Joining the high-tech bandwagon on low bandwidth


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Keynote address given to the National Association of Distance Education and Open Learning in South Africa, presented via video conference on 17 Aug 2009.

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  • The title of my presentation is Joining the Hi-Tech Bandwagon on Low Bandwidth. Distance education in South Africa is currently in a state of transition, where we are moving definitively away from a traditional ‘correspondence-based’ approach towards some form of web-enabled, or web-enhanced, provision. The term ‘low bandwidth’ is not meant to be read literally, but is a metaphor for the fact that South Africa is relatively under-resourced in comparison to those countries that have travelled this road ahead of us.
  • In this presentation I am going to use some imagery to illustrate my understanding of the landscape within which ODL is taking place today. This is a picture of a birdbath in an artistically designed garden. It represents my vision for meaningful ODL today. You’ll see how we build towards it in the rest of the slides. One of the sub-themes for the conference is ODL policy making and implementation: vision and reality. Vision is needed on many levels, and while the national vision may be contested, and institutional visions may yet be emerging, we all have our personal visions for the kind of learning experience we want to provide for our learners. This is the starting point.
  • This is a tapestry that was created by an artist who has posted her pictures to Flickr on the Web under a Creative Commons licence. The tapestry was inspired by the image of the birdbath in the garden. This is the outcome of the vision. I’m going to show how we build up towards that vision in ODL, using threads in the tapestry to represent the key factors that we need to take into account when designing for teaching and learning in the 21st century.
  • Now we can see how our artist started turning the vision into reality through a good, clear design. The clearer our vision, the easier it is to design a powerful learning experience for our learners. The focus of my presentation is about the elements that go into that design. I believe that every educator who works ‘at the coalface’ with students – tutors, lecturers, facilitators, trainers – needs to see themselves as a designer – even if that isn’t written into our job descriptions.
  • I love this picture. It shows a low-bandwidth infrastructure, and we’ve seen the beautiful product that was created with it. The most important thing for distance educators, is to tailor the design to the nature of the infrastructure you and your learners have access to, no matter how basic that may be. I’ll talk more about this in the later slides.
  • Here we see the first threads of the tapestry being woven.The threads in the tapestry will be used to show some of the key characteristics of the landscape of ODL in the 21st century. We need to respond to these factors in ways that are appropriate to our learners and the contexts in which we are teaching.
  • Now I am going diagrammatic to make the point in a different way. These are some of the key factors that I think tutors, lecturers, facilitators, course developers and other educators need to take into account when distance learners in the 21st century. They are all separate threads and when woven together, they enable effective learning. The exciting part for me is that the teacher’s learning process mirrors that of the learners’ – we are all in this learning process, and this work of art, together.
  • It’s hard to know which of the six factors to begin with because they are all so interrelated, but I’ve chosen emerging technologies as the starting point, because they have been such a catalyst for developments in education and training in recent years. The Canadian blogger, Harold Jarche made a great point the other day: he said that 30 years ago, every teacher knew how to use every bit of technology in their classroom, whereas since the advent of computers, many educators have stepped back and left the technology up to the specialists. I believe that, if we don’t take back control of the technology for teaching, we will be very disempowered and our learners will be short-changed, because technology is intimately connected with all the other threads in the tapestry.
  • In the last few years the proliferation of Web 2.0 applications has been phenomenal. I get dizzy just looking at the background image in this slide. But the good thing is that Web 2.0 is so much more user-friendly than Web 1.0. I saw this guy on the train the other day. He’s wearing earphones connected to his computer, and he’s using a music editing application called Garage Band. He’s got this huge smile on his face. He’s not focused on the technology – he’s focused on what the technology is enabling him to do.If you are one of those educators who has left the technology stuff up to the ‘techies’, I urge you to take some time out to play in Web 2.0, or to get to grips with your institution’s LMS. Once you have gained confidence yourself, you will be in a better position to support your learners. This is a sub-theme in the conference. The remaining threads in the tapestry provide some way forward in addressing this need.
