Friday, July 08, 2011

Using mobile phones for teaching in Bangladesh #csnl2011

Today and tomorrow I'm at the Centre for the Study of New Literacies Conference which is taking place in Sheffield. The Centre is based in Sheffield University's School of Education. The focus is "new methods for new literacies" and I'm speaking tomorrow on reasearching in Second Life (the video I posted a couple of days ago is for the talk). The talk I will pick out today was by Christopher Walsh (Open University): Rethinking teacher professional development: going digital on low-cost phones in Bangladesh..
He is part of the English in Action multimillion pound project funded by UKaid from the Department for International Development (DFID) in cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh. Two of the partners are the Open University and the BBC. The project aims to teach 25 million people English (!) and the initiative that Walsh was talking about is targetting 102,000 teachers and the 17 million students they teach.
Walsh talked about the "multiliteracies pedagogy for teacher professional development" that underpinned his approach. This involves situated practice (linking into the Bangladeshi national curriculum); overt instruction (to teach communicative English language teaching practices to teachers, so they then use the same methods with pupils); critical framing; and transformed practice. The problem with English teaching has been that it is textbook-based, with little pupil interaction and little use of spoken English at all, so even teachers might not be confident in speaking English.
The approach they have taken is practical and sustainable, since they are focusing on use of low-priced mobile phones, which are very common. They call them the Trainer in your pocket. Walsh observed that most schools have no electricity, and simply getting other devices charged up (devices that people do not use every day) was an issue.
There are training meetings where teachers get classroom materials and support (e.g. flashcards, figurines) and learn some new classroom practices. In their turn they should be able to teach others. At the moment the teachers are each given a mobile phone that takes an SD card, so they get set of audio files of English teaching material aligned with the Bangladeshi national curriculum. They also get portable rechargeable speakers, so they can plug their phones into these and use the audio English language material direct in the classroom. When the project is no longer giving out mobiles, they will still be able to give out memory cards to fit in teachers' own phones, and also ensure files can be downloaded cheaply.
From impact evaluations, teachers are saying that they are gaining confidence in speaking English and using different teaching practice. There is more of teachers speaking English, and and more of students speaking English in class.
The project website includes some pictures and other material such as conference papers and teacher's journal. Walsh's actual presentation, including some videos of classrooms, is on Prezi and I hope it is embedded below:

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