Tag Archives: policy

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.

BYOD – A Blessing or a Curse?

English: A Nintendo DS Lite, shown with stylus.

I have been hearing more and more about BYOD or “bring your own device” on Twitter and in the blogs and educational news sources I read. It seems to be a growing trend in the business world too. Yet, the controversy around this idea seems almost as large as the hype. BYO is not a novel concept for restaurants or even schools when it comes to basic supplies (everyone can remember being asked to bring that box of crayons or later your composition notebook) but apparently devices are a different story.

What really made me stop to think more deeply about this topic was reading a recent post by first grade teacher @kathycassidy on using Nintendo DS as an assessment tool during a BYOD day she held. Maybe it’s because I’m not into gaming much but when I had previously though of BYOD, I always envisioned tablets, smartphones, and laptops. The idea of using gaming systems seemed at once novel and practical, especially after I read her post. She was able to use a device that many of her students have and a device that she already has six classroom-owned units of available to share with students who did not have a device. Students used the Nintendo DS to practice writing and using the long a sound (ai), which allowed their teacher to immediately view their submissions via the devices, allowing for faster assessment of their skills. @kathycassidy also discussed how students were able to self-assess and help one another by being able to see each other’s work on screen, making suggestions for improvement to their peers.

To me, this is an example of why BYOD can be so powerful and worthwhile for teachers to explore with their students. After viewing the #edchat archive for this week’s discussion of “Do the positives outweigh the negatives of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)?” I was reminded of the controversy around implementing this practice. There are a number of concerns about educational equity and students’ access to technology and their ability to bring a device to school. Some have argued that for these reasons, BYOD “enshrines inequity,” puts limitations on how we define student learning, and promotes an acceptance of limited funding for school technology. As @stumpteacher commented in #edchat, “BYOD sounds great, but with poverty such a powerful variable, we can’t ignore access/equality.” Additional concerns include schools and districts that forbid the use of student devices in school and a lack of professional development for teachers who are unsure how to adapt their lesson plans to include these new devices.

Yet, even with all of these concerns, I am in the camp that the positives do outweigh the negatives for a number of exciting reasons. First, as this first grade classroom found, devices allow for a new immediacy and individuality because every student who is using a device has the power to contribute their ideas and receive teacher support or feedback in a more immediate way. This classroom in New Jersey found similar results when students were allowed to use their cell phones in a math class. Another benefit to BYOD and allowing students to use their own devices seems to be increased engagement and participation. At the first grade level, this was exemplified through their increased oral language use, and for older grades, through their note-taking and responses in class discussion.

I also see value in the opportunity for students to bring devices that they already know how to operate, might easily be more advanced or updated than school technology, and can be a launchpad for students to share their knowledge and expertise with teachers. I feel that we should be conceiving of student devices more like the box of tissues students are asked to bring to class throughout the year. Those tissues become part of the class community and they are shared among various students. If a few students in the classroom have devices that they would like to contribute to the class community when they walk in the door (of course taking them with them when they leave) why should we forbid that? As @jonbergmann said during the #edchat, “The key is to not have all kids doing the same thing at the same time. Rethink Ed.” BYOD can be a unique opportunity for an influx of new technology resources that allow teachers to rethink their pedagogical practices and allow for students’ individuality and a diversity of classrooms activities.

Of course, I agree that BYOD needs to be thoughtfully implemented. A number of great resources for creating a BYOD Policy and User Agreement for your classroom or school were shared during #edchat, along with valuable lessons and questions to consider before you jump onto the BYOD bandwagon. It should be a decision that is well-planned and includes opportunities for ongoing check-ins and adjustments, as well as student and teacher learning about the reasons for and possibilities of BYOD. All of the concerns I mentioned above should be thoroughly discussed and the students, teachers, parents, and administrators involved should make sure it is a feasible, fair decision for their class or school community.

