Tag Archives: Africa

Joining the #Learning2 Family

Well, it has been far too long since I’ve made time for a reflective post here! There are so many posts I still want to write – about the amazing design thinking experience I had at FUSE14, the hubbub of ed tech tools and ideas that always come from attending ISTE, my experiences teaching two new summer classes on Raspberry Pi and coding, and my work facilitating a four day faculty workshop at my school. It was a busy summer (and a hard one)! So busy, clearly, that I haven’t had a chance to write about it … yet.

But instead of trying to rewind, I want to first share some reflections about the wonderful experience I just had at the #Learning2.014 conference at the International Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. If you haven’t heard of Learning2 … yet … check out this page about its history and start following the hashtag because there will be a second conference in Bangkok in just one week!

As one of the Learning2 Leaders (L2Ls) at the conference, I had the privilege of arriving a few days early so I could participate in additional prep and professional growth with the other L2Ls and the advisory team. I think this is one of the many things that makes the conference unique and particularly meaningful. If you are going to speak and present at the conference, the advisory helps to make sure that you have an in-depth understanding of how the conference will work, what your role as a leader will be, and then helps you tweak and improve your own work before everyone arrives.

I was able to practice my five minute TED-like “Learning2Talk,“done in the presentation-zen style multiple times for the advisory audience and get critical feedback to help make it stronger. I also had an opportunity to work one-on-one with another L2L so we could share, review, and provide feedback to one another on our three hour Extended Sessions. One of my favorite parts of the pre-conference was hearing a quick elevator pitch from each L2L about what their session would be about and then providing feedback, ideas, and resources to help support that person. Not only did I get some great tips when I shared my own session but I was able to get ideas each time another Leader shared her or his presentation that I could use at the conference or back in my own school!

This type of time and support for presenters is awesome because it makes it so much easier to continue growing as a speaker and educator and it also helped to develop a deeper community of practice among the L2Ls that I hope we can continue to build and pull on in the future (hint hint). I wish every conference provided and even required this type of experience for its presenters.

Once all of the L2Ls had practiced and improved their presentations and prepared their spaces for the different sessions, it was time to kick-off the conference!

Learning2 is made up of 6 core components:

  1. Learning2Talks
  2. Extended Sessions
  3. Nutshell Sessions (45 min. versions of Extended Sessions)
  4. Workshops
  5. Unconference
  6. Cohorts 

In addition to these pieces, there is an emphasis on, and time set aside for, social connections that are woven throughout each day.

This social dimension is designed very purposefully because one of the principles of the conference is to “put participants first” and another is an understanding that “learning is a social act.” Therefore, making time for all of the participants to talk, reflect, share and even rest is critical. This was demonstrated multiple times during the conference when the organizers made changes in response to participants’ requests (e.g., changing bus times to accommodate requests to arrive/leave at different times and creating a “mindfulness centre” for participants to pause and be mindful).

Another way that participants get to drive the conference is by running workshops and suggesting and facilitating unconference sessions. This allows time and space for attendees to share their own areas of expertise and also to have a forum to talk about questions and ideas that might pop-up during the conference. For example, I attended an unconference session about social media in early elementary. It was proposed by an attendee who heard about the idea of social media being used with young children and want to hear from other people who were trying it and what the benefits might be. It turned into a great conversation and through Twitter, I was even able to invite a kindergarten teacher I know who uses social media extensively with her students, to join the discussion virtually!

This week, as I’ve been recovering from jet lag and trying to get back into my usual school routine, I’ve used moments lying in bed at night or in-between classes to reflect about what was so meaningful about my Learning2 experience. I’ve concluded that two elements really made it into one of the best conferences I have attended: an almost perfect learning menu to select from each day and the community.

Similar to going to your favorite restaurant, Learning2 has a menu of 6+ options that you can choose from and each one is great but has a unique flavor and might meet a different person’s tastes or interests. There’s something for everyone and probably a few options that might push you outside of your comfort zone, but that’s what learning is all about, right? :) For example, you can go in-depth and work hands-on for three hours into just one specific topic or you can answer burning questions you have in a cohort session or you can get bite-sized pieces of new knowledge and ideas from the poster sessions. There’s something for everyone, allowing the conference to meet so many different learning needs.

