A Visual Study of a Remote Mountain Community: An E-Learning Resource

A Visual Study of a Remote Mountain Community: An E-Learning Resource

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Evidence of research into e-learning and the development of skills to produce a teaching resource for primary age children using a power point presentation: A visual study of a remote mountain community.

Author: Stella Cattini-Muller 

Publication Date: 2005 

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Introduction: e-learning

The world of e-learning for both adults and children, has been, until recently, a relatively new concept for me personally. I left mainstream teaching at a point when basic ICT skills were being taught mainly for the purpose of improving writing skills and accessing number games. The more accessible use of Internet facilities has since broadened horizons extensively and independent research by pupils is an accepted part of their deeper learning processes. (Thurlow et al. 2004:11). Working in special education has given me insight into the technical aids available now for children with physical problems and also for accessing specific materials to support language and communication needs (such as Picture Exchange Communication Symbols). However, the major motivator for attempting to design a power point presentation has been the experiential learning process of the e-facilitation course. As a novice, I have been inspired by the expertise and practice of ICT among colleagues in the study group and practically, have gained the confidence to extend my skills and access the necessary software to present pictures and text in order to achieve this objective.

Background to the Study: Linking Areas of Interest

This study brings together some strands of my post-mainstream teaching life and my present, rather varied educational interests. One aspect of my recent work has been to raise funds for a learning project I initiated in 1998 on a second trip to the remote area of the mountains of NE Nigeria. I developed a conventional slide show and informal talk which I adapted to a variety of audiences, including family, friends, colleagues and senior citizens. An exciting development was to be invited to use the information in a more educational context supported by artefacts and follow up work with primary and secondary pupils. The workshops were adapted to support a curriculum area, theme or topic, such as ‘Contrasting environments’ and ‘Creative arts in other cultures’. It was at this stage where I regretted not having a resource other than pictures, quizzes and teaching notes to leave behind. I have been nurturing the idea of creating computer based support materials and this piece of work marks the beginning of this process! Not only would I then have a resource to offer as a follow up to personal school work but if the material could eventually be attached to a website, it would be accessible to a much wider audience for anyone interested in comparative cultures, crafts and education.

Objectives: Promoting Awareness and Sharing Knowledge

The aim of this study, therefore, is to use computer technology to bring the essence of life in a remote mountain community to the inner city classroom in the form of text and images, thereby promoting awareness and knowledge which would not otherwise be accessible to children. The study focuses on a group of people living in Dzga (tsiga) valley called the Dghwede(Dwede). (There is an academic ethnographic website about the history and traditions of the many montagnard [mountain farmers] groups inhabiting the hillside slopes of the Gwoza Hills, which form part of Mandara Mountains bordering North East Nigeria and Northern Cameroon. There is a short link which gives a brief summary about the development of the Dzga Learning Support – www.mandaras.info -click-information to share.)

I am aware that, in sharing some of the information I have acquired from my social contact with the Dghwede people of Dzga, there are issues to consider. The first is the ethical issue of publishing photo images of people for a wider audience. I have been given permission by the community to use visual images to promote awareness and raise funds to support the children in their learning. There is an on-going commitment among most members of the community to some form of basic primary education.

The second issue centres on how filtered down information needs to be in order to be presented in a way that does not overload. This may effect a rather simplistic view of life in the hills and cannot totally express in detail the complexities of change, ecological, economic, religious and political which impact on the lives of the people there. I have touched very briefly upon some areas of change but intend to address these issues further in the future appendixed teacher notes and discussion ideas.

Method: the Stages of Constructing the Presentation

In this section I will outline the practical stages of research and learning needed to achieve my objective. My biggest challenge was starting from a point of very little technical knowledge and therefore needing to work towards more familiarity with the methods until I reached a level of greater competence and independence. I list here the gradual development of my learning experience.

