Background

This project develops from my masters project that I completed in 2006, but instead of just focusing on the internet connectivity to previously disadvantaged schools, I will now be investigating ICT architectures or platforms that are not only pedagogically relevant in South African schools, but are also cost effective, robust, maximise utilisation and are inline with cutting edge technology trends in the IT industry. Some of the technologies that this will involve are cluster and grid computing, in order to keep down costs and maximise the use of available resources within the schools. The findings from this can be extended to other technical implementations -- not necessarily just within the school or education environment.

Testing and deployments for this project will take place within the Grahamstown schools' project, known as e-Yethu, and the Dwesa project, known as Siyakhula. This work takes place within the Telkom Centre of Excellence in the Computer Science Department at Rhodes University.

As this project grows and develops so too will this page and the information I provide. In the meantime for more details and blow by blow action please have a look at my blog.

Study Context

Worldwide computers are being used in schools for, amongst other things, developing the knowledge and skills required for citizens to be able to operate within the 21st Century Information Age. It is argued that the role of education is to develop higher-order thinking, inquiry, collaborative problem solving and transmit culture, values and lessons of the past while preparing learners for the world of information and knowledge in which they live; education is seen as the principle means of creating a productive and sustainable society. It is further argued that nations need to be internationally competitive and thus require a well educated work force; requiring knowledge workers who will compete in a global market [Molnar, 1997; Rusten, 2003; Watson, 2001]. In order to address this educational goal many governments around the world have put in place specific policies to encourage the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in education [Dawes, 1999; Warschauer et al, 2001; Watson, 2006]. The use of ICTs in education "is now a political orthodoxy, seen by many politicians and educators as a ready means of widening participation to those social groups traditionally excluded from learning" [Selwyn et al, 2001]. According to the South African e-Education White paper every “South African learner in the general and further education and training bands will be ICT capable (that is, use ICTs confidently and creatively to help develop the skills and knowledge they need to achieve personal goals and to be full participants in the global community) by 2013” [DoE, 2004]. For this to happen not only do schools need to have the necessary ICT infrastructure and teachers need to possess knowledge regarding how to use the facilities, but teachers would also need to know how to integrate ICTs meaningfully into their pedagogic practices in the classroom and understand the boarder implications of use of different technologies within the classroom. In addition, it is felt that little is known regarding what constitutes appropriate ICT for education, especially in poor or rural communities where educational challenges are often more severe [Power, 2006]. These rural communities also constitute a large population of the world (two thirds of the global poor) [Power, 2006] and of South Africa (42.5% of the South African population lives in rural areas according to the last census) [Stats-SA, 2001]. As a result investment in ICTs in education may also be seen as an attempt to address the so-called "digital divide" [Selwyn et al, 2001]. With reference to developing countries, the World Bank suggested that "This new technology greatly facilitates the acquisition and absorption of knowledge, offering developing countries unprecedented opportunities to enhance educational systems, improve policy formation and execution, and widen the range of opportunities for business and the poor" [World Bank, 1998]. These views are held despite research results supporting the benefits of ICT in schools remaining inconclusive [Beauchamp, 2004] or "marginal" [Hokanson & Hooper, 2000]. The use of technology in the world of business is near ubiquitous, while, according to Watson [2001], no clear role has emerged in education; technology is imposed and considered an ‘outsider’ in the pedagogy of schools [Watson, 2001]. Plainly the use of computers has had a profound impact on our society however, teachers still struggle with its influence inside and outside the classroom [Gall, 2002]. For some that struggle is through providing access to appropriate technologies, while others focus on how to integrate the use of technology in the classroom environment [Gall, 2002]. Additional problems that are faced when deploying and using ICTs in schools in South Africa include hardware and software troubleshooting and maintenance, facility timetabling, cost related sustainability issues, a need for champion teachers to spearhead facilities [Hodgkinson-Williams et al, 2007], lack of or unaffordable connectivity, lack of access to ICT infrastructure, inconsistent electrical supply, a lack of technical support services [Farrell & Isaacs, 2007] and computer security issues such as viruses [Hodgkinson-Williams et al, 2007] and the physical security of the equipment [Brandt, 2006; Smith, 2005; Shuttleworth Foundation, 2005]. As I have noted there has been a significant growth in the number of technologies available to teaching and learning but even so there is evidence of slow uptake of these technologies in education [Conole & Dyke, 2004; Maxwell, 2008]. Britain and Liber (1999), quoted in [4] conclude that the amongst the factors which affect this slow up take is a lack of a coherent framework which can be used to evaluate the pedagogical benefits and the organisational changes that are required in order to effectively make use of ICTs in teaching and learning [Conole & Dyke, 2004].

In order to provide a framework for identifying ICTs for integration in teaching and learning, I intend to investigate possible technologies for teaching and learning. I believe that a key concept in relating the plethora of technologies available is to understand the affordances of technologies (Gibson, 1979; Norman, 1988) and to use this concept together with the work of Harris, Mishra and Koehler (2009) ("Teachers’ Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge and Learning Activity types: Curriculum-based Technology Integration Reframed") to understand how best technologies might be used to support teaching and learning.