Enhancing teacher professional development programs through accessible mobile tools
Mr Jacob Korenblum
There is a problem that across developing-country education systems, even as pre- and in-service training programs are improved and professional development opportunities grow, teachers are often hindered by a lack of consistent support. Especially in rural locations, there are few good, long-term mechanisms to sustain the knowledge, skills and social networks built during face-to-face training. After the event is over, networking opportunities are often hindered by physical distance. As a result, teachers risk losing out on valuable long-term skill building and many remain isolated from the very peers who are best suited to help them succeed.
There is solution in basic mobile tools which have tremendous potential to strengthen teacher professional development, leveraging already-present handsets to boost access to support, but at low cost. In particular, these tools can increase peer-networking and mentoring and can help instructors better define and reach their professional goals. To advance these objectives, Souktel has developed its PeerNet and GoalTrack platforms.
The idea behind PeerNet is simple: First, groups of teachers join a themed chat group by sending a sign-up SMS. Once they’ve been approved for membership, they can send SMS questions or comments to the entire peer network for the cost of a regular text message (e.g. ‘Does anyone have good lesson plans for teaching basic literacy to older pupils?’). Anyone in the group can reply to all members or just to the member who posed the question. By promoting simple, low-cost communication among closed groups of peers, PeerNet creates a safe and effective way for teachers to share ideas, plan events or ask for mentoring advice. Expert mentors can also be added to PeerNet groups — acting as discussion moderators and providers of proven professional development guidance.
GoalTrack is an SMS-based platform to help teachers set and track classroom goals. At the start of the year, teachers are asked to submit personal objectives for the academic year via text message. Then, throughout the year, the Souktel platform periodically sends out follow-up SMS alerts, asking teachers to report on their progress. An alert might read as follows: ‘In Sep., you stated that your main goal was ‘ensure that all students attend class every day.’ How are you progressing toward this goal? Text a number from 0 to 5, where 5 = great progress, 0 = no progress.’ Based on responses, local partners —including providers of professional development — can then strategically target teacher support.
This presentation will share Souktel’s experience piloting these platforms in Africa and the Middle East —and serve as the basis for a wider discussion with practitioners, policymakers, researchers and prospective partners on how these innovative approaches might be expanded or adapted to other settings. Session participants will also be invited to give direct feedback on the tools, so that they can be further refined before wider roll-out. MLW participants will emerge from the session with a clear understanding of how these mobile tools can help strengthen teacher professional development efforts in various settings, and how the technology can be integrated into wider strategic planning.
Jacob Korenblum is CEO and co-founder of Souktel Mobile Innovations, the Middle East's first mobile platform that helps aid implementers get information to and from communities in need. Mr Korenblum holds an EdM in International Education Policy from Harvard University, where he also served as a Harvard Reynolds Fellow in Social Enterprise. Previously, Mr Korenblum has led impact evaluations of DFID (Department For International Development) IT & education projects in Asia and Africa for Oxfam Great Britain and directed the Monitoring and Evaluation unit of USAID’s Ruwwad youth training project in Palestine. Mr Korenblum’s recent speaking engagements include the 2013 MIT Legatum Conference and the 2013 Mobile World Congress; his work as a Souktel co-founder has been profiled by The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, PBS and The Guardian.