Conducted by SAIDE, December 2002.
The Thintana i-Learn and Telkom SuperCentres Projects have been implemented in a wide range of disadvantaged schools in all nine provinces. Many school locations were in deep rural areas characterised by logistical and socio-economic difficulties, thus placing potential constraints on the project.
The scope and purpose of the project sponsors was to:
- Install new and refurbished Internet connected computers in 200 high schools (Thintana i-Learn Project) and new Internet connected computers in former Telkom 1000 Schools Project schools nationwide (Telkom SuperCentres Project);
- Provide an educator development programme aimed at effective educational use of ICT to 3000 educators;
- Provide technical training and support to 600 educators in the schools.
SchoolNet SA has been responsible for implementing both projects, which started in August 200 and ends with the final provision of educator development modules in December 2003. Progress was reported to project-specific steering committees.
A rigorous schools selection process was designed and implemented. Central to this process was the negotiation with provincial MEC’s and the establishment of provincial committees. Criteria were provincialised in many cases, but in all cases selection was limited to schools with electricity and telecommunications infrastructure. Selection criteria were searching with regard to schools:
- Organisational climate
- Educator training and learning methodology
- Staff involvement
- Plans for achieving sustainability
SchoolNet developed a comprehensive educator development programme, which covered issues around training of educators in both the technical and educational aspects. The programme included the following:
technical training (for the two educators per school),
training of mentors (professionally qualified individuals recruited to provide pedagogical support to teachers doing SchoolNet’s online module),
training of trainers (people appointed to provide introductory training in schools),
piloting the materials, and
providing distance training.
The Educators’ Network was used to provide teacher development. It consists of a series of CD-based distance learning modules for educators who want to use computers and the Internet more effectively in teaching and learning. The purpose was the development of pedagogy – with a focus on the development of the educators’ skills for the inclusion of ICT as a resource in teaching and learning.
Modules cater for a wide range of interests and each module has different expectations of previous knowledge. Many require little or no previous knowledge of ICT. The CD-ROM is credible and authoritative and is offered to educators as a resource. The materials are in the public domain.
The mood of the CD-ROM is one of support and “low risk”. Central to the resource is the online interaction with other learner-educators, and with an e-mentor, through email, though individual use of the resource is possible. The philosophical underpinnings are found in a constructivist approach. The CD-ROM offers support in three main areas of teacher work: administration, the Internet and teaching and learning.
The Finding Information module was evaluated. It was found to have clear and coherent outcomes, although some were considered too ambitious. Content was found to be thorough and supportive. However, concerns were expressed regarding the use of the terms “information” and “knowledge”, which were not consistently used or sufficiently clarified. It was suggested that the field of search be narrowed and that users should be directed to tried and tested online resources. The use of the e-diary as a reflexive tool was noted but the long-term value of this instrument was not clear.
The CD-ROM/site was judged to have strong educational value, and the ability to extend its assumed users’ knowledge base. In general it was clear, accurate and referenced, with contributions and credits acknowledged. In general it was easy to navigate and links work. It did not fully exploit the possibilities of the digital media, such as video, or simulation. However, it was interactive in nature, connecting a community of learner-educators as they could support each other and share ideas. Overall the purposes, outcomes, materials, tasks and general approach are coherent and in keeping with the pedagogical approach, the assumed users and principles of adult education.
The EDN database had logged relatively low levels of e-mail participation between participants, but other sources indicated that considerable informal interaction takes place between participants in the groups online. Attrition was found to be highest between the introductory course and the start of the first module, with relatively low levels of attrition once a participant had submitted the first activity.
An analysis of e-mail postings for utterances indicative of collaboration revealed e-mail concerning:
requesting help and feedback from group members,
contributing through providing help, feedback and sharing knowledge with the aim of assisting other group members,social interaction.
There was evidence of participants contributing to knowledge of other group members through structuring their responses in a manner that supports others learning. Social interaction postings were common within the groups and were an important mechanism for social cohesion. However there was less engaging directly with colleagues by challenging, critiquing or presenting an alternative argument.
Mentors in each group play varied roles such as setting the tone for participation, reminding participants of submission dates and end of module requirements, providing feedback, encouraging and motivating participants.
Schools perceived value in the EDN and most understood SchoolNet’s role, although many thought, incorrectly, that SchoolNet was the sponsor of the project. Many schools experienced technical difficulties and the general perception was that SchoolNet had deserted them. SchoolNet’s sub-contractors, Sourcecom and SDD had let them down in providing an efficient technical service. The vast majority of schools found SchoolNet’s own helpdesk helpful. Technical training provided to two teachers from each school by NDS was generally found to be of sufficient value, but a few schools were very dissatisfied with its value.
A survey of educators regarding their experience of the EDN found that:
- The vast majority of educators were positive about the introductory course, although some had different expectations from the course (e.g. wanting to learn about the computer);
- Many educators who had participated in the modules found that their computer skills and confidence has improved. They also found the modules very useful and some had started applying new knowledge in their lessons;
- All educators were very complimentary about their mentors;
- Educators had mixed feelings about working in groups. Not all groups were equally functional. Where groups were functional, groups interactive was perceived as useful;.
- Educators found the distance learning mode useful, appreciating the flexibility it gave them in terms of pace and access to learning;
- Lack of adequate skills, time and support were cited as reasons for educators not completing modules;
- While there is some evidence that schools are using their computers, it is equally clear that it will take time and support for schools to be able to use the computers in the way that is expected of them. The use of computers was still largely limited to using MS Word and Excel.
While there is enough evidence that the EDN works perfectly, various aspects regarding the programme could be improved. These are summarised as:
- The face-to-face introductory training is too short.
- There are problems with group functionality that detract from the intended value of the group in the learning process.
Lessons emerging from the project suggest that:
- Proper partnership between project funders, implementers and where possible evaluators should be forged in the conceptualisation phase;
- Selection of schools that show commitment in an ICT project and building technical capacity within the school would increase the life span of a project;
- .Provision of technical support through decentralised structures is important as it ensures that problems are attended to much quicker