As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was difficult for our team to return to Udot Island and learn that the computer lab we had deployed there eight months earlier hadn’t been used or touched. It’s especially difficult for me to write this post, because I know much better than to deploy-and-depart when it comes to bringing technology to where it hasn’t been used before… I could point out that our previous trip took place in August, when the teachers and students were not in school, so our team wasn’t able to provide any meaningful training at that time, but that’s still just an excuse.
It was both humbling and frustrating to see the computer lab under a dustsheet, not being used, when we returned for a full WiFi site survey visit as part of the training of iSolutions and Telecom FSM. We promised to return two days later and provide some initial basic training, which we did, and I’m glad we got to do that.
The majority of this post will focus on that afternoon of training, but I’ve also since come to realize that there was a very significant silver lining to our discovering the non-use of the Udot computer lab since last August, and I hope you will continue reading to the end of the post to discover it.
But first, we had also returned to Udot Island two days later to set up a new Internet connection, this time connecting Udot school to the main telecom tower on Weno (the main island). We had previously connected the school to a temporary tower our team had set up on the roof of the Truk Stop hotel, but our Internet connection-host had since moved residences—meaning no more connection. Also, during this second trip, Telecom FSM had not only joined our team and participated in the training that Inveneo was leading for the technical site surveys, they had also given permission for the school(s) to be connected via the main mobile phone tower. TR and GR (pictured above) led the new connection setup at Udot School, while the rest of the team was in Weno, at the tower, setting up the connection from that side. (Special thanks to Prairie Summer from Inveneo for providing those photos, below. The first picture is a long-distance view of the tower itself, and the second is their view of Udot Island from the tower itself.)
School was in session while the set-up was being performed, so we waited until classes were done for the day to carry out hands-on training with the computers in the lab. At that point, three teachers joined in for the training: the principal and vice-principal (who are also teachers) and the math teacher were eager to receive computer training.
I soon discovered that none of them had had much exposure to computer usage before—if at all. As I walked them through how to turn on the computer, how to operate the mousepad, move the arrow, and click (or double-click), I instantly understood why they would be reluctant and/or fearful of using the computers without basic training: they literally didn’t know how to use them. In their place, I’m sure I would have avoided the computers as well.
I demonstrated the programs we had pre-loaded on the Lenovo Classmate laptops, which included books, a dictionary-like program, some learning games, drawing software, etc. There were also some audio (and pdf) files that PREL had provided to us that were in Chuukese. Playing those audio files was really a hit with the teachers, as they were able to hear the computers reading a story aloud in their own language.
I next showed them the Kahn Academy videos we had loaded on the computers, explaining that these videos that teach math seem to be very popular in the US, but that they were all in English, so I was sorry that the basic ones would probably be lost on the younger students, as English isn’t taught until the 3rd grade. This didn’t matter to the math teacher, as he sat transfixed, watching the basic addition video over and over, and exclaiming: “Now I know how to teach this!” “Now I have a new way to teach how to add!” He was absolutely delighted, and I was too, as I realized that despite what I had perceived as a language barrier would be overcome by the fact that the teacher speaks English and can convey to the students what he learns from the video.
We saved the best content for last, however, as Bruce Baikie brought new content in the form of historical videos of Micronesia from the Micronesia Seminar website. I loaded them on to the all laptops with a flash drive, and once I was finished, we started watching them. At that point, a crowd gathered…of students and other teachers, who were curious about these videos with music and images they recognized. I watched the audience as they crowded around the computers: they loved seeing people and places that they recognized: “That’s the president!” “There’s our airport!” “There’s our main road!” “That’s the capital in Pohnpei!” We watched these videos as a group until it was time to leave, and I’m very much hoping that the videos will be the final catalyst of inspiration needed to ensure that the computers will be used… However, much more training will be needed to make sure of this!
I mentioned a silver lining. We certainly never intended that deploying a computer lab would be an experiment of what happens when you install a computer lab where nobody has used a computer before, and then return eight months later to find out that it hasn’t been used at all…but that’s what happened. The silver lining is that perhaps this was precisely what was needed to demonstrate exactly that—the crucial, central, fundamental importance of teacher training when deploying computers, or the risk of them not being used! I believe this point has been sufficiently demonstrated locally, since my main contacts in Chuuk are now all talking about carrying out real ICT training, as never before.
But its effect on me has been pretty significant, too: it gets straight to the very reason I started keeping this blog. I can research and write my academic heart out from the safety and comfort of my desk. But all of the “best practices” in the world simply fall by the wayside out in the field when reality takes precedence over the best-laid plans. When circumstances beyond your control or ability to envision are what actually get the privilege of determining the course of events. This is when “lessons learned” really get learned. Plans get a reality check. Courses are altered accordingly. Humility is developed.
I learn, a lot, every single time I get out in the field, with each trip on each project, and I am grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to do so. Sometimes it feels like I’m falling flat on my face, and frequently it feels in retrospect that I should have known better, should have been able to predict the situation, avoid the obstacle, better plan things out. But this is hard work, and I’m still learning—as is my entire field of ICT4D. Nobody has all the answers yet.
So when faced with whether I will report only my successes, or share my failures as well, and include the “works in progress…” well, perhaps the reader has already surmised that I believe that sugarcoating things doesn’t lead to either learning or future success.
I’m happy to report that I see Udot Island as a Work in Progress. Far from seeing the lab as an initial failure and giving up on the as-yet unused computer lab, I believe our local partners are that much more energized to carry out training there. I know that I am just as re-energized, too, and am currently applying for grants to make this possible. I am committed to making sure that ICT training actually does accompany computers-in-the-schools programs in Chuuk.
(Heading back to Weno)