When reality hits…

I am working on a tool, CAT, to allow teachers to create English literacy content” What is CAT? English literacy content? You mean like Blackboard? These are some of the questions I’ve been getting throughout this summer from classmates, teachers, friends and family members. Yesterday, while I was explaining the work that the iSTEP 2011 team is doing and CAT in particular to a friend, I realized that parts of my answers have changed [evolved] during the past eight weeks. Each one of our three projects had to be molded to fit our needs assessment results causing each one to evolve in a different path often different than what was originally planned. I like to use the verb evolve because it seems more natural to me.  Saying change feels like replacing one thing with another while evolve is more of an adaptation to circumstances and events…I can elaborate more on the topic but I will save it to another blog post.  Thus, the purpose of this blog is to present the Content Authoring Tool from two different angles: expectations versus reality and to talk about how the project is evolving to adapt to the needs of the local Uruguayan community. I am focusing on the Content Authoring Tool because of two main reasons:

  • Time: I am timing myself to write this blog in 30 minutes and
  • Knowledge: I will leave it to Elise and Afnan to talk about their projects [creating a chain reaction maybe?]

When I first started working on CAT, I knew that I had the “cushion” of reusing some of the old CAT code developed by iSTEP 2010 interns but I also knew that I would have to adapt it to address the needs of our partners. While the initial idea was still the same: providing a platform for educators to create English literacy content to be used by OCT and FBT, the way it’s been executed has evolved:

  • Expectation n#1:teachers will be able to access the CAT using reliable internet connection and from there create and share content with other tools.
    • Reality: Internet connectivity is very unreliable at the school we are working with.
    • Result: We had to think about alternative ways to give teachers access to CAT and to allow them to exchange content with the OCT and FBT while still designing the tool to be internet accessible with the hope that internet will become reliable in the near future. Solutions such as intranet using school lab computers and exchanging files using USB drives were not part of the initial plan but had to be considered during the brainstorming stages.
  • Expectation n#2:teachers will be able to create their own content.
    • Reality: teachers have with big classes and busy schedules and adding new workload to their busy lives might discourage them from using the tools.
    • Result: Thanks to Dr. Yonina Cooper, one of our faculty advisors, we thought about involving English Language Teacher students in the process of content creation. The Montevideo team suggested the idea to our partners and it was approved. [Give credit where credit is due:)]
  • Expectation n#3:question types supported by this year’s CAT will be the same as the ones supported by the English Practice Tool developed by the iSTEP 2010 interns.
    • Reality: most question types supported were of interest to our partners; however, their main focus was on writing and listening activities.
    • Result:  CAT has to provide a way for teachers to create writing questions: short and long answers and listening questions where students listen to content and answer questions. However, combining this result with the result of expectation n#3 created a deadlock situation:
      • Students would benefit from listening to original content.
      • Original content consists of Youtube videos that need reliable connectivity, which we currently cannot count on. For this and other reason, I have been dreading dealing with the listening part and I will write more about it as we progress.

This was just a snapshot of how expectation and reality came together to shape the tools and to sometimes create more expectations or what seem to be deadlocked situations. One thing that I’ve learned from reflecting on this is the importance of flexibility and receptiveness: receptiveness to the local community needs and being flexible in incorporating those needs into the work plan.

We are in our last two weeks, keep checking this blog for more updates on the iSTEP 2011 journey 🙂

– Hanae

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