Final Ruminations from Rumginae (Part III)

Just as every teacher I have spoken with wants more training, every school wants a technology expert. This was the case in Rumginae, and at the Jim Taylor School before it, and I was to hear it again in the Solomon Islands.

In Rumginae’s case, the argument could certainly be made for more training—they were one of the first schools to receive the laptops, and as I understood it, their training was just two days in length. Because there is always a learning curve, the training that schools are currently receiving is five days in length—a working week—according to what I was told.

A couple of days’ training and then…go to it! Teach!

Not so easy for an adult who has never seen nor used a computer before they are handed an XO. Not so easy for an adult who has been taught in a certain way all their lives, and has in turn, taught in a certain way all their lives. And now this laptop is supposed to come along and change everything—revolutionize education. And we’ll give you a week to get ready for your life and work to be revolutionized.

This is not a critique of Rumginae. It is a critique of the majority of technology-in-education projects (in places that did not have technology before) that I have studied. And it is my empathy for the teachers—being a teacher myself—that makes me so interested in the subject. I cannot imagine what such a mandate must be like, because I’ve had technology all along. But I’m getting a better idea, from being able to talk with teachers around the globe.

This dearth of training and preparedness must change. Not just regarding the teachers, but also in order to provide for a local tech expert who can maintain, manage, fix, repair, and possibly train others. Every school, every teacher, has wanted these things. And the lack of a tech expert is a larger burden, the more remote the location. Yet these things are not budgeted in, not considered as a part of the OLPC projects so far. I respect that most projects are working with constrained, limited resources. But this is an issue that certainly threatens to only get more serious as time goes on, whether because teachers aren’t bold in using the technology to change their mode of teaching, or whether the laptops or batteries eventually break, or the server or Internet connection stops working, and no one is there to fix these things.

I must admit, at each school, teachers appeared to be doing their best. At each school, teachers were excited about the laptops and grateful that their school had been chosen to be included in the OLPC program. At each school, there were some teachers who were intrepid, adventurous, game, creative, and really working with the laptops. But the project shouldn’t depend on the creativity and bravery of a few. All teachers deserve training.

And at the Jim Taylor School, there was a teacher who made a point of expressing his interest in becoming the tech expert (and I learned the good news that—through whatever channel, this news was communicated—and he has now been designated as one of the two tech experts-in-training, which is great.) No one expressed that interest to me at Rumginae, but I also didn’t expressly ask the teachers, either.

Teacher training, and the training and provision for a tech expert, are subjects near and dear to my heart, and I’m going to push for these, and try to figure out how to make this happen in Haiti…


About ljhosman

Laura Hosman is Assistant Professor at Arizona State University. She holds a dual position in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and in The Polytechnic School.
This entry was posted in OLPC, Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea, Teacher Technology Training, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Final Ruminations from Rumginae (Part III)

  1. Hi Laura, just a quick clarification to this. I share your empathy with the teachers, having worked as a teacher in such schools and also with ICT projects training teachers. Training is the most critical component of the trials and most of the focus is on training. It is certainly true that there are big constraints, but it is not the case that the teachers were just given two days of training and then told to go with it. I don’t think you meant that either. In fact, working within the constraints and the availability of a very small team of trainers in these early days of small scale trials, the initial training is only the first (level 1) of a series of planned inputs (3 levels) along with the nurturing of local training capacities such that as the programme grows, training can be cascaded using the teachers as trainers. Discussions have been held with church and provincial education authorities to plan for cascaded training. In the medium term the hope is that training can be integrated into the national education system, for instance at institutional level (teacher education) and then refresher training aligned with existing training programmes.
    Going back to the trials; the initial level 1 training continued for five days, not two. The objective of level 1 training is to give the teachers basic operating skills and awareness of the principles of OLPC, along with developing the local partnership with parents and community, and seeding a culture of in-school support. Right from the beginning classroom integration is mentioned, but we appreciate that teachers need a period of familiarisation (with the laptops and server) and experimentation before they can be expected to systematically integrate the laptops into lesson plans. You did not mention the student training, where teachers work with trainers, training students as a training exercise. Of course, even five days is too little. Two weeks would have been a more comfortable period, especially when training has to be conducted only after each morning’s classes.
    Following the initial familiarisation period, maybe 2-4 months depending on the constraints (availability of trainers and resources) a second training input is planned. This will feature level 2 and 3 training with a strong focus on advanced classroom methods and lesson planning. One constraint we have is that when working with a small team of trainers, and yet having to train teachers in 11 scattered locations/schools during term time, the logistics are a big challenge. Compromises have to be made, and usually that limits the time available. The solution will be a growing reliance on local cascaded training and integration with official teacher development programmes.
    One approach is to foster in-school support or self-training, and at Jim Taylor school (Kisap) an approach was identified that used existing School Based In Service SBIS training sessions, held weekly. They decided to try incorporating a discussion on OLPC within the context of the week’s SBIS session, and thus strengthen linkages to their professional duties and needs, plus some opportunity for monitoring and evaluation and sharing of ideas.
    Just as important is a regular communication system with the schools, regular reporting based on clear goals and targets (initially quite simple, in the long term linked to clear educational outcomes) . This too is a challenge where Internet access is far too expensive for schools, even when available through the increasing mobile networks.
    To summarise, a teacher focus is just as important as a child focus in these OLPC trials. Despite the challenges, this will continue to be the main priority.
    Thanks for your great commentary and support

