In line with the two stage strategy formulated by Lunde and Tollefsen, a central activity throughout the development project was to teach the teachers. At the start of the project it was necessary to clarify several important issues:
Should the introductory training of future ICT teachers in Bhutan take place in Norway, or should all the training be carried out in Bhutan?
A deciding factor was that assistive computer technology and the necessary infrastructure were very much lacking in the home country at this time. At the Institute in Khaling there was just one computer in the office and no Internet. Several members of the resource group had little or no previous knowledge of basic concepts of computers, and most knew nothing of assistive technologies and how a visually impaired person uses these to manage a computer. During their initial training they would need to very quickly achieve a high level of computer skills and a good working knowledge of assistive technologies, if they were later to succeed in passing on these skills to others. An introductory training course at MediaLT in Oslo, with all the necessary technology and resources close at hand, was considered the best solution to successfully achieve the first main goal in the project.
What should be the basis for the main content of this ICT training?
The ICDL (International Computer Driving Licence) is the most widely recognized vendor independent standard for computer skills. MediaLT had previously established an ICT training programme for visually impaired in Norway, and found had that it was possible for visually impaired students to achieve standard ICT certification. ICDL certification with the help of assistive technology was therefore chosen as the basis for the Bhutanese training program.
Teaching materials were provided at the start of the introductory training and included alternative techniques for visually impaired users. Exercises and practice tests were also developed by MediaLT prior to the start of the training. This material was in electronic html format, a Braille / print alternative was not provided. This meant that the resource group had to master basic computer skills by the end of the first month of training.
How should necessary follow-up training in Bhutan be organized?
The transfer of competence to the resource group was planned to take two years, first six months in Norway and thereafter during an eighteen month period in Bhutan. When the computer centre had been set up at NIVI and a satisfactory Internet connection established, then follow-up teaching for the resource group could also be facilitated by distance learning (online teaching) from MediaLT's offices in Oslo.
During the first phase of the project the resource group numbered five, three blind /severely visually impaired men and two sighted women. The group included the project initiator himself, Kuenga Chhoeygel, and two other teaching staff from NIVI, Tshering Lhamo (sighted) who was then Vice-Principal and Kelzang Dorji (severely visually impaired). Leki Zangmo (sighted) was working with visually impaired students at the secondary school in Khaling. The fifth member of the group, Pema Chhoegyel who is blind, previously worked as an English teacher at the Drukgyel Higher Secondary School in Paro in Western Bhutan.
Before their initial training course in Norway the members of the group had different levels of computer skills . Pema and Kelzang (blind / severely visually impaired) had no previous experience of using a computer at all. The two sighted ladies, Tshering and Leki, were both familiar with a laptop. Leki had completed ICT education in Bhutan and had the highest level of computer knowledge in the group. Neither she nor Tshering had any previous experience of using a screen reader. Only Kuenga was familiar with computer assistive technology.
They also had different backgrounds and personal skills . Kuenga continued his role as initiator eagerly pushing ahead to achieve the skills they would require to set up their own ICT training program at the Institute. Tshering was the natural leader of the group, well informed with a comprehensive overview of the group's activities and always encouraging the others. Pema's academic skills were soon put to good use in systemizing their new knowledge and understanding how this might best be used in their daily work. Kelzang was the creative member of the group. Throughout the initial training period Leki's previous experience was an invaluable support for the rest of the group.
On April 19th, 2007 the five members of the resource group arrived in Norway. MediaLT were very pleased to welcome their new colleagues to Oslo.
Right from the start, ICT classes for the five teachers were held on a daily basis at MediaLT's offices. One day a week was set aside for excursions to centres of expertise for the disabled, visits to suppliers of assistive technology and other places of interest.
There was much that was new to the resource group during their first weeks at MediaLT. But this was no hinder in getting to know each one individually. They were positive and enthusiastic, easy to talk to, and very motivated to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. The main challenge during the early days was to channel all this positive enthusiasm into an orderly classroom situation where the particular needs of each member could be addressed. It was impossible not to be infected by their evident enjoyment in learning new skills, and their determination to master whatever difficulty presented itself, a near perfect setting for their teacher.
Cathy Kalvenes, who had the main responsibility for their day to day teaching, remembers this time as challenging but also very rewarding:
" I soon discovered that I had group of highly motivated students with clear expectations of what they expected to achieve. Language and communication was not a problem, even at the beginning, provided that the students adhered to the rule that English was the main classroom language. It was perhaps an advantage that English is my native language."
Although Cathy took main responsibility for the teaching, all the staff at MediaLT were involved during the introductory training period. There was a lot of ground to be covered, a steep hill to climb, and not too much time in which to do it. The resources of the entire MediaLT staff were close at hand and this also meant that technical problems were solved quickly and teaching was not interrupted for long periods of time.