  • As we all know, many of our learners do not have access to computers or the Internet, and mobile phones are a much more viable technology for them. We’ll be hearing fromUnisa later about the use of cellphones, along with the social platform MXit, to support learners. The idea is to build on the skills and technologies that students bring with them to the learning programme. Apart from SMSs and phone calls, one of the big advantages of mobile phones is that they can be used for learners to download podcasts onto. Extensive research has been done at the University of Leicester which demonstrates that the use of podcasts helps distance learners to feel less isolated. The use of voice helps to personalise the materials and make learners feel more ‘connected’ to their tutors. Considering the high proportion of mobile phones amongst the DL population in South Africa, this is an area in which South Africa could well lead the world in research and practice for distance education.
  • The second thread is social learning. Weaving the first and second strands together, there is a whole sub-theme on integration of ICT and social networking in the conference. These two aspects are intimately connected. Web 2.0 technologies did not emerge out of nowhere: they emerged to fulfil a human need for connection during the learning process. Henning & vdWesthuizen wrote a great case study in 2004, in which they concluded that ‘the social context becomes the facilitator and the scaffold for e-learning, more than technology and the curriculum itself’. I’m sure there will be lots of discussion around this idea at the conference.
  • Here’s an example of an online community of practice forSouth African educators, led by Maggie Verster, which may be familiar to many of you. It’s an open community which anyone who wants to learn to use Web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning can join. Beware: if you join, you may suddenly find yourself consumed by the desire to communicate with other members by blogging, or to follow links that take you to all kinds of fascinating destinations on the Web, and even to start twittering, if you haven’t already… Enter at your own risk! Jokes aside, participating in a community like this is one of the best professional development mechanisms for us as educators, and provides a good foundation to help us actually run online communities for our learners. An interesting aside here: in one of the abstracts by a delegate from Unisa, it is noted that learners underuse the official online tutoring system, but do ‘use unofficial online communication systems where communication is more open and free…’ Perhaps we need to allow (or encourage) the learning to spill out beyond the ‘official’ networks and into people’s real lives.
  • Fuzzy boundaries: by that I mean crossing borders – geographically, culturally, or across disciplines. Emerging technologies enable it; social learning has been characterised by it. Even Maggie’s community, which is geared towards South Africans, has a large proportion of members based in Ireland, India, Philippines, Puerto Rico, China, Egypt, Europe, New Zealand – even someone from the United States Minor Outlying Islands...
  • I have a couple of great examples from South Africa here. In 2006 Johannes Cronje from University of Pretoria wrote about how his team adapted a programme from Pretoria for delivery at the Sudan University of Science & Technology. This is a wonderful model of how South Africa has shared its expertise with another developing country. On a more local level, UWC and Stellenbosch University collaborated to create a virtual community in which students of Social Work and Social Psychology explored issues of community and diversity together. (Rohleder, 2008) This study raised in high relief some of the issues related to digital differentiation – predictably, the students at UWC had more difficulty accessing the internet than their counterparts at Stellenbosch, and this created some difficulties. However, this collaboration would not have been possible at all ten years ago, and it’s a powerful example of the first two threads in action.
  • All the imagesfor this presentation were taken from Flickr, where they were freely available under a Creative Commons licence.
  • Students learning how to extract DNA from bananas, using readily available materials such as plastic drinks bottles and plastic straws. The lesson materials come from the University of Leicester’s ‘Genie’ programme for Genetics. This is a great example of how OERs can be used with extremely limited resources and with no actual ‘bandwidth’ at all in the classroom.
  • This is a problem for everyone who works with knowledge in the 21st century, but particularly sofor teachers of large classes. Several papers in the conference will address this issue, including one from University of Pretoria in which a lecturer with more than 200 students, used tools in the BlackBoard learning management system innovatively to drastically reduce time spent on marking assignments as well as improving the quality of student proposals.
  • Use your tools for scanning, filtering, making connections, synthesising
  • Asking questionsThinking, writing (maybe blogging), going publicEngaging in conversationAs one example, there is a paper from Unisa exploring students’ perceptions of online learning.
  • International movetowards a more constructivist approach to ODL – this is mentioned in several of the abstracts.
