Emerge 2006

Friday, July 14. 2006

Cheryl and I submitted a presentation to the emerge 2006 conference. Its called "Collaborative learning: Building a virtual community of practice to enable ICT take-up in schools in the Grahamstown District" and its all about e-Yethu and how we work and engage using online tools (together with our face to face work). Its been interesting and lots of people seem impressed and interested - not just about how we are learning in this environment but also how the project works and stuff. I'd love to link to the presentation but its all done in Macromedia breeze and so you have to be able to access the site - but the conference site is closed to people who haven't registered. Anyway I think it looks pretty cool. Here is an example presentation and the breeze docs that helped as put ours together.

Virtual, online conferencing has been odd though. I think I prefer the real deal because its nice to put faces to names and meet people and get to know them. Also I am in the office and when I am here I work, so I am probably not spending much time on line with the rest of the conference people but if I am here then I have loads to get through and can't really afford to not be working. But otherwise its been cool and interesting.

I also "met" one of my MSc markers, the chap from HSRC, Andrew Paterson. He gave a paper about costing in terms of ICTs in schools. Some of the countries he evaluated seem to be spending huge amounts and I think sillily, but that's just imo. I think that they are not getting enough for what they are spending and I would be interested in more details to see exactly what they are doing. I think too many people underestimate what you really can do with OSS and refurbished/slighly older PCs. Just because the hardware isn't brand new doesn't mean that kids can't have access to cutting edge technology. Anyway we talked a bit about things of that nature and it seems he might be interested in doing work together possibly around the costing issues in terms of connectivity? Not 100% sure, he was suitably vague about it, kinda like talking to a politician ;-P


Monday, September 19. 2005

It has been brought to my attention that I should clarify (I feel like the Minister now ;-P ) my previous post as to why I felt that I should have liked to attend iweek rather than SATNAC 2005.

The reasoning is really rather simple and straight forward and that is that I think iweek would have been more applicable to the research and field in which I am working. From what I have heard of iweek, the conference covered new and innovative technologies in providing Internet connectivity and more specifically work that is being done in bridging the digital divide and bringing connectivity to the poor and rural people of our country. An example of such work was presented by VIKO Magnolia Wireless (link to their presentation - unfortunately I can't find a site for them).

Conversely SATNAC only had one presentation along those lines, that I was able to listen to, which left me excited. This is no fault of the organisers, but rather happens to be a fact that the work at the conference this year was not specifically in my field of interest. Its just the way things were and should not be taken personally or in a bad light.

So, I apologise if I came across as ungreatful at having the opportunity to go to SATNAC, that is not the case at all. Rather I am greatful to have had the opportunity to present my work and findings at SATNAC, so that hopefully people from Telkom and the South African government would see the benefits of wireless networks to the rural and poor, as well as the necessity of affordable Internet in order to bridge the digital divide and strength our second economy.

Back from Satnac

Thursday, September 15. 2005

So I am back from SATNAC 2005, which took place this year in the Drakensberg at Champagne Sports Resort (CSR). The Drakensberg is just beautiful, unfortunately I didn't get to see much of it, being in presentations for most of the day, but the little that I did see was really something spectacular.

The conference itself was ok. Nothing to really write home about. I heard only one presentation where I thought "Wow, I really must read that paper", but then hopefully other people thought that more often than I did. It sounds like going to something like iweek would have had more of an impact on me from what I am hearing over the net, so I am going to try and get some of the presentations and audio from that.

The conference food and things though were awesome! That CSR really knows how to prepare a spread for its guests! And 3 times a day too! Every meal was really yummy, especially the closing dinner. The food and wine were both excellent there and then having Mean Mr Mustard playing to a partying crowd of South African students was really cool too. I certainly had a lot of fun at the closing dinner and I think so did all the other Rhodes Masters students :-)

We (as in Russ and Dave) took loads of pictures of the conference so as soon as I can grab those from them I will put them up in my gallery, so watch this space for pics of events.

UPDATE: This chap has some opinions of his own about the conference and surrounding events: SATNAC reflections, SATNAC reflections part 2 and Problem with SA music.

UPDATE: Photos of the events are now up on Dave's gallery, here.

