Archive for February 2010

35 Years of the TPLF

Over the last week, Mekelle has undergone a bit of a facelift, repainting, rubbish collected and flags put up, all in preparation for the celebration of 35 years of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF). The road near our house was never quite tarmaced in time, but no-one seems too bothered. Town has been full of federal police, with small celebrations and events happening each day this week.

But today is the big day, the fields behind the Hawelti monument are full of people, most of the town and thousands of people from Tigray and further afield have arrived for a day of speeches. People began arriving last night and stayed up overnight – a huge firework display at midnight then today there is due to be a speech from the Prime Minister.

I’ve been up there this morning already to see what was happening, there doesn’t seem to be any schedule and I’m not too keen on spending all day in the sun listening to political propaganda speeches in a language I don’t understand. Fortunately our house is close enough that I’ll hear if anything significant starts to happen and can then take walk up. I’ll update this posting if there much else to report during the rest of the day.

Clearing

45 signatures from each of the 30+ university departments, plus finance, stores, personnel from all campuses and all in triplicate. That’s all I need for the clearance procedure so I can officially leave the university. Despite still having another 5 weeks left, I’ve heard from others about how unbelievably time-consuming and bureaucratic the clearance procedure here is, so thought I should make start.

I managed to find a secretary who would go round and collect most of the signatures for me (for a small fee), so far I have 30, the remaining signatures needed are for finance, stores etc, so for these I need to sign my computer over to someone else, so I can prove that there isn’t any equipment still in my name and that I don’t owe any department any money.

It looks likely that this will take much of the next week or so to be complete and I’ll be extremely relieved when I finally have everything signed off and finished.

A weekend in Gheralta

Last weekend had my second stay at the Gheralta Lodge, about two hours north of Mekelle. Last time I went was way back in December 2008. Out of the 10 of us we had 9 nationalities, with only Martin and I being from the same country, the rest from India, Pakistan, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Ethiopia and US.

On the Saturday afternoon we played rounders, using the bat and ball which have been sat at the back of my wardrobe for the past 18 months. There wasn’t quite enough of us to make up 2 teams, so we ended up making a cross between rounders and cricket which seemed to work after a few ‘discussions’ about what the rules should be (and rule changes half way through the game).

On Sunday morning, some of us stayed around the lodge playing frisbee and reading, whilst the rest went to visit one of th nearby rock churches. Those who had gone to the churches ha a hard time with the local ‘guide’ and priest. The cost of visiting the churches here has gone up to 100 birr, per person per church, up form 50 birr last year and 20 a couple of years ago. On top of this there are now ‘official’ guides who will charge 150 birr, then another fee just for climbing the mountain (even if you don’t use a guide or go in a church), then a final (variable) fee to get the priest to unlock the church door. All these charges and arguments about how much should be paid always spoil any visit and don’t encourage you to visit again, or recommend particular places to others.

So in the end I was quite pleased I didn’t bother with the church visit – it was one I’d seen before anyway – but it was great to get away from Mekelle, even if it was just overnight.

(l-r) Claudia, Freweini, Mali, Sana and Bea

Experience sharing with Adama University

Adama University - eTeaching website

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go and visit Adama University – in Nazret, about 2 hours drive south of Addis. I went with a couple of staff from ECBP (Ethiopia Capacity Building Programme), as they have a similar learning programme to what we are trying to achieve in Mekelle.

Adama University is an interesting case in Ethiopia as it now has a German President and several other senior expatriate staff – such as the ICT Director. So they have implemented many changes which have yet to reach other Ethiopian Universities.

Their elearning programme seems to be going well, they have a team of 5 staff dedicated to uploading and developing the elearning materials – more information about their team can be found on the Adama University website. Although they have a very similar approach to the one we’re taking with the Digital Campus project, there are some crucial differences. Firstly, their team are uploading the materials for tutors, whereas we are supporting the tutors uploading their own materials (I have previously blogged about this). Some of their activities and assignments form part of the students final grades, as we are not including the whole course cohort in our program, we are unable to use summative assessment. Their better IT infrastructure and lab access allows them to offer the online courses to many more students.

One the other side, we have our system available off campus too, whereas at Adama their Moodle is (currently) only available through the local network. I’m still unsure that having a centralised team is the best way forward. I can understand it’s advantages, in quality control, consistency etc, but unsure that it will encourage teachers to feel they actually own the course and should be keeping content up to date, participating in discussions etc.

Their ICT infrastructure looks very well organised and they have common computer labs which are open 24/7 – this obviously gives them much more opportunity to push courses out to students and know that the students will get access. We’re trying to push the University here to having similar levels of access times for students, but I think it will be a while yet before Mekelle reaches 24/7 access to labs which have a large proportion of machines fully functioning.

Although it was a long way to go for half a days visit, it was well worthwhile for me to meet the team there and look at the different approaches they are taking.

Getting away

I feel I’ve been a little quiet on here recently, but that’s not because been being lazy. Quite the opposite in fact. The closer I get to my leaving date, the longer my to do list seems to grow. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll get chance to finish everything I’d like.

It’s only in the last week that I realised I’ve not left Mekelle now since the middle of December, when I had a very brief trip down to Addis for the VSO leavers workshop. But, I do now have a trip down to Adama University lined up for next week, a couple of hours drive south of Addis, so will be good to get away for a few days for a change of scenery, even though it’s still work related. The new intake of volunteers arrive this weekend, so whilst I’m in Addis, I’ll get chance to meet them all.

Progress with the Digital Campus project had been a little slow over the last few weeks, but things are now getting back on track. The next full week of training has been arranged for the second week of March, so just before I return to the UK. We’re also now getting many of the technical issues resolved with the servers, such as implementing an LDAP server to ease the user creation process. Later this week I’m running a Moodle admin training course for people in Computer Science and ICT, so at least staff will have an idea of how to maintain the server properly.

This week, I’ve started the Moodle Course Creator Certificate (MCCC), so I’ll be working on that over the next couple of months. Despite having used Moodle a lot in this job and whilst at the OU, most of this has been from a developer point of view, rather than a teacher. So will be good to learn more about how the various activity modules, which I’ve rarely used, really work. Just need to make sure that I can set aside enough time to devote to this.