  • Joining the high-tech bandwagon on low bandwidth

    1. 1. Joining the Hi-Tech Bandwagon on Low Bandwidth<br />NADEOSA keynote, 17 Aug 2009<br />Gabi Witthaus, Teaching Fellow in Distance Learning with Technologies, University of Leicester<br />
    2. 2. The vision<br />Vision needed on many levels:<br /><ul><li> National
    3. 3. Institutional
    4. 4. Personal</li></ul>ODL policy making and implementation: vision & reality <br />
    5. 5. The outcome<br />Tapestry by ‘Suddenlysheturned’ on Flickr<br />Threads represent landscape of ODL in 21st century<br />
    6. 6. The design<br />Turning vision into reality through design<br />The clearer our vision, the easier it is<br />Presentation about the elements that go into that design<br />
    7. 7. The infrastructure<br />Low-bandwidth infrastructure can enable a beautiful product<br />Key is to tailor the design to the nature of the infrastructure<br />
    8. 8. The action<br /><ul><li> Threads show key characteristics of landscape of ODL in 21st century
    9. 9. We need to respond in appropriate ways</li></li></ul><li>This is where the action’s at!<br />Tutors/ trainers and learners are all in this together<br />
    10. 10. Emerging technologies<br />We need to take back control!<br />
    11. 11. Not only for digital natives...<br />Take some time to play...<br />
    12. 12. The ‘low bandwidth’ option...<br /><ul><li> Huge proportion of our learners have cell phones
    13. 13. UNISA – using MXit for learner support
    14. 14. Mobile phones for podcasts
    15. 15. SA can lead the way here</li></li></ul><li>Social learning<br /><ul><li> Sub-theme: integration of ICT and social networking
    16. 16. Henning & vdWesthuizen (2004) – ‘The social context becomes the facilitator & the scaffold for e-learning’</li></li></ul><li>Learning in communities of practice<br />Many learners use ‘unofficial’ social networks<br />
    17. 17. Fuzzy boundaries<br /><ul><li>Crossing borders – geographically, culturally, across disciplines
    18. 18. Maggie’s community: Ireland, India, Philippines, Puerto Rico, China, Egypt, New Zealand, US Minor Outlying Islands...</li></li></ul><li>From Pretoria to Khartoum...<br />J. Cronje (2006) – Sudan Uni of Science & Technology<br />Rohleder et al (2004) – UWC and SUN – diversity <br />
    19. 19. Don’t reinvent when you can mix up or mash up!<br />OERs<br /><ul><li>This presentation is an OER
    20. 20. Creative Commons licence</li></li></ul><li>A low-bandwidth OER-based lesson in Malawi<br />Extracting DNA from bananas<br />
    21. 21. Rapid information flow<br />Problem for everyone, especially teachers with large class sizes<br />
    22. 22. Manage it; don’t drown in it!<br />Scanning<br />Filtering<br />Making connections<br />Synthesising<br />
    23. 23. Conversations about learning<br />Asking questions, thinking, writing (blogging?), going public<br />Explore students’ perceptions of online learning<br />
    24. 24. Reflective practice...<br />International move towards a more constructivist approach to ODL<br />
    25. 25. The sum of the whole...<br />
    26. 26. ... is greater than the parts.<br />
    27. 27. References and acknowledgements<br />References<br />Cronjé, J.C., 2006. Pretoria to Khartoum - how we taught an Internet-supported Masters&apos; programme across national, religious, cultural and linguistic barriers. Educational Technology & Society, 9(1), 276-288.  <br />Henning, E. & Van derWesthuizen, D., 2004. Crossing the digital divide safely and trustingly: how ecologies of learning scaffold the journey. Computers & Education, 42(4), 333-352.  <br />Jarche, H., 2009. Skills for learning professionals. Learning & Working on the Web. Available at: [Accessed July 29, 2009].<br />Rohleder, P. et al., 2008. Students&apos; evaluations of the use of e-learning in a collaborative project between two South African Universities. Higher Education, 56(1), 95-107.<br />Picture attributions:<br />Slides 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 21 (labyrinth and tapestry pictures) by slowlysheturned:<br />Slide 8 (Picture of Web 2.0) by Media Culpa: <br />Slide 9 (Picture of Rachel WambuiKung&apos;u from the Peace Caravan in Kenya with mobile phone) by whiteafrican:<br />Slide 12 (Picture of Maggie Verster’s ‘Learn with Maggie’ website):<br />Slide 13 (fishbowl) by Fearless:<br />Slide 15 (Extracting DNA from bananas):<br />Slide 17 (Picture of Ochiai Power Dam in Japan) by kakaya:<br />Slide 19 (Picture of two people having a conversation) by Mickipedia: <br />
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