Cooperation with Latin America

Ramón Garrote, subject teacher at the CLU, is part of a project that is financed through the EU’s Alfa III program for cooperation with Latin America. The University of Alcalá in Spain coordinates the project.

“The project came into being when Fernando Cajas, teacher at the San Carlos University in Guatemala, heard about the EU’s Alfa program, and wanted to find ways of improving engineering education at his school,” says Ramón Garrote. He contacted the University of Alcalá, which was already involved in cooperation with the University of Borås.

The project is about how European universities and university colleges can help develop teaching at schools across Latin America through knowledge transfer, with the help of ICT, Information and Communication Technology.

“We help them by showing them how we reach our goals in higher education. One of our starting points is that more education provides a higher quality of life, even if that isn’t always related to a bigger paycheck. Since we realized that we could contribute with our knowledge on computer based education, I and Fernando Seoane from the School of Engineering drafted an application.”

The project was given the name ‘Universidad Sociedad e Innovación, Mejora de la pertinencia de la educación en las engenierías de Latinoamérica’ (University, Society and Innovation, Improving the Relevance of Education in Engineering in Latin America), abbreviated USo+I. Schools in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Cuba, Nicaragua and Peru are part of the project. These are countries with big gaps in living standards, in education systems and in infrastructure.

Work was initiated with surveys and analyses of the reasons for adult students in various countries not to complete their studies. One reason was that they had a hard time getting to the university, sometimes due to shortcomings in local transportation.

If they could distance study more

“If those students could distance study more, and use a computer in their hometown, they would probably be more likely to complete their studies. Learning management systems are very good for distance education, but are also an educational tool that gives great flexibility and can be used to enhance work where students are active, group assignments, discussion and problem-based learning. In addition, a learning management system aids teachers who want to use the free teaching material that is available online, so called OERs, Open Educational Resources.”

In consultation with the Latin American universities, the decision to create teacher-specific courses about learning management system was made.

“The course set-up has to be adjusted to the conditions in each respective country,” says Ramón Garrote. “They differ a lot, and need to adjust teaching to meet their specific needs.”

Producing teaching material that was easily altered based on needs in the different countries was a challenge. A simple factor like access to the Internet differs a lot from country to country. In some countries access is plentiful, whereas others only have limited access.

USB stick

“I previously worked on a course that was specially designed for the developing world. That’s where I learned that when Internet access is very limited it doesn’t matter what bandwidth you have. Sometimes there is no Internet, and then you mustn’t be too dependent on it.”

That is why Ramón Garrote created a problem-based course where all the necessary course material was compiled on a USB stick. Each student received his or her own USB stick with a copy of all the material. The course exclusively uses open source software, such as Open Office, media players and the Moodle learning management system, which is free to use.

Since every program is run from the USB stick the course participants can use whichever computer they want, study the material, work with the software and then save their work on the stick. It is also important to have your own copy of Moodle, so that you can test different settings with full authorization, and not just log in as a user in a common system.

Instead of creating a compendium and using it as course literature, they use short videos that teach how the various tools in learning management systems work.

“We strive to make the course sustainable, ie giving the teachers that we train the ability to teach others, so that information is spread. The material is also to be used for self-studies. Then a compendium isn’t enough, more help is almost always needed.”

Instead of producing their own movies, they looked for movie sequences that were posted on YouTube. The fact that the movies had to be in Spanish was a limitation, but there turned out to be hundred of Spanish instructional videos for Moodle.

A lot of travels

Around 50 movies of good quality, covering all aspects, were chosen. These were compiled as instructional material and were added to the USB sticks. The creators of the movies were contacted, and all but two people (whose movies were removed) said they didn’t mind.

“Many of them thanked us for using their work to do good.”

As he now travels around to the schools across Latin America, Ramón Garrote carries with him USB sticks with the software and the instructional films. He gives an introduction of a couple of weeks to a group of university teachers at each school, and then the rest of the course is taught through distance education. After completing the course, the participants are expected to be able to teach their colleagues by using the same material. In addition, all course material is downloadable. The idea is to make it easily accessible to any and all who are interested.