  2. Dear OLPC friends,
    I would argue that the whole concept of “teacher training” as an “event” (whether 1 day, 2, or 5) is misguided and needs to be better informed by what is already known about successful technology integration. It is not just a matter of learning “to operate the device” although that is also needed. It is a process of professional development on how to integrate technology into teaching, how it changes the roles of teacher and learner, and even how to still add value when the kids are more tech-facile than the teacher, that is needed. Best, Mark

  3. Tony Anderson says:

    This is certainly a critical topic. One problem is that we seldom define what the laptops are to accomplish (by default: the kids should perform better than their peers who do not have access to laptops). Another problem is that we seldom define how the laptops are to be integrated into the classroom (Is it Wayan’s pet peeve: unguided constructivism or is it educational activities based on the curriculum? Are the teacher’s to add a repertoire of laptop-based lessons to those they already use or is the laptop to be the sole method of instruction? Do the teachers continue to prepare lesson plans and teach them or do the students work independently and the teachers act as a facilitators and motivators?)

    Perhaps the most stunning weakness is that we don’t use the laptops to provide the training. With school servers we can provide Moodle based e-learning. If we provide the teachers with a usb drive or SD card, we can give them educational activities on the XO.
    In this way the training is an event but the content is always available for review.

    In the deployments I am familiar with the schools are not reliably or consistently connected to the internet. However, I have not yet seen a proposal as to how the teachers can be linked via forums, mailing lists, or other techniques to each other and to the technical center.

    I believe in Rwanda it may be possible to link the school servers to a central server via GPRS perhaps using a cron job to rsync the local school server with the central server (and via Moodle providing a means to share messages in a Forum, for example).


    • ljhosman says:

      Tony, Thanks for your comments–I’m in agreement with all of them! One of the things I would like to work on in the future is to link the teachers and schools participating in the OLPC projects, to share best practices, lesson plans, lessons learned, etc. With other schools in their surrounding area, but also across the world, though there will be language and cultural issues there. As you well know, however, so many of the deployments aren’t connected to the Internet reliably, so this will remain a challenge for the future–but one that is not forgotten! I hope to be going to Rwanda this summer to work with the OLPC deployment and team, and this is something I can propose to help work towards there.

      Believe it or not, in Haiti, the OLPC team is/was using the laptops to provide 3-weeks-long training to the teachers, but that program has been stalled (due to the earthquake, of course, and) due to lack of energy/power for charging the laptops–which is one of the projects I’m involved in: to bring solar power to the participating schools. It’s a much slower process than I wish, due mainly to our fundraising capabilities (or limitations, perhaps I should say) back in Chicago, where we’re based. But we’re making progress!

      And finally, I completely agree about a central problem for this whole topic of ICT-in-education being that it’s not clearly defined what the technology is supposed to accomplish–sadly, this is NOT an issue specific to OLPC or the developing world. MY OWN UNIVERSITY did EXACTLY this last year when they introduced an ipad initiative to freshmen-only, never defining goals or what success would look like, not bringing the teachers on board with the project, not providing training, no monitoring and evaluation, no plans for continuation of the project, etc., etc., etc.! So, as I’m also reading discussion on the edutech debate website, and have made the case in this blog elsewhere, it’s all-too-easy to focus on the shiny new exciting technology, and forget to say or even make a plan for what it’s supposed to accomplish–THE WORLD OVER! It just happens to be a great and fortunate luxury for my university that it didn’t “break the bank” and it wasn’t the entire “new” focus of how to educate…

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