An Attempt at Teaching Methods (November 24, 2015)


A huge part of making this project more than just technology trainings is making sure the women are comfortable teaching others after we leave. When we first started talking about computers with the women, we found it useful to create “lesson plans,” which were lists of things we wanted to talk about and the different steps that we took in breaking down what had to be done. Since this was so helpful to us, we thought the women may want to try it to see if it would be useful to them in their teaching, or at least give them a place to start thinking about how they would teach in the future. After explaining this to the core 3 women, they were overwhelmed by the formality of the task we showed them, so we thought it would be helpful to explain our thinking by making lesson plans together with the large group of women.

Cast of Characters

WPI Team


Peer Teachers

Pilot Trainees


As we found ourselves crowded in the shipping container on another hot day, we decided to move outside again so that it would be easier to stand in a large group as we worked on showing what might go into a “lesson plan.” We stood in a circle with two members of the WPI team standing against a wall outside the entrance of Sizakuyenza’s main office holding up large pieces of paper to write on. Since we were near the gates of the facilities, we could see and hear many people and cars outside, and we could feel eyes watching us as we worked, but the fascination the women and the team had with this new activity allowed us to focus and practice this new skill.


As everyone stood outside in a circle around the easel paper, we began to talk about what goes into the step-by-step list of accomplishing tasks that make up a lesson plan. In order to give them something they would be able to make their own lesson plans without our help, we decided to use phones and explain how to turn them on, send messages, and make phone calls. We started with a demonstration of turning on Brendan’s phone, which was done by pressing the “end” button. As the phone turned on, we noticed that it vibrated and made a sound, and wrote down the action taken and the result on the phone. We explained that going through the step-by-step process of each activity is what helps think about what needs to be included in the lesson plan. Writing everything down as we went helped to visualize the process of creating a lesson plan. As we repeated this process, going through the steps of making a call and sending a text message, we could see a wide variety of responses to the activity. While some of the women still seemed hesitant, some started to understand the concept that we were describing.


The group collaborating on a cell phone lesson plan

Thembisa, one of the members of the larger group, looked to be the most engaged in the discussion and seemed to be understanding particularly quickly. When we asked the entire group to see if anyone wanted to try to explain the steps of turning on and sending messages with their own phone, Sbu volunteered her and she moved to stand at the front of the group next to the paper. She held her phone up in the air so that the whole group could see the buttons she was pressing and showed the group which button she pressed to turn her phone on, which was different than the one on Brendan’s phone. As her phone turned on, it made a sound, which we also wrote down to explain how the phones could be different. She continued to go through how she sends messages and makes calls and we again wrote down on the big paper the different steps she took. Midway through her explanation, Sbu could see her struggling to stay in English and saw the group start to disengage, so he said she could continue in Xhosa, allowing for a more engaging lesson. Thembisa continued, in Xhosa, to show us how to do more things on her phone that she came up with, like creating new contacts and viewing recent calls. Sbu stood at the front of the group with her to watch closely what she did and point out any details that could be added, although he rarely felt the need to interject. As the entire group saw for the second time how the steps were broken down, it was clear that their understanding was much deeper.


Thembisa practicing a lesson plan by explaining to the group how to use her phone

As our time for the day dwindled, we decided to head back to the shipping container to gather our things. Before we left, we asked our core 3 co-researchers if they thought they would all like to try writing a lesson plan on their own while we were away on the long weekend. Although it seemed like they had started to understand the process, they expressed that it would be very hard, and that they would need to keep the big paper with the steps we had written down for reference. We happily obliged and hoped that having this reinforcement would motivate them to try creating lesson plans while we were away.

After returning from the long weekend, we were excited to see what kind of progress they may have made. We hoped that creating this plan would motivate them even more in their desire to teach and not to be afraid to do so after we left. However, we were disappointed to find out that they had not created any plans. They told us that they took the days off while we were gone, and so nothing had been done since last Tuesday. Even though this did leave us feeling a little demoralized, we were determined to keep making progress with the day, and so we moved on to talk to the ladies about what else we could do to help them prepare for teaching others. The conversation ended up veering slightly and landed us doing a completely different activity, connecting googling and Microsoft word for trouble shooting. While we made progress with this approach and were happy with the results of the day, the thought of our lack of success with lesson plans lingered in the back of our minds.

Reflection and Learning

In moving forward with creating a system for the women to teach others after we leave, we must reflect on why the lesson plans did not work in the way that we expected them to. One explanation, and the one that would be the most troubling, is that the women didn’t have the motivation to work on this project while we weren’t there. Whether this is from not being as interested in teaching as we thought or not being compensated with money or time on computers, this lack of interest without outside motivation would be a serious issue that would result in the program not being sustainable. However, based on the feedback from the women we’ve received so far, this does not seem like the explanation. They’ve told us many times that teaching other women is one of the things they like most about the program. A more likely explanation is that the women do not see the value in doing lesson plans. They seemed to see that breaking down the material into steps was beneficial during the big group demonstration, but from their initial reaction to the task, as well as their lack of completing it over break, they don’t see the actual task of creating these plans as beneficial. In the past they have been able to teach without a formal lesson plan, so it is also possible that the activity as a whole does not need as much attention as we had originally planned on giving it. While the process of thinking through the steps of activities may warrant revisiting, there is no reason for us to force this topic on them when they have shown that they are capable of teaching informally without it. Ultimately, we have no control over how they will run this program after we leave, and so there is no reason to force them to participate in an activity that won’t be used in the future. It is more worthwhile for us to focus on allowing them to practice teaching and finding other ways they will be able to facilitate learning in the program after we leave.

Regardless, it is likely that a part of the problem stems from communication issues. While we tried to communicate that giving the lesson plans a try may help them to teach their peers more effectively later, it never seemed like this point sunk in. It is also highly possible that our request for them to come in over the long weekend was not completely communicated as well. While it is a difficult fact to face that communication is still an issue at this point in the project, we can’t forget about it and make sure that if we are not sure if we effectively verbalized our ideas that we get help from others. With so little time left, we must not waste it because of communication issues that can be easily resolved by being more careful in our interactions.

A final potential reason that the lesson plans weren’t completed that we can try to resolve regardless of whether or not it was the actual cause was that the women were uncertain about being able to work on this project without us there. One overall goal of this project from the beginning was to empower the women to use technology on their own and not be afraid to try new things on it, as well as to have confidence in their abilities to teach others. So far we have seen them do both of these things, but only when we have been there for them to fall back on in case something goes wrong. Although the activity we gave them does not directly involve computers, it’s understandable that just the thought of having to run this technology teaching program without us is still very intimidating. We have formed a close bond, and we’ve been avoiding thinking about leaving because we will be sad not to be able to see them again. Our accepting of this reality is necessary for our ability to be more straightforward with the women about what they will have to do to run this program on their own. Doing this in a way that doesn’t make them even more afraid to continue will be difficult, but going forward, we must confront this harsh reality and work to make sure we leave a lasting legacy for Sizakuyenza.