I’ve always dreamed of being accepted to a Fulbright Program. Thankfully, just a few weeks ago, I was. I’m especially grateful and excited about this opportunity since it’s the inaugural session of educators sent to various countries on Fulbright’s short-term teaching placement.
This particular program sends teachers to various parts of the world for a three- to six-week coaching session. A variety of teachers are selected based on their areas of educational focus. The program placed me in Botswana’s largest village, Molepolole. My primary responsibility there is coaching the local teachers on technology and student engagement.
Upon arrival, I was overwhelmed with the excitement of all the different sights, scenes, scents and people I observed around the village. It is all vastly different, yet equally beautiful to what we see in the US.
I had to make a number of important decisions in order to expedite the process of successfully implementing technology in the school. First, due to severely limited supply, laptops in Botswana are remarkably higher priced than in the U.S., often at least double the price. Therefore, I decided to buy some of the laptops in the US prior to my visit, and brought them with me with adapters to make the funds provided stretch further. With the help of my generous host and volunteer, we drove an hour into the closest town to purchase the rest of the technology, compared prices at three different stores, purchased the technology, and drove an hour back just in time to get some sleep before the next day’s training.
We quickly ran into my second major roadblock: The internet speed in Botswana is drastically slower than in the U.S. The main reason for this was the large size of the group, which consumed a significant amount of bandwidth. The wireless server just couldn’t handle 40 technology devices logged on at once. I didn’t expect this Fulbright Program challenge to be easy, but it seemed like nothing was working out the way I initially planned. We had to make an executive decision to split all the teachers into two groups.
This worked much better. Groups were happier because they could get more personalized instruction, had faster internet to apply what they were learning from the program, and had more space to collaborate during the training. Kahoot! (a free game-based learning platform that makes it fun to learn any subject) was the crowd favorite. We played/learned on a projector to promote the collaborative spirit of learning. I made sure to show the teachers how to use it without a projector as well. An important part of teaching the implementation of technology is showing teachers and students how to adapt learning situations to match the technology resources on hand.
We had enough funds left that I was considering getting another laptop or two. However, I decided to have a brainstorming session with the two groups of teachers before the training started each day. I thought it was in the best interest of the school to first fully assess the greatest needs of the teachers by means of a dialogue before purchasing additional technology. Teachers are the ones that know what needs to happen to maximize learning. They expressed concern for not being able to access the programs without a stronger internet connection throughout the school. Therefore, I made the decision to hold off on purchasing additional laptops. Instead, I applied the remaining funds towards improved internet connection and speeds throughout the school. I’m hoping some may even be able to take advantage of the improved internet service in their homes as well since most teachers live in the back of the school. This will benefit them more than an extra laptop. This is evidence of the importance of open communication and collaboration in establishing the areas of greatest need and how to successfully address them.
My biggest goal for this program is to achieve sustainability, that they can successfully continue their work after I leave.
The program really is about how teaching and learning is transformed long term.
It’s vital that I’m able to help the teachers gain what they need in order to continue implementing the skills learned. This is why I’m investing time and energy into making sure the internet works schoolwide before I leave. This means consulting with the IT department, getting quotes from the local internet provider, and getting transportation or a way to pick up the routers. It’s worth it to me, and most definitely to the school. I’m determined to get it done. Seeing how hard the teachers work here with limited resources provides more than enough motivation for me. I want to make sure they have the right resources to lighten their workload while maximizing learning and connecting their students with the outside world.
I’m glad I took the time to ask the teachers for their input. They expressed an obstacle that could have been an unforeseen hindrance towards the sustainability of the entire program.
Next on the agenda for this week’s training? I plan to show teachers how to increase engagement and empower students in their large class sizes, when technology isn’t available. I have my work cut out for me this week. The fire that has been fueled by seeing that I actually have the resources to make a long-term difference in this school and this community is rewarding beyond compare.
The views expressed in these blogs are the views of the individual participant and do not represent the Department of State, the Fulbright Program or the Institute of International Education. Photos and captions are courtesy of the author.
Serena Pariser lives in San Diego, Calif. She served as a middle- and high-school English language arts teacher for 10 years, where she earned Teacher of the Year. In addition to her recent coaching work in Botswana with Fulbright, Serena now facilitates online continuing education courses in character education and presents at local as well as international conferences on educational topics. Read more of her work and receive her free e-guide at www.serenapariser.com. Follow her Twitter @SerenaPariser, Facebook at www.facebook.com/SerenaPariser, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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