Independent Study: Teacher’s without Borders Volunteer Project
Teachers without Borders Service Learning Project
by Leah MacVie
Teachers without Borders Service Learning Project
Buffalo State College
Dr. Stephen Gareau
Teachers without Borders Service Learning Project
Buffalo State College
Dr. Stephen Gareau
During the Summer of 2009, I set out to tackle a very large volunteer project for Teachers
without Borders. The process of completing my outcomes did not come without setbacks
and tribulations. This document details my processes, how I overcome my problems and
why the initial scope of the project was too large, and how the project evolved over the
My initial contacts at Teacher’s without Borders included Heather Carson and Zachary
Thornhill. Heather is the TWB Membership Director at Teachers without Borders. I
pitched some ideas for what my project would include at the end of April ‘09. She
graciously accepted my offer to do a telecommuting volunteer project. Some of my initial
ideas included creating tutorials for how to use TWB Open Course Ware and creating
In the beginning, Heather and I had a Web chat via Skype. She was really the one to
introduce me to the tool that I would be using all Summer, for this project and another
Web conferencing class I was taking. Teachers without Borders uses Skype for
communication because all Skype to Skype calls are free. There were a few technical
issues to understand about Skype. First, I couldn’t talk to anyone as quickly as I normally
talk. It was if I had to pretend I was waiting for a translation; there was always a slight
delay. Secondly, everyone needs a headset or else extraneous noise and echoing also feed
through and it can be very distracting on the other end.
After our first Skype phone call and a few e-mails, Heather said that she would ‘turn me
over’ to Zachary Thornhill, Content Director for Teachers without Borders. Heather
introduced me to Zachary in early May via e-mail. I described to him everything I told
Heather about what I wanted to do. He suggested we also have a Skype chat. After a few
failed attempts, we finally were able to connect. This e-mail was sent to Heather the next
Communication from May 6, 2009
Leah and I just ended our call. Had some difficulties with Skype, but it was okay. Our
main points of discussion:
I will get her a timeline for finishing projects between May 20th and August 1st.
Among the ten, Program Evaluation (2), Emergency Education (1-2), Using Technology
in TEFL (1), and Developing a [physical] Teaching Portfolio (1)
I will send her a list of common problems/unclear points with the courseware section to
be included in her tutorials. Transparency with Brandon about good programs to use,
editing, help embedding into website if needed. Tutorials will be linked (if not embedded)
on the homepage for the courses at http://pcourses.teacherswithoutborders.org/
Cleaning, developing, and finding new and old teacher collaboration projects
Anything Leah submits to her professor on documentation will also be submitted to TWB
for our files.
**Leah is going to send me a final list of courses to be made and any other adjustments
by the end of the week. I will then draft a timeline for approval.
I think Leah's contributions are going to be fantastic. Her course on the website now is
much more complete. I think Leah may need to write a section on technology and
education for the CTM... :)
All the best,
Teachers Without Borders
321 3rd Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 623-0394 ext. 0”
After this e-mail I felt very confident in the effort and work that lay ahead. Zach asked
me to submit a final course list to him, and I did. In addition, he also asked me to write
five blogs, something that I didn’t foresee setting me back. Dr. Gareau also requested
documented communication and a journal summary that would total 9-10 pages.
Volunteer Agreement Excerpt from May 10, 2009
1. Documentation of Communication and Experience (5 pages)
2. Journal Summary and Final Conclusion (4-5 pages)
a. single-spaced, with headings and space between headings and
b. Key Learnings, Pluses, Potentials, Concerns, Ways to Overcome
Concerns, Reflections, and Overall Recommendations.
3. Well developed OER courses in TWB’s OCW (10)
Program Evaluation (3)
Building Effective Assessments
Evaluating Technology Use/ TCO
Emergency Education (3)
Building a temporary school in an emergency situation
How to rebuild moral through education in times of a disaster
Education for All: The Basic Human Right | Reference:
Using Technology in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (1)
Developing a [physical] Teaching Portfolio (1)
“Developing and Utilizing Your Teaching Portfolio”
How to Combat the Effects of Poverty on Education (1)
Building Curriculum (1)
4. Tutorials on building courses in TWB’s OCW (5)
5. Collaboration Projects that connect teachers worldwide (3)
Zach and I also discussed setting up a timeline and I thought it was a good idea. I set up a
timeline through Google Docs and invited all TWB parties involved to it. I also set up a
Google Calendar to track my progress throughout the summer. The calendar would track
my progress from June 1st through August 15th. On average, I was to submit 3 courses and
2 blogs a month. In addition to these assignments, I would also create the supplemental
items on this list, such as collaboration ideas, tutorials and the final report.
