U.S. Embassy in the Philippines holds its first web chat

In an unprecedented move by an embassy to connect with Filipinos and answer some burning questions, the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines is hosting a web chat right now (Feb. 23, 2011) as I am typing this post out. The first topic: U.S. Non-Immigrant Visas.

The hour-long web chat (from 4pm to 5pm) was well-announced. First, a Facebook event page was created. Then I heard the announcement of the web chat several times since yesterday over Crossover 105.1 FM. And a friend told me it was also announced over DZRH when a consular representative guested.

The chat room has about 117 participants as of this writing which includes people from the U.S. Embassy who are answering the questions posted on the chat room. To log on, go to this page.

The questions range from general questions — like what documents are needed to apply for an immigrant visa, why certain people were denied, how long before a schedule can be given — to specific family situations like an entire family wanting to apply for visas to attend a wedding.

I believe that this move not only brings the U.S. Embassy (and its government) closer to the Filipinos but attempts to address issues that are close to the Pinoys’ hearts. The issue of non-immigrant visas was a good choice, considering summer is very near, and many are planning vacations.

There were a few technical difficulties at the start of the web chat but I believe those are just birth pains. I hope that this marks the start of more technology-based communications with the Filipino people on matters that are of importance to both countries.

I’d like to congratulate the U.S. Embassy in Manila as well as the entire team behind it. More power to you!

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Educating and Parenting the Net and Next Generation

Yesterday, I attended the annual parent orientation at Xavier School. Unlike past years, there was something different about this year, I realized. I would be attending activities in this school for only one boy (my other boy already graduated high school and is facing a new life as a college freshie).

Ever since Fr. Johnny Go, S.J. took over the helm as School Director, I have seen vast improvements in terms of facilities, quality of faculty, curriculum, use of technology in academe and so many other aspects.  In a previous post, I described how the school turned virtual during Typhoon Ondoy when school was suspended for 10 days. While many schools lost school days, Xavier students continued to study and do assigned homework via the net.

At the orientation, I eagerly awaited Fr. Johnny’s presentation to the parents. His part is always something I look forward to. After all, when the School Director blogs, uses multimedia in his presentations, has a Facebook account and maintains his own YouTube channel, you can be sure his talk would be a very interesting one. I was not disappointed.

Fr. Johnny talked about how important it is for schools (and parents) to learn how to educate and parent this generation of tech-savvy kids.

He described the TV Generation I belong to (the age when baby boomers first encountered a television set and whose free time was spent in front of the boob tube watching episodes of popular shows). He also described the next younger set called Generation X (that age group between mid 30s to mid 40s that were schooled in classrooms where passive learning was the norm: teacher lectures and student “vomits back” what he absorbed during exams).

He next described the 2 generations that students belong to now: The Net Generation (kids from 13 yrs old and up) and the Next Generation (those below 12 years old). These two generations have absolutely no fear for technology; in fact they embrace it wholeheartedly. But with such wide access to information at the tips of their fingertips, schools face a new challenge in teaching them, something that Xavier is moving briskly into. Unlike the generations of parents where  a student WAITS for content before ASSIMILATING it, learning for 21st century kids must entail what Fr. Johnny calls the 5 “-ate’s”:

* LOCATE content (e.g., how to use search engines to find information)

* INTERROGATE the results (learning not to just accept search results as truth but to interrogate which is true, half-true, or false)

* CREATE and COMMUNICATE content

* COLLABORATE with others

At the same time, kids must learn 3 things that go along with ease of technology access and information:

Continue reading

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Bridge the Generation Gap by Making Lolo/Lola Tech Savvy!

Kids now are so techy savvy that their whole life revolves around computers and the internet. My own kids would rather be online than watch TV these days. And when school’s out, like today — the last day of exams, they are with friends at the nearest internet cafe to play games. Their interests and lingo have become worlds apart from those who have remained in the era before the advent of computers.

I am one of the lucky parents who have kept pace with our children in terms of technology use. But when I go to visit my Mom who is in her 80s, I still see a person who does not know how to use a mobile phone, writes letters by hand and sends them via snail mail, and does most of her written activities with a pen and paper still. She prefers it that way but it also saddens me since there is not much common interest to keep conversations going between her and my kids for long. After a while, my kids drift off to their own conversations while Mom ends up conversing with us, her children.

Then, just the other day, I got the surprise of my life when Mom’s decades-long American penpal added me up on Facebook. It really made me think that if only my Mom (who is now widowed) became comfortable using a computer, how much more meaningful her life could be if she had direct contact with all her friends and relatives instead of being limited to snail mail.

