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In Harm’s way – innovative educator shares with SA ICT teachers

| October 14, 2011 | 1 Comment

By Naomi Harm

I had the privilege and honour of once again travelling to and presenting in South Africa at a national Information Communication Technologies (ICT) SchoolNet conference in July this year.

This year’s conference was hosted at the lovely St John’s College in the vibrant city of Johannesburg. What I find most fascinating about presenting at technology conferences are the individuals I meet and the conversations we have about ICT literacy and technology integration in the classroom.

A great disparity in SA

As an outsider looking into the South African technology-ineducation world through my critical lens, I do see a great disparity of equity and access to ICT tools, resources and professional development opportunities amongst schools. But I also see solutions in place to address some of these shortfalls; solutions that are the work of empowered and enthusiastic South African educators supported by amongst others, the Independent Schools Association of South Africa (ISASA) and the SchoolNet Organisation Premier Membership.

Teachers at this year’s conference shared with me their personal and professional stories of their triumphs, their struggles and their new gained experiences. I heard that more educators are realising the importance and value of what their personal and professional learning networks can do for them. At times, some feel isolated when it comes to integrating technology throughout their curricula, and they want to share their stories and successes with others.

Teachers hungry to connect

Other technology barriers some South African schools face involve access and equity to desktop computers, laptops and other mobile devices. “In order to prepare our student for the 21st century, we need the appropriate real-world tools to support and train our students to prepare them to be productive and digital citizens,” one teacher told me. Others shared with me that even books – considered a staple of learning in many developed parts of the world – are a vital resource that can promote rich classroom teaching and learning environments. In many schools across South Africa, educators are struggling to find adequate funding to support these basic necessities for their students.

Some possible solutions that educators have used to triumph over setbacks and barriers include building professional learning networks online or through face-to-face, traditional networking. Simple conversations, said many teachers, have led to a sharing of existing resources between schools to maximise learning opportunities for students that have nothing.

Some educators have found funding sources through their professional learning networks as well, and others have discovered educational technology vendors who supply technology tools to improve the learning environment for students and teachers, while providing professional development training for the school staff too.

Other teachers have found strategies to utilise Twitter or Facebook as professional or personal learning networks to converse online in a safe environment with like-minded teachers to share ideas, find solutions and pose critical thinking questions to improve their professional development practices. Others are just starting to tap into this online world, and are trying to figure it all out while struggling to gain an Internet connection to access people and online resources.

Cellphone potential undeveloped

Many South African educators talked to me about the power and potential of cellphone technology when it comes to student engagement and learning, and how at times it is being underutilised (according to some) in South Africa. In the United States, in many areas, specialists are trying their best to educate administrators and teachers about the vibrant potential of integrating cellphones into daily lessons, but many are very reluctant to allow this type of tool into our school environments. These same administrators and educators feel that cellphones are a distraction to student learning and will cause more damage than good. This is where South Africa is greatly ahead of the curve with integrating mobile technology into classroom practice.

I had a very interesting conversation with Helen Phillips, a South African Microsoft Innovative Teacher recipient. She shared with me some innovative ideas: she integrates cellphone technology into her Maths lessons with her students to apply and practise complex calculations in real-world scenarios. She noted how much more engaged and ‘on task’ her students are while being involved in the learning process, and how they take ownership of and pride in their learning experiences. I found this story fascinating and critically important. Phillips has empowered her students to be active contributors and producers within the learning environment, at the same time reconfiguring her role. She has become a true facilitator. She models learning and poses deeper critical thinking and problem-solving questions to challenge her students to take educated risks in safe face-to-face and online learning environments.

Mentorship critical in ICT spheres

Phillips noted the added importance of the support of other teachers and mentors. Educator mentorship is the essential and key strategy for new teacher success. New teachers need modelled guidance from mentors to understand their new learning practices successfully, feel safe with asking questions and trying new strategies, and brainstorming and developing ICT lesson ideas to empower student learning. When partnered with a collaborative educator content expert within their same school, new teachers learn the educational instructional and content strategies very quickly, and gain instructional confidence and performances while impacting student learning.

The SchoolNet ICT conference offered many opportunities for educators to build upon their mentorship skills, network and collaborative with others in both faceto- face and online environments and build their personal and professional learning communities. The many workshop offerings provided the opportunity for individuals to take educational risks within their own learning, improve their ICT literacy skills, and expand their ICT content knowledge base. There were multiple and varied learning opportunities for everyone, and the rich resources shared online will empower educators to try new technologies and strategies for years to come!

For those of you that are interested in the resources and professional development documents I shared during the conference, please tap into my shared online folder located at, and search out the South Africa SchoolNet ICT Conference folder for a treasure chest filled with technology gems! You may also follow me on Twitter (nharm) to continue the conversation, or my blog at I look forward to your comments, suggestions and future learning opportunities with you globally!

Naomi Harm is a 21st century educational technology literacy specialist and a national and international educational technology keynote speaker. Harm is also a Professional Learning Community (PLC) facilitator for the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, adjunct instructor for Viterbo University and Marian University (with their Educational Technology Master’s programme) and a Wisconsin Intel online senior trainer. In addition, she manages her own ‘Innovative Educator’ 2.0 consulting corporation, where she provides customised staff development technology workshops, grant writing expertise, and designs and delivers online graduate course work for universities.

Category: Spring 2011

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  1. Ryan Cresswell says:

    Helen Philips is my teacher! Thumbs way way up! 🙂

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