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YouthLearn Updates,  February 15, 2005

Adapting Tools, Methods, Terminology to Cultural Context

As part of an EDC discussion about providing professional development around technology integration, YouthLearn associate Wendy Rivenburgh reflected on some of our recent work, especially on the DotEDU project in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

The YouthLearn team works both domestically and internationally to help educators integrate technology and project-based learning into their programs. We’ve developed training and resources that promote the use of technology as a tool for learning, not an end in itself.

If program stakeholders are only focused on IT skill development, the case must be made for employing a project-based learning pedagogy. With program partners in the U.S. and in, for instance, rural villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we have sought to make this case by:

• first, carrying out needs assessment to ascertain their capacities, resources, needs, goals, and expectations;
• engaging stakeholders in planning meetings in order to design professional development that is culturally relevant and targeted to their needs; and
• creating dynamic training materials that serve to both facilitate the learning experiences and ‘sell’ our approach.

Involving stakeholders as much as possible as partners in the process gives us a better understanding of the cultural context—such as the typical teaching methods and content, the community values and resources, and the relationships among and between staff/teachers and program/school leadership—and increases their investment.

Beyond this particular issue—the focus on IT skills over and above other potential outcomes—there are other challenges that we have, at least in part, addressed by adapting our methods and materials to the unique qualities of the program setting and population. For example, in developing training materials for educators in the DRC, we learned that the terms “project-based learning” and “inquiry” don’t translate well into the French, for our purposes. We used other terms, including “active pedagogy” and “discovery,” instead, to convey our meaning. We also substituted culturally relevant subjects and language in the various examples and illustrations that are embedded in our materials.

Pilot-testing our methods and materials has been tremendously valuable, especially when working with a new community. As a result of the pilot test of our online course for the DRC educators, we repackaged our online curricula into a printed manual, with a similar look-and-feel, but more graphic illustrations, photographs, and colorful design elements to render the discussion of program design and teaching techniques more vivid.

One of the key questions in the EDC discussion was "How can we use online teacher professional development effectively?" We found it essential, especially in a community with unreliable Internet access, to provide face-to-face training and support, as well as printed materials. Moreover, in this case and as a general rule, we try to design learning experiences that have low-tech (or no tech) and high-tech variations. This strategy is easy and natural when the inquiry process, the project, is the focus—and the technology is a tool for the learning.

Here are a few select resources to inform project-based learning and technology integration activities:

The YouthLearn Initiative,
for information on our approach to incorporating technology and facilitating inquiry-based, collaborative learning,
for tips on teaching about and with technology.

Active Learning in the Information Age: Integrating IT Skill Development into STEM Curricula
YouthLearn produced this information brief for the ITEST Learning Resource Center.

Posted by wrivenburgh on February 15, 2005 | YouthLearn Updates