SATNAC 2005 Presentation

Friday, August 26. 2005
SATNAC 2005 presentations were due today. I put mine together on Wednesday and today Cheryl and Alf gave some feed back and minimal changes were made, so now I have submitted it to organisers. For anyone interested you can have a look at the usual progress page for a copy of either the paper or the presentation :-)

Going to Satnac

Monday, August 1. 2005
So my paper - Wireless Communication for Previously Disadvantaged Secondary Schools in Grahamstown, South Africa - was accepted by SATNAC. So this means that I get to go to the Champagne Sports Resort in the Drakensberg! I am very chuffed about that, its suppose to be one of the most beautiful places in South Africa to visit and I have never been before so I am chuffed. And from the pictures of the accomodation places its looks really beautiful! Anyway, so this week I need to sort out my presentation so that it can be submitted... I think they have to be in by the 8th, which is next Monday. But yay, I am going somewhere pretty :-)

Conference Networking

Wednesday, July 6. 2005
If you have ever been to a conference before you know that the most useful thing about any gathering of like minded people is the human networking that we do. You know getting to meet other people in your field who will hopefully be useful to you some day or at least someone with whom you can share ideas.

Naturally this being a conference there is bound to be a fair amount of networking going on. However, its not really happening for me. I mean its not like I am not at the venues or going to listen to people, its just that everyone here appears to already know each other and so they are all in little groups already, either that or they are all too busy to talk to me. I think its also got a lot to do with me being a student who doesn't have a big name in this industry that people just seem un-interested. Then again maybe I am not being fair as I am still to present, but seeing as how it is a poster presentation in the final session of the afternoon I suspect that there will not be very many people there.

I think that this conference has been incredibly valuable to Cheryl as it has given her the oppertunity to meet the people that our project needed to meet, so the effects of that will probably trickle down to Nikiwe, Nombeko and I, even though we have not had the oppertunity to network with these people in quite the same way. It has been interesting to note how this differs very much from every other conference that I have been to and thus far I would have to say that I think Linux World was more useful to me than this one has been so far. Although I do believe that the papers that I will be able to reference from here will be of great benefit to me.

Well, anyway. As I said, I am giving my poster presentation at 16:30 today. Basically this involves hanging around a poster and waiting for people, if any, to come and ask you questions about it or about the work you do, etc. Not particularly interesting and not really glamorous either, but then I seem to be someone that post people are completely intent on not publishing. I try really hard, I realise that I am not a great writer but everything that I produce goes throught millions of iterations with both Cheryl and Alf and still nothing. Maybe it is a sign that I am not really mean't to be an academic?

As for the rest of the conference. This morning's presentations were alright. The first session was particularly interesting for me as I think that all 3 papers could be useful references for my thesis. After that the Khanya presentation was good but the rest were either not particularly well delivered or were just of very little interest to me... which is my present situation and is why I have almost 2 hours to kill before my poster presentation. There were two papers presented on the Khanya project, both of which I will make an big effort to read soon and then together with the notes that I made on the presentation I will blog about the project and the work that they are doing and what I think about that in relation to other projects like say tuXlabs.

One good thing that I am pleased to say is that the tuxLab gang is here, just ran into Hilton a few mins ago. I am well pleased as I think that they can really spread the word of good things that are going on in SA through their organisation. The only pity is that there have been no papers written for them to be presented here - I would love to do that next time, WCCE 2009 I would send a paper (assuming I have all the info, etc) in about tuXlabs. I think that for them it is going to be important to get Unis and outside organisations researching their work so that there is an independent spin on whether its all working and worthwhile. Hilton has mentioned before that they are wanting to do just that and I think that with what has happened at Mary Waters that will make an excellent case study group coz we are well informed about the before and after scenario at Mary waters. Anyway, good that they are hear!

Oh, yes dinner last nigth was just amazing. Man I love Spier's Moyo! They just make the most fantastic food! I am telling you if you have never been there then next time you are in the Stellies area do yourself a favour and go there and you will not regret it! If you have been there then you know exactly what I am talking about. Not only was the food absolutely mouth watering last night but there was a real live cheetah brought to dinner! It was rather hectic and a mission to keep all the crazy foreigners from trying to stroke it! Anyway, apparently Mecer sponsor a cheetah reserve somewhere here and they were also sponsoring the dinner so it made sense to have everyone there ;P Another interesting addition was the MC for the evening, Joanna Strauss, former Miss SA and current Pasela and Top Billing presenter... I was a lot surprised to see her there, but anyway.

