The best part of today

Day 3 at Wavecrest Primary saw an hour of play time for the grade 7 teachers, the vice principal and the school’s lab assistant. The way Benji and I have been handling things is sitting the laptop on the desk in the case at the top of the session and saying, “Ok, let’s start. First, would you hook up the laptop please?”

Startled looks.

“Don’t worry. We won’t let you do anything that can’t be fixed.”

Cautiously they began.

We’ve met with the grade-level teachers for every grade in the school.

Some teachers have never touched a laptop before. The adapter on the VGA cable has been a cause of difficulty for most. Once past it, we tell them to play with the SMART Board doing anything they’d like.

A quizzical look.


Eventually they start to play.

By the end of the hour, once they’ve learned how to shut down and pack up the laptop, every teacher says something to the effect of “I didn’t know I could do that.”

It’s pretty awesome to see teachers get so jazzed about something they can use immediately in their practice.

Today, after our sessions, I got to visit classes.

I started with Ms. Hendricks’ Reception Level (kindergarten) class. We were learning listening skills by clapping when she said the word “sun” – more difficult than you might think.

From there, I joined Ms. La Vita’s grade 4 class in the computer lab. They were using Encarta Kids to find maps of South Africa. Then, Ms. La Vita let them use the Games and Activities section.

Twenty-six computers, 40 plus learners. They were 2 to a machine. Except Wallace. He’d sat at the machine with the bunk monitor.

I tried to fix it but I couldn’t.

I pulled out my laptop.

We looked at pictures from this year and last on iPhoto. I was getting ready to go talk to the rest of the class, so I opened Word. “Write a note about whatever you want,” I said.

“Write a note to who?”

“To me.”

“Ok,” he said with a pensive look.

Fifteen minutes later, Wallace waved me to the back of the room.

Here’s what he wrote:

I know he doesn’t know me. I know I’m not really his hero. But, he typed it for me. He was proud of it. So, no matter how cynical you are, let me think, for today, that I’m Wallace’s hero and he’ll miss me.

Meeting the man at the top

I wasn’t quite certain what to expect when meeting the principal of Wavecrest Primary School Wednesday.

I’ll be working with the faculty at Wavecrest next week to help their teachers who attended our Cape Town workshops further integrate tech into their teaching. I’m also hoping to work with their ICT Committee to set up a structured, regular schedule for meeting to achieve the school’s vision for ICT integration.

Those were the ideas in my head prior to meeting with the principal.
I knew full well they could fall by the wayside – or waveside (sorry).

Each member of our team is paired with a school identified by Edunova as most likely to benefit from some one-on-one attention in our last week here.

I’d heard varying stories from the other principal meetings. One had waved it off and said we should speak with the school’s LAN Administrator*. While not standing in the way of ICT integration, that principal wasn’t willing to make room on his plate for taking it on as his own priority either.

Some pieces of this process really do translate internationally.

These meetings can also be tricky if we run into an overzealous principal. The one who asks for full-faculty trainings, repairs to a long-defunct computer lab, physical resources, etc.

The whole idea behind EBB is capacity building.

We work with those on the ground here to build their knowledge and plans for passing that knowledge on.

If I give a whole-faculty workshop on the ins and outs of PowerPoint, the learning’s more than likely to stop once I walk o

ut the door. Teachers are sometimes left waiting for the next year’s team to pick up where I left off, not building their skills throughout the year. It

might be doing the right things, but it wouldn’t be doing things right.

As much as I was braced for the aloof, uninvolved principal, I was prepared for the hyper-interested, high-maintenance principal as well.

Wavecrest presented me with neither.

Waiting in for our meeting, I saw three of the teachers from the week before. I got hugs.

When my colleagues from Edunova, Khosi and Benji, and I sat down with the principal, he was gregarious and welcoming.

After formal introductions, I asked what help we might be able to provide around ICT integration in the coming week.

His teachers lack confidence, he said. They need to know they can use technology without fear.

“What about the school’s ICT committee?” I asked.

We have one, yes, but they will meet here and there.

“Would it be alright if we worked to set up something more formal?”

“Oh, yes, yes. That would be very good.”

2 for 2

“We have 3 SMART Boards,” he said, “But none of the teachers use them because they do not know how. Could you show them?”

“Your teachers at last week’s workshops rece

ived training on SMART Boards. We could work with them to design workshops where they help their colleagues learn about the boards.”

