Posted on April 12, 2010 · Posted in Siyavula

The posts about the last 3 workshops (first post here) in the North West Province are long overdue and so I’ve decided to consolidate them into a single post.

For those only interested in the big picture it’s fair to say that all the workshops were very successful! All the workshops were intended to be two days long and were held at ATKV Buffelspoort which turned out to be a great venue for us.

All participants (approximately 60 per workshop) were engaged, enthusiastic and lively right until the end. The feedback we received was excellent with participants really enjoying both the community/group psychology side as well as the technical training. The level of engagement was so high that in all sessions participants were left asking for more but we had to cut things off as we just ran out of time or would have had to sacrifice our program which covered:

  • challenges and needs in the North West province,
  • workbook review,
  • Siyavula and OERs introduction,
  • Connexions introduction,
  • communities of practice,
  • group dynamics with introductions to edge, rank and containment,
  • using Connexions to create accounts, workgroups and upload content from Word correctly, and
  • brainstorming around needs, issues and ideas for taking things forward.

img_0015 This left all advisors with a clear idea of how, in our work to support teachers and curriculum/subject advisors to be more effective, we adopt an approach that focuses on the use of Open Educational Resources, which immediately allows for the re-packaging, contextualisation and improvement of educational resources, by communities of practice, which supports load-sharing, professional development, empowerment and the development of a sense of belonging for the participants.

The advisors also identified practical ways that they could use the resources, tools and concepts in their work, identified potential challenges they could face, shared ideas about how to overcome those challenges and gave us great feedback on what challenges stand in the way of complete, province-wide adoption of the ideas.

We’ve had an opportunity to establish a superb relationship with the curriculum/subject advisors and give them enough information to get started as well as lay a solid foundation for any future work in the province.

Although each workshop began with the same plan they didn’t all turn out to be identical and so each one deserves some discussion.

Workshop 2 – 4 & 5th March 2010

The Foundation Phase and Arts and Culture advisors were the primary attendees at the second workshop and made this our liveliest workshop with the most arts and culture in terms of singing and dancing at the workshop.

img_0036 All the photos from the workshop, taken by Quinton Davis, are online – click here to see them.


  • Dr. Johlene de Villiers, who is helping start a senior phase science club with teachers from the towns of Sutherland, Fraserburg, Williston and Carnarvon in the Northern Cape Province.
  • Nico Sauer, Subject Advisor Senior Phase Physical Science Namakwa Region, Northern Cape Department of Education, who is working with Johlene in her efforts.
  • Susie Crossman from the Royal Bafokeng Institute who is coordinating their efforts on the science education front.

We invite guests to attend and participate in our workshops because it allows them to experience the blend of communities of practice, technology and OERs we are providing and is much more effective than any explanation we can give them. The guests we invite are potential partners, practitioners or advisors. We didn’t have any guests at the first workshop as we were still finding our feet and the workshop details were finalised quite close to the actual workshop date.


In this workshop we were able to complete the Word uploading to our standalone server (this hadn’t been possible at the first workshop) and all participants went through the process of constructing a document, importing it into our stand-alone server, and publishing the content.

Some participants had the opportunity to import the content into workgroups that they had formed earlier in the day, demonstrating the technical solution for having a restricted, collaborative workspace online where discussions can happen and content can be imported/created before being released to the broader community.

Workshop 3 – 18 & 19th March 2010

img_0065For this workshop the Life Orientation, Technology and Social Sciences advisor joined us at Buffelspoort. This workshop was the hardest one for our team as we were involved in a relatively serious car accident just outside OR Tambo late the night before on the way to Buffelspoort and so the team had very little sleep. Thankfully the participants provided the energy and the excitement for the team and the workshop went off well despite some very tired facilitators.

All the photos from the workshop, taken by Quinton Davis, are online – click here to see them.



img_0076The particularly exciting thing about having representatives of LearnAid at the event was the opportunity to allow the advisors to meet someone who really has leveraged the benefits of OERs that we preach to them. We were able to show professionally laid out derivatives works of the content we’ve made available. LearnAid publishing has used both Siyavula and FHSST content in their handbooks. This really drives home the power of open licensing.


For the third workshop we restructured the flow of sessions to better leverage the momentum from the community sessions, before we had inserted some technical training to ensure that people didn’t get too tired of working in one area, but the groups generated so much momentum and energy that we withheld the technical training till later in the day which worked really well. It is hard to know up front how engaged and focused a group will be after 2 hours focused on one topic and we try to go where the energy is in our workshops as much as possible because it is an indicator of the passion and needs of the participants.

img_0070We also modified the introductory process and swapped the speed dating for a individual introductions in the plenary session. We asked participants to tell us not only who they were and which district they were from but also what their expectation, if any, of the workshop was. This worked really well as everyone’s voice was heard and a wide range of issues were raised.

Workshop 4 – 25 & 26th March 2010

Advisors for Natural Sciences and Economics and Management Studies were the participants at the final workshop as well as some Physical Science advisors wanting to learn more about the FHSST content.