I began my project at the end of May. I thought my strategy was going to be to work on
the courses simultaneously along with the blogs. That way the courses would just have to
be created in the courseware. That was easier said than done., I ended up spending 2-6
hours on each blog. From the get-go, the blogs set me behind a few weeks.
Another thing I set out to do with the first course and blog was to develop a process and a
template. I thought this would save me time in the future. Although the blog template was
basic, it did help me with a starting point each time I attempted to create a blog.
Journal Entry from May 25, 2009
The first thing I set out to do when developing the first blog was to develop a process to
make my future blog more efficient. I spent a total of 6 hours developing the first blog
because I was so particular about developing a perfect process. The process I developed
is as follows:
1. Select a topic
2. Gather resources (Google everything, make book selections)
3. Start References list, and paste important points from sources/create post-its for
4. Build a small bulleted outline (My first outline consisted of 4 points and later
developed into subtitles.)
5. Develop an intro.
6. Fill in the bulleted points/subtitles
7. Develop a conclusion
8. Lay out the references alphabetically in APA format, fill in citations (I found that
worldcat.org has built in APA citations, making life a lot easier)
9. Proof everything, and then pass it on for someone else to proof.
At the beginning of June, I was ready to post my first blog. Zach had to change my
account in order for me to post it. At that point I was briefly connected with Brandon, the
Web master, who gave me access to post on the site. The first blog was posted on June 8,
Communication from June 5, 2009
Yep, the blog is all set and ready to go. I was thinking I would just send it over to you
guys to post because it looks like I don’t have access right now. But just to verify, below
is the page that I’m on. I don’t see anything that would allow me to make a new post(like
the “add news item”). If you see anything that I don’t, let me know.
Talk to you soon!
Yeah, I think we'll have to give you admin access to post the blog. Right under where it
says "Latest News" you should have a link that says "Post News Item" or something
similar. I will get Brandon to give you access, so once you get access go ahead and post
that blog! I'll let you know when he confirms. How's that sound?
I also set out to thoroughly research each and every topic. I wanted to make sure I didn’t
miss anything in designing the courses or blogs. When I was coming up with the template
for the course, I researched a lot of the other open courses that were on the Web, as well
as the curriculum I had built for one of my previous courses at Buffalo State College.
These tools helped to set up a course template that would lay out my process.
Journal Entry from 5.26.09
Beginning the First Course
I began by researching TWB’s current courses to determine layout. Conclusions:
1. Found that the MIT courseware was set up nicely: Course Home (description),
Syllabus, Calendar, Readings, Lecture Notes, Assignments, Study Materials
(supplemental), Download this Course
2. Connexions’ Collections were set up by Topics/SubTopic Modules- kind of like
lectures with built in assignments, downloaded sample collection- entire course set up ad
Word/PDF, curriculum designed
Journal Entry from 6/3/09
1. Completed Course Template to use for all courses. To build the template, I used
my Curriculum Design Project as an example, and built onto the structure. –This
will come in handy in the future. The time spent building it now will save me time
in the future, and will help keep everything standard throughout the courses.
2. Began to develop first course using course template.
The initial course took over 10 hours to produce. I thought it would be the easiest one
because it was a topic I was so familiar with. I believe that my passion got in the way,
because I wanted to make sure not a thing about the topic was left out. This course also
set me back in my hopes to develop 10 well-made courses for Teachers without Borders.
One of my other set-backs was not planning for life. June was one of my busiest months
with work, my business, and the other course I was enrolled in. I was trying to stay up to
task with my volunteer work by devoting week nights and skipping lunches at work to
work on school work, but unfortunately, it was beyond me. The courses from June were
pushed back until July. At the beginning of July, I finally finished the first course, along
with July’s blogs.
At the beginning of June, Zach notified me that he would be leaving for Egypt mid-
month. His duties would be forwarded to Jennifer Hamann. I briefly spoke to Jennifer via
Skype in mid-June to get her up to speed on my project and progress.
Teachers without Borders uses a content management system that they call
OpenCourseWare. I had already uploaded a course to OpenCourseWare last year and I
knew that I wanted to simplify my process. Because OpenCourseWare accepts SCORM
compliant objects, I did some research. I found and downloaded an IMS packager that
would package all my materials into one bundle that would be imported. The packager
ran through Adobe Dreamweaver and my initial package was a success. However, its
upload into OpenCourseWare was not.
Journal Entry from 7.15.09
NOTE: The following journal entry contains notes and suggestions for OpenCourseWare
use, as Jennifer suggested I do.