I think that is all for today then. Wish me luck for this standing next to a poster thing that I have to do in an hour and a half... not sure what to do before then... maybe I can find a presentation that sparks some interest? Til tomorrow!

WCCE, Day 2

Tuesday, July 5. 2005
I am sitting in what is called the Lettere building - means literature in Afrikaans - with mekong, a 166MHz compaq notebook and wireless card. Its a little slow - Internet and the PC, but hey at least I'm connected. They way I see it is that all these Education types might be walking around with their apples but I am leet enought to have a FreeBSD notebook to work on... its my story and I am sticking to it!

Anyway. I have been to several presentations this morning. The first lot was kinda arb, about distance education - using chat/forums for learning, but they may come in as useful papers to quote in my thesis. Also content management systems for collaborative learning and the powers of Open source - totally preaching the Choir, but a good thing for those who aren't in the Choir to hear it all ;-)

The most bizarre presentation was also the most interesting. I say bizarre because this lady has done her research in proving that computers in schools are only really beneficial when they are harnessed by good teachers. She was showing that how if you have crap teachers giving them a PC to help them teach won't make them better... DAH! People really think that a PC is going to make a teacher better at their job? It might make them more efficient and more productive when used properly but if a teacher is kak they will be just as kak with a PC in their corner too. Again I suspect that it is necessary for people hear this sort of thing and again awesome reference for my thesis.

I also went to Danny and Lorenzo's presentation/demo. It was pretty good, unfortunately poorly attended. I think it would have been nice to see more people there as I think that this sort of work is relevent, especially in the SA context and it would have been nice to see more SA uni reps and organisation reps there. But none the less a very nice presentation and demo. Also good speaking, clear to understand, etc. After that I popped around to listen to the Mirandanet presentation. Seems they are doing work in the Free State. The presentation didn't cover it much but rather the organisation (which is worldwide-ish) as a whole. I will read that paper too to see if we can learn more.

As for the rest I have been making use of the Internet connection in the Lettere building. Wifi, with all ports open, nice coz I can ssh to machines back on campus, very important ;-) Tonight we are off to Moyo at Spier (the same awesome resturant that we attend at SATNAC last year). Its going to be YUMMY! Staying in one of the Stellies res's, called Monica. In the room of one Megan and Fran... I know coz it says so all over the room door. Its a girl's res, again we can tell as most of the rooms have pics of naked men on the walls... if not Danny reckons that stellies men are rather gay ;-P Its ok, a little cold and the bathroom on our section smells funny - also the communal bathroom sharing is a weird new experience for me... one I am glad I don't have to experience often.

One thing that I have to say is that SATNAC wins in terms of the lunches! The food here does not quite match up to the spread of SATNAC, but at least they are also taking us to Spier!

Anyway, better go now, typing is becoming painful and I think I might go and listen to an OSS in education presentation before the dinner.

Bo from WCCE

Monday, July 4. 2005
Bo from the 8th IFIP WCCE conference 2005 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Today is the second day of the conference, yesterday was the opening ceremony in the afternoon with registration having taken place in the morning. Anyway, its been interesting. I have seen some people who have made me irritated, I have seen some people with lots of interesting things to say. I have listened to people who are pretentious and to people who are clearly just the salt of the earth. I have seen Jonathan, his work and the stunningly pretty town of stellenbosch. I have also become re-aquainted with their awesome wines... as have all the non-locals and today there was many a hangover, funny seeing academics in action ;-)

I intend to give an overview of what I think so far, mostly about the presentations that I have been too, I'll leave anicdotes for another post :-)

I want to start with the plenary session yesterday afternoon. It was held in the Stellenbosch town hall - there are over 800 delegates here from 40 countries and so the venue needed to be huge in order to accomodate us all. The presenters at the plenary started off with what I would expect - people from the IFIP, presidents, chairman, secretaries, etc of the various working groups and task forces within the bigger organisation of the IFIP. So we had those sorts of people coming and speaking to us. That was followed by a representative from the Stellenbosch city council to welcome us to their beautiful city and then the deputy minister of Education Mr Surty.

The presentation from the Councillor was good, a little political which at all stages when people got political on us I thought it unappropriate for the audience, but then you can't invite government people and not expect to hear politics.

