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Tech tools for teaching at Krousar Thmey: UWCSEA collabroates with NGO partners in Cambodia to provide technology support

Adrienne Michetti, Digital Literacy Coach, David Caleb, Digital Literacy Coach, Jeff Plaman, Former Digital Literacy Coach and Keri-Lee Beasley, Former Digital Literacy Coach, East Campus

Technology frequently appears on wish lists of our Global Concerns (GC) NGO partners - and for good reasons. Not only can work experience with technology improve employment opportunities for the communities they serve, but the technology itself can also connect those communities with a global audience, providing access to dynamic knowledge and contacts, and leading to increased awareness of the NGO’s cause.

Initial contact and evaluation

Last school year, the IT and Service departments at East Campus began exploring how they could collaborate to provide technology tools and support for our NGO partners in Cambodia.  In April 2014, all four Digital Literacy Coaches (DLCs) joined a service trip to Phnom Penh to evaluate the potential of technology to enhance learning for the students in several of our GC partner organisations. After visits to Tiny Toones, Indochina Starfish Foundation and Krousar Thmey schools, we came to the difficult decision that working with Krousar Thmey schools would offer the most leverage in terms of using technology for development. One Krousar Thmey school in particular, the Chbar Ampov School for the Deaf, stood out due to its small size and the school’s enthusiastic and open-minded leadership in embracing new technologies. Further, because of the visual nature of learning in a school for the deaf, we felt there was a tremendous opportunity to enhance learning through the use of video.

Before embarking on a technology-for-development partnership, we wanted to ensure that we would not adopt a ‘dump-and-dash’ approach where old and unused technology is donated to an organisation without the human resources to support and maintain it. After speaking extensively with the East Service team and using the Compass Model for Sustainability as our guide, we devised a plan that we felt was sustainable and actionable.


UWCSEA East Digital Literacy Coaches travelled to NGO partner Krousar Thmey in Cambodia

Given the profile and size of Chbar Ampov School for the Deaf - 140 deaf students in 10 classes - and after spending time in classrooms with their teachers and students, we felt better positioned to make suggestions regarding tools to enhance learning. Recognising the visual nature of learning for deaf students, we soon concluded that iPads would be the best tool since videos and photos can significantly enhance learning in this context. We then set a goal to raise funds to purchase 11 iPads with substantial storage.

DLC Dave Caleb offered his services and time as a means to raise the funds needed. A professional photographer as well as a teacher, Dave is skilled in his craft, so when he suggested offering the school community 30-minute slots for paid family portrait sessions, we knew we were on our way to success. The sessions were so popular that the planned weekend of slots was extended an extra day to meet demand! Students and teachers involved in the Krousar Thmey GC contributed to the project by meeting families and providing snacks during sessions, as well as downloading and editing photo portraits later on.

The project successfully raised enough money to purchase 11 refurbished iPad Airs with 128GB of storage, cases and screen protectors. The funds raised also allowed us access to an excellent support team in Phnom Penh via another East Service partner, the Liger Learning Center. Staff and students at Liger designed and constructed a lockable cabinet to store and charge the iPads at Chbar Ampov School for the Deaf.

Preparation and planning

Integrating digital tools to support student learning at Chbar Ampov presented unique challenges, the biggest of which was language. None of us speak Khmer, nor do we speak Khmer Sign Language! As such, the project pushed us to design learning opportunities in creative ways. Most importantly, we focused on iPad’s video-capture feature as an opportunity to support development of sign language learning. Creating resources that deaf students can use independently of their teacher allows for flexibility and personalised learning; further, it creates more opportunities for teachers to differentiate their instruction. For example, one group of students might be learning independently using the iPads while the teacher works with a different group. Deaf students can also use the iPads to show their understanding by creating artefacts that incorporate images, video, typed text, audio and more.

Keeping all of this in mind, we decided to focus initially on developing teachers’ skills in capturing media and creation of learning resources such as multi-touch books. For this particular purpose, we prepared sample multi-touch books to show teachers what was possible using the Book Creator app for iPad.

During our preparations, we kept in close contact with the school leadership, as well as senior leaders at Krousar Thmey NGO. Their input guided our logistical short-term plans as well as our long-term planning with sustainability in mind. By February 2015, we had confirmation that our on-site training proposal had been accepted and we began getting excited for another trip to the school.

On-the-ground training

Over the first week of the April term break, the four of us returned to Phnom Penh, iPads in hand. We were fortunate to have a full day with Chbar Ampov School for the Deaf’s teaching staff to introduce them to the iPad’s features and explore how it could be used to enhance learning for their students. The teachers -- some hearing-impaired and some hearing-able -- had varying levels of experience with iPads, but most were new users. Luckily, one of the teachers and the school principal spoke English, which allowed translation of our instruction to sign language, though we still relied heavily on body language for communication throughout the day! Through hands-on and collaborative activities, teachers learned experientially about basic iOS functions, how to capture photos and video, and how to create multi-touch books for relevant curricular areas.  

All Chbar Ampov’s teachers turned out to be enthusiastic learners who embraced the challenges put to them in the workshop. It was truly gratifying to see their excitement as new approaches to teaching and learning came to life. Our hope is that these new pedagogical approaches become common practice in their classrooms and allow for multi-modal instruction; as a DLC team, we are committed to supporting these teachers in their continued professional learning.

Follow-up and next steps

In late April, Keri-Lee Beasley, returned with a group of East students, parents and staff supporting the Krousar Thmey GC. Our students were able to show the Chbar Ampov students how to use some of the iPad apps while Keri-Lee was able to spend time with both their teachers and students, reinforcing the learning from our initial training session. This first follow-up visit was a crucial step in a long path to changing pedagogies at the school. In working with the students as well as teachers, Keri-Lee was able to provide a timely modelling opportunity for teachers to witness what these instructional practices look like in action.

We know that providing access to digital tools is just the tip of the iceberg; what will truly make lasting change is a shift in pedagogy. To this end, we are already planning for at least two follow-up visits during the 2015/2016 school year and continuing support for years to come. Our long-term plan for sustainable educational development at Krousar Thmey schools involves additional East students and teachers in project planning, implementation, training and support roles. Looking ahead, we also hope to develop a scalable model to enhance learning via technology in other schools supported by East GCs.

To learn more about the Krousar Thmey GC and their recent trip to Cambodia with East Middle School students and parents, please visit the East Service blog.



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  • Teaching and Learning
  • Technology
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