In the book “The Five Things You Must Discover Before You Die”, author John Izzo wrote about cultures that have lost this connection between the young and the old. This can be observed mostly in cultures with very advanced technology. Tribes and clans, where the senior citizens continue to play a large role in leading and are looked up to, are few and seem to be a dying tradition. And yet, Izzo discovered that in talking with the seniors to gather data for this book, there was a richness to the wisdom and life experiences of the seniors that the youth would truly benefit from. Likewise, seniors seem to gain back some of their youthfulness and vitality when engaged with the very young generation.

MUSIC was the generation gap of my youth. My parents could not understand the “noise” that my friends and I would often love to listen to or dance to at discos. In the generation of our children, the generation gap is TECHNOLOGY.

How do we get the very young communicating again with their much older family members?

Bayan Telecommunications conducted an informal poll via Plurk and Facebook (2 social networking sites), which revealed that, given the chance, 87% of young people want to continue communicating with their grandparents (lolos and lolas). This same poll revealed that 81% of Filipinos are still close to their grandparents and 57% still visit from time to time. And yet, ironically, the Internet Age is also responsible for further widening the generational gap between a younger set that is used to the internet as a communications and research tool and an older generation that does not know where to begin and is in danger of being left behind.

This realization became the foundation for Bayan’s newest advocacy, Teach Lola – an initiative to bridge the communication gap between the younger and older generation.

This advocacy rides on the initial resounding success of Lola Techie, who has been seen in tarps all over the metro besides TV ads. Lola Techie aims to show that senior citizens are just as capable of enjoying the benefits of the internet just as the generations after them.

Lola Techie

“Project Lola endeavors to teach the older set about the computer and the internet. It offers training on such diverse topics as how to operate a computer, where to find the appropriate icons to click, how to write and manage e-mail, how to go about instant messaging, and how to navigate the intricate world of social networking sites,” Tunde Fafunwa, Chief Executive Officer of Bayan Telecommunications, shares.

The program has 2 components:

1. Teach Lola trainers;

2. An official website (www.teachlola.com) where anyone can download manuals for free.

For the first wave, Bayan employees’ grandparents were the first targets. 20 trainers from all departments in Bayan were taught by teaching partner, Learn.ph, to educate the targetted grandparents as well as spearhead events that will aim to bring more apos together with their lolos and lolas.

Aside from recruiting more people to become Teach Lola trainers, Bayan is enabling other people as well to participate through a do-it-yourself process. An online manual is available at the official website which anyone can download. Anyone can likewise update the Teach Lola modules, akin to how user-generated updates are done in Wikipedia. This means that more people nationwide and globally can get involved in this initiative.

IMG_8885-medres

It is really not far-fetched that lolos and lolas will eventually latch on to the internet.

Lola Techie’s presence on Plurk, Facebook, Twitter, Multiply and YouTube gives us a glimpse of what could be. And guess what! A large majority of her followers are my kids’ generation! Just 2 months into the launch of Lola Techie, she already had over 90,000 Facebook fans, more than 4,000 Multiply contacts, and almost 2,000 followers in both Twitter and Plurk. This does not include hundreds of thousands of views of her videos on YouTube. And Lola Techie interacts with all her contacts on these sites. Imagine what it would be like for your children and their grandparents — sitting together in front of a computer, interacting and playing or chatting! How wonderful that would be to behold.

I am personally very happy that such an advocacy is being launched. I hope we can really get many of the youth involved to bring what comes naturally to them to their grandparents, for whom this can sometimes be a very intimidating obstacle.

One last thing. Here’s a teaser for the Teach Lola program.What a world it would be to see our seniors become tech savvy…

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Apple’s App Store Turns 1

Today, July 14, Apple’s App Store celebrates its 1st anniversary.

I am the happy owner of an iPod Touch and before I had this gadget, life was pretty fragmented. I kept some contacts on my phone, calendars & music on a PDA, notes stuck here and there on post-it notes and paper notebooks as well.

But my life has become that much easier with this one gadget. I easily sync calendars and contacts on my phone. I have notes, my music and videos in one place.  I surf the  web on a Safari browser. But what is truly a winner is the App Store!

According to the Gadget Lab, the first billion downloads took 9 months. But half that number has already been downloaded in the last 3 months (a sign that downloads are spiking pretty fast).

The App Store (short for Application or even Apple — pretty ingenious titling, if I may say so) now has over 65,000 applications with more being released every day covering anything you can ever think of that can be shrunk into manageable file sizes. Some apps are free; others are offered at fairly reasonable prices.

When you open up the App Store, you find it covers several categories ranging from Games to Productivity Tools and Utilities to Education, Finance, Medical, Travel, etc. I have spent hours checking out new apps or apps recommended by friends and downloaded so many already (including games my kids love to play). I now have 9 pages worth of apps.