Facts

The EU’s Alfa program is for those who work at universities, university colleges, companies or organizations in an EU member state, who want to develop cooperation with Latin America.

The program enables cooperation for projects that concern university administration and student and staff exchange.

All EU member states and 18 Latin American countries are part of the program.

More information is available here.

 

A group of teachers at the ISPJAE University in Havana sit quietly in a computer room.  The only sound in the air is silent music, a discretely clicking keyboard and a low-key conversation at a computer screen. This is the setting of a course in learning management systems, developed on site in Borås.

Ramón Garrote, subject teacher at CLU (Center for Learning and Teaching) at the University of Borås is in Havana to teach the use of learning management systems, a part of the USo+I project. The course participants are a group of teachers at the Biomedical School at the ISPJAE University. Most of them are wearing headsets and are working on the self-instructing course material, available on a USB stick.

The classes are given in a computer room at the school, and through the intranet to a few other working spaces. The curtains are drawn in order to block out the sunlight and avoid blinding the students at their computers. A soft breeze finds its way in through the open windows behind the curtains. Calm music is played on Ramón Garrote’s iPod, all to create a soothing learning atmosphere.

Benefits of the course

Angel Reguiero-Gómez heads the school and is one of the participants in the course. He takes a short break to talk about the benefits of the course.

“It is very important for us to be ready with technical skills, and it is very interesting to learn a new way of teaching,” he says. “In two or three years we will have a fully developed Internet and then we’ll be able to optimize our use of this technology from the onset.”

He sees a great advantage in that the material can be copied from a USB stick and that it is self-instructional, which means that it can benefit a lot of people.

ISPJAE is a technical university on the outskirts of Havana, the Cuban capital. It has around 12 000 students. Apart from that, there are about 2 000 weekend students, people who work during the week. “Sometimes it is hard to make do with only 900 instructors,” says Angel Reguiero-Gómez. “Maybe an investment in learning management systems can be useful and enable a higher degree of self-studies.”

“At this point in time 15 people are busy teaching learning management systems at our school,” he says. “Then they are expected to teach the other instructors at the school. All in all, at least a couple of hundred teachers at ISPJAE are taking the course, at our school and at other schools.”

One instructor in the automation, Carmen Busoch Morlán, sits in deep concentration with her headset at the desk behind Angel Regueiro-Gómez. She is watching one of the instructional films about Moodle, and learning how to enter various activities into the management system, activities such as conferences, questions for students and videos.

“This is very interesting, and seems thought through and good,” she says. “I didn’t know that learning management systems had so many different tools!”

We need this

Another course participant is Emiliano Alba. He is responsible for all bioengineer training in Cuba, and is now busy using Moodle to submit a course.

“This is something we are in dire need of,” he says. “The Cuban state provides education for everyone, and puts a lot of money into adult education, which is often carried out through distance education.”

Many of the adult students work during the weeks, and study during the weekends. Aided by learning management systems, the distance education would be developed and simplified, he thinks.

“Throughout the country we have around 10 000 adult students in the subjects I am responsible for. They study in 15 different cities, and get a degree after six years of studies. I think Moodle could be a good solution when it comes to developing teaching and making it easier for our students to participate. Using learning management systems, even more teaching can be done at a distance, so that the students don’t have to come in to the university every weekend.”

Ramón Garrote is in Havana, starting the course off during two intensive weeks. After that, it is carried on from a distance for three months, and then the course participants are expected to be ready to move on and teach their own colleagues.

“In order to spread the knowledge even further we will publish the course material online, so that anybody can access it,” he says. “It is free and very self instructing. We want it to come to use with as many people as possible, and think it is a good thing if it is spread.”

 

Footnote: ISPJAE stands for Instituto Superior Politécnico José Antonio Echeverría, Facultad de Ingeniería Eléctrica. It is referred to as Cujae, (Ciudad Universitaria de José Antonio Echeverría), which is actually the entire university area, and not just the academic institution.