Again, agreement.

“Is there anything else you can think of?” I asked.

“Would you have time to visit some of our classes and observe the learners and talk with our teachers?”

Jackpot! I miss kids. It’s even worse to be spending all this time in schools, but not get to work directly with kids.

Friday Khosi, Benji and I will be meetin

g with the principal, the seven teachers who attended the workshops and the two members of the ICT committee who weren’t at the workshops. We’ll be forming up a plan for the week ahead.

I love it when a plan comes together.

*LAN Administrator here means a teacher who is in charge of developing a time table for the use of a school’s computer lab along with other duties.

Let ’em admire the shiny

Due to illness, we’re down a team member today. Our partner NGO, Edunova, is also down a team member. Both of the missing team members were responsible for the same session today. As such, a little schedule shuffling was necessary this morning.

The results are to the teachers’ benefit. We’ve inserted a joint session.

For the first half, the teachers are getting a basic overview of how to use Smart Boards. Many of them have them in their classrooms or schools, but they sit dormant because teachers don’t know how to use them or are frightened of them.

They sit like white elephants in the schools, representative of thousands of rand that could have funded a laptop and projector or some other more varied ICTs.

Seems educational technology companies don’t have the best interest of schools and their learners at heart.

The second half of the new session is a Part II of yesterday’s multimedia session. Khanyiso and I drafted a project for the teachers in about 15 minutes.

Using their cell phones and Windows Movie Maker, they’re to create a 1-3 minute video answering the question, “What does it mean to be a teacher?”

We spent all of our 45 minutes on explaining the project, oggling the gadgets and storyboarding.

I’m not worried we didn’t get to the videos.

We’ve built about an hour into the day today for the teachers to play.

Many of them are planning on creating their movies.

The best part for me was watching them realize they had video capabilities on their phones and then take meaningless videos of their colleagues for 30 seconds simply because they could.

They were waking up to the power of the tools they carry in their pocket everyday.

Also, we didn’t re-direct them. We didn’t demand their attention or that they get back on task. I knew they’d get there.

For the moment, the tools were shiny.

When my first iPhone arrives, I imagine I won’t be making too many calls. I’ll just be admiring the shiny.

After about 5 minutes, all of the groups, each and every teacher, was working diligently to create a storyboard to tell the world what it means to be a teacher.

When we were wrapping up, we discussed the benefits of what they’d been doing:

  • Incorporating many subject areas.
  • Most of the work could be done in the classroom with minimal need to wrestle for a chance at the computer labs.
  • The gadgets were shiny and new, but the task won out.
  • One hundred percent of them were engaged.
  • They cared about what they were creating.

The plan is to post the finished products up on youtube and then share them here.

Most importantly, they’ll have seen what can happen once you get past admiring the shiny.

Teachers aren’t the worst audience

Khanyiso, Mlungisi and I were in charge of leading the session on multimedia in the classroom Wednesday. It was the afternoon and the usual grumblings about too much theory and not enough practice had begun in a small contingent of teachers.

They were ready for some hands on.

To get us started, I pulled up Schooltube and Teachertube to grab a few examples. The first was not so academic. The second, though, led to some interesting conversation about how the use of multimedia ICTs could be of use in the classroom.

The teachers could see how learners would be required to incorporate learning across multiple areas of study to create a short video on a given topic.

We’d talked about this in the theory portion of the week when discussing the importance of collaboration.

The teachers could tell how creating multimedia products would require learners to do new things using new tools.

We’d talked about the Literacy, Adaptive and Transformative levels of ICT integration earlier in the week, so they were able to point it out and use the language.

The teachers discussed what it would take to locate the information the learners had used in the sample video.

We’d talked about information literacy and search strategies earlier. A trend was forming.

If I’d been a different kind of fellow, I would have noted how all the theory was necessary to name the practice and discuss it using common language. If I’d been a real jerk, I would have pointed out how important the part they were complaining about was proving to be during the part they’d been clamoring for.

I’m neither of those types.

Instead, I said things like, “If you remember what Chris said about refining search terms in his session earlier…” or “What’s the difference between the transformative learning in this example versus the adaptive learning Cyndy talked about Tuesday?”

Teachers, it’s been said until it needs not be said anymore, are the worst audience. I don’t know how much I agree with that.

Teachers are learners. We make assumptions they’re inherently more willing to listen to someone else drone on and on than children. They’re not.

They’re learners.

