Archive for December, 2011
On the 8th of December, Ron Wertlen met with Mr Brian Schreuder, Mr Osman Sadeck and Dr Sigamoney Naicker who are respectively: Deputy Director-General: Curriculum and Assessment Management; Chief Education Specialist: e-Learning (i.e. in charge of Khanya); Chief Director: Curriculum Development.
The WCED wanted the meeting to take place, because they want to be informed about all educational innovations and especially those originating and concerning South Africa.
The VSA wanted the meeting to take place because the WCED is arguably the best organised education ministry in the country, and is an ideal candidate for awareNet introduction with almost 50000 computers in all their schools. We were very interested to hear what the WCED thinks of awareNet.
We made an informational presentation. The meeting reacted very favourably to Anna’s Peace One Day video (which is also available on the Paece One Day website). Thank you Anna, the video really exposes very aptly the awareNet spirit!
Mr Schreuder’s technical summary of the presentation was that our criteria are: schools must have computers, they don’t need Internet and must install an awareNet server (a not particularly high powered machine that can cost as little as R2000). They also were glad that we work especially with the “poorly performing” schools.
WCED also presented information on their programmes and projects. Principally, the main outcome of the meeting was that complementary “support” programmes are welcome in WCED schools. The WCED will thus support formally (not financially) a request that VSA may make to work in WCED schools, especially the poorly performing schools. They also have contacts with 3rd parties who could fund projects.
They are especially interested in:
- - Engaging, empowering content that will be used to improve learning in schools and also improve teaching;
- - Career guidance content and activities;
- - Study methods and organisational activities.
The first point is in direct accordance with the VSA awareNet methodology. The second point concurs with our observations in the rural areas; and is something that we have already commented on in previous blogs over the years. Career guidance is something that we are tackling in 2012 (more about how and with whom at a later point) and is in fact an implicit aspect of the Peace Day Music project in which learners worked with professionals to produce songs and an entire event. The final point is something that we have not started considering yet. Different people have different ways of organising themselves and the methods of study required to pass exams are not necessarily beneficial to actually gaining knowledge. However general organisational skills are something we try to teach awareNet users, in terms of making it to the lab on time, competing for awards, etc.
awareNet’s peering and synchronisation functionality and ad hoc network topology are aspects that the WCED is currently implementing in their province wide educational CMS. We are confident that we will find some synergies in that department going forward (perhaps in 2013).
Some final encouraging words from the WCED were to focus on South Africa and not spend too much energy on neighbouring countries that have shown interest in using awareNet. “We have plenty of schools that need you right here in our country!”
Since the Makana Local Economic Development Directorate supported the awareNet Peace Day Project, we have felt that an official letter of support from the Makana Municipality as represented by its Mayor should easily be obtainable. Indeed, everyone we spoke to at the Municipality agreed that this was in the best interests of the city and future projects. Finally, Anna Wertlen managed to receive an audience with the Mayor in November and a mere month later, i.e. today, we received the letter…
The Village Scribe Association is investigating the registration of the word “awareNet” as its trademark, in preparation of more widespread use in 2012. Since the service has already been in use for two years — awareNet is a common law trademark, although it may be unclear whether to whom the trademark belongs: eKhaya ICT or the VSA. As reported in an earlier post, we are formalising relationships with all our partners and collaborators. This includes eKhaya ICT, with whom the VSA enjoys long and fruitful relationship.
Although eKhaya ICT clearly holds the copyright to the code of the “machinery” that delivers the awareNet service, the awareNet service is what people deal with and what finally brings about beneficial change in our communities and schools. For this reason, we decided that the awareNet name and trademark is known through the efforts of the VSA and must belong to the VSA. The VSA allows eKhaya ICT to use the trademark in exchange for a portion of any sales of the awareNet “machinery” – even if run under another label.
We think this is a fair arrangement.
In terms of this arrangement, we investigated some of the regulations around trademarks. The word “awareNet” is in use for other purposes than education in other areas of the world. However trademarks are specific to a category and can also only apply to a particular country. The good news is that that word awareNet is not in use in “Class 41: Education; providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities.” This information was provided by SelfService.co.za for R285, and it comes from the registrar of trademarks office. With this information we can go ahead and apply for a trademark registration in South Africa.
The question is: why should we register? We have a wide audience, and an MoU with eKhaya ICT which confirms the ownership in case of a muddle. Clarity does have a business value – a fact that is often overlooked in small enterprises and organisations. In his poem “Mending Wall”, Frost (1914) questioned whether “Good fences make good neighbours”. Only processes and regulations can craft a world in which 8 billion people can live satisfying lives in peace and this means building virtual demarcations that are transparent to all.
MoU’s can be cancelled and contested. Relationships change. As the South African Registrar of Trade Marks points out:
“Trade marks can only be protected as such and defended under the Act if they are registered. Unregistered trade marks may be defended in terms of common law. The registration procedure results in a registration certificate which has legal status, allowing the owner of the registered trade mark the exclusive right to use that mark.”
Now that’s a good fence.
