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Tools and Access January 11, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Hardware, Lifelong Learning.

group06   Yesterday I formally met our new CASS teachers from Central America. We have nineteen this year from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. They will be staying in Tucson for a year and I am optimistic that they will have a great year.

One issue that was raised about the program over the past few years, and this is the fourth year we have had a group of twenty here, is communication. We would like to communicate with the community more and perhaps ask for financial support. We also want ways of keeping the friendship families/familias amigas in touch with the activities of the program. To that end, I created a blog for the supporting families to visit and to submit pictures. Additionally, I will ask a different student every two weeks to write a little piece in English or Spanish to share about their experiences here.

From an Educational Technology perspective, their stay raises several issues for us. One issue is the advice we give the CASS program regarding what software and hardware we should be training them to use. Over the course of the year, they become skilled at using tools like scanners and CD burners and many can manipulate image and sound files into PowerPoint and MovieMaker. Once the year is over, many of these teachers will return to rural villages and towns that are, in some cases, quite isolated. Tow of the teachers had never left their small island homes before. When they return they may only have a very limited access to computers and the Internet. The question arises of how best to prepare them for their return home.

One school of thought is that even if they rarely have access to the Internet, digital cameras (both video and still) and fast and fancy electronic tools, they might be able to instill in their students a better sense of what lies outside their villages. As teachers, they might be able to give their students a better sense of the vista of possibilities that exists for them.

In conversations I have had on this topic recently, I also get the sense that there is strong pressure on some educators not to challenge or usurp traditional ways, the stewardship of the land, contributions to community, and traditional values of their families. Education is a powerful tool for change and I sense that some people view change with increasing trepidation and uncertainty.

One example of instruction that has a dubious impact happened last semester. Their literacy instructor, a wonderful and caring teacher, trained the CASS maestros/maestras in the use of MovieMaker for making digital movies about their experiences. When some of the teachers left in December with donated older model laptops, they were shocked to find out that MovieMaker was a tool built into the XP operating system and not available for their Windows 98 systems. They had been looking forward to sharing their new skills with students back home. I fear that will be just the beginning of their frustrations with the old laptops.

I guess the bottom line is that we need to leave them with skills they can apply to tools they can access.



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