Nearing the End

We’re actually about to enter the last week of the internship and the pressure is definitely on. I’ve been working very hard these past two weeks on the OCT, and it seems to have paid off in the testing we had on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, we went to the Liceo and tested the OCT with students on their XO laptops. For the most part, the tool functioned just as it was supposed to. The app never crashed and students could load, fill out, complete, and export an assignment.

Now, I’m working on having the tool automatically grade and redesigning the user interface. Students’ main complaint was that it needed more colors and to be more attractive. My background isn’t in user interface design. I’ve actually never even programmed in Python or used an XO laptop before this internship! It’s been a challenge, for sure.

On Monday will be the last testing session for the OCT. From there, I’ll work on making the user manual, final presentation, and fixing up my section of the final report. It’ll be a busy last week!



What’s so global about our globalized world?

We are now in the final weeks of the internship and things are getting really intense. For the past few days I’ve been involved in developing and adding features to the Facebook game that we have been building, as well as completing the documentation requirements.

Our Montevideo team visited the partner school, Liceo 39, a few days ago to test the OCT tool. On our way to the school I was looking back on my time in Uruguay and I noticed that I had always been thinking of new encounters and things that I found to be different here. This made me think about why I never thought about things that I found in Uruguay that were similar to the place where I came from. Yes, this ultimately led to the question: what are the things in this world that are truly universal? English is often referred to as Lingua Franka, but I’ve spent enough time in China and Uruguay to know that it clearly is not! Many times I’ve been told that music is the language of the world, but I clearly disagree again. People don’t enjoy the same type of music around the world; they always have different preferences. For a long time, I then took chocolate to be a global attribute, but even this conclusion couldn’t stand the test of time – I very recently met a chocolate hater! Never knew they existed 🙂

So what is truly global? Luckily, I found my answers an hour later – at Liceo 39. When I met with the students we work with, I was immediately taken back to the time when I was a child going to school. I realized that if there is one thing that is common in the whole world, it is the innocence with which children come into this world. They all love to enjoy life, and laugh and grow up in the same way everywhere around the world, be it in Doha or in Montevideo. The all like to have fun, and enjoy time with their friends, and laugh out loud without worrying about the pressures of the world around them. I found this very beautiful.

But that wasn’t it – I had more answers coming my way. As the kids interacted with the OCT and used it to answer questions, and then toyed around with their little laptops, I thought about the fact that even though we all come from different parts of the world and have different languages and cultures, we still use the same technologies to power our daily lives. Be it in terms of providing sources of entertainment, helping us conduct our business interests, or as is the case of the kids at Liceo 39, assisting them in improving their literacy skills, we all use the same technologies. I realized that technology is so global that it can be implemented anywhere to improve the lives of people. Another beautiful thing about our world!

As we wrapped up our testing phase at Liceo 39, I was very surprised with the answers I got within a few hours to such a complex question, and how content it made me feel with the way the world works. I left the school with a new resolution: to not only think about the sad things about this world, but to also look out for the beautiful things that this world has to offer us. That’s all for now! I’ll go back to coding my facebook tool. Here’s a picture of the testing session at the school!

Kids and Technology working well together!

– Afnan

Almost Done..

We have only one week left of the iSTEP internship and everybody is super busy.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am involved in various tasks that include the three projects we are implementing. This fact made my experience and work more interesting. My tasks included creating icons for the OCT that has the svg extension using a program called Inkscape. Also, I created forms for CAT that teachers will be using to add questions. I spent most of my time working on Django which is the software that we are using to create the Facebook application. I was working on the front end of the Facebook application and the theme or format of the tool.

I will be working on the documentation during next few days and I will post my final reflection and lessons learned from this big learning experience 🙂


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

My experience working with youth of 15 years old

We are currently in the 8th week of our internship, and less than 3 weeks are left in Montevideo. At this point, I would like to share you my experience of working with young people. This has been the first time that I have worked with girls and boys of 15 years old. These girls and boys were students of 3rd grade from Liceo 39 of Piedras Blancas. Piedras Blancas is an impoverished neighborhood in the north side of Montevideo. We conducted a total of 6 focus groups with the students.

