The impulse to give something back to the Old Country runs deep among immigrants. So it was the case with Professor Nasreen Rahim, faculty of instructional technology and coordinator of distance education at Evergreen Valley College.
During this Winter break, she traveled to Bangladesh and gave seminars and conducted workshops for students, teachers and administrators at several schools in the port city of Chittagong on the role of technology in enhancing and enriching education. The program was sponsored by Chittagong Research Initiative (CRI), a local social and progressive organization.
At the Railway Hospital Colony City Corporation High School that caters mostly to underprivileged kids from poor families, Professor Rahim demonstrated how supplementing traditional classes with online teaching can benefit students and teachers alike. In a country like Bangladesh, where political unrest is perennial and school closures frequent, (in 2013, schools were closed on the average for 200 days!), assigning homework and delivering lectures online can be particularly effective.
The reality, as students, teachers and the School Principal Uttam Kumar Acahrya pointed out, was rather bleak. The school does not have a single computer with Internet access for general use by the students. Most students and teachers have never used a computer or do not even have email addresses.
“But you all have cell phones,” said Professor Rahim. “Lessons can be delivered online relatively easily and cheaply through mobile technology. You are texting and using SMS all the time. I can help you in applying this familiar technology to enhance your education and overcome the instability posed by the political situation.”
“What we really need is hands-on training” said a teacher. “We need a basic computer lab on campus where students and teachers can learn simple things like browsing and searching.”
With CRI's cooperation, Professor Rahim promised to help set up a computer lab for the co-ed school, established in 1958 and with over 2000 students from grades 1 through 10, and personally offer hands-on training during the summer of 2014. “This is a part of what I do at my college. This is what I promise to do also for you.”
“We just need someone to show us how to get started. We can do the rest ourselves,” said a student, eyes brimming with hope. Vigorously agreeing with her, the students cheered her confidence and optimism, moving Professor Rahim to tears.
At the Bangladesh Women’s High School and College, students were mostly from well-to-do families and familiarity with computers was relatively high. In fact, there is a compulsory computer class from 6th-grade and up that students have to pass to graduate. Still, the idea of online learning and teaching, as supplement to traditional classroom teaching, seemed as remote as at the Railway school.
In her presentation titled “Technology and Education in a Global Context,” Professor Rahim demonstrated the use of various free Web 2.0 Technologies to promote interactive and peer-to-peer learning.
Teacher and student interest in flipped and blended classrooms was very high, particularly in light of the country’s destructive political situation. Everyone emphasized the need for hands-on training with Web 2.0 Technologies. Principal Anowara Begum reminded the gathering that technology could be a double-edged sword and that it was up to the students to reap its benefits and shun its darker aspects. Students, teachers and guardians must all be on board to ensure the successful application of technology to education, she said. “We have to launch a movement at the grassroots level to bring Internet access to everyone,” said a student to applause. “What you start, you must finish,” said Professor Rahim, “and I will be with you all the way.”
At the South Asian College that accepts students only in grades 11 and 12, computer usage is the highest in Chittagong. The young founders, led by CEO Muhammad Abdullah Al-Mamun, have embarked on an ambitious plan to make the college completely digital. Every student is supplied with a laptop and given free broadband access to the Internet. The classes are equipped with smart boards. The college has its own IT staff. Software engineers have developed a course management system (CMS) that tracks student progress and updates parents with their progress and whereabouts.
Prof. Rahim gave a demonstration of CMS Moodle that is used at the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District. She singled out features that could be added as features to the CMS used at the college. “Technology cannot thrive unless teachers practice good teaching methods,” she cautioned. “That includes making teaching interactive and student-centric.”
This generated a lot of discussion on what constitutes good teaching and what makes a teacher outstanding. “Teachers can no longer act as sage on the stage but as guide by the side,” she said. A student asked how teachers could be made more accountable, beyond the teacher evaluation method practiced at the college. Prof. Rahim introduced students to “RateMyProfessors” website. She reminded her audience that teaching requires passion and dedication. “When a teacher has these qualities, technology can be a big help. In the 21st-Century, when education and technology are integrated in a holistic manner, students are motivated to learn and are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning.”
In a country where Internet access in schools and colleges is still in its infancy, the seminars and workshops that Prof. Nasreen Rahim conducted were received with much appreciation and gratitude by students, faculty and administrators. Prof. Rahim plans to travel frequently to Bangladesh in future to train teachers on integrating education with Web 2.0 technologies so that they can, in turn, train other teachers and students and bring the benefits of the Internet to as large a segment of the knowledge-seeking population as possible. With progressive and humanitarian organizations like Chittagong Research Initiative to act as a catalyst, such projects can be expected to achieve a high rate of success.