The VSA is proud to announce that a collaboration between Upstart and third year Rhodes University TV Journalism students produced fantastic short films about issues that concern learners in Grahamstown and South Africa – titled “Speaking our Minds” – and that they gave us the permission to publish these short films on awareNet. The first screening of the films took place at the Raglan Road Community Centre and the packed audience of Upstarters, Rhodes University students and lecturers, parents and community leaders were unanimous in their praise for the outspoken young filmmakers! Now, these films are available online for awareNet users. They can watch them in their own time and leave comments or start discussions. Perhaps some of them will be motivated to do more – and we would not be surprised…
This is another wonderful example of a fruitful and meaningful cooperation between local NGOs and programmes which really make a difference in development work. We hope to attract many more of those next year to enhance the usefulness and fun factor of awareNet. Please, contact us if you have an idea or a suggestion for cooperation.
A recent article in Grocotts about Terri’s running project began:
“Most social networking sites are associated with gossiping and posting more or less funny wall comments to your friends’ pages. This may be true for Facebook, but it’s not the case with AwareNet, an online educational social network exclusively for school children and their teachers.”
I’m happy to report that the author is mistaken about this There’s plenty of goofing around on awareNet, and there should be – our goals for awareNet focus around the empowerment of underprivileged (particularly rural) youth, through spreading awareness, skills and literacy. It might not be obvious what joking around and ‘wasting time’ on online social networks have to do with these goals, but there’s a real connection.
Perhaps because schooling is constructed as a serious, top-down, teacher driven system of structured learning activities with standardized curriculum goals – gossiping and joking on a website doesn’t look like ‘education’. Worse, many teachers and parents are concerned that ICTs such as cell phone messaging and social networking sites make education more difficult by teaching students ‘txt spk’ and an abbreviated, conversational writing style that must be unlearned by students before they can communicate in formal proper writing.
But I’m convinced that joking around online – like all play – is a powerful form of learning. By having a social motivation to spend time online, learners are drawn to incidental acquisition of skills such as typing, fluency with the browser and desktop environment. They build comfort with computers and an intuitive understanding of web concepts such as links, forms, URLs, blogs, wikis, online videos, etc. Much of this tacit knowledge can be difficult to teach or overlooked by school computer classes with their focus on secretarial stuff (ie, MS Office). We hope it’s fun to use these things on awareNet, it would be dreadfully tedious to learn this much dry material if it is not.
More importantly, and why awareNet is so centrally a social networking site rather than a collection of curated content and typing exercises, it allows learners to engage with one another in a computer mediated environment. This teaches things which no previous generation has had to learn. The digital networked world increasingly overlays and merges with the everyday and there is a brand new set of social skills the young people will need to be full and competent citizens of this new world.
- management of one’s online identity
- navigating privacy and openness
- understanding the intersection of audiences the internet creates
- dealing with and filtering vast quantities of information
- managing the stress of being constantly connected and constantly available through portable devices
We hope awareNet’s closed garden provides as safe as possible a space for young people to learn these and many other skills. They’re going to need them.
The Village Scribe Association is ending the year 2011 off on a very strong note. Part of that striking chord is a new logo, which Ron Wertlen designed together with his own children. First he used their paint set, and then refined the concept in GIMP to produce what you can see here — a first draft. We are working on gaining assistance in 2012, from a professional design school to translate this work into a web site design and a clean logo!
We also look forward to getting the thoughts of our learners. Certainly, looking at some of the houses in Nkwalini, we have an apt colour combination!
Masifunde Learner Development is a proactive youth development organisation with the aim to mould future role models in Walmer Township (Port Elizabeth) who can in turn initiate sustainable development. They engage learners in an educational and interactive life skills training programme and also provide grants. The VSA is very impressed by their approach, and in a meeting on the 19/11/11 with Jonas Schumacher and Anne Loeffler from Masifunde, we decided to go into partnership.
Masifunde Learner Development is very interested in our awareNet programme and they decided that from next year all their learners will start working and presenting their projects on awareNet. They are very much looking forward to communicate with learners from Grahamstown and Nkwalini (Wild Coast) and want to work on projects together with them. If you are also interested in joining awareNet and communicating with our schools, please contact us.
The VSA proudly received the following endorsement letter from the Eastern Cape Department of Education (DoE):
Endorsement of awareNet Learner Based Social Networking for Schools in the Eastern Cape
This letter certifies that the Eastern Cape DoE, as represented by the Hon. MEC for Education Mr. Mandla Makupula, supports the use of the awareNet network for collaborative learning in our schools.
The reasons for usage of said network are:
- Secure learning environment learning about social networking and online collaboration
- Inter-school collaboration
- Improved learner enthusiasm and motivation w.r.t. learning
- Lower Internet costs, in general, at school
- Support for mesh networks, which allow circuits of schools to be connected and for these to have free networking within their circuit.
We also understand that awareNet is a product of the Eastern Cape, created by eKhaya ICT in conjunction with the Village Scribe Association NPO, and is a world first as far as distributed social networking is concerned. We are proud to support a local product in our schools and are confident that a partnership with awareNet will go a long way towards skilling our youth for the future.
Please, contact us if you or your school would also like to benefit from the mentioned advantages.