A success story

Sunday, June 17th, 2012 | e-Learning pioneers | 3 Comments

One never knows whether the seed one sows will take root and grow into something beautiful.  Imagine my joy when, out of the blue, I received the following email from Maxwell Funo, a man whom I have never met before:

I just want to thank you for the excellent job that you’ve done. Teaching at a previously disadvantaged school in Nyanga township (Cape Town), I personally benefitted a lot especially from your Khanya Project because I never had any computer training whatsoever.

When I won the competition by Microsoft Partners In Learning on ICT Integration in Durban, I was over the moon, credit to your great efforts.  Today, I am walking with my head held up high getting ready for my presentation in Morocco by July, something that I never thought would ever happen to me.  I so wish to be able to work with you one day and learn more from you.

Maxwell Funo, an e-learning pioneer

Maxwell used the limited ICT equipment at his school to do a project with his Grade 7 learners on pollution.  The purpose of the project was to create an awareness of the effects of dumping around the school and in the community.  He was one of twenty finalists and came first in two categories of the Microsoft Partners In Learning competition: Innovation in Challenging Context and Collaboration.  He will be representing South Africa in Morocco in July 2012.

This teacher is an example of what can be done by means of technology.  Working in a school with limited resources, he used the technology available to him to create something of great value for the learners, as well as the community; and it is good to know that his efforts to master technology yielded fruit for him personally too.

The email of Maxwell means more to me than all the awards that Khanya won over the years.

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Interview with Albie Smith

Friday, October 14th, 2011 | e-Learning pioneers | 2 Comments

Albie Smith is currently a Khanya facilitator in the Metropole East district of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).  He is passionate about technology and is an excellent example of what an e-pioneer should be like; he is also a regular contributor of comments on this blog.  I’ve interviewed Albie to discover what makes him tick and I trust that his experience will be encouraging to others.

Albie - the e-pioneer!


Question:  How did your interest in technology start?

Albie: The journey started twenty-three years ago when I arrived at Umtata High School.  They had a “lab” with four Commodore computers fitted with green screens and two floppy drives each; you were supposed to swap the drives to do a backup.  The rest is history.

Question: So now, after more than two decades, how do you feel about the use of technology in education?

Albie: Technology is more than just some smart electronic pieces of copper wire mixed with other electronic parts, bolts and nuts.  It is there for us to use it to open our hidden brainy capabilities and to improve our daily complicated lives.  I have used technology to improve the LITNUM skills of learners, but also to help them to use their brains more effectively, to strengthen themselves physically (for example, hands and fingers = keyboard + mouse) and to develop emotionally to levels beyond their own expectations. 

Question: Did you benefit from being a Khanya facilitator?

Albie: You can teach an old dog new tricks and I am a perfect example of this.  When I started facilitating at Khanya four years ago I was already working with technology for more than 20 years and thought I was on top of it.  But I discovered that my knowledge was only partial.  Khanya gave me the opportunity to keep my mind active and to open those grey areas of my brain to become alive!  As the days as a facilitator became weeks, months and years, I realised technology is fun – it is unique and can make your life much more rewarding here on planet earth.  I benefitted from being a Khanyanian since it allowed me to plough back what I’ve learned to the communities and schools that I served.

Question: In your opinion, what are the greatest obstacles to the use of technology in schools?

Albie: The human factor is maybe the biggest obstacle in many schools, but I have noticed lately that another major obstacle is the functioning of the technology – if it doesn’t work the school is left in the dark.

Question: What could be done to overcome these obstacles?

Albie: Ensure that principals attend technology workshops that are arranged for teachers since the leaders must also enrich, update and upgrade their technology skills to ensure that staff members stay abreast.  To sustain technology at the school, trainers (or facilitators) must be available to schools – at least one trainer for every five schools.  And then, ensure that daily technical support is available to schools.

Question: What can be done to create a greater awareness of the value of technology among the education fraternity?

Albie: I feel that all government and provincial departments should take note of the worldwide trends in technology and its application in schools.  We cannot and should not underestimate the educational value of technologies such as computers, software and interactive whiteboards.  Twitter, Facebook, Google Talk, Mxit and other social networks have transformed many aspect of life – even at school.  Education authorities should not underestimated the value of technology – the sooner officials are introduced and exposed to ICT applications, the sooner they will see and experience the value of ICT in education.

Question: Do you have any advice for teachers and schools who want to succeed in the use of technology?

Albie: You must have a passion for ICT.  Without it … nothing is possible.  With it … all things are possible.  Grab the changes coming your way to enrich yourself – attend ICT workshops, peep over the technician’s shoulder and ask learners how to do things and then … just do it.

