Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Missing: My PLN

These days, it's all about collaborative/social networking; it's a tidal wave sweeping through education. Facebook and Twitter are key players. With them, you can grow your own group of followers, while sharing your knowledge and picking their brains. If I had a group of educator followers I'd have my own "Personal Learning Network" and I'd be able to ask whether I'm doing the right things with my "Provisional Computing Driving Licence" for teachers. I'd be able to ask for pointers to resources that I could use in developing it. Since these people will be experienced educators, many familiar with integrating ICT (Information and Communications Technology) into the classroom, they'd be high quality resources.

But I don't have my own PLN. I can follow lots of educators, but which educators would want to follow me? I have little I can trade. So, for now, I trawl through the web, looking for material to support the driving licence, getting frustrated and distracted, and wasting a lot of time.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Saturday, 26 June 2010

World Cup - fever, or slightly raised temperature?

Walking to work this morning I passed a house where the whole family was outside playing cricket.  Mum was batting.  Nine hours later I passed the same house and they were all still at it; Mum was fielding!  They take their cricket seriously around here.  World Cup's on the TV? Pah!

I'm exhausted.  It's a three-day weekend and I'm going to be working all of them.  I'm doing the electrics in the office and want to get them finished before Monday, when normal office work resumes and when the Office Manager returns from a three-month break.

I've been hopping onto stools, chairs and tables, sawing, cutting, drilling and generally fiddling around.  It's not straightforward - there are pillars and things to negotiate, so there are lots of little bits of plastic trunking to fit so that the cable can be neatly hidden away.  It's a slow process, much slower than I expected (will I ever learn?) but, fingers crossed, I'll be finished tomorrow.

World Cup... England's playing Germany tomorrow, I think, or was that today, or perhaps Monday?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Wiki, Driving Licence, Paint and Electrics

Apart from the distraction of the snake, the week started with me setting up an Education Technology Wiki on Monday and Tuesday, kicking off a computer driving licence on Wednesday and Thursday, team meeting and group wall painting on Friday, and sweatily wiring in five power sockets on Saturday (seven more to go).  "Jack of all trades, master of none," springs to mind!

I'm going to use the Wiki partly for an ICT syllabus for kids that I'll work with in developing countries (if the syllabus isn't already prescribed).  So far it amounts to plagiarising the European Computer Driving Licence from BCS (formerly British Computer Society, now Chartered Institute for IT).  It will develop with time, and I'll add my own lesson plans and students' work, to make it a small learning resource for teachers doing what I'm doing, if that isn't too grand an aim. 

Originally using Google Documents but now the Wiki, I'm also developing my own Provisional Computer Driving Licence. If the teachers working with Adopt Sri Lanka can demonstrate ability and understanding of ICT fundamentals then they'll be granted the provisional licence and ASL will pay for the setup and the running costs of an Internet connection for their schools. This is ostensibly to reinforce ASL's Twinning schemes between Sri Lankan schools and English-speaking schools (mostly in the UK), but having an Internet connection will hopefully widen the schools' horizons in every subject, given net-savvy teachers.  Many of these schools have one or more computers but the teachers lack some skills in using them.  So, I've produced a list of the target abilities and understandings; now I have to develop learning and assessment materials.

If I had a PLN (a "Personal Learning Network") I'd be able to pick the brains of educators for the best materials. But I don't have a PLN, it's just little old me, so I need to do a spot of research.  First task is to find succint learning materials for this:

Basic Security
Demonstrate understanding of:

   1. Unsolicited Messages: spam, how spammers find email addresses, filtering.
   2. Malicious Programs: viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, adware, rogue diallers, and how they propagate. Anti-virus software, anti-spyware software.
   3. Infiltration: hacking and firewalls.
   4. Hoaxes: fraudulent hoaxes and how to deal with.
   5. Authentication: need for usernames, passwords, and PINs.
   6. Confidentiality and Privacy: need to protect children and adults.
   7. Identity Theft: Phishing. Recognize attempted phishing.
   8. Network Security: Securing networks with username/password.
   9. Wireless and Bluetooth Security: Securing Bluetooth with username/password.
  10. Data Security: loss, theft, accidental deletion, data corruption, computer malfunction.  Backup procedures. Start-up and shut down procedures.


We're setting up an area in the Tangalle office where teachers can come and receive training, or self-train.  This will amount to three multimedia-equipped computers, three chairs, two purpose-made (and damned heavy) tables, and a networked connection to our existing printer and Internet. Computer number three was bagged through the very generous funding of Blackfriars Overseas Aid Trust and my good contact there, Filomena Nave.  Thanks guys!

So, before we could install the power for the new computers we needed to paint the walls which were looking very shabby. Jude, one of ASL's four Field Officers, did a good job of matching the colour (Magnolia!) and Bec, ASL's manager, came up with the idea of a group paint activity.  I thought it was going to be a warm-up session before our team meeting but it was actually a warm-down.  It was fun but the quality left a lot to be desired!  Much paint got dripped on the floor and not so much cleaning-up-afterwards was done!  Regardless, it all helped, at least with the base coats.  Beats me why Sri Lankans thin their paint so much that you need four or more coats - it was like painting with skimmed milk! 

