A more intuitive approach to ICT integration put to the test in Rwanda
Five years ago, when Connect To Learn was launched, conventional wisdom informing new ICT in education programs often assumed that with access to devices and broadband connectivity, remote, resource-poor schools could be transformed through access to the world of learning resources available online. Connect To Learn’s initial technology solution was designed accordingly by partner Ericsson, with a lab of 25-50 netbooks optimized to work on low bandwidth and with a Linux operating system intended to eliminate the work of virus protection and software updates for teachers and students with little if any experience using ICT. Early lessons taught us that even these initial design features still proved to be user-unfriendly for teachers new to ICT, and that continuous teacher professional development and support was absolutely critical for teachers to take up using ICT tools in their practice, especially if they are expected to evolve their pedagogy to facilitate more interactive lessons with students. Even as more investment in teacher training and support was built into the program, the cumbersome nature of aging devices and weak, sometimes absent connectivity discouraged teachers from finding relevant resources online, an already daunting task for many countries where we work due to the dearth of locally tailored content available online.
Now almost 5 years into the program, CTL has learned a lot about the pieces that need to be in place to effectively integrate ICT in classrooms, and has continually worked to refine our technology solution and training approach to meet the unique needs of remote schools with limited access to broadband. In April 2016, we visited 2 CTL schools in the Bugesera District of Rwanda to put some of our lessons and evolving theories of what can work to the test in collaboration with our local team and teachers at the schools. We tested a “whole-class” model informed by the innovative work being done by Cybersmart Africa. What we found showed us the potential of a technologically more complex but far more user-friendly solution for enabling teachers to engage students in interactive, ICT integrated lessons without the need to wait 10 minutes for a webpage to load or to setup a multitude of student devices.
The model put in place one teacher computer, connected to a projector and interactive whiteboard, and a local server pre-populated with locally relevant content organized according to the country curriculum, accessible without need for an Internet connection. Teachers were trained in using the interactive whiteboard to facilitate interactive lessons, and provided recommendations for additional content to be added to their schools’ offline servers. The week following the training, teachers began using the server content with the interactive whiteboard in their classes. As teachers navigated through their content and students came up to fill in answers or offer their input, the intuitiveness of this whole-class approach was clear. Even with just one computer being used in the lesson, the interactive whiteboard enabled many students to come interact with the computer interface, helping to not only build their subject content knowledge, but their ICT skills as well without requiring individual student devices. After the morning demonstration classes, the students who had participated erupted with excited questions, asking how the interactive whiteboard pn communicates with the computer, and what other content they’ll be able to find on the server.
A chemistry teacher at Kamabuye Secondary School who used the interactive whiteboard and server content to teach a lesson noted that the approach is “very attractive to the students…it is hard to understand chemistry if nothing is shown, if we show them pictures and videos they understand more.”A biology teacher said that ICT “facilitates both the teaching and learning process…students can see exactly how certain biological processes happen.”
Now in the new era of the Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 4 on education calls to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Within this goal, there are targets to ensure that all girls and boys complete secondary education, and are equipped with relevant skills, including technical skills. Connect To Learn is working to make this goal a reality in the communities where we work by proving that the kind of whole-class model of ICT integrated learning demonstrated in Rwanda can be easily adopted by teachers with little ICT experience, and by developing digital resource libraries that can be easily scaled to enable more widespread access to quality, relevant content. Once teachers are up and running with the new technology and resources, our next step will be to study the evolution of student performance to determine if there is a correlation between increased teacher ICT integration and improved learning outcomes.
While the value of a computer lab with enough devices for groups of students to conduct their own research and work cannot be denied, such solutions require near-constant technical support, frequent replacing of devices, and robust electricity on top of the critical elements of teacher training and relevant content. In short, such solutions are very expensive, and value for money is highly questionable. We believe that a more scalable and sustainable solution for classroom settings must involve simple, intuitive design, minimal number of devices, and work in the school environments for which it is intended, which often have limited electrification and access to broadband. Connect To Learn thinks we are on the right track.
For more information about Connect to Learn, visit http://connecttolearn.org.