Stanford comes to Hazyview

If you were on a mission to improve digital literacy in a rural setting, what aspects of the implementation would you be wary of?

Great question. One very realistic answer would be “power supply.” Don’t laugh. Many experiments in rural Africa come close to failing because of an inconsistent supply of electricity to classrooms.

Another answer would be (and this one resonates with me): simply putting technology into a classroom cannot be seen as a comprehensive solution.

As an example, in Uruguay and Rwanda, national policymakers purchased laptops for hundreds of thousands of children, but most are not being used in classrooms—they are gathering dust in school closets because teachers do not know how to use the devices. Even here in our own country computer rooms set up with good intentions lie dusty!

For Good Work Foundation there is a goal to teach rural learners how to “drive” computers, yes. But the mission must move from “learning computers” to “using computers to learn.”

For these reasons I was extremely happy for Hazyview Digital Learning Centre to become the sub-Saharan pilot centre for the SMILE education project.

SMILE stands for “Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment”, and is a technology-based, constructivist approach to learning. The idea is that students learn much more effectively through participation, discovery and inquiry.

SMILE combines a mobile-based question application for students, with a management application for teachers. It allows students to create multiple-choice questions on mobile phones during class and share these questions with their classmates and teacher. The classroom management software allows students to share, respond, and rate questions on criteria such as creativity or depth of analysis.

Using the program, the student becomes a researcher, creator and evaluator.

When all students have finished writing and submitting their questions to the server management application (using a mobile device such as a tablet or a cell phone), the aggregated questions are sent back to their student application. In a classroom of 30 students, each student or group may generate one or more questions, meaning that each student gets to solve 30 questions or more generated by their peers.

Their responses and time-to-respond are gathered by the data management software and saved for further analysis by the teacher. Once all students have answered and evaluated their peers’ questions, the teacher is able to display the results through the “See Results” button. At this point, students can view a summary of their results and see which questions they answered correctly or incorrectly. They can also view detailed information about individual questions including how many students answered each correctly and average ratings. Finally, students can view who answered the most questions correctly and whose question received the highest ratings.

Together with Seeds of Empowerment – the non-profit organisation that is implementing Stanford’s programs, we experimented with the SMILE program at our Hazyview campus for five days late in July. Initial sessions were facilitated by Neha Taleja from Seeds of Empowerment who then handed over to our own teachers – Crispen and Zodwa.

Of course it’s early days yet, but we are pleased to be integrating pedagogy and technology in our classrooms at Hazyview and we are thrilled to be presenting cutting-edge models of education. Models that go beyond tuition by memorisation, and instead promote critical thinking, inquiry and collaboration.

Thank you to Karl Kornwolf and Scott Babour for introducing Good Work Foundation to the SMILE program, and a heartfelt thanks from everyone at Hazyview to Neha Taleja and Suzanna Jaymin Sim from Seeds of Empowerment.

In developing countries the risk is that governments – under pressure – rush the dissemination of “new education technologies” with no idea on how to integrate these devices into pedagogy. Programs like SMILE are critical. They force us all to approach digital literacy thoughtfully and encourage us to think beyond “technology for technology’s sake”. Instead we ask the questions that matter. Where is the value to our students? How do we use a device to increase class participation? How do teachers and learners use the technology to close education gaps and prepare minds for the 21st Century world?

Yours in collaborative education,

Kate Groch
CEO, Good Work Foundation