Here are some of my favorites and why (and, they’re mostly FREE!!!!):

1. Flashlight – this is a toe-saver, if you get up in the middle of the night to pee or drink water. With my ipod beside me, all I need to do is activate this app and it beams a small light (you can even choose the color) good enough for you not to stumble in the dark. This is what I also bring to the movies to help us find our way around.

2. Facebook, Plurk, Skype, Twitter, Y! Messenger – yes, my social networking sites are on this gadget as well as variations of Twitter (Twitterfon, TweetDeck).

3. Dictionary – at a blogger party once, when the young ones got into an exciting game of Scrabble, I ended up being the moderator using this app to check if certain words indeed existed. This app comes with a Thesaurus feature as well as the Word of the Day.

4. Holy Bible – This is truly a weight saver as far as I am concerned, especially when I attend Christian gatherings where the Bible is needed. I can quickly get to the chapter or verse I want, and even choose the bible version among those available. If you plan to download this, also consider the Catholic Calendar. It contains the liturgical calendar from 1970 to 2300 and beyond, saint feasts celebrated in different countries, and you can now download the Liturgy of the Hours and Mass readings for yesterday, today and tomorrow from the Universalis website (needs internet connection).

5. ER Lite, Sleepmaker, Sleepstream, WhiteNoise and Om – these are some of my sleep-inducing apps for nights when sleep escapes me. My favorite sound is the steady raindrops falling. Second would be the waves crashing on a shore. These apps also have jungle sounds and other interesting ones as well. As for the Om, well being a yogini I have recently discovered its use for my yoga meditation sequence.

6. 9-Toolbox (free version but eventually will cost $4.99) – It has currency conversion, calculator, days until (an event), holidays, unit converters, an inclinometer (measures an object’s incline), loan amortization tool, menstrual cycle calendar, and others. 9 useful tools in all! I installed another converter called MultiConvert.

7. TVUPlayer – free TV, YES!!! When in a free wifi zone, I can put my headsets on and tune in to any of the available TV stations. Right now, some popular ones are Channel NewsAsia, Disney Channel, Classic Movies, CBS, Comedy Central, The Science Channel and Fox News.

8. USA Today, NY Times – oh yes, even online newspapers are apps now.

9. Wikiamo – the Safari-like Wikipedia viewer

10. Ustream – the same app for livestreaming events. I actually got to watch part of the Obama inauguration on my ipod using this app.

11. Remote – ooohhhh this is a cool app. It turns your ipod into a remote control for iTunes. I can activate my playlists or choose the music to play from my music collection just with a tap on the screen.

I’ve got many more apps in this tiny iPod Touch of mine like yoga apps, quotations of all sorts, apps for sending files across to it from my desktop or laptop, first-aid and medical apps for those possible emergencies, and so on.

Given its dramatic success in just its first year, who knows where the next year and the next will find the App Store? It’s truly on a roll!

What are your favorite downloaded apps? Do share with me. I just may have missed a really good one….

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Xavier School Turns Virtual

Just five days after I blogged about how technology could be used by schools in the wake of the A(H1N1) virus, Xavier School suspended classes for 10 days after one student tested positive for the virus.

Was this a setback for the school? If you’re thinking in traditional mode, yes. Teachers & students could not come together in class for interactive learning. But did that stop Xavier? Absolutely not. The school turned the forced vacation into an opportunity to launch what we now call “virtual Xavier”.

From the time Fr. Johnny Go, S.J. became its School Director several years back, Xavier School slowly began transforming the school, the faculty, the curriculum, and the students into technology enablers. This move served the school well this week.

The day classes were suspended, the school’s official website crashed (probably due to the unexpected traffic on the server as parents and students alike went online to check the next steps.)

It was not long before an alternate site went up, Virtual Xavier (www.virtualxavier.ning.com)

Ning alternate site

Virtual Xavier as it looked the first time it was put up

Next thing we knew, Multiply sites PER LEVEL were created. By this coming Monday, June 29, parents and students alike can go to the Multiply site of their son’s level and download online lessons uploaded by their teachers. In fact, some of these sites already have some content in them like this:

Gr1 Multiply homepage

I believe we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as what Xavier School (or any other technology-enabled institution) can do. What is important at this stage is the fact they are proving that learning does not stop just because teachers & students cannot come to school. Education can continue for as long as technology enables them to. There are many other things I can see evolving in terms of virtual schooling (podcasting, livestreaming, videoconferencing, online chatrooms, online collaborative projects, Skype-ing, and so on) and I predict Xavier School can be at the forefront of this.  At the moment, it already has some of the infrastructure: computer literate faculty & staff, excellent IT labs, students who are almost all techie savvy, and parents who are getting there (some probably forced to learn out of necessity).

Here is a screencap from an article posted just yesterday in their school website. It shows the forward-looking state of the school.

