Technology Assessment &Training for a Brazilian School

In the process of evaluating the educationaltechnology needs of teachers and students in K-12 private schools inRio de Janeiro, Brazil, the authors were asked to conduct atechnology assessment and two-day workshop for its teachers andadministrators. Internet resources as well as educational softwarepackages were evaluated for content, cultural adaptability,curricular compatibility and language suitability. This articledescribes the training provided and deals with the multiculturalconcerns and expectations identified as a result of thisintervention.

Technology assessments are often made morecomplicated by the existence of outdated software and hardware that aschool or district has previously purchased. In the case of "Colegioda Cidade," a collection of private pre-K to 12 schools in Rio deJaneiro, Brazil, assessing the current situation was made simplerbecause they owned almost no educational software. Fortunately theschool, under the enlightened and able leadership of Dr. Ronald G.Levinsohn, had made some recent and wise purchases of hardware sothat a networked teaching lab with CD-ROM capability and Internetaccess was available.

Structure of Inservice Workshop

The workshop was taught so that the Brazilianteachers could spend a majority of their time working individually orin pairs, reviewing either Internet resources or software designedfor classroom use. There were approximately 40 participants who hadthe use of 24 networked computers over the two-day period of theworkshop.

The opening presentation on using the Internet viaMicrosoft Explorer software was given with the benefit of an LCDscreen and overhead projector. After a general briefing that coveredbasic features of the software and searching on the Internet, theparticipants were given a list of educational Internet resources andallowed to work on their own.

The administration of Colegio da Cidade had made adecision to purchase all of their new software in English, because ofits ready availability and due to their desire to use it as areinforcement in the teaching of English.

The participants were not all fluent in English,which presented some language difficulties. These were alleviated bytwo Portuguese-English interpreters, one of whom gave a sequentialinterpretation of the opening presentation. While the teachers workedat the computer stations, the two interpreters were constantlycirculating through the lab to help as necessary. Languagedifficulties were also alleviated by teachers helping each other. Labtechnicians were on hand to solve any hardware or software problems,and some of them were also helpful as translators of on-screeninstructions and information.

After approximately an hour of Internetexploration, a short explanation told teachers about what softwarewas available for their review and how they could get access(different programs were loaded onto different PCs). Forms wereprovided for the teachers to record their thoughts and opinions oneach software package as they reviewed it. Although the forms'primary purpose was for each teacher's personal use, their input wassought after the workshop to help Colegio da Cidade make decisionsabout future software purchases.

For the remaining 4-5 hours of the workshop,teachers had a choice of reviewing more software or of working on theInternet. Teachers were positively thrilled to have the opportunityfor hands-on practice; a lecture format is much more common totraining in Brazil and is what they had expected toencounter.

The professor started the second day of theworkshop with additional information and tips about using theInternet, this time allowing the workshop's students to access the'Net and work along with her, rather than presenting first via LCDand projector. As on the first day, after an hour or so, teacherswere encouraged to make choices: continue with their Internetexploration or review educational software, with the option ofswitching at any time.

Hands-on Software Review

In deciding which software to purchase prior tothe workshop, various academic subject areas were first considered:language arts including ESL, mathematics, geography, history, and thehard sciences such as biology and physics. More than one program wasselected in each area to ensure that all grade levels wererepresented. For instance, math programs made available to workshopteachers included a basic skills package for primary grades, analgebra package aimed at middle school and a geometry package forgrades 7-12. Reference materials were also purchased, including bothan encyclopedia and an atlas CD- ROM.

The primary purpose of the software review was toenable the teachers to see and experience "what's out there." Whilecare was made in the selection process to purchase titles andpublishers with good reputations, there was no promise made that allthe software was especially good or that all educators would findeach package useful.

The workshop's opening presentation itselfstressed that different learning tools are useful in differentsituations, and that the learning styles of students, teaching styleof teachers and specific learning goals all play a vital role ineffectiveness. A software package or Internet resource that worksbeautifully with one particular group of students or for one teachermay work very poorly or not at all in another classroomsetting.

The hands-on nature of the workshop allowed theBrazilian teachers to evaluate the software and Internet resourcesfor themselves, and to judge on their own the efficacy of what theyreviewed. In this particular case, reactions were very positive, duein part to the fact that the resources and software were of goodeducational quality, but also due to the fact that much of thematerial was brand new to participants.

Readers of this article are likely to be aware ofhow the driving force behind software production these days islargely based on appeal -- materials must have bright colors andcatchy sounds in order to grab the attention of students and teachersalike. In some cases the "bells and whistles" get in the way of truepedagogy, but in most cases, the characters, colors, voices and soforth are an important vehicle for getting students tolearn.

As noted above, reactions of the teachers to boththe software and the Internet were extremely positive, but all wasnot perfect. A few software packages proved to be glorified cartoonswith darling characters and cute drawings, but no real informationwas transmitted. In other cases factual errors were found (theauthors contacted the publisher). The hands-on nature of thisworkshop allowed the teachers to get past the glitz (if any) andevaluate the true nature of the materials.

At the end of the workshop, all teachers whoattended were awarded a "Certificate of Completion" from theUniversity of Maryland. This university is very active in overseaseducation and had provided some guidance in the workshop'sorganization.

Continuing the Relationship

As with any multicultural teaching experience itis necessary to maintain flexibility and a great sense of humor. Inthe U.S., we are often spoiled by working with computer systems thatare well-maintained and software that is readily available. This isnot always the case in other countries.

Learning to adjust to local standards entails awillingness to accept the situation as it is -- pertaining to, amongother things, the hardware, the software electrical problems,learning styles and expectations. In this particular venue it wasalso necessary to reset our watches to "Cariocan" (Rio native) time,more of a humorous challenge than a real problem. The reality ofCariocan time was that class began up to an hour later than scheduledand the coffee breaks were rather lengthy. A welcome break forinstructors as well!

The rewards come from the realization that youhave provided a service that is immediately useful and wellappreciated. Rio teachers proved to be eager and willing students andwere more than happy to spend as much time as needed (and then some)to learn the required skills and complete the necessaryassignments.

It was also important that the Brazilian teachersand administration understood that this was not a one-time operation.While it was an excellent beginning, it is also necessary to maintainthe skills and sense of excitement. Therefore the University ofMaryland System has agreed to monitor and continue the professionaldevelopment of the faculty of Colegio da Cidade on a quarterly basis.The authors will return during the spring of 1997 to gauge theeffectiveness of the ongoing training and to assist in planning forsubsequent programs.

Cindy Emmans researched, planned andtaught the two-day workshop in Rio. This involved review andpurchasing software, choosing teaching strategies and creatingsupplemental materials. She teaches educational technology in thepre-service teacher education program at Central WashingtonUniversity. Emmans has worked overseas for 10 years and consults forschool districts in the U.S. and abroad regarding educationaltechnology. E-mail: [email protected]

William Byxbee has been involved withoverseas education at the graduate level for 20 years. He is incharge of all professional development opportunities overseas for theUniversity of Maryland System, and also consults for educational andbusiness organizations worldwide. Byxbee provided input regardingsoftware, supplied technical and language assistance, and awarded thecertificates on behalf of the university.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.