Yes, the stages of development are different, but they still have learning styles, they still need to move, they still need to be engaged. And, learning, oftentimes, is a difficult and uncomfortable process for them.

I love it.

Would you marry the Internet again?

When I’m playing “What if?” and I come up with this scenario, I imagine someone tripping over a chord and the entire country making that cartoony power-down sound.

As you’ve likely heard, the Internet’s broken on the west side of Africa. Something called SEACOM went down and that was that.

It’s not quite what you’d like to have happen when you’re on Day 1 of a week of workshops about technology in education. If you’re minutes away from leading a session signing 25 teachers up for their first-ever e-mail accounts, it’s certainly not the news you’d like to get.

We’re not even going to consider the implications if the country in which you happen to be staying is hosting one of the most highly watched sporting events in the world.

Anyway, someone tripped over a cord up north and brrroooooooooo. 😦

The session I was supposed to lead at the end of the day became the second session of the day – sans my google docs-stored notes.

You roll with it.

I gave the scenario a few posts ago of tech leaders from around a state showing up to a conference and losing connectivity.

Now, imagine a few countries lost that connectivity. Imagine the Eastern Seaboard of the United States broke their connection. Chaos, right?

Here, we’re moving on and teaching Photo Story 3 and discussing how to get communities surrounding schools with computer labs to take ownership of those resources.


The Internet’s broken and no one has set fire to a single car. I want to run into the computer lab and scream, “Don’t you understand what’s happening?! Don’t you get there’s no way to talk about it on Facebook?!”

Yes, I’m convinced the connectedness and access the Internet affords will exponentially provide South Africa educational opportunities educators and learners have no access to now. I have no doubts.

I wouldn’t be spending more than a month here if I weren’t certain.

Access will make things better.

I wonder, though, if access will become the dependence seen across the U.S.

If we had the Internet to do over again, would we?

The energy is genetic

Standing in line Thursday for lunch, one of the e-Personnel turned to me and questioned, “Zac, when will you be giving a workshop on how to have your energy?”

I get a little excited.

The energy of learning is infectious. Feeling, seeing and hearing ideas whip around in discussion or writing or pictures or music or any other mode can make me a bit manic.

That said, I didn’t have an answer for her.

As we were standing to say our formal goodbyes as a team, Friday, I referenced her question.

“I’m not sure how to teach people to be energetic,” I said, “I think it’s genetic.”

My people are kitchen dancers. I remember the radio pumped up when I was a little kid and my mom and I dancing through dinner prep. I’ll argue lasagna tastes better if you’ve got a little wiggle in your booty whilst you’re layering on the pasta.

Now, my classroom’s my test kitchen.

It’s not uncommon for me to stand on a chair to get noticed above the self-orchestrated din. I’ll dance badly when the spirit moves me. Why not sing once in a while?

I do these things when I’m working with learners young and old alike. Silly is good. Silly makes the tough stuff easier. If we’ve laughed together, we’re bonded for when the problems arise.

Getting that message across when people are teaching for their lives – when they’re scared of mistakes and terrified of looking like they don’t know what they’re doing – can prove incredibly difficult.

I’m talking about the e-Personnel we were working with as well as much too many educators in other settings around the world.

When everything’s buttoned down and deviation from the plan is frowned upon, kitchen dancing seems an impossible answer.

The energy comes from having faith in my ability to try again and do it better.

That’s a privilege.

Working with people who are hanging on every cent they can get to improve learning for their children forces the question of whether I’d have the energy were I in their place.

I’d like to think so.

I’d like to think the love of learning, of ideas, would transcend.

Computer said no

Part of getting on the ground here is encountering new surprises. It’s part of what I love/hate.

The Eastern Cape project has offered a special challenge.

I must first state I’ve had only basic formal moodle training. Everything else has been figuring it out as I go. The fact that it’s an integral part of daily life at SLA definitely gives me a leg up on many others, but I’m no moodle maven. (I don’t even own the scarves, robes and crystals I’d imagine such a maven would possess.)

When Charles, our main liaison with the Eastern Cape Department of Education, asked for training integrating the Learning Objects different e-Personnel and teachers have built into moodle, it fell to me.


I’m up to a challenge.

The idea is to create intranets within the schools in the province with computer labs, install moodle and have the LO accessible to all teachers within the school.

Some initial roadblocks: the intranets don’t exist, a plan for moodle installation hasn’t happened yet, there may be others.

