Profile - Cecilia Oyugi
My background is a mixture of mathematics, education and computing. My research interest, though, is in the areas of education and technology, as means to bring about development in less-developed economies. My skill and interest put me more on the education side, but I hope to use my computing skills also in VeSeL.
I'm Kenyan, and did my schooling there, getting a Bachelor of Education, Mathematics and Information Sciences from Kenyatta University in Nairobi. The aim was to train to be a high school teacher. However, very interestingly, the government had always provided jobs for teachers â€“ up until a year before I graduated. So I was the first lot in the system that did not get a job!
Africa to the UK
That's why I thought of coming to London to further my studies, because that was the only way to find a job later on. I graduated from City University, London, with an MSc in Information Science in 2003.
While there, I did a survey on web-based learning in Universities in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The objective was to understand the nature of web-based learning, and the extent of its actual and potential use in SSA universities. It was not concerned with distance learning but flexible learning, with web-based learning as a support tool for classroom learning.
|Having grown up in a rural part of Kenya, I very much identify with this project.|
The study seemed to indicate that minimal web-based learning was taking place in SSA universities. The majority of the universities were using their web sites for administrative and marketing purposes only, not as a learning tool. The survey indicated that both the lecturers and students had warmed up to the concept of web-based learning - but many had reservations about it succeeding in Africa.
There was hype about web-based learning, but getting down to what they were really doing on specific campuses, it wasn't much â€“ apart from a very few who were going a little further. There were a lot of constraints to it having any effect on the learning of the students. The lecturers were not necessarily skilled, so of course they had no skills to pass on to the students on how to use computers to enhance their learning.
As a result therefore, important considerations were raised by the research that needed to be reckoned with, if web-based learning was to be relevant within a developing countryâ€™s context. Recommendations included the issue of Internet access, cost, existing educational philosophies, staff and student preparation and administrative structures.
Back to Africa
|One of the strong points of the project is that there are local partners who know exactly what is happening on the ground.|
After graduating I went back to Africa (Kenya) and quickly found myself a job.
I was Head of Computing/IT in an independent high school in Nairobi. Besides teaching computing modules, I had the responsibility of implementing e-learning in the institution. Rare as it may sound, all the money that was needed to execute this project was actually available; the problem was different. New technology was being introduced, but it was not welcome and change was greatly resisted! The attitude was, 'We've always taught without this technology, and we have done very well. So what difference will it make?' That was the attitude, and it was a stumbling block for a very long time, because I couldn't get beyond it.
Usually when we think of Africa, we think 'Maybe there are no resources, and that's why it's not necessarily happening. But in this case I found that there is a little more than that, because I had all the resources and backing from the management, but I just couldn't get beyond that barrier â€“ the culture of 'This is the way we always do it; we do not want to change.'
So I tried to make the whole project look so much simpler. For example, what the members of staff were going to learn was made a little less â€“ in particular, the time demanded of them would be a lot less. Also, involving them in the project right from the start, so that they owned it and felt they were part of it. Having changed the approach, it did seem like it was bearing fruit - but very, very slowly before I could say that finally it would have an effect on the learning of the students. In fact, that is yet to happen.
The lessons learnt from that experience I hope will go along way in being utilised in the VeSeL project.
I found myself in UK again, and in 2006, I joined Uxbridge College to teach Computing. Again I taught different modules in computing and enjoyed doing that very much.
|One technology that comes to mind is the mobile phone â€“ the fact that the villager can just take the mobile phone and communicate orally, just as they have always done.|
I join Vesel now as a Research Assistant at Thames Valley University, and am part of the group that is providing expertise in the cross-cultural participatory design methods. Having grown up in a rural part of Kenya, I very much identify with this project. I can see myself 20 years ago, for example having agricultural inspection officers coming to our farm and trying to work out why the crops have not succeeded. I identify with the farmers very much because I come from that rural setting as well.
One of the strong points of the project is that there are local partners. This has been helpful, for example, in refining the sketches of what we want to do. The fact that the local partners know exactly what is happening on the ground is a very important aspect of the project, and I really appreciate that. It is very important that we don't produce systems that don't work, but ones that really meet the needs of the users we have in mind.
Specifically though, I will be part of, among others:
â€¢ A cultural literature survey within the two communities we have identified;
â€¢ Building trust exercises through exploratory design;
â€¢ Carrying out contextual studies;
â€¢ Compiling user profiles and persona;
â€¢ Carrying out observational studies;
â€¢ Production and testing of sociotechnical scenarios;
â€¢ Carrying out low-fi prototyping exercises;
â€¢ Producing experimental system prototypes; and
â€¢ Carrying out activities to elicit requirements for future products.
Ideas and insights
|Five years on I would like to go back to the communities we work with, and find that they are able to share information.|
The African communities are very oral in nature, so one technology that comes to mind is the mobile phone â€“ the fact that the villager can just take the mobile phone and communicate orally, just as they have always done. As opposed to thinking that they can sit down and have a blog and keep it as a diary â€“ that would be very different to the natural way of communication. Plus, mobile phones have become very cheap now.
Also there is the idea of hierarchy. In the African culture, people's hierarchies are very important. So, if not everybody has a mobile phone, if the main person in the village â€“ the village elder â€“ has got one, then word can pass round very easily to other people who do not have one. That hierarchy of society is very important. When it comes to issues of resources that are not enough for everybody, then that sort of model can be adopted.
Issues of markets will be important. Farmers are able to produce their crops, but later on, marketing those becomes a problem. It would be good for them to know, for example, if they take their goods to a particular place, they should be able to know that they will get a good market price for them. These are some of the bottlenecks we have in some of these communities.
We've got to remember, it's not a development project, it's a research project. At times those two can be very close. But five years on I would like to go back to the communities we work with, and find that they are able to share information.
In Kambu, which is a very dry area, five or ten years later I would like to see that the whole area is transformed â€“ there are crops growing and the local community is empowered because they have been able to share information, amongst themselves and with other communities. And they're able to rely on themselves, provide for themselves.