By Julie Clugage, Executive Director
For the last two weeks of March 2016, Team4Tech immersed 10 volunteers from enterprise software company Box in the educational landscape of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Our objective: strengthening the capacity of the local education nonprofit Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) to enhance the quality of their programs by integrating digital resources and technology-assisted tools.
JWOC’s mission is to reduce poverty levels in Cambodia by increasing educational and economic opportunities for 800 underserved students per year through their free classes program. The classes focus on teaching English, technology, science and art, and they are taught by university students who receive full scholarships from JWOC in exchange for six to eight hours of teaching per week. Through this process, JWOC is able to not only assist the scholarship students directly with the cost of their education, but also develop their skills, work experience, teaching and leadership capabilities more broadly.
This second Team4Tech project with JWOC deepened their commitment to technology as a tool for learning. In November 2014, nine volunteers from VMware had set up a new computer lab, with 26 PCs and new software to help students learn English, as well as technology to advance science and art classes. The new computer lab helped JWOC students build their English and digital literacy skills, but was not large enough to accommodate use by all of JWOC’s 800 students each week. Therefore, the goal of this second project was to extend the reach of technology into the classrooms, with the purchase of 25 student tablets, five teacher laptops, and four projectors. This new integrated technology will help teachers develop creative problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills among their students – skills that are vital for securing gainful employment in the rapidly globalizing economy of Siem Reap.
After six weeks of preparation and research, the 10 Box volunteers were eager to not only observe classes at JWOC, but also dive into their own design process. Over the course of their 11 days in Cambodia, the volunteers worked side-by-side with JWOC staff to deploy the new technology, deliver training workshops, and coach 42 university scholarship teachers to design and rapidly test new lesson plans. The training used the framework of human-centered design to enable teachers to brainstorm ways that technology could build 21st century skills among their students.
On the first day of the workshops, we heard the testimonial of one the teachers, Khav Meth, explaining why design thinking is needed in Cambodian education:
In the 21st century, design thinking is one of the most important learning experiences for educators to apply in the real world with a difficult challenge. Actually, most textbooks are written to address problems that already exist. But there are thousands of problems which have not yet unfolded. Design thinking is a structured learning process to solve a real-world problem, encourage creativity, and have a collaborative experience in the classroom. Adult pupils would have a more creative mindset if professors changed from memorization-based instruction to innovation-based curriculum.
In sub-teams focused on the subject areas of English language learning, science, digital literacy, and digital storytelling, the volunteers demonstrated recommended educational software and worked with the teachers in 50 hours of 1:1 sessions to build new lesson plans. The preparation paid off as at least 10 JWOC teachers tried out their new lessons on the tablets this week, using BrainPop and video interviews in their English classes, astronomy apps in their science class, and Scratch Jr to teach basic coding. The teachers all reported back that their students loved learning with the new technology, and asked for deeper dives in the second weekend of workshops.
The JWOC teachers weren’t the only ones hoping to integrate technology into their work. Another important element of the project was developing a more collaborative file management policy and an improved student information management system for JWOC staff to track the performance of their students over time and optimize enrollment in their free classes. With donated licenses from Airtable, the Team4Tech volunteers were able to configure a new system for JWOC that dramatically improves on data governance with data type control and references between data objects, mobility with native mobile apps, and security control to provide proper access. The new system successfully replaced six silo spreadsheets and paper forms, combining them into one cohesive data model with eight objects and 2,000 records.
After two weeks of hard work, one of the Box volunteers reflected: “We started a conversation, and they are going to finish it.” We left Siem Reap inspired by the perseverance of these Cambodian lifelong learners, and we are excited to continue witnessing what the JWOC teachers and staff can accomplish with their new technology and skills. They have an inspiring vision for creating expanded opportunities for their students, and we will be eagerly following their progress!