The first week was dedicated to setting up a laptop for each teacher and installing screen reading software (Jaws): the two sighted ladies also installed a screen reader. All the installation procedures were demonstrated individually. Kuenga and Pema who were familiar with reading Braille, were in addition provided with a Braille display. Although Kelzang was now severely visually impaired he was not so familiar with Braille. Each teacher learnt how to manage his/her own laptop during the training period in Norway and took the laptop back to Bhutan as the property of the computer centre, designated for his/her own personal use during the project.
The basic concepts of how to manage a computer using a screen reader were taught in a classroom situation. Quite naturally both the laptop and especially the screen reader were still strange to all the group excepting Kuenga. It took a lot of time and concentration during the initial weeks to become familiar with synthetic speech. Frustrations were many and progress was slow at first. Module 1 of the ICDL (basic concepts of IT) was introduced. At the same time they learned word processing functions and screen reading functionality. Pema and Kelzang who had no previous computer experience were in a particularly demanding situation. Extra one-to-one tuition was often necessary. It was however already noticeable that the group were working well together as a team. Those with previous computer experience used a lot of time after classes to help their less experienced colleagues. Cathy was impressed by their positive approach:
"At the end of some of these early sessions they probably never wanted to see a computer again. However, they didn't leave it behind in the classroom, but took it home to their apartment every evening and practised, and practised some more until they had achieved all the day’s tasks. And there was no disgruntled complaining the next day, rather good humour in abundance and a determination to press on."
Computer settings and file management (module 2) were among the next topics, all the time putting new knowledge into practice. E-mail was also introduced at this stage. Self study and a lot of practical training after classes gave results. By the end of module 2 they were ready to learn more about screen reader functionality, other assistive technology such as screen magnifiers (Magic), scanning and Braille printing. Training in the use of Internet and how to surf on the web using a screen reader was particularly important. This is a challenging topic for severely visually impaired users and extra time was allowed to learn different strategies for reading web pages. Web accessibility issues were also discussed.
With the introduction of Internet, new communication channels were opening up for the resource group. Via the Internet service Skype they were already sharing some of their newly acquired knowledge, and were able to help a blind Bhutanese friend who was training to be a physiotherapist in Canada.
The ICDL modules for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access were then completed and at the end of five months all the members of the resource group had successfully achieved the ICDL qualification. The final weeks were devoted to web design skills which would later be useful for setting up a home page for the Institute. DAISY (production of audio books) was also covered.
On 11th October the resource group were each presented with their ICDL diploma by Bernt Nilsen, Director of the Norwegian ECDL foundation, . They were the first teachers in Bhutan to pass all seven modules of the ICDL. They were also presented with a diploma for the course in SharePoint designer (editing web pages), and for assistive technology software installation, customization and configuration.
In his closing speech at the presentation ceremony. Kuenga talked about the experiences of the resource group in Norway and the message they would be taking home with them to Bhutan:
"Never did we realize that a small Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between two great giants is loved by the heavenly country of Norway situated thousands and thousands of miles away. The difference of the colour of the skin, or the height of the people, the richness, does not seem to matter. I pray that may the strong bond that exists between the people of Norway and Bhutan last for ever. We have no present to offer you all, or to leave behind that we have been here. But we are taking back knowledge we learnt, a mountain of love and affection from you, the everlasting sweet memories of our stay here. ...If you do not know the meaning of kindness, go to Norway. If you do not know what we mean by warm hospitality, go to Norway. If you do not know the meaning of friendship, trust, honesty and devotion, go to Norway. If you wish to learn the civic sense, live and learn from the people of Norway. If you wish to improve your leadership quality, teaching profession or patience, go to MediaLT."
The success of the initial training course in Norway had created a solid foundation for future co-operation.
The resource group would require further follow-up training on their return to Bhutan. The project had budgeted for several journeys to Khaling but MediaLT had also to be prepared to support them throughout the early years of the new computer centre. Communication by e-mail and conversations over Skype solved many problems. Online teaching sessions in MediaLT's conference room enabled the group to keep up to date with on going developments in standard software (from Office 2003 to Office 2007) and newer versions of the assistive technology software. Online classes, combined with teaching materials in html format which were also published on the MediaLT web site, and e-mail correspondence to follow up questions after classes, proved to be an effective method of distance learning. The sometimes limited Internet capacity at the new computer centre in Khaling (not enough for a Skype conference with several users) was not a limitation in the MediaLT conference room which requires less capacity. The fluctuating power supply was most often the reason for classes being postponed, but all the online teaching courses were completed within the agreed time schedules.