Archive for December, 2009
Since the continuation of of our efforts in Zanzibar has been decided a couple of weeks ago, we’ve been working hard to organise and prepare for the classes of 2010. Here’s a list of some of things that kept us busy lately:
Classroom and Teaching-related:
- Rent a classroom at Al-Riyami School.
- Have the power lines rewired to use Zanzibits’ powermeter and UPS.
- Have the room painted, it’s a mess!
- Rent furniture for the class of 2009 until we get our own (see next item).
- Find a cheap, skilled and reliable carpenter; order tables and chairs.
- Get shutters for our windows to keep out the noise, dust, rain and heat.
- Find a cheap second-hand projector in Europe (thanks, Carina!).
- Find suitable computer hardware. We had a look at inveneo.org and ncomputing.com, but we think we’ll go with some more of those cheap laptops instead.
- Test all available options for high-speed internet (result: both suck).
- Spread the word to the streets to find students for 2010.
- Organize an application process for interested students: application exam, personal interviews.
- Create a simple website at zanzicode.com.
- Start a blog at zanzicode.com/blog (you’re reading it!).
- Put some pictures online at zanzicode.com/photos.
- Do a lot of boring budgeting work; most importantly have a proper estimation of the one-off preparational costs (which turned out to be more than we expected) and the monthly recurring costs for 2010 (which turned out to be less than we expected).
- Find a good way to handle money transfers from Austria to Zanzibar.
- … and do a thousand more small errands: create certificates for the 2009 graduates, get a rubber stamp with the all new Zanzicode logo, find whiteboards, …
It’s not very hard work, but it’s still tiring, because everything needs a lot of personal interaction and therefore, time and effort. In case you plan to start a project in Zanzibar, my tip (which is doubtlessly biased and based only on my personal experience) is to not want too much in too little time, at least in the beginning. Better take it easy until you find the right people to work with, and even then, don’t push too hard: it will happen, just not in the way you thought it will, or in the time, or at the agreed price — but it will. Hakuna matata :-)
best, Fritz Grabo
ps: here are some pictures from our “Classrooms Preparations” Set on flickr to illustrate our current work. We’ll add more pictures to the set during the next 2 weeks!
As I wrote in the previous post, our first class was okay as it was and for what it could have been, but surely it has potential for improvement. In short, here is what we think we can do better next time, and how:
Make sure all students are at the same level, regarding their prior knowledge of computers and the web. This time, we not only have personal interviews with applicants for our classes, we also have a written exam before those interviews to see if they have a good idea of how to work with computers and the web and to see if they know how to write HTML and CSS by hand. If someone is not exactly fluent in web technologies, but has the right resources and motivation to go for it, it’s not a problem: before we start regular classes in march, we have two months of compulsory introductory courses for everyone who needs them.
Have more students. The class of 2009 had only five students, and compared to the effort we put into the project, it’s sad to see that the output is not exactly huge in terms of people benefiting from it. For 2010, we’ve got more time to find fitting students and a new, bigger classroom suitable for 12 or even more students. Also, we believe that having more students actually makes teaching (and learning!) easier, as it will help us to do classic, regular, lecturer-centered teaching. Wait, this is a good thing? I hear my fellow lecturers in Austria screaming… With my tiny group of students, it was just too easy to be tangled up in private discussions. I’m sure this was mostly my fault, because I was taking it too easy sometimes. And as a lecturer, I should know that if I take it easy, the students will take it easy, too – especially so in Zanzibar ;)
Check students’ performance frequently. This could happen in the form of assignments, private project work with feedback sessions, or even bi-weekly exams. Our students should know that even though our education is offered free of charge, it does not mean that they don’t have to work for it. If necessary, we let single students go instead of having them slow down the others. Sounds though, I know. And it should be.
Have a local person as a lecturer. Every now and then, when it was just too hard to explain a difficult concept, the students would stop me for a minute and discuss it among themselves in their own language, Swahili. We don’t think it’s a good idea to switch from English to Swahili alltogether, but having a native speaker for the tricky parts sure will help. This, too, is why we’re very fortunate to have Salum Rashid, one of the graduates of our class of 2009, to work with us as a lecturer in 2010.
All in all, we hope these changes will help us to improve the quality of teaching and increase the number of students benefiting from our efforts. We’ll keep you updated on how it goes!