Still, I sat in the dining hall yesterday working with the sample LO Charles had given me.

I wanted to claw out my eyes.

Here’s what I learned:

The objects were created in a free Microsoft software called Learning Content Development System. They pull in video and graphics and text. They create interactive guided lessons. They export into SCORM. They don’t play nicely with moodle. (That last one was a bit of a bugger.)


I spent hours trying to figure things out.

My favorite piece of research brought this reply from a MSFT Moderator on the forums:

Hi Takabanda,

LCDS is designed to create content that can be hosted in the SharePoint Learning Kit (SLK).

In addition, we continue to test the content in other Learning Management Systems. We’ve heard varying reports about issues with Moodle and we do not have steps to resolve the issues some course authors are encountering with Moodle at this point.

Unfortunately, we don’t have specific steps to for Moodle.



I had some bad news for Charles.

I sent this tweet out:

Minutes later, I got this response:

@Microsoft_Cares attempted to help, as did @mwacker, and I’m grateful for it. Still, in the end, it was for naught.

I handed the issue over to my teammate, Chris, in whose wheelhouse this problem more naturally lives.


While I’ll leave Matthew Arvin out of it, Microsoft should still look over their shoulder when in allies.

Districts here don’t have budget for SharePoint Learning Kit. More to the point, there’s no budget for the upkeep nor bandwidth for the updates. Offering the first part for free and the second for pay is a bit of a bait-and-switch.

The flipside of that is the need for a clear ICT plan and research of the tools chosen for implementation. I certainly realize that. I’ve pointed it out as well.

I can’t help but have a bitter taste in my mouth thinking this is another example of corporations eyeing districts hurriedly moving to “catch up” with other districts/countries as profits over people and ignoring the global implications of leading them to waste the limited funds they possess.

Yes, buyer beware.

It’s reciprocal.

Seller, operate in good faith.

Find the Hard Pack

We’ve been starting each day of the Eastern Cape project with a period of reflection. It’s been my task to orchestrate these moments of reflection.

Wednesday, I told a story.

Mid-October, I’ll be running my 8th marathon.

Because of this, I need to keep training whilst I’m on the ground over here. As many of the locales where we’ll be working aren’t necessarily safe for a lone foreigner out on a run, I’ve been taking advantage of each location I can.

The venue here on South Africa’s “Wild Coast” is safe(-ish).

Wednesday, I set out before the sunrise to run along the beach.

Whereas Gonubie was a little resort town situated right on the beach, here, we’re much more middle of nowhere. The beach is expansive and I had it to myself.

Living in Florida taught me about running on the beach – you stay close to the water on the hard-pack sand. Otherwise, you’re running in mush.

The first mile-and-half of my 6-miler was great. Still dark, light breeze, waves crashing.

Then, I lost the hard pack.

It was mush.

It was whatever the morning equivalent of twilight is and I was running in mush.

I pushed through.

“I’m a marathoner. A little soft sand won’t get me down.”

It didn’t end.

I’d stop and rest and run again and stop and rest and run again. No end.

I was fatigued.

I turned around half a mile short of my set halfway point.


As I took another walking break, I spotted the two people I’d passed about a quarter of a mile before turning around.

This was their beach.

They’d left a path.

I started to run again – in their tracks – ignoring my own footprints.

This was their beach.

The way back was easier than the way out.

I was following those who knew the path and I was pretty certain were so used to walking it they thought nothing of it.

Pace-wise, my time was horrible.

As far as all the other reasons long-distance runners do what they do, it was superb.

This is the story I told the e-Personnel Wednesday before a day-long workshop where we asked them to create lesson plans in which they incorporated Information Communication Technologies to serve as examples for the thousands of teachers they work with. They’d never done what they’ve been asking their teachers to do for two years now.

It was arduous and confusing and jargon-splitting, but it was so good.

If we’re going to ask others to go there, we must first go there ourselves.

It’s up to us to find the hard pack.

Not the same

The Gist:

  • The issues are not the same.
  • We’re not all in this together.
  • Thinking it’s the same is wrong.
  • Have different conversations.

The Whole Story:

Tuesday, we ended Day 2 with an Elluminate session connecting the e-Personnel here in Eastern Cape with folks back in the States attending ISTE.

Thanks to Steve Hargadon for hooking us with the Elluminate connection. And thanks to Monika Hardy for joining in and talking about the work she’s doing with classrooms around the world.