On Saturday I touched up the missing bits of paint and went over it all again.  Then it was time to start the electrics.  I'd decided we needed six double power sockets.  Unfortunately, while it was possible to find doubles, it was impossible to find matching boxes!  But bigger boxes for twin singles were available, so that's the way I went - twelve singles in six surface-mounting boxes.  Why not use a professional?  Well, our pet electrician gave us a quote based on a price per outlet but, with a compact, many-socketed installation, the price worked out too high, and he wouldn't compromise.  Turns out that's the way all electricians quote.

It was a hot day and the work was more physical than I'm used to, so by the end I was dripping.  Not a pleasant thought or sight!  I'd tackled five of the more tricky outlets (making the trunking look neat was surprisingly difficult) but it's well on the way.  And I fitted a breaker to the distribution board too so, fingers crossed, I should be able to finish it next weekend.

Monday, 14 June 2010

An Uninvited Guest

When I saw Jude suddenly fly backwards off his chair, yelling, I thought he'd simply been leaning back and the chair had slipped. In fact he'd felt a tickle on his leg, had rubbed it, then looked down to find this two metre long monster trying to climb inside his trousers!

I was surprised how quickly this thing could move, and how quickly everyone shot to the other side of the room!  It tried to get away up the back stairs, but found its way blocked by a door.  We then spent 30 minutes chasing it around the room, trying either to get it to go back down the stairs it must have come up, or capture it.  At one point Jude suggested pouring Kerosene on it!  Sanath was all for whacking it with a stick!  I was more for trying to catch it, which is what we eventually managed to do, only we couldn't get the lid on fast enough the first time.  Second time lucky, I got it into a bucket, got a top on it, and taped it down.  We then released it into a rough wooded area away from houses.


I had assumed it was venomous from the way the lads had reacted - shrieking, standing on chairs and on the table, and calling it a cobra.  They also said that hospitals had no treatment for bites.  I wanted to keep a safe distance so started off prodding and coaxing it with long pieces of plastic but had to resort to a short broom when it decided to hide in the small bathroom.  It had several goes at biting the broom and got quite aggressive.  Turns out it's a Rat Snake which is a constrictor, living off rodents and birds, and is actually not dangerous to humans.  I didn't know that at the time and was sweating and shaking, I can tell you! Not yer average daily occurrence I'm pleased to say!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Back, Dentist , Clotted Cream, and Ruminations on 'Where To Next'

My back has almost recovered from carting that table (I'm trying to avoid the 'humping' word!) up the stairs.  It doesn't help that, at the moment, I spend much of the day at the desk - note to self: get out more!

I have found a dentist in Galle who will do the work more cheaply than the previous one.  That's because the girl from the office told him I was a local, had been coming to Sri Lanka for years and years, and was helping people here.  Or something.  It was all said in Sinhala, you see. I had told her she mustn't lie for me but she said I was here helping Sri Lankans so deserved some help in return. And the money would have only gone to the "rich undeserving" (her words).  This from a girl who taught Buddhism.  So... dentistry starts tomorrow (yup, Sunday!)

You might not know it but we used to make 'clotted cream' up on the farm when I was a kid.  Clotted Cream is what you have with scones and jam and wasps in Southern England, principally South West.  The farm was in North East Scotland, but never mind.  So... clotted cream is made by taking a wide-topped pan of unpasteurised milk and warming it for several hours.  The cream rises to the top and forms clots.  It goes a slightly mottled creamy-brown colour.  Then you skim it off with a spatula.  In the process of skimming, you get lots of little ridges as you move the cream across the surface.  That's how MY SKIN looks!

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating, but age and this strong sunlight are doing it no good at all.

I'm one of those people who likes to finish one job before starting another.  I hated having umpteen DIY jobs all running in parallel and none ever seeming to get done. It's like a huge black cloud hanging over you, so I try to do things one after the other, and mentally celebrate when I can tick something off the list. One little celebration once a week seems better than one big one once a year.  But it's not an efficient way of working.  I've finished the Google Documents stuff and now I need to set up the computers for tuition in the office.  But I can't do that until the power points have been installed, and I can't do that until the walls have been painted, and I can't do that until someone's chosen a colour, got a quote for materials and bought them.  All of these things, which take time, could have been going on in parallel with the Documents work, had I planned a bit.  At least I've sent out an email requesting our field workers to identify those teachers needing computer training, their availability, and what they need help in.  That's something sensible I've done, I suppose.  Otherwise I can just see myself finally getting my act together the day before I leave!

Talking of leaving and planning, I must sort out what comes next after Sri Lanka.  In my mind I'd like to work in Cambodia or Laos, or a country low on the Human Development Index.  Of the twenty four countries in the "Least Developed" category, only two are not in Africa - East Timor and Afghanistan.  Iraq would be way down there too, if it were listed at all.  These low-HDI countries are perhaps dangerous places to live - if I was to work there I'd probably want to be supported (eg with VSO and body armour).

