Louise van Rhyn: Passion for Education

I’ve never met Louise in person – I only know her from Twitter. She lives in South Africa, and has a love, passion, and excitement for her country that you rarely see. This blog post exists because of  a conversation she and I just had (minutes ago) on twitter.

Before I get to that, let me tell you what I know about Louise – she’s wonderful. Her focus is on improving education in South Africa. For everyone. Her “bold and audacious vision” is: Quality education for all children in South Africa by 2022

To see how she’s actually achieving her vision, instead of just yakking, go to her website, Partners for Possibility.

Here is our conversation:

Conversation with Louise

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Technology and Classrooms

I recently read a blog post by David Kelly about technology in the classroom titled “Why Technology Belongs in a Classroom“.

David was responding to a blog post by Clay Shirky, “Why Clay Shirky Banned Laptops, Tablets, and Phones From His Classroom“. I read that article too.

In essence, Clay Shirky, who teaches theory and practice of social media at NYU, has banned technology from his classroom. David Kelly, who is part of the eLearning Guild, disagrees with Shirky.

What you are about to read is my comment, unedited, that I left on Shirky’s article:

Interesting. You begin with the statement, “I teach theory and practice of social media at NYU”. Notice the word theory. Towards the end you mention “hard thinking (our spécialité de la maison, here at college)”.

I argue that in your area of expertise, Social Media, hard thinking is what happens when people are on their devices.

Yes, people are more distracted today than ever. You mention that the only variable that’s changed in your classroom is technology.

I challenge you to rethink what a classroom is. Is it a place where the same material is taught in the same way as it was 50 years ago? Or is it an opportunity to use technology to grab people’s attention and immerse them in a subject?

Rather than lecturing about the dates in the Crimean war, why not have people re-create what led up to it? Assign them to teams, each a country, with certain resources and agendas. It’s like a living version of Risk.

To me, teaching is about engaging. Yes, technology is designed to be engaging. So let’s design teaching to be engaging. Use blips, sounds, instant notifications, badges, personalization, colors, music, sounds in your teaching.

Teaching is also about motivating. I can push information out to people all day long whether or not they have a laptop, tablet, phone, google-glass, google watch, pen and paper, or chalkboard slates.

But why are they there? Is it to fulfill a requirement to get their degree? Is it to learn more about the subject? Is it because their friends are taking the class?

If someone isn’t internally motivated, it doesn’t matter what I do. They’ll tune out. I was in undergrad during the 80s. I used my time in lectures to do other homework, write letters, day dream, scribble, learning to write left-handed, and people watching out the window.

Distraction is not a new problem. What is new is how we must adapt to overcome the sheer amount of distraction. And external forces can’t do that. People must be intrinsically and internally motivated to ignore the distraction and focus on something else.

Yes, people need to learn to pay attention at times and they need to learn how to focus regardless of distractions.

In the real world, when they get their first jobs, they’ll be distracted. Trust me. I’m writing this from my open cube at work listening to four conversations and seeing multiple computer screens.

Help your students prepare for the reality they’ll face. Help your students learn to be a good co-worker. Help your students learn to manage their time. Help your students to feel a personal connection with your subject.

PS: by the way, my job is to teach white-collar workers in corporate America. I have a Master’s Degree in Training & Development/Human Performance Improvement (while I was working full-time, and with my own money – no loans). This is my passion. I dream about my work. I love what I do. And I love it even more when I break through the distractions and get the “ohhh…I get it!”.



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Picasso and Me

“A picture used to be a sum of additions. In my case, a picture is a sum of destructions.” ~Pablo Picasso

“A course used to be a sum of added information. In my case, a course is a sum of deducted information.” ~Tricia Ransom

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