It was quite the day.

Just before we were ready to reconvene following lunch, we lost connectivity. Here’s what’s funny, connectivity wasn’t an issue for the first few sessions. We were talking about backward design and working with adult learners and workshop design components. Computers were necessary, but not Internet.

After lunch, Google Docs was on the docket. (Geez, I’m witty.)

Then…it wasn’t.

As near as we can figure, some moderate winds in the area blew a telecom cable loose down the road. Telecommunications from here to Port Elizabeth were down.

There’s a dangerous trap to being here. Similarities can seduce. In an attempt to connect to the environment, to seem a part of rather than apart from, my mind went to “We have so much in common.”

That is the visible.

The invisible is not the same.

During the Elluminate session, a guest said, “I have a feeling we’re not so different.”

We may not be, but our situations are.

Picture a training for all the district technology coordinators for your state. Now, picture the Internet going down due to moderate winds.

What’s the reaction?

Would they sit as though nothing had happened?

We’re talking district-level folks as well as the heads of technology integration for the state.

My guess would be a series of hardy “harumphs.”

Here, there was no surprise.

Not the same.

What if your state was pushing to get every school connected to the Internet? What if several districts said no because they didn’t have electricity and then argued further that they didn’t want to get a generator to power connectivity because they knew the reliability of the generator would likely play havoc with or destroy the equipment if they had it?

Is that happening where you are?

This is me out on a limb saying, likely no.

What’s more, the local press would probably be on the story in hours.

Not the same.

What if the telecom provider your district contracted with honored the legally-required 50 percent e-rate for connectivity, but treated your school as a third-class consumer, arguing that the American satellite they contracted with to get their connectivity didn’t give them a 50 percent reduction for their account? And, no one did anything.

Again, the press, the parents, the district, all stakeholders would be on the line looking for answers.

Here, scenarios 1 and 2 above are such a part of life that snubbery by an international corporation seems par for the course.

Not the same.

I’ve more time to think on this over the next few weeks.

For those of you at ISTE this week, look at your programs. Where are the sessions about building connectivity across the world?

Where are the conversations about the importance of everyone’s voice?

Are we doing so greatly if we’re leaving so many behind?

Does having a “connected” classroom in North America matter when only 25.6 percent of the world’s population has access to the Internet?

When we talk of having our students collaborate with students around the world, do we celebrate the success AND tell the story of the road their partner countries had to walk to find access?

If information is currency and the haves and the have nots are finding themselves more and more separated, we’re fooling ourselves if we think it won’t lead to great troubles down the road.

What are you doing?

The Wonky Road Ahead

The network here is a bit wonky.

According to Charles, one of our liaisons on the ground here, the Ministry of Education (MOE) would have preferred another venue.

That venue did not complete the required rating that would have established it as a Historically Disadvantaged Institution. Evidently, in order to bid for the contract, a business should qualify as a HDI.

We’re working with approximately 40 Senior Education Specialist e-Personnel this week. They work with the 6,000+ schools in the Eastern Cape province. The majority are responsible for tech training for around 300 schools.

At evening tea last night, one e-Personnel boasted that she was able to travel to a record 40 schools in one month thanks to her new government-subsidized car.

Eastern Cape has the third highest population in South Africa and is ranked the most impoverished.

And those are just the socio-economic problems.

Based on multiple reports here, the provincial and national management see ICT as a new problem for them to manage.

They are working under the myth that, “ICT can never ever, ever assist teachers in the classroom.”

Charles would like to erase that myth as his legacy.

I’d like to help.

Still, the network here is a bit wonky.

The e-Personnel haven’t all physically met in the same place for years. They’ve received quarterly training in cohorts.

They don’t know what one another is doing.

As I learned at lunch, “We are not terribly interested in what you are doing in your district as we are responsible for our own.”

Similarly, the e-Personnel have never been in the same virtual space at the same time. The e-Learning unit attempted to get everyone together through a site called SocialGo. It didn’t take.

Seems they didn’t inherently value something because it was new.

Yesterday’s session had the e-Personnel logging in to a moodle course we’ve designed for the week. It holds the readings, it holds the homeworks, it holds the forums for discussion. It means something to their progress.

Everyone had to download their homework files and fill out their moodle profiles before leaving the meeting room at night.

We haven’t any wireless access. They needed to be plugged in.

The network here is a bit wonky.