Question: What are your plans for the future?

Albie: I have applied for a few jobs in view of the fact that Khanya is soon coming to an end.  My skills are in the ICT field, my passion is technology, my calling is facilitating, my duty is to serve (not on a plate, but on an interactive whiteboard) and my first love is my laptop.  I hope to find a position where my experience can be used to the full.

Thank you, Albie, for sharing your views and experience.  I wish you and your Khanya colleagues well and trust that organizations keen on the promotion of technology in education will snap you up when you become available on the job market in the near future.


Interview with Mariaan Bester

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011 | e-Learning pioneers | 5 Comments

Mariaan Bester is a curriculum advisor in the EdenKaroo district of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).  She is passionate about her subject, Science, and she is also an excellent example of what an e-pioneer should be like.  With the Khanya project soon coming to an end, and WCED staff taking over the tasks performed by Khanya staff up till now, a need exists for more e-pioneers: those people who understand how technology can be used effectively in teaching and learning.

Mariaan and her daughter, Lize-Mari

I believe that many curriculum advisors can take a page from Mariaan’s book.  So, I interviewed her in the hope that her experience, views, concerns and encouragement can serve as useful advice for other curriculum advisors.

The result of the interview (that was conducted by email) is as follows:

Question: When you were a teacher, how did the use of technology benefit you?

Mariaan: My great passion is teaching.  There are so many things to do and so little time.  Technology helped me to save valuable time – to work smarter, not harder.  For example, a spreadsheet proved to be an aid in maintaining discipline.  When learners in a class were unruly I would open a spreadsheet and project it on a screen for all to see and quietly tick off the names of disruptive learners.  Without a word and little effort the class would quiet down.  I was not always a good Science educator (in fact, I’m still learning) and made many content mistakes in class.  High quality technology teaching aids for Physics and Chemistry helped me to put fun in teaching.  

Question: Do you see any obstacles in using technology in schools?

Mariaan: Technology is merely a vehicle.  A vehicle can only be as effective as the driver allows it to be.  School management and educators do not always believe that they are capable of using technology.  Some still believe that computers, cell phones, ipods and other technologies are good for the next generation but doubt whether they will ever be able to master the use of such equipment.  It is also sad to see that administrative systems (for example, collecting marks for report cards, or recording behaviour problems of learners) are ineffective, whereas it could have saved a lot of time.

Question: What are your suggestions to overcome these obstacles?

Mariaan: Technology takes time to master. So many things can go wrong and probably will.  Realize that you are working with people; carry on with patience and determination and keep all stakeholders involved at all times.  

Question: In your current role as Science curriculum advisor, how do you use technology in order to provide a better service to the teachers in your area?

Mariaan: The Eden district is large and many unproductive hours are spent on the road.  Electronic communication saves many hours.  An internet connection helps to render greater support to teachers.  As a matter of interest, my most regular contact at present is with an educator who teaches 350 km away from the office.

Question: You were seconded to the Khanya project for a while – did this benefit you in any way?

Mariaan: Definitely.  Not only did I get the opportunity to master educational software and electronic devices, I was also privileged to work with a team that encouraged me to think “outside the box”. Technology develops continuously.  Khanya taught me not to fear change and not to get stuck in my comfort zone but rather to investigate and to evaluate new methods.

Question: How do you feel about the fact that the Khanya project is coming to an end?

Mariaan: It is a crime to education.  Circuit teams and curriculum advisers are now supposed to take over the role of Khanya facilitators.  I am one of the few curriculum advisers that know exactly what this means, since I was a Khanya facilitator.  Initially I was very excited about the idea of combining my Khanya experience with my current position as curriculum adviser.  I simply do not have the time to do what is required.

Question: How do you see the future of technology in schools in the Western Cape and the rest of South Africa?

Mariaan: I am worried.  Technology is a vehicle that needs a dedicated driver. 

Question: What can be done to create a greater awareness of the value of technology among the education fraternity?

Mariaan: Technology will only be used if educators believe that it can solve their current problems; we must not present solutions to educators and then expect them to come up with problems where these solutions would fit.  

Question:  Do you have any advice for teachers/schools who want to make a success of technology?

Mariaan: Too often the management team at a school decides to use technology and neglects to bring all role players on board. Spend quality time to identify teachers that genuinely want to use technology successfully.   Educators that are serious about technology will be willing to spend money to do so; if they are prepared to buy their own laptops, award them with an interactive whiteboard in their classroom.  When learners experience the increased quality of lessons, they will put pressure on other educators to use technology as well.