  • assessing areas of interest to be developed from experience of previous talks, workshops and slideshows, re-reading information sheets and teaching ideas previously structured
  • selecting photos and slides and collating them into interest areas such as geographical features, seasons, architecture, crafts, farming, children, education etc.
  • developing the technical skills for the scanning process, with Adobe Photoshop 6
  • scanning, cropping, resizing and saving
  • printing out draft copies of picture
  • sequencing the selected pictures
  • making a paper draft booklet with text added
  • refining this process twice ( from this process the idea of presenting from the perspective of the children in the community evolved)
  • presented with the challenge of appropriate language use to simplify and be explicit, assuming no prior knowledge (this contrasts with face to face talks where there is space to stop, intervene, elaborate and adapt to the audience and questions asked)
  • explored Power Point Presentation 2000 on Internet
  • received several face to face tutorials and acquired skills in following stages:
  • explored options – choice of background colour, layout, sizing of text, recropping, effects etc.
  • assembled individual frames with text and images, effects
  • editorial process of adapting to target group
  • addition of music/singing and sound for words difficult to pronounce using Cool Edit 2000

Enquiry: Anticipating Questions

The next stage of my work will be to construct an additional feature to this presentation by predicting the sorts of questions children may pose as they browse through the slides. The visual impact of images portraying a lifestyle so diverse from their own (or, for some, it may bring to mind a comparison with a rural environment they have left behind, as happened when I showed my slides to a group of Bangladeshi children) provokes enquiry and stimulates the imagination. Each slide will be accompanied by short optional notes and expansion of original text to extend both information and language and may act as a spark for further investigation or discussion. I will structure the notes to encourage this process.

A further stage would be extended follow-up ideas for teachers of the primary age range (and possibly secondary) who might need more information to spark off a project or fulfil a learning objective would include pointers to cross-curricular links such as comparisons with other cultures, past and present. Iron Age architecture, for example, is very alike in structure and design to the houses in the Gwoza Hills and, similarly, the pottery making process. The pottery process in itself is a good resource to use for art, as too are the traditional crafts and the use of raw materials that might stimulate work around recycling and ecological issues. For historical and political discussion with older children there are links to colonialism, slavery, independence, population growth, poverty, economic changes and market economy. The concepts of terraced farming and crop rotation for better crop growth create links to the importance of water in the Third World countries and to the importance place in holds in religious rituals, along with fertility. Droughts, flooding, deforestation and desertification are environmental issues that might be explored at a higher level. Finally there is the question of education and the lack of it in under-developed countries. This might be expanded upon and developed at a later stage of my work.

Future Goals: Ideas and Design Features to Develop

Future goals would involve acquisition of more advanced skills and advice from colleagues in how to develop slide shows and links to websites. A long term goal has been to create a presentation about the gradual development of primary education in Dzga valley from an informal group learning under a tree to a heavily populated school building and to discuss all the issues involved in that process. I also have produced a stage by stage booklet on the pottery making process, called ‘Lakwa’s Pots’, (www.mandaras.info) which I would like to transform into a more detailed slide show.


The evaluation of this project has two strands. The first is the personal e-learning stages mastered to achieve the presentation as it now stands and which I have described through the practical process. The second aspect will initially be through viewing and discussion with members of the group to receive feedback and suggestions on its quality as a teaching resource, and later with teaching colleagues and children in schools. I hope to consult those with secondary school teaching experience in the group about the ideas floated above and to possibly pinpoint specific curriculum areas and programmes of study which may have a related link. I would like to add that throughout our studies we have been sharing information and building on our shared knowledge base. Our projects have diversified our learning even more as we have worked independently but at the same time still having access to each others’ progress at this final stage.

Just as I would never have known a community like Dzga existed if I had not clambered in the heat over boulders to get up there and see it with my own eyes, neither would I ever have believed at the start of this course that I would have succeeded in accessing and developing the skills to visually transport an audience to such an otherwise inaccessible place!


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References & Contacts

Salmon,G., (2002) e-tivities: the key to active online learning. London: Kogan Page

Salmon, G., (2003) e-moderating: the key to teaching &learning online. London: RoutledgeFalmer

Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., Tomic, A., (2004) Computer Mediated Communication : Social Interaction and the Internet. London: Sage

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