Then, there’s the community. This is really the cornerstone of Learning2 for me and I think many other attendees. The Learning2 community is powerful because it’s inviting and passionate. Although the conference has been running since 2007, there wasn’t the exclusiveness to it that I’ve seen at other conferences. Too often, it’s hard to break into the group if you’re not a “groupie” of the conference. Instead, Learning2 was all about networking, branching out, and meeting new colleagues who you could connect with and then stay in-touch with later through social media. It was about having time to engage in those passionate conversations about teaching and learning and the best tools to help meet varied goals and needs of different contexts.

I would go as far as to say that Learning2 was about becoming part of a family, a large, diverse, and geographically spread out family that loves to share, reflect, learn, and connect. It’s also a family that loves to have fun and that joy, of being together and learning together, was pervasive throughout the conference.

So, if you have a chance to attend a Learning2 conference, I highly encourage it and if it’s a bit too far for you to travel (at least until they are up in running in Europe and the Middle East), then jump in and join our active #Learning2 community on social media! Thanks again to everyone who helped make the #Learning2.014 Africa experience so memorable and for inviting me into the family.

Lessons Learned in Dakar

Two weeks ago, I was getting on a plane to Dakar, Senegal and a week after that, I was helping to launch the first conference on Child Protection Systems Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa. In that short time frame, I have learned an amazing amount about child protection and the unique issues its pioneers strive to overcome; the challenges of bringing new technologies to sub-Saharan Africa; the power of technology for global communication; and even a bit about the city of Dakar.

Working out of the UNICEF office in the days leading up to the conference.

Before I delve into some of the amazing experiences I had in Dakar, I’ll give you a little more background about what I was doing there in the first place. Working as a Technology and Education Consultant for Wellspring Advisors, LLC, I have been designing a social media campaign and building a wikispace to house the discussions and documents related to this conference over the past few months. Through numerous Skype meetings and emails, I worked with international agencies to organize what would ultimately be a conference of 350 people from 40 west African nations. It was exciting to see so many agencies, organizations, and funders come together around this topic. We had representatives from UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International, The African Child Policy Forum, Terre des Hommes, REPSSI, RIATT, Oak Foundation, and other funders.

Conference on Child Protection Systems Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa – Promising Practices, Lessons Learned and the Way Forward

During the conference, I introduced attendees to the new technologies associated with the conference and helped them to actively use the wikispace to share session notes, upload documents, and ask questions or make comments. I learned that there is no pre-existing repository of documents on child protection (e.g., child abuse, exploitation, welfare, justice, marriage) in sub-Saharan Africa so our wiki now serves as a space to collect these from each country.

Additionally, I had the privilege to help many attendees join Twitter and Facebook for the first time so that they could begin sharing their knowledge and thoughts on child protection issues with the larger world via social media. It was inspirational to be reminded of how empowering it can be to gain access to a platform that allows you, with the click of a button, to connect and dialogue so easily with other people around the world. It was also very powerful to see the energy people had as I worked with them to resolve tech glitches and help them access these new spaces for expression and sharing. For many, it was a new experience to learn how social media could be used for professional networking and they were surprised to see how many people and accounts were following the conference online via the tweets and posts I made during each session.

@JNdyeta sends her first tweet after joining Twitter and Facebook at the Conference

Working in Dakar, I was also reminded about the challenges that arise from working abroad. We had a minimum of three languages at the conference (i.e., French, English, and Portuguese) and at times only one router for 350 people. And while Google Translate widgets can be a life-saver they’re still more of a tool than a full-fledged solution – as we discovered when attendees clicked the “edit” button in our wiki and all of their translated text converted back to English. I also encountered issues with firewalls trying to block Internet access and conference websites, problems pasting text into our wiki from foreign computers, and some other minor things that you come to expect when working with technology.

Attendees responded to reflection questions on the conference wiki

Yet, amidst all of the tech troubles, I think for me, the key of the conference was adaptability: Transitioning from “Thank You” to “Merci” in a French speaking nation; re-wording the benefits of Twitter in ways that made sense in our child protection conference context; and re-defining a wiki to fit the needs of attendees. Buy-in is always one of the most important pieces when you introduce a new technology but to have buy-in and the resulting motivation and hopefully momentum to continue its use, you need to communicate things in a way that makes sense. You need to adapt your own understanding and way of explaining a tool to fit the linguistic, geographic, cultural, and technical context in which you are working. This can take time, reflection, and a bit of mental exertion, but I can promise you, it’s worth it.

