool to improve the classroom experience.  Technology is one such a tool, but learning suffers when learning is overshadowed by the tool: when the latest device innovations are glorified; or the praises of the learning management system are sung; or the bells and whistles of the e-book are emphasized.

Often, more time is spent choosing between available tools than thinking about how the tools will be used.  When technology is procured without thinking about the way in which it will support teaching and learning, and then dumped on a teacher who has not been given adequate opportunity to come to grips with it, it becomes a useless gadget.

There is nothing wrong with “e”, in fact, there is so much that is right about it – if we can only find a way of helping the education fraternity to harness it properly!

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The toolbox of a 20th Century teacher

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 | education, technology | 1 Comment

Teachers ... what is in your toolbox?

Teachers … what is in your toolbox?

The toolbox of a writer contains words and grammar rules.  Imagine how difficult it will be to express yourself if you have a vocabulary of only a hundred words and do not know how to write in the past tense.

A good writer strives to know how to manipulate all the rule of grammar and makes a point of learning new words.  New words are constantly appearing.  Think about new words that have been accepted recently: selfie, podcast, cyberbully and emoticon.  The Oxford Dictionary word-of-the-year for 2014 is vape (meaning: to suck an electronic cigarette).  A writer who wants to remain relevant must know these words and understand how and when to use them appropriately.

How do you learn new words?  Few people sit with a dictionary trying to memorize words.  Rather, as we read and encounter a new word we find the meaning and then try to use it when appropriate.  The same applies to becoming proficient in the use grammar rules: practice makes perfect.

Now compare this with a teacher’s toolkit.

A teacher needs content knowledge, which must be updated regularly to remain relevant as the world around us changes.  But the tools of the trade are also changing.  A chalk board, books and pens are no longer sufficient.  We live in a world dominated by technology and learners expect that technology tools be used for teaching and learning; the cell phones in their pockets are constant reminders that technology is a part of their life.  Sadly, the skill to harness technology is often is not in the toolbox of the teacher.

How can a teacher remedy this situation?  Get a device; play around with it; become familiar and comfortable with it; talk to other teachers who have already used technologies in their classrooms; then dive in and use it in your classroom.  Remember: practice makes perfect.

Technology in education has a “vocabulary”: devices and content sources.  It also has “grammar rules”: the rules of engagement and the skills to use it in support of teaching and learning.

Previous postings on this blog may give you some ideas of how you can become familiar with technology and how to use in your teaching.  Click here to find an index to some of these postings.

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Technology in the classroom: knowledge, understanding, wisdom

Friday, December 19th, 2014 | education | Comments Off

When technology is brought into a school and teachers are confronted by it, they are often stymied: What are they going to do with it?  How are they to use it?  Their lack of knowledge, understanding and wisdom may freeze them into inactivity.

Survival skills: knowledge, understanding, wisdom

Survival skills: knowledge, understanding, wisdom

To illustrate: let’s assume you encounter a bull in the field.  You recognize the animal as a bull; perhaps you’ve seen one before, or seen pictures or videos of a bull.  You have also gained some basic information about bulls: they are stronger than humans; they can run faster than you; they can’t climb trees; and they don’t like humans.  All of these facts constitute knowledge about bulls.

When you meet the bull in the field the information you’ve gathered must assist you to understand the situation you find yourself in.  The bull is going to kill you; you have to take action fast!

Wisdom comes into play when you make the right decision at the moment when you confront the bull.  Are you going to try and outrun him?  That will not be so smart because he is faster than you.  So you will get into a tree as fast as possible.  Without knowledge of bulls and their behaviour, as well as an understanding of your situation, you would be frozen in your tracks.

Think now about a teacher who is confronted by technology in a classroom.  Prior knowledge is essential.  How does it work?  What are its affordances for education?  What are the constraints?  Knowing these things will lead to an understanding of how technology can improve teaching and learning.  Now, when faced with technology the teacher will have the wisdom of putting it to use to improve educational outcomes.

Note the sequence of these three steps.  First knowledge: without this you will never be able to take the next steps.  Then understanding: knowing how to operate a computer (or any other digital device) will be of no use unless you understand how it can improve educational outcomes.  Then wisdom: knowledge and understanding will help you to develop the ability to harness technology to make your classroom a better place.  But true wisdom can only be gained through experience, so you have to take the bold step of putting the knowledge and understanding to work.

The road leading from knowledge to understanding to wisdom for surviving bull encounters is quite easy.  The road leading from knowledge to understanding to wisdom using technology in the classroom is much more difficult.  It requires time, effort and dedication and then more time, effort and dedication.  But the results will be rewarding, for both the teacher and the learners.

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Monday, May 5th, 2014 | education, technology | Comments Off

TPACK (Technology Pedagogical and Content Knowledge) … this is what I will focus on during the weeks to come!

TPACK framework (source:

TPACK framework (source:


Technology patches for education

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 | education, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Ample evidence exists that technology can make a huge difference in education. Many teachers in South Africa use technology right now to improve their own teaching and to help learners to learn better.

Some teachers use interactive classroom devices to keep learners interested and involved in learning material. Others have flipped their classrooms: learners access content at home on mobile devices and teachers then use class time for stimulating discussions and making practical application of the material. Older computer labs are still used with great benefit by teachers for reinforcement, drill-and-practice and research. In all these cases teachers report significant improvements in learning outcomes.

However, we have not seen that technology has improved the quality of education in general. Pockets of excellence exist, which proves the potential value of technology in education, but in the vast majority of schools in South Africa technology has had no impact on education outcomes (even in some schools flush with technology).

Technology is a wonderful patch to improve teaching and learning.

No point in sewing a patch onto this cloth!

No point in sewing a patch onto this cloth!

But why can’t the patches stick? It has been said that one can’t put a new patch on an old garment. Why? Because the fabric of the old garment may be too weak to hold the patch and so the patch is simply torn off.

Is this the problem in education? Is the education system so threadbare that it cannot hold onto, incorporate, and integrate technology into the system? If so, what can we do about the situation?

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