Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A report back on African Education Week 2012


Submitted by Janet Thomson, Executive Director of SchoolNetSA
On 2-4 July 2012 I attended Education Week which is one of the the largest education conferences and exhibitions in Africa. It was held at the Sandton Centre in Johannesburg. This post serves to highlight some of the presentations given during Education Week 2012. 


1) How to use and build online communities  
by Janet Thomson, Executive Director of SchoolnetSA

The organisers of the African Education Week conference requested SchoolNet to make a presentation at the conference on building and using online communities. Currently SchoolNet is building its SchoolNet Membership community using the SchoolNetsa members’ blog, Facebook page, Twitter @schoolnetsa and a host of other online digital media. Furthermore for the past 12 years SchoolNet has been sustaining communities of teachers while they study online courses in ICT integration across the curriculum both in South Africa and in other countries. I presented on this topic at the conference. Here is a link to the presentation. My presentation is embedded below – the notes under each slide provide the narrative (but this will only be viewable if you download the presentation from Slideshare as a PowerPoint).
Other highlights of the ICT thread of the conference included the following:

2) Enhancing creativity and nurturing innovative thinking skills by the use of interactive mobile technology and Cloud Computing
by Gisle Johnsen, CEO, Grieg Music Education & Assistant Professor, University of Bergen, Norway 

Gisle had been concerned that teachers tend to educate for yesterday instead of creating a society for tomorrow. He felt that creativity was the key to ensuring that civil society remains productive and that we should not just encourage learners to view art in museums or listen to music but to rather be the creators of their own music. Using a library of music for learners to select from that spanned all music genres and through the ages was mind-blowingly creative. The format of the programme is via an animation of a child wandering along a time line of history selecting what she would like to remix from each era or genre to make her own music. Gisle explained that children do not care about chopping up a piece of Beethoven or pasting the drums of Charlie Potts of the Rolling Stones into their highly diverse creations which could include a whole symphony orchestra. We hope to be given access to this online tool at no cost and will endeavour to share this with our SchoolNet member schools.


3) Do you know the top 10 tools that are free to use? by Sarietjie Musgrave, Head, ICT Innovation in School of Education, Bloemfontein
 
Sarietjie selected a few really valuable tools rather than wading through a top 10 list. She explored their use in being supportive to effective teaching, e.g. One Note, Qwiki, and a polling tool.The audience was transfixed by Sarietjie. It was as though they had never thought of using technology at all, let alone these whizz bang fantastic tools. Sarietjie took extra time at the end of the session and spilled over into lunchtime but nobody left – and after her talk she was inundated with questions about the use of the tools and where they could be accessed. 

4) Practical hands on training session, bring your gadgets & gismos along…Revolutionising classroom practices with Facebook, Twitter and all the other Goobleedees    by Maggie Verster, Senior Consultant, The Commonwealth of Learning, South Africa
 

Maggie presented as usual with great gusto and enthusiasm but for some reason the majority of the audience did not get out their phones and join in. There were some tweets up on the back chat but the delegates to this conference did not seem to be nearly as adventurous as Maggie would have hoped. Nevertheless her presentation was excellent as usual. She used a poll http://twtpoll.com/2dwqo7 to ask the question who is going to save our education system – the teachers, the parents, or the Education Department – the audience had to vote and the results refreshed automatically. Maggie extolled the virtues of powerful polling among students or even adult groups of learners. She also extolled the virtues of using the SchoolNet website and blog and webinars – in fact she did this so well during the conference that a few people told me they thought she worked for SchoolNet.

5) Practical mobile learning session: Using tools your learners have
by Adele Botha, Scientist, Next Generation Networks and Mobile research group, CSIR Meraka Institute, South Africa
 
Adele provided an up to date overview of how and why learners are connected to the world of information through the device in their pockets. She sketched out the scenarios in South Africa and the need to embrace and harness the mobile revolution currently happening in the world of learners. She warned that reactive policies such as banning cell phones were not going to work and in fact only serve to further alienate learners from learning. Adele’s presentation contained some hilarious cartoons about evolution and about the use of technology in this day and age and she highlighted some interesting facts e.g. Today’s grade 12 learners had never not had the internet. She was concerned about technology being viewed only as disruptive and authorities taking the view that with cell phone use there is nobody on playground duty. She gave a super example of a teacher with a low end phone with no sim card and how she divided the class into groups who each made video one after the other critiquing and improving it each time – the topic was ‘A dictator’ – so a whole project was created around dictatorship using the video feature of a low end phone with no connectivity and 60 students! They were certainly learning 21st century skills. 

6) CoZa Cares Foundation and the sustainable ICT school environment  by Fiona Wallace, Director, CoZa Cares Foundation, South Africa
 

Maggie Verster kept a back chat going throughout this presentation. Fiona spoke about current research into the educational ICT field being conducted by Bridge and funded by Uniforum. She promised that the findings would be shared and would probably be available by the end of Augus.Fiona also mentioned that Coza Cares is working on a portal for teachers to share resources. She also made reference to the Bread bin open source information service. Fiona suggested that connectivity was not necessarily the most important issue in education but that the benefits can be huge – e.g. it can bring the world library into a school. She was excited about the latest developments concerning broadband Internet over satellite – using a company called LiquidTelecom who are currently researching connectivity options for schools. 

7) Teaching and learning to reflect the digital lifestyle of our youth
by Michelle Lissoos, Managing Director, Think Ahead Solutions, iSchools Africa, South Africa

Michelle started her presentation with a reference to the fact that the first date that Michael J Fox travels to in the first Back to the Future film was last week – June 2012. The message here was - so the future is now. What was even more interesting for me was that when I mentioned the film to my daughter she already knew about the date being last week but she reminded me that the film maker’s image of the future involved having a fax machine in every room. I am old enough to remember how exciting the invention of the fax machine was so this brought it home to me that no matter what technology we might be wowed with at the moment there is no telling whether it will be around in another 20, 10 or even 5 years.
Michelle referred to the 2013 Horizon Report which documents trends in technology use for school education. It identifies and describes the emerging technologies which are likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, research, or creative expression within education around the globe and makes predictions about their lifespan. It was interesting that SchoolNet SA’s Microsoft Xbox initiative was mentioned in this 2012 report as being significant in its impact on literacy for second language learners in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. 

Back to Michelle - she explained how the iPad had revolutionised access to educational content and had already launched 47 000 educational apps. She pointed out the even greater advantages of an IPad if connected to a projector - and even greater with connectivity. A video of learners using Garage Band was shown which resonated well with Gisle’s presentation from Norway. There was also evidence that the iPad was reaching non-verbal children and motivating them to speak. Sarietjie also gave this example that she had witnessed with her own tablet when visiting a school with an autistic child who had not spoken before touching that screen. 

Those are just a few of the presentations that I enjoyed listening to in the ICT thread of the Conference. Education week 2012 proved, once again, to be a valuable and enjoyable experience.

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