I thank Mariaan for sharing her views and wish her well as she continues to promote the use of technology in schools in her district.


Be careful of technology overload

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011 | e-Learning pioneers, Uncategorized | Comments Off

The e-pioneer is a discreet juggler.

Have you ever watched a juggler keeping a number of balls in the air – starting with two or three, adding one after another until you’re awestruck? 

Why are we so fascinated by jugglers?  Some claim that the appeal of the juggling act is not so much in the display of skill, but rather in the suspense of waiting for one of the balls to drop.  If you can’t juggle – and the juggler fails – you don’t feel so incompetent! 

E-pioneers are like jugglers.  It is expected of them to deal with a number of important tasks at the same time – training teachers, keeping hardware and software going and staying abreast with latest technology trends.  If the e-pioneer succeeds, others may be shown up – even some in more senior positions – who are secretly waiting for a dropped ball.  Stressful indeed! 

What is the key to a juggler’s success?   It is knowing when to stop.  Through experience jugglers know the limit of their abilities – and they dare not exceed this limit, particularly in front of an audience. 

E-pioneers must take this lesson to heart.  Determine how much you can handle; learn to do it well; and resist the temptation to tackle more.  Be particularly careful of the flood of new technologies coming your way at a rapid rate – hardware, application programs, games and whatever else is new. 

While you’ll want to keep up to date with new developments, you must accept your capacity limit – if you try to dabble in too many technologies you’re bound to drop a ball or two.

Click here for more food for thought for e-pioneers. 

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Repetition is the key to retention … and avoiding confusion

Monday, December 13th, 2010 | e-Learning pioneers | Comments Off

The e-pioneer plans on being misunderstood.

A misunderstanding is worse than understanding nothing at all.  When you don’t understand, you usually refrain from doing.  When you misunderstand you’re likely to act in the mistaken belief that you know what you’re doing – just imagine how disastrous that can be!

The process of technology training for teachers is fraught with misunderstandings.  These mix-ups often happen as a result of using technical jargon.  To a person unfamiliar with keyboard technology, the instruction to “hit the ENTER key” may not convey the idea of gently pushing this key with the little finger of your right hand.

E-pioneers don’t become despondent when teachers misconstrue what they’re being taught.  In fact, you must anticipate that it will happen – and plan to work around the confusion.

How?  Here are two suggestions:

When a topic is introduced, avoid using technical terms – particularly acronyms.   Keep explanations simple.

Another useful confusion remedying technique is repetition.  Approach the matter first from one angle, then from another.  Do this, not once, not twice, but as many times as you need to lift the fog.  Repetition on different occasions may be necessary – continue repeating the lesson until the teacher is comfortable in performing the new skill.

Prepare yourself for misunderstandings.  If the teacher is still confused after  the first or second time, you must have a Plan B up your sleeve.  Persevere until you’re understood.

Click here for more food for thought for e-pioneers. 

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The Taj Mahal … a lesson in history for beaurocrats

Sunday, October 31st, 2010 | e-Learning pioneers | 4 Comments

The e-pioneer is a monument builder

The Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful buildings on earth – it is not surprising that it is rated as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. 

This magnificent monument was built centuries ago by Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal Emperor (in Northern India) as a memorial to his love for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. 

Like the Taj Mahal, e-learning can be a beautiful monument

After her death it took twenty years for the completion of the Taj Mahal.  Shortly after that one of his sons usurped the throne and put his father in prison, where the sad old man died. 

Shah Jahan might have lost his empire, but his monument is still standing, providing joy to millions of visitors.

Let this be a history lesson for e-pioneers.  Some officials in the education system may support e-learning in the belief that it will boost their empire.  Bringing a function, with staff and a budget ‘under’ you is a well-used tactic for bureaucratic empire-building. 

E-learning is far too important to be used as a self-promoting tool.  The future of learners is at stake.  The true e-pioneer forgets about the empire, and strives to establish e-learning as a permanent feature of the organization – a monument of empowerment to all who benefit from it. 

Once you are gone your empire will pass into the hands of others – or it may disappear entirely as in the case of the Mughal Empire.  Remember: empires fall, but monuments remain.

Click here for more food for thought for e-pioneers.

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Innovation – using old things in new ways

Monday, October 11th, 2010 | e-Learning pioneers | Comments Off

The e-pioneer is an innovator.

Innovation is usually associated with the invention of new things.  Unfortunately not all of us are in a position to invent things like the wheel, the light bulb or a cloning technique.  That does not mean we can’t be innovators.

