Documenting the challenges of implemening ICT in schools in South Africa.
I’ve just unpacked my HP 360 P N37004 /500gb Green Touch 11.6. A long description for a very neat 2 in 1 device!
In education circles there is an on-going debate about whether a laptop (a device with a keyboard) or a tablet is the most suitable tool for use by learners. There is general consensus that technology must be put in the hands of learners to improve educational outcomes, as well as to develop digital skills. But the jury is still out regarding the best form factor for such a device.
The 2 in 1 may just be the compromise solution. It is a tablet, with all the touch features that one would expect, yet, if you need the keyboard you have that too. Over the next few weeks I will be using this device for everything … email, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogging, writing, working, surfing the internet, and whatever else I may want to do. I will also look at some education apps in order to determine how this device can fit into education.
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 Applications 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.
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?
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.
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 wits.getsmarter.co.za for more information.
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?
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.