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SchoolNet South Africa Conference Reflections

Well....I am back, back after being gone for a week of travel and presenting in Bloemfontein, South Africa to present at the national SchoolNet SA Conference. I was thrilled to be asked back for the third time by good friends Gerald Roos and Janet Thomson from School Net.

It is always an adventurous journey to travel to South Africa, as there is no direct flight of how to get there- but the longest part of the journey is the flight from Atlanta, Georgio to Johannesburg, South Africa of 17 hours. The total air travel and airport exchanges take about 24-30 hours one way.  So.... yes I am one tired girl today, but I have a few days to catch up on my sleep and acclimate back to the 7 hour time change.

Upon my arrival to the Bloemfontein, South Africa I was greeted by the most lovely Janet Thomson, Executive Director of SchoolNet, who assisted me with my transportation to the hotel we would be staying at, and to also preview the venue of the conference location. This year's conference was hosted at The Univeristy of the Free State. At this overview of venue logistics and tech check, I was also greeted by the marvelous Sarietjie MusgraveHead: ICTISE (ICT Innovation in School Education) at The University of the Free State, and the pre-service educator team that would assist us as student tech helpers during our hands-on tech sessions. I was so thankful to have two amazing student helpers in my sessions that aided to the technical assistance and mentoring to attendees to guide through my workshop session materials- they were absolutely fabulous! 

*Day 1 Lessons Learned
We as educators and technology leaders in the United States to model this more effectively and this type of tech assistance program for large conferences to bring in pre-service teachers earning their teaching degrees from the university as an empowerment and learning opportunity. This opportunity for pre-service teachers enables them to view and support powerful instruction and collaborative learning practices amongst the facilitator and attendees. It also exposes them to a variety of  new and innovative instructional approaches and techniques of how to work with adult learners and infused technology integration or ICT skill sets. Thank you pre-service teaching team of teaching the "Art of Patience" and tech assistance proficiency during my session venues- I value and appreciate your guidance, assistance and genuine kindness!

*The Opening Day of The Conference
The SchoolNet conference began on July 2nd and ran through July 4th. The opening ceremony was presented by Sarietjie Musgrave and Shafika Isaacs founding Executive Director of SchoolNet Africa, an NGO operating in 35 African countries, which promotes learning and teaching through the use of ICTs.  Shafika introduced our opening keynote speaker of Baldev Singh who presented on "Trends in Technology and Implications for Learning, Teaching and Developing the International Dimension in Schools." Baldev did an exceptional job of showcasing ways to empower teachers to be active in their learning progression with ICT and to model ways to also empower student learning with the latest technology trends of integrating educational video clips and segments to inspire curiosity and the love for lifelong learning. Baldev also provided several workshop sessions throughout the conference venue offer the course of three days on the following topics: 

  • 21st Century Learning Design Through a Technology Lens
  • Create System-wide Change. Build Innovative Schools
  • TeachMeet
If you are interested in more of what Baldev and the his company have to offer in ICT in education please review his online website and resources found here: Imagination Education.

To wrap up the mid afternoon opening conference, we were addressed also by the Deputy Minister of Education, Enver SurtyDeputy Minister Enver Surty address the conference attendees with praising the educators for the dedication and a job well done for their teaching efforts in South Africa. His motivational message inspired many, even though there has been such economic set-backs with budget cuts and policy changes in South Africa, similar but different of what we are currently facing in the United Staes of America. His opening address he justified why he did not provide a PowerPoint as part of his opening message through this quote "I have no PowerPoint presentation. You are the Power and I hope to make the Point." The opening quote led to lots of laughter and set the ground at ease to enjoy the next 20 minutes with the Deputy Minister on the stage.

To round out our day of learning for Day 1 of the conference, I provided the following 2 hour learning session opportunity for our wonderful South Africa educators of  "K-12 Global Collaboration and Virtual Video Field Trips."

This session provided educators to have a collective and critical voice in their learning though a backchannel chat of TodaysMeet and so we could "hear the voice" of all attendees in this collaborative and hands-on session of 138 participants. The facilitated message that was delivered was the importance of global literacy in todays k-12 classroom teaching and learning environments and how to connect with other educators safely and effectively through our world.  I showcased educational global portals on how to easily get started or create them with participating in a project through Global School Networks, ePals and Projects by Jen by very good friend Jennifer Wagner from California, USA. If you are interested in following Jennifer Wagner on Twitter here is here twitter name and link of JenWagner.  