Those teens come from different social contexts. I would say that some of them come from middle class families; while others come from a less favorable context. A good indicator of their social context was what they did in their free time. For example, boys and girls from a less favorable social context liked most to hang out or play soccer with friends. Girls and boys from a more favorable social context used to have internet at home and liked to spend a couple of hours each day at Facebook or playing video games.

After the focus groups, when I was listening again the tapes, I realized how at that age the social differences are not as important as they become later when we growth up. The kids of Liceo 39 are socially mixed and they do not care about the social differences as then some adults do. As well, they were not ashamed when they mentioned that they do not have internet at home, or that they need to help her moms taking care of young siblings.

What broke my heart were their dreams, dreams that we usually have at that age. In the focus groups, we asked to them what they would like to be when they grow up. They mentioned that they would like to be fashion designer, soccer player, history teacher, engineer, and biologist. Probably, half of them will not have the means to assist to the university. Probably, some of them will marriage soon and will start working in more modest positions that they originally thought.

I like that age, when we think that everything is possible and that we think that we deserve it all, when we are happy and without worries. Then, when we grow up, we start facing tough situations in life and we suffer deceptions. We stop dreaming and we lose that innocence. We were more spontaneous when we were 15 years old; we had a capacity of surprise for the new things that we discovered. Then, we lose that capacity of surprise for life. Probably, this is why the world it is like it is nowadays.

I would like that we were more as boys and girls of 15 years old, full filled of dreams and with that capacity of surprise still untouchable. I can say that I have learned something new from the students of Liceo 39; it has been an enormous pleasure to work with them.

– Roberto

A flower from each garden!

“A flower from each garden” is a proverb that Arabs use to describe the act of getting something from different areas or categories and I will use that to describe my experience with iSTEP 2011 and the various areas that I was exposed to.

Although I am the Technical Floater in Doha, my experience and tasks were not all technical. I had a chance to get work and learn other skills too. So I was involved in the documentation, design and marketing too like what I am doing now, blogging about my experience and share it with others. Even the technical side of my role exposed me to different powerful tools that we are using for the implementation for the three projects.

The best part of this variety in tasks and areas is that you work with different people according to the area and experience. Finally, I think being part of a globally distributed team is a totally different experience than the previous teams I worked with. I realized that there are some factors that are really important such as communication and time that the team has to take into consideration to achieve their goals.


My Uruguayan Bucket List

As our departure date quickly approaches, I think we all feel the pressure to make sure we check off all those items on our Uruguayan bucket list. I know I do! It’s time to try all the restaurants I’ve been eyeing since our arrival and the cities I have heard so much about from Uruguayos. Some of those items include visiting the coastal cities. I recently learned that I actually have a friend managing a hostal in Punta del Diablo, a small beach town about four hours away from Montevideo. What a small world! I was amazed to find I had a friend whom I studied abroad with six years ago in this same little country! I went and stayed with her for a couple days and discovered a whole new side of Uruguay that I had not seen! Due to it being winter, and therefore the low season, the town was abandoned, but I could envision the exuberance the town must display in its high season! The many hostals and little bars and shops on the beach must make for a very exciting place to visit in the summer!

Last night I also finally tried a restaurant that I have wanted to try since we first arrived; Fellini, a nice Italian restaurant about a block away from our apartment. Thursday evenings happen to be karaoke night with live music. It was a wonderful dining experience and we even had the night’s singing champion as part of our party, Roberto’s wife, Azucena! She sings so beautifully that we even joked about her replacing the hired singer!  We vowed to return on another Thursday. Next restaurant I have to try is Palenque, a parrillada restaurant in Mercado del Puerto, and our very own parrillada on our terrace.

Lastly, I have started making plans to travel outside of Uruguay. I finally have plans to visit Buenos Aires, which is very exciting!! That is a city that has been on my bucket list for years and I also have some friends there that I look forward to seeing soon. I have also started looking into visiting Iguazu Falls once we complete the internship, which I know is a must-see! I am very excited about the prospect of visiting and learning about new cities and cultures. I have certainly been enjoying learning about the Uruguayan and cannot emphasize enough how wonderful the people are! Ciao!