Here are a few samples from the Index:
Very High to High HDI: (1.00 - 0.80)
1 Norway 0.971
2 Australia 0.970
3 Iceland 0.969
13 USA 0.956
21 UK 0.947
83 Lebanon 0.803

Medium HDI (0.799 - 0.600)
84 Armenia 0.798
102 Sri Lanka 0.759
133 Laos 0.619
134 India 0.612
137 Cambodia 0.593
141 Pakistan 0.572
146 Bangladesh 0.543
149 Haiti 0.532
158 Nigeria 0.511

Low HDI (0.499 - 0.000)
159 Togo 0.499
180 Sierra Leon 0.365
181 Afghanistan 0.352
182 Niger 0.340

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Struggles of the Mental and Physical kind

What have I been doing this week at work? Well, I've been struggling with Google Documents for the last few weeks and I've finally accomplished what I had expected would take only a day.  I've finally converted 78 existing School Profile documents from MS Word format into Google Documents format.  All of these are now accessible through a web browser from anywhere with an Internet connection.  Our four Field Officers can log on and pick up one of their Profiles, or the Profile of another Field Officer without having to traipse back to the office to print it out or have it emailed to them.  And the managers can view the documents wherever they happen to be working - in the UK or Australia for example, and can collaborate in the work process.

What I discovered was that converting existing documents did not produce simple, clean, on-line Google Docs.  The code was buggy. You couldn't edit it easily and the layout was not optimal. On the other hand, if you produced documents from scratch the code was much cleaner.  What I had to do was make a template from scratch, download it into Word format, copy and paste from the existing documents into the new template, and then upload/convert.  Then I had to do some final titivating.  Seventy-eight times!

I finally managed to complete that on Friday afternoon, and the last few remaining hours were spent looking at ASL's website.  The existing maintainers are getting money for old rope with this site.  It's dreadful!  What I've proposed is that I take over the (expensive) maintenance for a few months.  Meanwhile, ASL can look into designing, structuring and populating a new design, one that they can maintain themselves.  My task was to find the master FTP username and password from sketchy information, so that we can connect to the web server, change all the passwords, and take it over.  After a few educated guesses (or more accurately, wild stabs in the dark) I finally got it right!

On Monday we took delivery of a table the local carpenter had made for us.  This is for putting some computers on so that teachers or students may visit the office and I can give them some training (Office apps, photo editing, email, web, etc).  I went down to help the guy bring the table up the stairs.  It looked light enough but boy, can looks be deceiving!  It was made from the wood of the Jack Fruit tree, and as I applied more and more effort I couldn't believe how much was needed to just get the thing off the ground.  Well I fairly struggled as the two of us heaved it up the stairs (the other end must have been the light end, that's all I can say ;-).

Next day I noticed a pain in my groin region and I thought I'd got a bug or a kidney infection or something.  I didn't connect the pain to the table until my back went into spasms - the kind where you feel that if you make any sudden moves you'll be paralysed forever.  Now, nearly a week later, the spasms have gone but I still feel the groin pain.  Hernia comes to mind!  I just hope it goes away on its own accord.  Walking is fine but you can imagine how torturous last Wednesday's cramped bus journey to and from Galle felt, how sitting at uncomfortable desks has felt, and how it feels to crouch over my laptop in the evenings.

Next time I'll get someone younger to do the lifting.  Either that or spend a couple of months in the gym first!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Trip to Dentist and Galle

Last Wednesday I took a trip over to Galle to see a recommended dentist working out of a private hospital. He asked me to send him an SMS message first to check if he'd be in the surgery in the morning but, by the time he replied, I'd already set off. As it turned out, he would only be there during normal hours - 4:15pm to 6:30pm, so I spent most of the very hot day wandering around the huge Galle Fort area. It's quite fascinating, built originally by the Portuguese, and later fortified by the Dutch, full of old colonial style buildings and narrow alleys, and surrounded by ramparts. Many expats and the well-healed have houses here, and there are guest houses and restaurants aplenty. It's one of Sri Lanka's tourist high-spots and the prices reflect that.

Down the dusty back streets I spotted British cars from a bygone era - amongst them a Morris Minor and Traveller (1960's), Austin 1100 (1960-70's), and Austin A40 Farina MkI (late 1950's). A bit like stepping back in time! The Fort withstood the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami though, in the main town behind it, more than a 1000 people lost their lives. I guess the walls protected these old cars too.

So anyway, I saw my dentist and got special treatment - foreigners are seen first. And the price quoted for the dental work was quite special too - LKR53,000 (or about £320) - I imagine it's a good bit less than I'd have to pay in the UK but it seemed a bit steep for Sri Lanka. He did say that the crown itself would be high quality and made in Singapore. For a home-grown crown it would be LKR10,000 less. I can't see many Sri Lankans being able to afford this kind of money - probably why so many teeth are pulled.

When I told the staff back at the office they were surprised and immediately started shopping around. I can manage the pain with Ibuprofen so I've decided to wait a bit and see what prices the girls come up with. I should mention that the facilities and hygiene standards of the dentist appeared very high.