Thursday, July 29, 2004
Research report focusses on teacher education and new technologies in two developing countries
Jenny Leach and her colleagues involved in the Digital Education Enhancement Project (DEEP) have just released a draft final report entitled, DEEP IMPACT: An investigation of the use of information and communication technologies for teacher education in the global south; Researching the Issues (June 2004; 201 pages, ppdf, 6.5M). The project involved 12 schools in Egypt and 12 schools in South Africa, and included 48 participating teachers and over 2000 students. Of particular interest to us are findings concerning teachers and mobile, hand-held communication and information devices—these were reported to increase teachers’ confidence in using new technologies in their own classrooms and facilitated ‘anywhere, anytime professional learning’ (p. viii).
The policy implications drawn from this study are identified by the authors as follows:
In addition to the report, the project leaders have made a range of digital products and video data available online.
Saturday, July 10, 2004
New report from the U.S. claims everybody is reading less...
A new 'crisis' seems to have hit the U.S. in that now it's not just boys who aren't reading (novels) now it's everyone who's not reading (novels). The report, Reading At Risk, was published by the National Endowment for the Arts and is based on data drawn from "The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts," conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2002.
The report is discussed in a New York Times article (you may need to register to read this--but registration is free), and identifies one of the main culprits in this national decline in reading (novels) as (you guessed it) electronic media(i.e., the usual easy target rolled out once again). As one commentator puts it in the NY Times article, "Whatever good things the new electronic media bring, they also seem to be creating a decline in cultural and civic participation," Mr. Gioia said. "Of literary readers, 43 percent perform charity work; only 17 percent of nonreaders do. That's not a subtle difference." This narrow definition of what counts as being a good citizen certainly clashes with what I've seen online and offline in terms of cellphones being used to mobilise voters during national elections (the Philipines), the critique of mainstream media (e.g., Indymedia and Adbusters) and a whole host of other types community projects around the world (e.g., Some examples here).
Friday, July 09, 2004
Blog work in 'class'
After 3 days of reading and discussing articles and chapters addresing aspects of gender in relation to literacy achievement in school contexts we referred to the fact that weblogging is being seen by some teachers and schools as one possible way to 'engage' learners (and boys in particular) more fully with texts.
Participants who had portable computers with wireless access brought them along and we set up a wireless network using the trusty Airport. Groups formed around the 5 machines we were able to connect, and in no time a number group and individual blog shells appeared.
When these were in place we brought the group back together as a whole and one by one the blog 'shells' were projected onto the large screen, and used as vehicles for preliminary introductions to some html coding -- to insert hyperlinks, add images by hand (as an option to using the handy bloggerbot resource), etc. After a couple of hours the following blogs were in place.
To end the day the small groups discussed the potential they saw and did not see in webblogs as a classroom application in light of their preliminary 'outings'. The potential of blogs will be explored and discussed further as a theme during the second week of the course.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Monday, July 05, 2004
WITH MOUNT SAINT VINCENT IN CORNER BROOK
After a night in Sydney, where the trusty Airport Express harnessed to the hotel’s ‘wireless in your room’ facility allowed us to catch up with email on the run and to move a lot of large files by attachment, we made the 9am ferry to Newfoundland. There was fog most of the way, so we weren’t tempted to sight see. Instead we stayed in our cabin working on our share of the work to a develop a book prospectus. By the time the ferry reached Port aux Basques on the south western corner of Newfoundland the sky was clear and the afternoon truly beautiful. We stopped to look at the Cape Ray Lighthouse and then went directly to Corner Brook.
The occasion here is a 3 week summer institute for Masters students enrolled with Mount Saint Vincent University. The university is based in Halifax and offers its Education students who are enrolled at distance a range of programs delivered ‘locally’. We say ‘locally’ advisedly, since some students are traveling long gravel roads in Labrador before making the ferry crossing to the northern tip of Newfoundland and then driving 500 km south to Corner Brook. As with distance students we have encountered all over the world, the participants in this present course overwhelm us with their enthusiasm and preparedness for what we are hoping to do.
The ‘Institute’ is an elective within the Masters program, which is a collaborative effort between the Mount St Vincent University and the University of South Australia. 50 students are participating in this course, which looks at boys, literacy and schooling. Over the 14 days of work we will be taking in a sizeable sample of the literature on the alleged ‘crisis’ surrounding boys and literacy: a ‘crisis’ increasingly described in terms of boy’s being more ‘disengaged’ from their schooling than girls.
We have serious reservations about many aspects of this alleged crisis and welcome the opportunity to think it through with a good-sized group of teachers who stated at the very outset of the course that they see many instances of boys experiencing difficulties with literacy work while, at the same time, recognizing ideological dimensions of the ‘realities’ circulating around the current crisis. It promises to be an interesting and challenging time.
The Course Outline will give a sense of the ground we’ll be covering. Meanwhile, we will be trying also to see as much of the island as we can, and will post some pics from time to time.
WORKING IN A NEW FOUND LAND
One of the joys and privileges of the work we do, and the ways we are sometimes able to do it, is getting a chance to offer short courses in places we have not previously been and to work with people we have not previously met. These invariably turn out to be such valuable learning experiences for us that we come close at times to feeling guilty about receiving payment for them. On the other hand, we need to earn our daily bread, so our part of the bargain becomes one of doing the very best work we can manage and putting everything we have got into the courses.