To see some of the amazing dialogues that occurred at the conference and which were then shared through social media, I invite you to visit the slideshows on our wiki.

And finally, I leave you with one of the many photos I snapped from the most western tip of Africa, because for me, regardless of the continent, the ocean will always be home.

The Western Most Tip of Africa in Dakar, Senegal.

Another Year Gone By

Wow, another year has gone by and we’re already three days into 2012! With the start of a new year, I wanted to take some time to reflect back on 2011 and things that I learned, accomplished, and hope to carry with me into the new year.

I think one of the most memorable things of 2011 will always be my first trip to Africa. As part of one of my master’s courses at American University, I traveled to Nigeria for two weeks in May to conduct research on the early childhood education available in the small town of Yola. I was amazed at the range of education practices and facilities I saw, ranging from mud buildings with a few tables and crayons to a fully-resourced, air-conditioned facility connected to the American University of Nigeria. The trip was a great reminder that no matter how many books you read or perspectives you hear on a country, there is nothing like walking into a new culture, hearing new languages and quickly trying to adapt to the local customs, food, weather, and everything else that goes with international travel! Some parts will always be easier than others, such as getting down on the dirt floors and playing with the children at the various schools I visited. Whereas trying to stay silent and honor the accepted cultural practice of corporal punishment (i.e., watching a four-year-old be repeatedly hit with a large, thick stick) is much, much harder. Overall, the trip was extremely educative. I learned a great deal about life in Nigeria, the education system there, and the importance of traveling with a flexible, supportive group (and protein bars … for when you can’t take one more day of rice and chicken!).

Aside from my international travels, I had some great developments in my professional life in 2011. I had the opportunity to spend the summer working as a teacher at the Penn Children’s Center and loved getting to work closely with one preschool class. Our adventures included “traveling” from Japan to England, learning about the royal family, creating castles of all shapes and sizes, growing flowers and vegetables in our garden, and enjoying many days of water play!

Earlier this fall, I was able to start working as an Education and Technology Consultant, which has allowed me to learn a lot about webinar management, utilize more of my tech skills, and be more active in the field of early childhood. Consulting has allowed me to work with some great new colleagues, including @FSSimon and @KarenNemethEdM, which has been a real privilege. I’ve also really enjoyed helping to facilitate the Early Childhood Investigations webinars and if you haven’t checked them out, I’d highly recommend them, they’re free

I also grew a lot as a learner and educator in 2011 through my master’s courses. I especially enjoyed Models/Methods in Early Childhood Curriculum; Global & Multicultural Education & Training; Training Design; and Critical Educational Psychology. These courses helped deepen my knowledge of approaches to literacy education in early childhood, critical theory and ways it applies to education and psychology, and how to design a meaningful training. I was able to take a fresh look at the works of Freiere, Vygotsky, Piaget as well as many new theorists and I had the chance to read a number of great texts. I would particularly recommend: Making Literacy RealCritical Multiculturalism: Theory & Praxis, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.

Of course a big part of my past year has involved a continued exploration of tech tools. As I wrote about in my first post, I discovered Storify not long ago and I have also been testing out Symbaloo, a great way to compile your favorite sites, as well as exploring new uses for the virtual cork board Lino. I also began using Picnik so I could add a watermark to the photos in my new Etsy shop. After following and reading many other papers, I finally decided to create my own #Tech, #GlobalEd & #EarlyEd  paper.li and after being fairly inactive for a bit, I jumped back into LinkedIn in 2011, creating two new networking groups for my master’s program and finding other professional groups where I could join some great dialogues. Twitter was also a major part of 2011 for me, as I traveled to New Orleans to present on Twitter in liberal arts classrooms at the annual meeting of AERA, connected with more educators around the globe, began participating in more great chats like #kinderchat, and started tweeting for my program @ITEP_AU.

All in all, it was a pretty great year! I’ve loved the discoveries I’ve made, whether they’ve been in the field of international education, early childhood, or technology and the connections I have built will definitely be a big part of this new year. I’m excited to see what 2012 will bring and to start charting new waters, either here or abroad, so that I can continue to learn and grow and to connect educators around the globe.