Effective online education

I am hoping that other schools in the Philippines seriously consider putting more money into technology-based learning. Not just because of the spread of A(H1N1). This, to me, was just the catalyst for Xavier School. But I believe that if we can equip the current and future generations of citizens for a tech world, we can bring this country that much closer to elevating the state of education.

There is another side to consider too. The Department of Education and Culture (DECS) has to modify its guidelines to include learning outside of the classroom.  Right now, for example, we count actual school days (read that as IN SCHOOL). On occasions like this when a school is actually allowing students to accomplish schoolwork during the quarantine period, doesn’t this count (to some extent) as school days? There is a need for paradigm shifts in mindset as to what constitutes learning.  Learning is no longer just classroom-bound. If field trips are considered learning time, online work (for as long as there are guidelines established in terms of hours spent) should count as well. I have other thoughts about virtual education that can address the sore lack of brick-and-mortar classrooms but I will leave that for another day and possibly another blog post.

For now, I am just happy to see Xavier School evolving, innovating and creating. If we can think out of the box and use all the tools available to us, school can be just about anywhere we can imagine it to be — even when we are in pajamas, propped up in bed, with our laptops.

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Technology: A Tool for Schools in the Wake of A(H1N1)

Many mothers like me here in the Philippines are growing more and more worried by the day as the number of people becoming sick with the A(H1N1) virus increases. Classes have just began in our part of the world and in the first week, some students were found positive resulting in classes being suspended and moved by about 10 days.

In the university where my girls go to school, there were initially 3 high school cases but another case was confirmed yesterday. So far, the school where my boys study has been virus-free but as more and more schools confirm cases of their students getting sick, I worry.

However, I have suggestions for school administrators and teachers especially in schools that are well-equipped to use technology and the internet. You can have a back-up plan to ensure that in the event you will be forced to suspend classes, your students do not lose too many days out of school. This will require a paradigm shift in the way you conduct classes but it can work.

You can shift to the web.

Of course, many of these moves may require coordination with DECS but just think of the possibilities:

1. Email addresses and mobile numbers serve as point-to-point contact – Many schools, as part of information sheets during enrollment, ask for the email addresses and mobile numbers of parents & students. Take this to the next level. Use your database of email addresses of all your students/teachers/administrators/parents and create mailing lists now. One mailing list for faculty, another for parents, another for students (by level). This will be one of your ways to disseminate information.

2. School websites are not just for information; they can be transformed into online classrooms. – A few days ago, the boys’ school held parent orientations. I did not go. I was feeling under the weather and chose to stay away from crowds. But I heard that the orientations did not last long. The class advisers went through powerpoint presentations to introduce the line-up of teachers as well as answer a few questions from the attending parents.

Now this got me thinking. If that was all it took during orientations, why could we not have put this same information up on the website of the school, giving access to parents via some form of security code?

I remember the inauguration of Pres. Barack Obama. CNN created a Facebook page linked to its website. Any Facebook users who subscribed to the page could literally jump into a chatroom as the inauguration was going on and add his/her comments to the global community. Bring that down to a school community.

Could we  create a smaller version of a chatroom so that parents could do conferencing with the school administrators/faculty as they are viewing a presentation?

Could Powerpoint presentations be simply uploaded to the website for parents to access?

Could the teachers have made podcasts/videos of what they wanted to say to parents as well?

Can lessons be broadcast via podcasts or YouTube?

3. Think ONLINE QUIZZES!!! – Yes, there will be issues like: Do we really know if it is the student answering the quiz or not since he is not visible to the teacher? But maybe with proper sanctions in place for those found cheating, or with appropriate security codes/log-in requirements, students can take quizzes online. Cheap webcams can be required so that a student would be visible via webcam to his teacher while taking an exam. Grading would be a cinch too since the correct answers can be keyed into a program that does instantaneous checking of papers.

4. Collaborative tools make team-based projects easy online.Google Docs is one example of a collaborative tool. Word documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be created and shared online. Team members can all view the same document, make changes, chat online about it and essentially, collaborate. No need for face-to-face interaction.

5. Use Mobile broadcasting for important announcements – Many schools in Metro Manila utilize this tool already. Parents/students/faculty subscribe to the service and important announcements from the school are pushed via SMS to the subscribers. While mobile broadcasting nowadays is in the form of school cancellations, event announcements and the like, this can be used also to alert parents and students to check the school website for newly posted classroom activities.

This internet mode of schooling is, of course, a temporary measure and can be utilized only in extreme cases when the school is forced to suspend classes for long stretches. But if the DECS accepts this as an alternate mode of schooling, cases like the A(H1N1) pandemic need not interrupt school days drastically.

At the moment, I also realize that it is the private schools that would have the advantage in implementing this over public schools due to their access to technology and computers but we can start from here.

Leave a comment if you have other ideas as to how classes can be conducted online to reduce the interruptions.

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