So it was that less than 20 hours after getting back to Mexico City from the Learning Conference in Cuba that we found ourselves back again in the Benito Juárez International Airport in the east of our beloved DF, outward bound for Newark, New Jersey. At least, in the first instance.
Getting to Newark was the quick and easy part. A small confusion over ticketing meant that we had to drive from Newark to Halifax in Nova Scotia, and then journey on by car and ferry to Corner Brook on the western coast of Newfoundland. It was a long drive. We are not fast drivers, but have a certain tenacity. We eventually set off from New Jersey a little after 3pm on the Friday of the weekend culminating in the 4th of July. NOT a good choice of time to leave. Traffic was dense through the first few states, and only began to free up once we were in the northern half of Maine. Fog (and total unfamiliarity with the area) made a short cut into Canada a dodgy prospect, so we took the longer option of riding the I-95 all the way to the Canadian border. It added around 80 miles to the trip, but almost certainly saved us from getting badly lost.
We made the border a bit after 2am and pressed on. Fatigue called for a ‘power nap’ of an hour around 4.30. Somehow the power didn’t check in as much as it might have, but we made it to the car swap at Halifax Airport around 10.30am. We duly swapped a Subaru Outback for a wee Nissan, and decided to take the slower coastal road from Dartmouth in the south of Nova Scotia to Sydney in the north. This is a stunning scenic drive, even by the lofty standards of the Maritimes. Digital camera memories filled quickly, and uploading to the traveling laptops became the order of the day. We arrived at the hotel in Sydney around 6pm. Half way between the entry point to Cape Breton and Sydney we found a totally unexpected memory of Mexico. Unexpected, but welcome, warming, and uplifting – a donation from a man in Massachusetts to the people of Cape Breton. What amazing and unexpected things transpire in a world on which it is impossible entirely to lose hope. (see the pic).
ON HAVANA GREAT CONFERENCE
The pace is on again (still?), and once more we have more things to write about than time to write them. Last week we had a fascinating 5 days at the Eleventh International Literacy and Education Research Conference on Learning held at Cojímar (5 kilometres east of the under harbour tunnel in Havana) in Cuba. The conference is one of several conferences hosted annually in different parts of the world by Common Ground Conferences. This was a wonderful conference experience, and we are looking forward immensely to next year’s event in Granada, Spain.
There were several hundred delegates, including more than 200 from North America. In addition, hundreds came from Cuba and other Latin American countries, and scores from European nations, South Africa and Australasia. An impressive simultaneous translation facility across Spanish and English was available. Interestingly, the conference organizers continued their laudable practice of offering extremely generous registration reductions for delegates from impoverished countries. The quality of the politics behind this conference was matched by the quality of the experience of participating in it. The range of papers was rich and the program was FULL. The days went from 8.30am until 6.30, and it was impossible for us to find a time slot when there were not at least 2 or 3 presentations we wanted to attend.
We go to a lot of conferences, and this one ranks way up there with the very best. It was certainly the most enjoyable conference we have attended, and was rich on all kinds of educational and educative dimensions. Sessions ranged from presentations giving insider perspectives on contemporary educational directions in Cuba itself, to discussions of diverse research projects concerned with literacy, numeracy and new technologies, developments within autonomous educational initiatives on the part of indigenous peoples, trends in educational software development, projects evaluating learning in the area of literacy, contemporary approaches to areas of adult and non formal education, and so on. The Program is available online and gives a good sense of what was available.
One of the truly outstanding qualities of this conference – a reflection of its politics, we believe – was the complete absence of grandstanding. This was not a scene where people come to grab attention. Rather, it was a conference swimming in humility and in genuine enthusiastic interest for issues, research findings and discussion.
Perhaps the best way to communicate the character of this conference is to say that it honoured the words of the organizers captured by Mary Kalantzis’ as follows:
“The conferences are driven by what you might want to call communities of practice or engaged people who say let’s come together and do it. We started off doing it in Australia but there is no point doing it just in Australia now. The world is really interrelated and there are scholars not just in the English-speaking world who are deeply interested in these themes. At first we thought it would be just about the English speaking world, and that the diversity to be addressed would be in the English speaking world. What we are finding, however, is that these conversations are attracting people from all over, because each time we have a conference now we have a country partner who wants the ideas grounded in their practice. So whether it’s Cuba or Greece or Spain or Malaysia, there is a partnership of peers that come together around those issues. We have discovered that they produce a much more difficult dialogue at a theoretical level because participants are coming from different places. If you are serious about ideas you can’t just do it within the group that is familiar and knows itself and has a set of routines about language and routines about ideas that can come together. For example, you come together, with a group of Chinese scholars in education, say, and a group of American and Australian scholars. The Chinese talk about e-learning and you talk about e-learning, and they talk about dialectical materialism as still being important to them, which forces you to deal with something very different as part of that conversation. You aren’t just talking about reflective practice which is what we now say; they are talking about dialectic which we are no longer talking about in the same way. So that creates a very different genuine engagement which makes it both easier and harder. It is easier at the level that it is attractive, it pulls at you emotionally. But it is harder intellectually because you have to suspend and transcend and negotiate and you have to test your ideas in a broader landscape, as they do too. So the conferences are a very living, organic and very vibrant platform”.