At the end of the day though, it seems to come back to one key idea. As one journalist said recently, BYOD is “a chance to connect our children to the world that has moved most assuredly into the digital age.” Instead of holding students back and making our own judgements about how responsible students can be with bringing their own devices to class, using them for educational purposes, and sharing them with device-less peers, let’s educate them about ways they could do all of these things. Let’s let students demonstrate to us how valuable these devices can be in the classroom.

What are your thoughts? Do the positives outweigh the negatives of BYOD?

Tech Tools for Parent Engagement

This week during #ecetechchat we discussed different tech tools that can be used to help create and sustain parent engagement in your early childhood program. I think there are a number of great tech tools (many listed below) that are available today to help teachers easily connect and engage with their parents on a regular basis. And as we discussed during the chat, engaging with parents and building those relationships is vital to creating a strong, connected class community because it allows for a whole new level of home-school collaboration.

One of the key points I took away from the chat was the power of tech tools to help teachers engage parents in starting a cycle of engagement that facilitates learning at home and can then replenish the classroom community with new energy. Basically, by engaging parents, you are providing them with new ideas and activities for discussion with their children at home. Parents are then able to engage with their children about what they are learning at school and talk about new topics and ideas, which children can then bring back into the classroom, completing the cycle.

To get that cycle started, it’s important to check in and survey the parents in your classroom to learn about their existing tech knowledge and comfort. Something emphasized in the chat was to provide multiple venues for engagement (e.g., phone, email, social media) and to meet parents where they already engage. So if all of your parents are on Facebook and that site is allowed at your school, look into creating a private group for your class that you can update with pictures and notes about your classroom activities throughout the day. @Matt_Gomez shared a great piece about using Facebook with his Kindergarten class.

For parent engagement to be sustainable, especially through technology, we agreed that there needs to be support from the administration so they can model appropriate engagement and endorse the use of specific tools or websites. Unfortunately, many schools have blocked social media sites and other online spaces that make sharing easy. One way to work with that issue is to talk to your administration about creating an Acceptable Use Policy as @cybraryman1 suggested and think about what type of specific Social Media Policy you want or need for your classroom. With young children, you cannot be too protective of their privacy, so think carefully about what permissions you set on any social media sites you use and before you create a social community for your class, build a social (personal) learning network for yourself so you become comfortable with the tools and online spaces.

That said, social media and other tech tools will likely be foreign to some/many administrators, colleagues, and parents so you may experience some push-back from trying to introduce something new. Take calculated risks and if you believe the tool will help foster meaningful engagement, ask your administrator if you can at least have a trial run. Some parents might just be afraid of the technology, which is why teacher-parent tech nights can be a great way to build strong relationships with your parents while also helping them learn some new skills. During #ecetechchat we also discussed this idea as a way to help bridge the digital divide and help parents learn and use technology that they may not have access to at home. Another idea is to invite volunteers from a local college or organization to come teach the children, parents, and/or other teachers about new tech tools they can use to engage with one another.

Ultimately, the teacher-parent relationships are the most important piece and technology remains just one tool to facilitate the development and support of those relationships. So, make your engagement proactive instead of reactive and contact parents in as many ways as possible, as often as possible, to share child photographs (worth 10,000 words when it’s your child), videos, notes, work, and more with parents!

Here are some of the tech tools we discussed to engage with parents. If you have more ideas, please add them to our shared #ecetechchat Google Doc!

Tech Tools for Parent Engagement

  • School Website – post updates about your class
  • Class Blog – post about classroom activities and pictures/videos
  • Social Media
  • YouTube – upload videos of children in the classroom
  • Voicethread – digital slide show tool, allows parents to comment
  • Podcasts – of children working, classroom activities, etc
  • Music Playlists – send playlists home of songs you listen to in class
  • Digital Photographs – posted on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, child portfolio, etc
  • PhotosCaps & Skitch -  let you caption your photos and quickly share and save them
  • Evernote – create individual child portfolios to share with parents
  • Skype – video chat with parents
  • Symbaloo – share mixes with sites for children to play/practice skills
  • Tungle.me – schedule meetings with parents
  • Digital storytelling tools (e.g., Storybird) parents can view or make at home
  • Email 
  • Text Message
  • Phone Calls