Mr Surty's had an interesting speech, some things he said I felt were important others I wanted to go up there and hit him for saying the things he did. He too was unfortunately incredibly political, I don't really think that many if any of the people there really cared about the ANC or BEE, etc, they are there coz they want to help the children and improve education for all. Anyway, he posed some interesting questions to the entire group like is ICT worth is, is all the work we are doing benefiting children or are we wasting money. Questions like this are important and it is important that we answer them. Government must believe with us that what we are doing is a good thing and the way forward. If we don't we will land up working against each other instead of together. What did upset me was that he spoke about how in SA we don't have nearly enough teachers and yet the government is redeploying them all over the show and at other times complaining of too many teachers. Furthermore if they don't pay teachers well at all how can they expect to keep them in the profession? It just frustrates me so much that they will tell you one thing and then someone else from the same dept or sometimes even the same people will tell you something very different. Just like the whole Microsoft agreement thing and then talking about promoting Open Source software. Its a wonder that teachers manage to work in these sorts of environments at all!

Next up was a guy from UNESCO. He wasn't particularly interesting, but its good to hear about the work of educating the masses of Africa that they are doing on an every day basis.

Following UNESCO we begin the generally terrible corporate presentations - sigh it seems that there is no way to avoid that part of any conference, as there is no way to have these conferences without their sponsorship and money. But often these presentations are completely irrelavant or extremely corporate/advertising/naive. I will now begin with discussions on these.

We begin with Mustek. For those of you who don't know, Mustek is the maker of Mecer, the PC brand that is sold in this country. Their presentation was just poefy. The presenter went on for about a 1/3 or the presentation about BEE within the company at an Education conference! Really, people don't want to know about it here, it is so the wrong place for it. More than that the entire presentation was one big flashy advert, and they were selling the a product which "caters for the needs of all schools, teachers, pupils" One solution, solving everyone's problems. KAK. No one solution will help everyone. As South Africans we know that we are a country of individuals all with different and special needs. Solutions should be worked one with each school catering for their individual needs. There solution is to sell Thick client labs to schools. They call them "smart clients" I assume to make it all sound more impressive but in actual fact its just going to be more expensive. I think that the Shuttleworth foundation and tuxLabs have shown that rather well - interestingly I have not seen them around anywhere?! They did mention one thing that was particularly interesting and that was some inhouse software that they have developed for SA schools that is available in all 11 official languages and apparently runs on both Linux and Microsoft Windows. Both Lorenzo and I are very interested to know more about that.

Next up was the HP guy and oh my god what a good presentation. He is either really good at talking to Educators and people involved in Education policy or he really understands the problems of ICT in Education and really gets what is important and what is not, coz his presentation was just phenominal. If HP is seriously pushing what this guy was saying and if the corporate really understands the problems, issues and difficulties like this guy explained then HP is really going to be a driving force in the private sector for helping integrate ICT into education. It seems that the HP people have been involved with sponsoring and providing a nation wide school network in Northern Ireland. Every school is connected to this network and further all public libraries for the school children who don't have Internet connection at home and so can go there to do their homework. They are further helping in facilitating the generation of useful, meaningful and appropriate curricula and content. It really was a very good presentation.

Next up was Microsoft. There presentation was much of what we see every time they come out to these sorts of things. You know, Microsoft schools' agreement and Microsoft academic alliances etc. But in all honesty most people realise that these donations (which I suspect are nothing in comparison to the revenue that they generate every year) are not philanthropic but rather attempting to ensure another generation of people who are only comfortable using their products. Its amuses me that corporations want people to be taught how to use a particular package - their's - rather than taught how to use software in general, eg you must know Word 2003 and not how to use any word processor our there on the market. When we learn to drive do we learn how to drive a particular car and after that we can't drive anything else or do we learn to drive cars in general? Why would we want to teach our children in any other way?

The last of the corporate presentations was Cisco. It was very similar to what we saw last year when they presented at SATNAC 2004. It wasn't good or bad, rather it was informative about the Cisco academy which trains kids in networking and produces young people who can go on to be cisco certified network capable. Then they covered how Cisco gets involved in numerous projects all over the world, where they are approached to do so. It was interesting and their ideas on how ICT in education works was very interesting to listen to.

Following these we had some more IFIP people and the head of the computer society of SA, etc. And then the part that I think most people enjoyed, the cocktail party and lots of Stellenbosch fine wines ;-)

As this post has already been rediculously long I am going to have to save today's presentations for another one... which I will probably write soon after this one :-)