Attendees not only had the opportunity to investigate each of this online global learning portals I made sure they had an opportunity to collaborate on their thinking through several active learning strategies of "Think-Pair-Share" opportunities and to process and reflect on their learning through the provided back channel chat of TodaysMeet. It was so great to see the attendees to also volunteer and share openly through verbal comments of their immediate learning connections with the provided projects and with their educator peers and new teacher friends.

To wrap up this session, I showcased also the importance of global virtual field trips. Special recognition was given to Karen Stadler, a South African Capetown educator, and known as a "Global Champion" who currently is hosting a virtual project known, as the "Save Our Rhinos Project." Several teachers were so empowered to find out that they participate in this project, that we made time for them to sign-up through the shared Google spreadsheet that Karen provided here: "Signup for the Save Our Rhinos Project." Within the 3 day conference, Karen had 23 educators only from the South African region as new participants. We also shared here project out on Twitter, which allowed for more educators global to sign up instantly too. Thanks Karen Stadler for modeling effectively and pursuing your educational passions of what a "Global Champion" should look like! If you would like to follow Karen on Twitter please click on this link to view her Twitter stream of information and click on "Follow" at ICT _Integrator.

Star Gazing and African Cuisine
To wrap up such an eventful and inspiring day the School Net team took the presenters out to De Oude"Star Gazing" night event and a lovely African cuisine dinner on the outskirts of Bloemfontein, South Africa.  I was in such "awe" of viewing the beautiful star filled galaxy landscape of the night sky, while lying on our backs on provided outdoor mattresses. As we lyed there a native guide provided us the astronomy overview of the night sky and pinpointed out the Southern Hemisphere's constellation and the beautiful Milkyway night sky path that we cannot see from our Northern Hemisphere. I could have stayed there all night and fell asleep under this picturesque view.

Day 2 and 3 brought many session offerings from all kinds of presenters- please see the session offering list here: SchoolNet Program Session offerings I presented multiple times on Day 2  and 3 included the following hands on ICT offerings in the form of 2 and 1 hour session format types.  All the linked session will lead you to the presentation materials that you may share and distribute with others. 

  • What Would You Like to Create Today? iPad Literacy Center “Apptivities"
  • So You Want to Hangout In My Community?
  • Intel Elements: Blended Learning
  • Visualize Your Thinking and Learning - Visual Ranking App
  • Closing Keynote

  • Day 2 did present myself with many technological challenges, as the Wifi struggled to keep up with the conference attendees access needs and the provided Novell Network OS on many of the lab computers. I had to learn and model lots of patience, think on my feet, and accommodate to the technology learning environment. I call this technology misfortunes a collection of "technology bumps and hiccups" we had to work through and tried to make the best of the learning situation at hand.  Thank goodness I came very prepared with screenshots of each my presentation files and online website sites as a backup:-) But I at times became frustrated because the technology was not working the best- but the educators reassured me- that this too is a typical day in their teaching and learning environments. I wanted to give the the very best professional development experience possible, and this technology setback actually allowed for us more positive conversational time to talk through possible solutions.
    One of days biggest challenges was bringing in a guest speaker virtually through Google Hangouts with the limited WiFi connectivity.  We did not have the success during our first session of bringing in our guest presenter, Tim Nielsen, an educational consultant and technology literacy specialist, from my company of Innovative Educator Consulting. Tim is from Holmen, WI. But our second session of "So You Want to Hangout in My Community" we were successful! As noted- the second session was more eventful, as the first session we greatly struggled with WiFi connectivity to bring him in successfully. Both sessions proved to be very beneficial to provide the following content overview of how effective and necessary of "Google Hangouts" in the following areas:
    • Global literacy connection to bring in outside experts to open up the world of learning opportunities for students, 
    • Community portal of G+ offers a robust social teaching and learning virtual environment to connect SA educators with other SA as a dedicated PLN collaboration space,
    • Model and showcase an effective blended learning environment for teachers and students.
    If you would like to follow Tim Nielsen on Twitter- you can through his Twitter name of Teach1Tech.  Here is also the shared Google Document that Tim provided the day of the Google Hangout to extend your learning with Google Hangouts in the K-12 Classroom.