My attempt to upload the course as an IMS package failed yesterday. I was able to
package and import the course. But, when I brought it in, it did not convert the Word
documents to pages. The rest of my work is being held up because of these courses, both
in and out of this project. These courses took me a lot longer to build than I thought they
would- roughly 15 hours total each. I do have a structure down now, but I also realize
that I have to condense the work included in them in order to get done by the end of the
Some concerns about the CMS that TWB uses.
This whole system of navigation is really strange and awkward, definitely not intuitive at
I am also confused on how to change the image that appears.
Also if these courses are set up as references and self-help only, why are all these
instructor options available? I suggest these functions be removed, custom for TWB.
From step 1, this entire process should have a help menu/some guided tour on how to
create/demo course to let people know what to do with each item. Hopefully my tutorials
Even the page editor is strange. I can’t even get my HTML to format correctly.
I think I am going to try a different method of attack here. MHT files.
Tried and done. Come to find out they don’t even convert to HTML when brought in as a
There has to be another way…
Even when zipped, it still comes in as a file.
I am now trying the Lecture option. What do these choices mean?
I did watch the tutorial on working with the course ware done by Brandon at TWB, but it
is the system is still very awkward o me and the tutorial didn’t explain enough. So I
decided to get right to the root of the problem. The bottom of the TWB CMS let me know
that it is powered by Plone, an open source CMS. I am able to dl a free user’s guide:
http://www.plonebook.info/books and manual: http://plone.org/documentation/manual,
something I will definitely have to read up on this weekend. For now, I will concentrate
on getting the rest of the content together for the other courses.
After the first attempt at course upload into OpenCourseWare, I read the Plone manual
and searched the Web for help. I couldn’t find much on the version used by Teachers
without Borders. I decided to simplify the process, wiping out all styling completely from
the courses, and to provide the styled version at the end of the course.
Journal Entry from 7.16.09
Got the course uploaded last night. Finally. I realized I was putting too much into the
software. It is just meant for text, not really fancy text. Because TWB already has a
preloaded template, I can’t really do too much CSS to text because it’s already
predetermined. So, finally, after 2 hours of research and trying new things, I decided just
to strip all of the styles and go with a base text. I loaded all of it in (it took about 45
minutes for one course) and I added my Word doc (with style) for downloaded at the end.
This is the structure I will use from now on.
At this point, I have one month left to go. I have 9 courses, 3 blogs, 3 projects and 5
tutorials still to create. In order to complete these tasks by the designated point in time, I
need to stick to my schedule and also streamline my workflow. It is going to be crucial
that I try to tackle a task a day.
Time was beginning to run out. With less than one month left, I didn’t even have a third
of the designated items completed. I continued to work on the courses every chance I got.
I did employ my husband to review each document, as he had an outside perspective on
most of the topics and was able to verify if the audience understood my approach.
Journal Entry from 7.26.09
I just finished uploading my second course and fourth blog. I have to find an easier way
to complete the work because I am running out of time. It takes a lot of time to work
through each course. However, today I wrote my blog in record time. I said what I had to
say and sent it off to my husband, who is a little over qualified to be my proofreader, but
does a great job at it! I am hoping to speed through my next 7 courses, trying to get three
done a week. It’s not going to be easy, which is why I really need to focus on speeding
up my process and streamlining my output.
At the beginning of August I also came up with collaborative project suggestions. The
suggestions detail three ways in which schools and teachers can get involved globally
with other classrooms and individuals to work on curriculum projects. I also developed
five OpenCourseWare tutorials using JING and Camtasia.
Journal Entry from 8.2.09
For the past week I’ve been working on developing courses and tutorials for developing
courses. I’m trying to get all caught up and I’ve been fairly successful. It’s been hard
trying to balance everything and getting this course work done. I upgraded my JING
subscription so that I can edit the tutorials that I’ve produced. The tutorials walk a
person through how to build courses in TWB’s OpenCourseWare. As mentioned before,
it’s a quirky system, but I managed to find a way to bring everything together. Today, I’m
going to send Dr. Gareau my progress so far. Next week, I hope to have another clump.
And finally, the final submission which will be a zip of everything I’ve done. It’s been a
great experience developing items so far.
As I later learned, I still couldn’t edit the tutorials in Microsoft Movie Maker with the Pro
version. I had to find and download a converter, to convert the MP4 to a WAV. I also
downloaded a free trial of Camtasia for post-production.
I finally reached my due date of August 14th and had to accept that I just couldn’t
complete all I set out to do four months ago. In four months, I completed and uploaded
5/10 courses, 5/5 blogs, 5 tutorials and a small list of collaborative project suggestions.
