After spending a semester working on the translation, adaptation and localization of six virtual math manipulatives, plus five weeks of implementing two of them in a public school in Fortaleza, Brazil, there are several thoughts about this internship. I would consider my experience in both academic and personal aspects as invaluable.
In the academic aspect, I was part of an excellent team work, where I partook in a endeavor that (rendered its results) gave me the opportunity to put into practice the skills acquired throughout my Master in Instructional Technology. To be involved in a real life application project made me feel excited and in a certain way nervous about being able to perform in a satisfactory way. The fact of taking a learning object created for a specific cultural setting and adapt it to another- specially two cultural settings with many differences in educational, social and economic aspects- made me try to go the extra mile because I always pictured myself doing this same task in the Dominican Republic in the future. I learned that in order to make an effective learning object localization we needed to take into consideration several factors affecting both students and teachers: socio-economical background, digital divide, and even gender and religion. For this project we had to take into account students and teachers’ nationality and their cultural and social background to make the appropriate adaptations when localizing the math manipulatives (bar graph and pie chart). In order to do so, we thought about the reality lived by the students and teachers in Fortaleza, Brazil.
The original version of our math manipulatives was aimed to an American audience, where both teachers and students were used to be in constant access to technology, both from school and from work. However, for our local version, we needed to seek how affordable technology was for both teachers and students, and how familiar they were with using a computer as a teaching tool. I found out that most children did not know how to use a computer to learn these manipulatives and some even were afraid to use the computer at all. To adapt these specific materials to Portuguese, we used local facts to give examples, like the World Cup results to be represented in a bar graph. We needed to find data that were of interest to the children to get their attention and help them understand better the use of these data representation graphics. Football is by far one of the topic of most interest among Brazilians, which I assumed would different from the interest of an American or Dominican audience.
We had overlooked gender and religion factors until Dr. Orey’s class, where our team reflected on the assigned readings about the role of gender, and made modifications based on our findings and peer recommendations. We observed that boys had more computer skills than girls, which confirmed what our reflections on the readings. When paired or grouped with boys, girls let them take the lead in using the computers when working with the manipulatives. Some were even afraid to touch the mouse because they do not know how to handle it. Religion affects the way people view authority. For example, some studies find that Brazilian adolescents tend to be more self-, authority-, parent-, and teacher-motivated. This indicates that the manipulatives should be introduced in a guided classroom rather than in small peer groups.
In the personal aspect, I experienced a cultural immersion that is already part of my life. At the beginning I started to associate everything with my home country, from the public transport system to the way people addressed each other. Despite the fact that only two out of all the people I met knew exactly where the Dominican Republic was, my first days I felt as if I was in a city of my country where Portuguese was spoken instead of Spanish; I would say every moment “wow, just like in my country”. However, as time passed by I started noticing the differences, those ones that make every country or region singular, and made me realize that I was not in my country but in the exotic Brazil. I learned from many many local people that the Northeast (where Fortaleza is located) was different in many ways from the famous Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo which are to the South of the country, so my impression would have been more ‘culture-shock’ like if I had gone down there.
Like any project carried out for the first time, ours faced several unforeseen events, that only experience would bring up to be mended for future phases. I am including recommendations from my observations during the first phase (manipulatives localization) and suggestions during the implementation at school, since we would not be in Brazil for the full completion of the data analysis-to see how effective the manipulatives were to help students to accomplish the learning objectives and what further suggestions our teammates at Proativa would have. In my personal opinion, some recommendations are:
It is recommended the inclusion of subject matter experts in the next part of this project. In this occasion, we did not count with a team member who were actually expert in Mathematics, which made a little difficult at times the understanding or interpretation of some terms that were very specific to the matter. If there is a turn in subject matters for the next stage, efforts should be made to include at least a student who is an adept in that area.
•Besides keeping peer review among teams, it is necessary to have a teammate in the country where the manipulative would be implemented involved in the project from the beginning, in order to have early feedback about possible questions students may have during the localization phase, and this way, avoid misunderstandings in a cultural or academic aspects that later on would need more time to be mended.
•The use of the “Backwards Design” model rendered satisfactory results, but as there are many other models that may prove effective, future instructional designers involved in this task could look for other alternatives in order to find better ways to approach the project.
•During the manipulatives implementation at “Maria Carvalho de Martins” school, proativa members made some recommendations on the bar graph and pie chart sections in the Portuguese version of the NLVM website: they both needed the “’Title field” and the “Source field”, which are very important to specify the data represented in these graphs.
• Some of the activities we localized during spring semester were partially or completely changed so students could understand them. For instance, for one of the bar graph’s activities, we had changed M&Ms by ‘jujubas’ ( a variety of colorful brazilian candies), since they would be cheaper for students to acquire. However, teachers considered they would not be very suitable because they were very sticky and used “bombons”(which are more than just chocolates) instead. This last minute change reminds us that a teammate in the implementation setting is required to clarify these types of situations.
• There should be more communication between new students involved in the exchange-program and the representatives in the host university. Students should have clear what their duties are in the host university previously to their arrival .
• Host university’s representatives should inform the exchange students in advance about their possible host families and terms of housing payment. They should also inform the host family about their commitment with the exchange student and what requirements they should meet in order to host the student. In my case, I was very satisfied with my host family and had no complaints at all; however, there was a little misunderstanding that in the future can be avoided if there is more communication between parties.
• Exchange students should start the university enrollment process as early as possible, in order to have the documents needed for visa applications. In that same order, exchange students should know what specific documents they need for the visa, and find a reliable travel broker who can guarantee a efficient service. The main issue we faced was the delay in the visa application process, which affected everyone’s plans for the exchange, and consequently reduced drastically the program schedule.
• If non-US students are involved in the project, it is necessary to find out what extra requirements would be needed, as well as to specify the rights and risks they might take by participating in the project. From the very beginning I was informed that as a non US citizen, I would not be able to receive any monetary benefit from this project, therefore I was aware of my rights and the risks. My scholarship covered most of the expenses, and overall, I had no inconvenient in this aspect.