Web 2.0 at the top of the mountain

I had the opportunity this past weekend to visit a small town called Gorkha, about 6 bumpy, dusty, cliff-clinging hours outside of Kathmandu. It was my first time out of the Valley, and I was thrilled to breathe again and be in the mountains.

My mission was to teach a group of ACCESS teachers and students about technology. This was no easy task, considering most of the students have never used a computer and Internet access is extremely limited. In addition, these students are learning English, so their skills are emerging. It was a challenge, but a fun one, and in the end was enriching for all of us.

The teachers were amazing. They teach English classes to these students, college courses to other students, volunteer large amounts of time, and juggle various professional pursuits. They were well-equipped with computer skills and were willing and gracious learners. I helped them explore Google docs and they were sold immediately on its practical application. We exchanged ideas and I felt an immediate connection with them and an appreciation for all of their efforts. It is a real challenge to incorporate technology into learning when 1) you don’t have the technology and 2) you don’t have the Internet. Yet, they are trying and hoping to head in that direction soon.I took my aunt and uncle, who happened to be in town and who are retired professors. They were great sports to make the journey. Word spread fast, and before we knew what we had gotten ourselves into, we were the “distinguished guests” of a panel in front of a room full of teachers that had come from all over to hear them speak. Though we were slightly unprepared, a lively discussion ensued and participants asked great questions about the differences of Nepali and American education systems, curriculum, outreach, and teacher training. We were even presented with a “Token of Love.”I led a few sessions with the students, and I immediately realized I wasn’t prepared. Their English skills were more limited than I anticipated and few have ever used a computer. The quiz I prepared on Internet 101 was too hard. So, I went to plan B. I pulled out my iPhone-sized projector, pop-up speakers, and iPad, and showed them some multimedia on the wall. I introduced myself and hometown of St. George, Utah, through a Keynote presentation, and showed them an iMovie trailer of their counterparts in Kathmandu. We talked about the usefulness of technology, a little about netiquette, and I challenged them to learn all they could.

They are great students: eager, willing, and polite.

We gave them some practice with a camera and printed out some photos for them. They enjoyed that. The first class I observed was about neighborhoods, and I enjoyed their list of their neighbors on the board.

While it was all a wonderful experience and I made some great contacts and connections, I came home a bit troubled. I truly believe in using technology and its power to enhance and further educational experiences. Computers and the Internet are valuable tools, nearly indispensable. But for these students, it just seems so unattainable, so unreachable, so far away. I have to ask myself, will it even help them? Do they really need all of the fancy tools and applications that most of us rely on? I’m torn, knowing that the answer is both a resounding YES and a cautionary no. I’m content knowing that they are learning English, receiving an education, and are empowering themselves to really make a difference in their lives. In the end, that’s what really matters. The rest will come, in its own time.

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