All the photos from the workshop, taken by Quinton Davis, are online – click here to see them.

img_0010This workshop was the most intense group of participants and we spent a lot of time discussing very technical issues of both the site and group dynamics. Again participants requested more time for all aspects of the program.

I’ve included a complete list of the responses we received during the introductory exercise when we ask everyone to introduce themselves and tell us why they are here and what they expect to get out of the workshop. This exercise gives people a voluntary opportunity to put their cards on the table and we get some really honest responses. This is great because it means that our team really knows their expectations – you’ll see that there is a lot of honesty included in the responses and it is not just a case of everyone towing some party line. We get a chance to put some processes in place to address them where there are, for example, logistical concerns. This sets the tone for the workshop and gets us off to a great start.img_0019

“Sharpen my skills and bring better skills to other people.”
“Get some material to support our schools.”
“Be developed technologically.”
“Catch a mouse.”
“Learn a lot.”
“Access information easily from computer.”
“I’ve researched portfolio assessments, found a lot on the web and thought this was a good opportunity to go into “internet conferencing.””img_0030
“What is the workshop all about?”
“99% don’t have internet. How to access those portal with a lot of information on science. Hope program can be extended into most syllabus areas.”
“Something’s going to be opened up – Siyavula.”
“I just wanted to get out of the office.”
“I’ve developed grade 4 material. I’m not going to type and distribute yet because I’ve heard of Siyavula and going to the workshop first.”
“Jors said I would meet Mark Shuttleworth. [Once this was found out not to be the case…] Perhaps Siyavula will open the door to Mark Shuttleworth.”
“Normally we have to work for a workshop. This time I want to take something away.”img_0052
“I never wanted to be a teacher, but my classmates told me to be a teacher. I didn’t want to come to this workshop, but my colleagues told me to be here. [When asked if the was a good teacher she said that she’s been told that she is]”
“I’m here to visit the area. Be able to use information from the internet.”
“There are no physical science educators at some schools.”
“I heard about the workshop from someone else who attended the workshop – they said it was good”
“Given lack of support from the department, and lack of resources, I hope this can inspire educators to be creative.
“I’ve heard a lot of things about it [Siyavula] and am very interested.”
img_0072“A lot of good things were said about this workshop and I did some marketing for the workshop.”
“I’ve never heard of Siyavula in my life. [When all participants were asked this by Helene, a few others put up their hands to indicate that this was the case for them too].”
“I’m interested to see about the grass roots vs top down approach, and how Siyavula tackles this.”
“Reputation of Siyavula from colleagues.”
“Far, far behind technologically – I hope this is a catch up program, and hope to come out a better person.”
“Colleagues were here and I was told “This is one of the workshops you can’t miss!””
“Here to meet Shuttleworth as well. Don’t know what the workshop is about. Hopefully sharpen skills, gain more.”
“Efficiently help the education system to be more.”
“Not very sure why I’m here. Was told they teach you how to open a document. I want to learn something that I don’t know – or something I know – waiting for that wow moment!”
“Some material seen from Jors – inspired.”
“Heard that facilitators are good. Like hardworking people – don’t like lazy people.”
“Explore new things I don’t know. Viva Siyavula!”
“Jors said if I don’t do it now, he will kill me.”
“Jors. Subject advisors must know more than teachers. Improve in a technological way.”
“Want to be more technologically advanced.”
“Inspired by Jors.”
“I was lost – that’s why I’m late. I hope the workshop can benefit me. Share info with educators”
“Here out of curiosity – develop.”
“Heard about Siyavula a lot – curious.

The final session is a discussion of how to take things forward, what people can commit to and what challenges there are. Some of the comments made were documented and here is a list:

Select educators that are computer literate and introduce Siyavula to them. Introduce a buddy system i.e. each of them will introduce one other person.

Cellphone, simulation. A lot of people are new to all this. Need to spend time playing with the website i.e. getting comfortable with the website ourselves [as curriculum advisors].

We need to set up meetings.
We feel empowered, excited and tired.

We need to get more comfortable with Siyavula.

Most educators are not computer literate.

Although one person may have access to a laptop, they don’t necessarily have exclusive use of it.

I see the potential, but there are big constraints.

We need to kept being reminded about Siyavula – we need to be prodded
[response: it is important to remember that this is a voluntary thing]
Most of felt we could use it ourselves.

We would show it to our children.
[A lot of people in the audience agreed]

Some websites are blocked [because of firewalls / proxy servers]. Can you please make sure that this is rectified for the Siyavula website?
[response: we’ll sort that out]

We would feel more comfortable if the DoE gave us a mandate to be able to use Siyavula – and put time into it instead of other things.

Thanks to Mark, the Shuttleworth Foundation and Jors

Much has been spent on the psychological part – more time should be spent on the technical part.
I didn’t like the time spent on the technical part.

I really enjoyed the psychology part.

Different strokes for different folks – maybe you guys can find out the level of technical competence beforehand.
[response: it varies and we need to choose how to spread the time of the workshop]

Ultimately the participants always hung around until the end, were lively right up until the closing session and were all enthusiastic about the project and engaged in the process. I thought I’d close this post with a photo of, arguably, our most enthusiastic participant:


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.