Today innovation is no longer about building something from nothing or designing things that had never been thought of before; rather, it is now about taking existing tools and ideas and applying them in new ways.

The application of technology to the field of education lends itself to this new wave of innovation.

Most technologies, such as computers, cell phones, the internet and many software applications, were invented to serve specific needs of the business world.  Education was the last thing on the minds of the inventors.

The e-pioneer can prove to be a real innovator when new ways are found to use existing technologies in support of education.  This requires a thorough understanding of the barriers to teaching and learning, as well as an in-depth understanding of technology.  The e-pioneer must be well acquainted with both fields in order to find solutions, and must not hesitate to explore possibilities.  Remember, many attempts are necessary before an innovator may hit on a winning idea.

Technology in itself will not make a difference to education – it is its innovative application that has the power to transform dark-age classrooms.

Click here for more food for thought for e-pioneers. 

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Good teacher + technology = excellent teaching

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010 | e-Learning pioneers | 3 Comments

The e-pioneer regards good as bad when excellence is available.

“I’ve been a teacher for years and my tried and tested methods and tools are good enough for me,” some teachers may say when confronted with technology.

True, many teachers are good at what they are doing – but just imagine how much better they can be if they use available technology!  The different ways in which computers, interactive whiteboards and other technology devices can enhance the classroom experience are well documented.  Of course, it is agreed that these tools have little value, unless they are in the hands of skilled teachers.

Teachers may be good.  But they can be much better – in fact, excellent – when they embrace technology.

The task of the e-pioneer is to convince teachers of the value of technology.  During training sessions it is not enough to teach them which buttons to press.  Go beyond this point and help them to understand why and how technology can make a difference to their quality of teaching.  Show them the possible ways in which they can become better teachers; demonstrate to them the things they will be able to do with technology, which are not possible without it.

Our children deserve the very best.  Good technology is bad unless it is skilfully harnessed by excellent teachers.  The converse is also true – when excellent technology tools are available but not used, good teaching is just not good enough.

Click here for more food for thought for e-pioneers. 

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Teachers, use favourable conditions to stock up on technical skills

Friday, September 24th, 2010 | e-Learning pioneers | 1 Comment

The e-pioneer makes hay while the sun shines.

The rationale behind the idiom “make hay while the sun shines” may not be all that clear to city slickers. It originated in an agricultural setting and was used as far back as 1546 when it was in the form: “whan the sunne shynth make hey“.  Just shows you how old it is!

This antique expression refers to the processing of hay after a harvest. The warmth of the sun is required to dry the wheat stalks and to turn them into hay. When a heap of hay, once dried, gets wet again, it starts to rot. In view of the unpredictability of the weather, the opportunity must therefore be grabbed to tie the hay in bundles and store them in a protected place while the weather holds.

The e-pioneer follows the principle of this idiom: help teachers take advantage of favourable circumstances – which may not last indefinitely – to become proficient in the use of technology.

When technology is placed in schools the sun of opportunity is shining. It is, however, shining through a shrinking window of opportunity.

For example: once technology has been installed, the hardware warranty clock starts ticking away; the time for optimal use and guaranteed vendor support is running out. Or, once the project making the technology available is completed, further training opportunities and technical support may not be available.

Principals, in particular, must make hay while the sun shines by seeing to it that favourable conditions are used to build technical skills in staff members.

Click here for more food for thought for e-pioneers.

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Allay fears of technology resistant teachers

Monday, September 6th, 2010 | e-Learning pioneers | 1 Comment

The e-pioneer is a ghostbuster.

Many people in Africa believe in ghosts – they can’t see them, but they fear them.

In her book “Laying Ghosts to Rest” Mamphela Ramphele tells about her childhood fear of ghosts and the technique of an old man in her hometown to get rid of them.  She writes:

“Whatever truth there was to the ghost stories that shaped my childhood, one thing stood out: ghosts could be laid to rest by calling them by name.”

The realm of e-learning is riddled with ghosts – those invisible, intangible, sometimes unrealistic fears haunting teachers – preventing them to use technology for the benefit of learners.  Think about a few of these ghosts:

What if learners outshine me in the use of technology?

What if I do not have an aptitude for technology?

What if technology takes over my job as teacher?

E-pioneers must lay these ghosts to rest.  How?  The first step is to call them by name.  Many teachers never vocalise their fears.  They don’t say what is bothering them about the use of technology.  The fear is vague.  But when we identify and name the fear, we can discuss the matter and lay the matter to rest – the fear then evaporates like a ghost before a ghostbuster.

Click here for more food for thought for e-pioneers.

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