Saturday, 7 August 2010

It's going OK!

I think it's time for an update on my computer training classes. They've been going for almost four weeks now so surely there's something to say!

After a slightly rocky start we're averaging 6 teachers a day, each coming for the nominally 90 minute sessions after school. That's after 13:30 here which, perhaps, sounds early until you realise they start work before 07:30. My classes start at 14:00 and finish 17:00-17:45 with the teachers getting a single session per week.

Group sizes vary between 1 and 5 - the bigger classes are tricky because they're all mixed ability and we have only 3 computers (or 4, counting my laptop). Problems with teacher-availability and a preference to come with certain companions has made it next to impossible to ability-group. And, of course, sharing computers isn't successful unless the teachers are well-matched in ability and temperament. I think I'm going to have to reschedule in September (the new school year - hols started yesterday) to somehow even out the peaks and troughs.

Standards range from never having touched a computer before to highly competent. For the raw beginners I use the BBC's Computer Tutor interactive program as it teaches basic mouse and keyboard skills and includes some entertaining activities once it gets going. The language is also reasonably simple and clear, though the double-click speed is a bit fast and is hard-coded. A couple of older teachers are finding the mouse difficult to master (eg moving it when double-clicking). I tried the (therapeutic) busting of bubble-wrap and I've bought different mice but neither helped. So I've been encouraging them to be creative with MS Paint (a seriously under-rated program in my opinion - perhaps one day I'll show you what my Indian children could produce with it!) to develop familiarity and precision.

About half of the teachers have had some computer training before - usually on Microsoft Office products, but haven't used the web so that's where I start. Any IT teachers have been helped with stuff which isn't in their class workbooks (like understanding https, using bookmarks and the bookmark toolbar, dragging tabs and so on).

I explain what the Internet is, how the web differs, introduce the teachers to IE, Firefox and Chrome browsers, and Yahoo, Bing and Google search engines, explain what they're for and how it all fits together. I give them nothing in writing and don't expect note-taking - I firmly believe that they learn best by getting hands-on and playing as soon as possible. I get them to use and compare different search engines, change home pages, bookmark stuff and put buttons on the bookmark toolbar. I mix in some fun searches like checking their own names, what their names mean, Sri Lankan recipes, hobbies, sports and so on. I have a pre-prepared set of twenty-five queries which are perhaps a little UK-centric but they're mostly light-hearted and they can pick and choose. I try to give them the tools, confidence and enthusiasm to find information themselves so that they can research interests or find answers to any questions they may have.

For the more advanced I talk about secure websites which is an ideal lead-in for setting up Gmail accounts. I also talk about online banking and shopping though they're never likely to do either since bank/credit cards are unusual here. I've touched on security/safety issues but need to go deeper. Lessons covering email, word processing, photo editing, computer security, burning CDs and more are all in the pipeline. I've occasionally thrown in a bit of Skyping each other to illustrate non-web Internet traffic and that always goes down well!

It's gratifying when teachers are keen to stay longer than their allotted times. Actually, most of them need encouragement to leave at the end of the day!

So far so good, and those teachers who've attended are keen to return. They tell me they're enjoying the course and it's obvious they're learning from it.

Time-keeping is proving a thorny issue but I just have to be flexible. Some turn up early if they happen to be in town, others turn up late if they have meetings or miss buses. If they've made an effort to attend at all then I make an effort to fit them in.

I ask ASL's field officers to remind the teachers the day before their lessons. It's not always easy getting in touch - some schools don't have phones and it can be a case of phoning at home or a neighbour, or having messages passed between teachers. Those that tell me they're coming but then don't turn up three times in a row irritate me but occasionally there are good reasons. It always surprises me that some women teachers have to ask their husband's approval to come or to change times. Approval might be refused if she's needed to look after an ill mother-in-law or another of the husband's relatives.

Naturally the unexpected crops up and they have to cancel - I do wish they'd tell me but often they don't! It would just avoid me having to do unnecessary preparation work. But it's not a big deal; I just like complaining!

To manage the timetable I use a Google spreadsheet with one sheet per month, one sheet for the holiday timetable (yes, they're keen to come in the hols!!) and another sheet with all the teachers listed alphabetically. All teachers' names link to Google docs where I record individual progress and have photos to remind me who's who. Those pages link to another document which profiles the school and contains the teachers' contact details. All documents can be seen by everyone in the ASL organisation but I restrict editing of the timetable to myself and the managers. If I screw up then I have only myself to blame!

If you've managed to read to this point, thank you for persevering! A lot of words for saying it's all going OK!


  1. A lot of interesting words though :) I enjoyed the update, thanks, have been wondering how it was going. It's fascinating to see what education looks like in different contexts and cultures. I'm looking forward to a guest post from you...

  2. Wow, sounds pretty structured to me! Keep it up!

  3. Thank you Edna and Nora!
    Edna, Yeah, haven't forgotten about the guest post! An honour, but scary!

    Nora, I do wonder if I'm over-organising sometimes! But my memory is not great and the names are impossible for me - I've got to do something!

    Thanks for the encouragement!