Thursday, April 28, 2016

JWOC & Monkey Junior: Utilizing Technology in the Classroom!

In the wake of our recent project with volunteers from Box as arranged by Team4Tech, the JWOC teachers have been making the most of the new tools and resources available to them, such as the learn-to-read program Monkey Junior created by a company named Early Start. Equipped with a new repertoire of tablet-based apps they are now able to deliver much more engaging lessons for the students attending our Free Classes at JWOC. These students generally come from households which are unlikely to have any computers or smart phones in their possession. Providing them with the opportunity to develop not just their language learning skills but also their kinesthetic capabilities and collaborative abilities.

Teachers Kimchhay and Dany have been especially active in using Monkey Junior with their younger students. As well as reinforcing the students understanding of key vocabulary it also allows students to hear words pronounced correctly by native speakers. Speaking to Kimchhay after his class he was especially enthusiastic about the way in which the app brings together vocabulary flashcards and pronunciation with sentence construction and developing phonetic awareness.

Dany used the wireless connection to the projector to demonstrate to the students how to work their way through each stage of the course and then distributed tablets among the students so as they could work in pairs to complete two levels of the colors section. She explained that after playing with the app herself for a while it was easy for her to identify which level would be suitable for her class. She also explained that she preferred it to several other apps we have piloted as its user interface makes it easy for students to learn independently, allowing her to spend more time with those students in need of extra support.

The smooth integration of educational apps into existing educational environments is never a straightforward process but with Monkey Junior we are happy to report that teachers and students alike have integrated it into their classes within days of discovering it. While such apps can never replace our invaluable teachers they can be great resources for supplementing and building on what students already know so we certainly hope to be able to make full use of the range of courses in apps such as Monkey Junior over the next few months.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Meet Narla Phay - JWOC's First Scholarship Graduate

Can you please introduce yourself?
Jum Reap Suor. My name is Narla Phay, I am 32 years old and I was the first scholarship student to graduate from JWOC’s Scholarship program.
What was your life like before you got JWOC Scholarship?
Well, I moved to Siem Reap 13 years ago to continue my education and degree at university. For the first two years my parents paid for my school tuition, but at the end of the second year they ran out of money which threatened my place, I was ready to drop out. 'My parents had borrowed money from their neighbors at 120% interest rate to pay for my education, in the countryside you have no choice'; we were struggling to repay! Looking back, I was very lucky as I was such an awful farmer, my parents saw no potential for me helping in the rice fields! However, my family earned a really small amount of money so if you send one kid to college then the other family members will have no education or medical care – they really sacrificed a lot for me!

How did you get your JWOC Scholarship?
At the time, I was working for the tourist police in the Siem Reap to help cover my everyday expenses and one day JWOC co-founder Brandon Ross came to my office as one of his guests needed a police report to claim a new airline ticket. We got talking and I told him about my situation and how I was struggling, so we exchanged numbers, and then two weeks later I came to interview for a job at Journeys Within Boutique and for the first class of scholarship students! I started my new job at the hotel front desk on April 20, 2006.

Can you describe what it was like when you first started at JWOC?
At the beginning it was just the three of us (Managing Director, John Walsh; Narla and Brandon Ross) working together on the projects, it was tough! At that time I was attending school and as JWOC was only a few months old at the time the projects were just being set up and we were learning the community’s needs.
My first volunteering project was the Clean Water program (the original JWOC project), but I soon became involved in the Microfinance program as one of the co-founders, working with Brandon Ross we were one of the first organisations in Siem Reap to offer loans to poorer people. We didn’t have our own office or the Community Center at that time either so we had to share an office with the tour company inside the hotel.
The first JWOC Scholarship Students; Narla is second on the left
What was it like volunteering for the Microfinance project?
We gave out small loans to borrowers that wanted to create a business or expand their current one. At the beginning we would go out and interview future borrowers in the local village near JWOC to find out what they would do with the money, how the business would work and discuss the risks involved. This was all new to me and Brandon, but we’d spoken to the community and they had told us that this is what they needed to help them and their families. Every Friday I was in charge of going out to collect the loans, everyone always paid back on time!
Narla collecting loans for the Microfinance program
What is your most significant memory whilst being a Scholarship student?
Narla with a newly installed well and family
I remember one woman, she had HIV, she had three children and her husband had died; she sold drinks on the street and never expected anyone to give her a loan – in Cambodia if you don’t have any collateral then you won’t get anything. But I remember her crying when we decided to give her a loan and 'it was that opportunity that totally changed her life. It made the volunteering all worth it – knowing you were really helping your community.'

What has your life been like after graduating from JWOC?
JWOC’s Scholarship program has totally changed my life; I was about to drop out of school and my parents were in a lot of debt. After graduating I now work full time with Journeys Within Tour Company as Tour Concierge and Customer Service Director after being promoted. I was also able to repay my mum’s loans that helped to pay for my early education and then help my brother move from my hometown to Siem Reap. On top of this I’ve managed to now save to buy a piece of land and to have my own car – all of this because of the opportunities given to me by JWOC.

What's your connection with JWOC today?
Narla attends JWOC's 10th Anniversary Party
Even after I graduated I still want to be a part of it all so I am now on the JWOC board as an ‘in-country’ advisor. I work closely with staff in Cambodia as well as the board in the states to make sure that decisions made will benefit the local community. I now use my position within the tour company to tell people about my story and introduce them to JWOC. It’s my hope that through this story guests will see the impact that JWOC has had on my community and want to support others that were in my position. I also use my position to help inspire other young Cambodians to fulfill their potential, as Brandon and Andrea allowed me to.

I would like to say thank you to JWOC and its supporters for giving me the opportunity, which means so much to me – without JWOC I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you. I would most likely be working in a rice field in my home province without an education and the knowledge to pass down to my children and their children. I think I will have a bright future; in fact, I know I will. Thank you!

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Advancing Educational Opportunities in Cambodia - Team4Tech Returns to Siem Reap with Box, Mobile Tech & Collaborative Spirit

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!


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