Posted on February 19, 2010 · Posted in Siyavula

Over the last two weeks we’ve been working hard to plan the next large scale training exercise for Siyavula. We are going to be training the curriculum advisors of the North West Province in South Africa. This opportunity came after Mathusi Sebogwa and Jors de Ridder participated in the first Siyavula workshop held in September in Cape Town last year. We find that one of the most effective ways to convey the Siyavula message is to invite people to participate in one of our workshops.

The training will focus on:

  • How to grow and facilitate groups of teachers working together as communities to support one another and share their material such as lessons plans, exercises and solutions.
  • The free and openly licensed workbooks available to advisors and educators on-line and on CD.
  • How to search, download, modify, print and share these resources for a specific grade, subject, language and learning outcome.

Originally we were going to run workshops in Mafikeng, Rustenburg, Vryburg and Potchefstroom, which would have been an interesting logistical exercise. Now we will be running all of our workshops in Rustenburg. There will be 4 workshops, 3 have final dates confirmed: 21stand 22n February, 3rd and 4th March and one on the 17th and 18th.

The agenda for these workshops will be a little different and tailored to the audience we have. In our first Cape Town workshop we focused on the formation of new communities as we had a collection of teachers that hadn’t worked together before. In our Kwa-Zulu Natal workshop we focused on the managing a community and how to allow participants to get involved because the teachers were already part of a community. In this workshop we’ll be focusing on how communities can be supported and an enabling environment for their formation can be created because we will be working with curriculum advisors that support a group of teachers.

We have also adopted a new strategy for providing technical training and internet access. In the past we’ve tried using the internet provided by the venue and renting computers, we’ve tried bringing our own 3G wireless routers to provide our own access with rented laptops. We’ve also tried asking participants to bring their own laptops.

None of the internet solutions have worked effectively and reliably for us so far. We also found that participants bringing their own laptops actually increased the need for technical support rather than reducing it. Personal laptops are often unknown quantities to the owners when used away from home. It also increased the number of laptop/operating system/hardware permutations we had to deal with which also slowed things down further.

In the upcoming workshops all the laptops will be rented. This means they’ll all be the same model (or at most 2-3 different models) of laptop, running the same operating system. This will reduce any technical support complications. In addition, we have put together a server with a complete copy of the Connexions site running on it and purchased a number of wireless access points and a switch so that the server has its own wireless network. This means we can plug the server in and turn it on and all the laptops can connect to our wireless network. Our wireless network is configured to ensure that all siyavula.cnx.org (our local proxy server for the Connexions site) requests go to our local server.

Now we know the site will definitely be responsive and we can get the laptops working quickly while still using the proper site URL. This is so that we train everyone to use the correct URL from the beginning. The more responsive the site we use during the training the easier it is to maintain momentum and reduce distractions.

We are really looking forward to the training in the North West province and trying out our new approach.

About the Author

Mark Horner is the CEO of Siyavula Education, a social enterprise working in the school sector in South Africa. While working as the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow for Open and Collaborative Resources, Mark was able to transform the Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project, which he co-founded, into Siyavula Education. In this process, openly-licensed, collaboratively authored textbooks have been printed and distributed nationally in South Africa. Working at the intersection of community, openness and technology; Mark intends to leverage this success to make Siyavula an innovative, technology provider in education that works effectively as part of the education community to ensure better learning opportunities for all. A recent notable event being the delivery of Siyavula's textbooks over Mxit, the most popular mobile chat solution in South Africa. Mark has a PhD in physics from the University of Cape Town and conducted his research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California on the results from the STAR experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. His work is carried out in the belief that the liberation of information and support of education in South Africa will lead to a peaceful and prosperous future for all South Africans.