Developing the materials and working with Teachers without Borders was a great
Above all else, the one thing I learned is not to over-extend myself. I kind of bit off more
than I could chew because my eyes were bigger than my stomach. When initiating a
project, it is important to weigh in extra time needed to complete the project. Basic
Instructional Design methods say that it is also important to reevaluate your scope. I had
to do this once a month. I had a feeling on July 26th that there was a slim chance I would
be able to complete what was left. But it was important to me that I tried, so I set small
goals for myself each week.
The other thing I learned is that it is so important to come up with a process before
jumping into a project like this. Before I began working with each tool, I did an
evaluation and planned a process. I did encounter difficulties. The OpenCourseWare took
a while to find a process to, but I documented my attempts and solution. Before
developing the courses and blogs, I knew I had to figure out a method to laying out my
content so that I was prepared each time a new project would start.
Lastly, working with Teachers without Borders was a great experience. Due the effort
needed just to complete the volunteer work, I didn’t have as much communication and
collaboration with the staff of Teachers without Borders as I would have liked or that I
expected I would. However, this relationship will hopefully lead to future opportunities
on both ends.
There are definitely some pluses to doing such a large scale project like this. I really had
control of what tools I could use (Microsoft Word, JING, Camtasia, Google Docs and
Calendar) to manage the project and complete the tasks. I had control over how much
time I would give to each project and the best outcomes that would aid my portfolio. I
also didn’t have to rely on anyone for information to complete the project.
Because I was a part of the entire projects from start to finish, I saw all the sides of the
project. Content development was the hardest part of this project. But, I didn’t think that I
would have as many hardships with the technical aspects as I did.
Finally, I was appreciative that I had the support that I did at Teachers without Borders to
complete this project. I hope that the materials can aid teachers around the globe, and
give them ideas for use in their situations. I am also looking forward to adding the
additions to my portfolio. I am sure this project will help set me apart from other
The type of project that I did was a service-learning volunteer project. This not only has
potential for students seeking to work on an independent study, this project could also be
implemented on a larger scale. A project like this can also have several components and
be tailored to meet a program’s requirements.
At times, I felt extremely overwhelmed with how much work was involved in the project.
However, this type of project would be a great idea for a course project involving an
entire class. Given a volunteer opportunity, each individual in the class could contribute
one, or a set of materials that would be compiled together and donated to the
organization. This is the type of group project that would work because no one is relying
on another for content, in order to complete their own.
For an individual that would like to take on a project like this, I think the experience
speaks louder than the products. The project management aspects of the project were
overwhelming at times, and I didn’t expect them to be. This project put all of the lessons
I learned about Instructional Design to the test. In the end, the scope won and I just
couldn’t foresee it. Had this have been a real client, I would have missed my stated
deadline. These types of experiences really prepare a student for the real-world of time-
My initial concern was that I felt that I let down Teachers without Borders. Personally, I
was really upset I couldn’t finish the courses when I had planned the best way I knew
how. My contract spelled out work that I was unable to complete in the allotted time
I also got burnt out at the end. Towards the end, I couldn’t focus on the courses and
content because I had been developing blogs and courses for three months. It was also
hard to come home and work on the computer after work, when I had already been
working with courses, curriculum and learning management systems for 9 hours.
Ways to Overcome Concerns
Instead of agreeing to more than I thought I could manage, I should have refused. I spent
a lot of time on the blogs and developing the courses. I should have asked what were the
most important items needed so that I could have put them at the top of my list. With so
much to think about, it is hard to find the time to come up with more efficient methods of
My overall recommendation reflects the possibilities and concerns of this project. I hope
that my project experience opens up the possibilities of the Buffalo State Educational
Technology department to other independent studies and service-learning projects. The
type of project that I worked on would be best suited to be tackled by an entire class,
where each student would be able to develop their own piece, sharing their experiences
with each other. For one person, it was really overwhelming.
My independent study in the Summer of 2009 was an incredible experience. I originally
set out to tackle a large volunteer project for Teachers without Borders. It did not come
without setbacks and tribulations. I made many contacts in Teachers without Borders and
really respect everything they stand for and do. I also learned a little bit about how a non-
I really enjoyed learning and writing about the topics I researched. There are many topics
in education that the Internet is now making widely accessible to people around the
world. I also value open courseware to be one of the most magnificent inventions of my
time. Because of open materials, teachers and students all over the world have virtually
free access to education. It’s amazing.
Lastly, even though it was a stressful experience at times, the project taught me a lot
about how much I could tackle in a given amount of time. In order to produce a product
that I am proud of, I need an excessive amount of the time to research, validate,
comprehend, and compile the information. Each course was worth the 10+ hours I put
into it, and each blog was worth the 3-6 hours I put into it, because they were products
that I was proud of.