While we had opportunity to do volunteer work at Sikeud lower secondary school (Ban Phang Heng), we realized communication is key, be it face-to-face communication or through electronic devices. Nowadays, most people have access to electronic media and use them on a regular basis. This is most helpful in our programme “Teaching English in Laos“, as we need to communicate across the globe between Europe and Asia.
We experienced that Lao people actively use social media such as Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram, but not “business” tools such as E-Mail for communication.1 For data protection and work organization reasons, however, we need to use E-Mail (and not WhatsApp) as our communication medium for business: In official cooperations no other channels are acceptable.
Perceptions of privacy can differ greatly between different cultures. Germans are more cautious about sharing data on the Internet and Lao people feel more comfortable with it. Also, while all our tandem-teachers in Sikeud and Phang Heng have mobile phones, only a few own a notebook or computer. We therefore decided to create a workshop about this topic to simplify the communication process between the foundation, our Lao project-partners, and us.
We also decided to expand our workshop by at least one other “computer topic” which would be relevant to teachers, e.g. the “Word” program. We asked the computer science teacher, Ms Nalee Vonkhamsay, for a meeting and advice, and she pointed out that there was no need to introduce this program as every teacher knows how to use it. However, she told us that a lot of teachers still list and calculate their students’ grades by hand,2 which is very time-consuming . Since “Excel” can be helpful for these processes, we came to the conclusion that this was the right topic to complement our workshop.
Step 1: We asked Ms Nalee to show us how she scores her students with Excel. She presented her file to us and explained the different sheets and functions. Since the three of us had not used Excel for a long time, we decided to get some help from our team-colleague Thomas Pelka, who is more computer-literate. He kindly offered to give us a little introduction to the most important functions of Excel. After we had remembered and understood all of them, we worked our way through Ms Nalee’s file again to make sure that we were now using the functions just the same way she did.
Step 2: Working with PDF (portable document format) and writing an E-mail was nothing we needed help with, so we now created a handout for our workshop. On this, we listed every step of every topic that we were going to explain and inserted matching pictures to make sure that everything was understandable and easy to follow. Furthermore, we prepared invitations, which we got signed by the director, hung up in the school, and handed out to the teachers.
Our last two steps of preparation were to make sure that we could connect our laptop to the beamer of the computer room at Sikeud lower secondary school (Ban Phang Heng) and to ask Ms Saysamone Singhalath if she could attend our workshop in order to translate what we were saying into Lao if needed.3 This would ensure that the teachers from all subjects would be able to understand everything.
On the day of the workshop the following teachers arrived at the computer room at 4 p.m:4
Ms Bounthanh Nanhthavong, Ms Amphaivone Chandavong, Mr Vienglakhone Keopaseud, Ms Donekeo Keositthivong, Ms Souksakhone Sindavan, Ms Khamsee Thanbounhueang, Ms Saysamone Singhalath.
We distributed our handouts and gave a short overview of the workshop’s agenda:
- How to use Excel for scoring your students
- How to save an Excel file as a PDF
- How to create a “Google Mail” account
- How to send a PDF file via mail
- How to download a PDF reader
Then we moved on to the first topic.
- How to use Excel for scoring students
Mariana gave a short introduction of some terms and tools of Excel, e.g. how to enlarge the columns, how to mark the cells, how to edit the cells, and how to add new sheets to the file.
As we still had Ms Nalee Vonkamsay‘s template for scoring students, we showed it to the teachers now, to give them a rough idea of what the finished file could look like. Then we explained the three most important functions: “SUM”, “AVERAGE” and “RANK”. These are used to summate each pupil’s grades, to calculate their average grade, and to rank them within their classes.
Since Ms Nalee’s Excel file has a simple structure and cells named in Lao (see picture), it was easy for everyone to follow our explanation of the functions and terms. It was all about understanding which cells to connect in order to get the wanted result.
- How to save a file as pdf
The next point on our agenda was to show the teachers how to save an Excel file as a PDF. This is done by saving it the regular way, but selecting the file type “PDF” when doing so. Downloading a PDF Reader in advance would make this possible.
- How to create a “google mail” account
As we knew that some teachers did not have an E-mail account yet or had forgotten their login data, we showed them how to create a new one. We had previously found out that “gmail.com” was most commonly used by the teachers. Luckily, we had teacher Ms Donekeo Keositvong at our workshop, who wanted to create a new E-mail account anyway. We suggested she come to the front so that we could create one together on the laptop that was connected to the beamer so that everyone could follow each step. As new users sometimes do not remember their login data, we pointed out the importance of memorizing it, for example by writing it down and keeping it in a safe place.
- How to write an e-mail and attach a file
After having created an E-mail account, the next step was to show how to compose an E-mail and attach a file. We explained the “g-mail” page functions “inbox”, “sent”, “drafts”, “deleted”, and “compose”. Then we exemplarily sent an e-mail with an attached document and a subject line from Ms Donekeo’s newly-created account to Elisabeth.
At the end of our workshop we gave the teachers the opportunity to ask questions about Excel, E-mail and PDF. After answering and discussing all of the questions, we thanked them for attending our workshop and took some pictures.
The day after our workshop, some of the teachers came to thank us for the workshop and gave us a little feedback about it. They told us how helpful they found the topics of the workshop and that they liked how simple and understandable our handout was. It made us very happy to have helped to make the teachers’ scoring duties easier in the future, and we also hope that communication between the foundation and the Lao project partners may be a little smoother and more efficient henceforward.
In conclusion, we – Elisabeth, Cornelia, and Mariana – found that we were not only glad about having been able to help our partners, but also to have had the possibility to freshen up our own Excel skills, which we surely can use in our own future teacher-lives.
Text by C. Proels, M. Dimtsiou, E.Heinz & I. Martin
Photos by V. Wecker
1 The most commonly used form of communication among the teachers is Facebook or WhatsApp Messenger. In any cooperation, the lack of tools or know-how for saving and storing files (to be able to relocate them later) means that the same information has to be repeated informally many times until a new communication system is established and also well-rehearsed.
2 For each subject in a school year, the pupils take four tests and one last “big” test. The final average grade results from those tests. Oral performance and the completion of homework over the academic year are not factored into the grade.
3 Not all the invited teachers were English teachers. Hence, a translation into Lao would be helpful.
4 This is the time when school lessons finish at Ban Phang Heng Secondary School.