    Day 2 also provided our dynamic duo UK emerging technology presenters of Frédéric Kastner and Malik Wilson a spotlight keynote on the presentation of  "Open Educational Resource Movement - Inspiring Your Teaching and Sharing with Teachers Around the World." Frédéric and Malik and their inspirational team are well known for their  vibrant presence of Open Education Resources known as "OER" through The Virtual School.  The Virtual School promotes an educational web presence and the importance of how teachers can make their own educational videos and giving a global view of what is happening in the world of digital subject content. The Virtual School aims to provide access to comprehensive world-class education, free of charge, around the world. The Virtual School videos can be accessed on YouTube. Their blog URL is

    Frédéric and Malik provided hands-on movie making projects through digital video productions and screen casting opportunities with free and online and offline resources throughout the conference. Teachers were very eager to participate in these content creation technology sessions. As we as Americans say "Great Job" Frédéric and Malik , it was a pleasure and honor to get to know both of you, and work with you this week. Love your free spirit, positive and energetic outlook on education and your inspiring ideas to best represent our youth! Just work on those driving skills in South Africa and then you will be well on your way to become successful young entrepreneurs. Your African dancing moves are amazing though! To honor you as our upcoming technology pop stars- here is a pop song in your honor "I Love It"  Keep up the fabulous work guys! I love it-  your content creation work, your collaborative ideas and lasting inspiration!

    To close out Day 2, we celebrated with all attendees at the Microsoft Partners in Learning  Cocktail Party- with insights of future technologies and learning- accompanied with refreshments, music and networking. This event was truly an inspiration and a time for celebrating on a day well done. I had lots of opportunities to network with conference attendees and conference presenters, and to celebrate with African music and improve those dancing techniques. I love to observe the "beat of the crowd" as they sang along with the live band and danced the night away with their peers. It reminds me of the very importance of why we need to recognize celebration as part of the teaching and learning process. We need to celebrate even our small accomplishments to unveil the bigger picture that each of us is making greater strides of finding new solutions to improve education for each and every one of our students.  

    "Celebration is part of the teaching and learning process to document our collaborative contributions and new solutions discovered as a community of learners!"

    *Day 2 Lessons Learned:
    • Bring your "patience box" along when working with an unknown technology environment.
    • Always be prepared to have screenshots prepared ahead of time to support your session if the Wifi connectivity is a weak or does no work.
    • "Think on your feet" and be willing to be flexible with your delivery of instruction when things do not go as planned.
    • Celebrate the small successes to make great gains each and every day!
    • Take time to add elements of humor to your day of teaching and learning, take time to relax and let the laughter take over to add true happiness and a feeling of enjoyment to your day! 
    • Dance as if no one is watching!
    DAY 3
    Day 3 proved itself to be quite eventful as well with minimal technology setbacks. Our day of learning encompassed workshop session repeats from Day 2, but we also included the Intel Elements new course of Blended Learning. The educators were truly amazed about how well the course was written and can be delivered as a "one stop shop" for professional development portal.  Lead educators that provide training to their teachers really enjoyed  how the course be delivered as a self-directed course, face-to-face course or a blended approach. Several teachers noted through our back channel chat the following statements and quotes:

     "Intel Education has done all the work for me to provide an online and a CD curriculum solution of high-quality professional development that I can now offer my teachers!" 

    "This is a brilliant course! It will definitely be taking off in our district!!! Its powerful!"        (Quoted by Karen)

    "Learning that there are all these resources available at our fingertips. We just need to leap in and join the tech transformation." (Quoted by Linley)
    "Simply Brilliant. As a trainer, I now have a course with resources to facilitate with my colleagues. Thanks!!!"  (Quoted by Junaid)
    "I feel empowered by the availability of so many tools and techniques which will equip me to begin blended learning at my school." (Quoted by Irene)
    I am focused on developing critical thinking in my practice and having a specific course to work through is going to be great. (Quoted by Mary)

    Resources shared area also in included in Naomi Harm's Google Folder of Shared eHandouts and Resources, but here are additional links to provide you with a jump start with the Intel Elements Blended Learning coursework below. 
    I was asked to provide a closing keynote on "Top 10 Learning Tips" from my three days of teaching and learning experiences from the SchoolNet Conference. To be asked to be the closing speaker was an honor, and I wanted to share with all attendees the "inspirational snapshots" of teaching and learning moments I captured through my lens as a facilitator and active participant of this year's technology conference. 

    Here is the embedded presentation file of the #10 through the #1 "Top 10 Learning Tips." I hope that you can implement each tip throughout your school year. Please feel free to share or refer back to often these tips with your teacher friends and/or colleagues to continue, so you too can continue to build the momentum for inspiring teaching learning practices, while transforming your personal and professional learning growth in the field of educational technology leadership.


    Janet said…
    You had the longest and most gruelling journey home out of all of us and yet you still managed to have this highly informative and humorous blog written before we even arrived home - Naomi you are super woman!
    SHYAM said…
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    mim akter said…
    thanks for your post
    Fern D. Tucker said…
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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