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Weaving the SANParks Web...

The e-commerce division of SANParks decided, as part of the SANParks Week celebrations, to introduce learners from all over the region to the SANParks website. Students, many of them junior honorary rangers, were brought in to see the exhibits at SANParks head office in Groenkloof, and in groups of between 5 and 10 gathered around the laptop set up among the other exhibits, and began to explore...

Posted: Wed Sep 20, 2006 1:27 pm "Hi, I'm Kensani, I'm 8 years old and I love lions cubs and cheetahs"
         
Posted: Wed Sep 20, 2006 1:30 pm "khensani, little lions become big hungry lions later. Look at this big foot: (picture of lions paw) When this little lion grows up his foot will be as big as your plate! And he may eat all your food..."

How did this conversation between an 8 year old girl from Pretoria and a middle aged forum member from Holland begin?

The e-commerce division of SANParks decided, as part of the SANParks Week celebrations, to introduce learners from all over the region to the SANParks website. Students, many of them junior honorary rangers, were brought in to see the exhibits at SANParks head office in Groenkloof, and in groups of between 5 and 10 gathered around the laptop set up among the other exhibits, and began to explore.

"The great thing about online technologies is their interactive potential...and young people intuitively appreciate this" explains web content editor Dianne Tipping-Woods. "I began by explaining a bit about the website, and how it compares to an obviously finite medium like a book or brochure where space for information is limited. While space on the web is limited by bandwidth constraints, there is still enormous room for websites to grow. Many of the kids were amazed when they heard that the site hosts 18 000 pages of information on SANParks."

After a brief guided tour of the site, the school children were encouraged to take over and explore the site and ask questions. Many of these kids don't have access to computers and even less have access to the internet. It was thrilling to see how brave and confident they were with this technology. The interactive forums and the webcams generated the most excitement, and the kids got chatting.  "This kind of experiential learning is the best way to understand what may otherwise be an abstract concept", explains Tipping-Woods, "we had people online from Holland, France and Botswana, "talking" in real-time to the kids. It was very powerful for them when they looked at the time, posted a comment, and had someone from the other side of the world post back!"

The webcams were another highlight. "Again", says Tipping-Woods, "it was only when the image changed, and an impala came to drink, and then moved away, that the kids realized they were “in” Kruger! Then the questions started, “why is it not streaming, what happens when it rains, how is the picture sent… Intelligent and engaging responses!”

The interest shown in the website by the kids illustrates what a powerful educational and communications tool the internet is. And while laptops may be out of many of these childrens financial reach for now, most of the kids have cell phones, and most of them were snapping away, taking pictures and sending messages! When they learnt that the technology to send pictures and text from cellphones straight to a website exists, there was a sense of genuine excitment. "The kids realise that the internet doesn't only talk to them-they can talk back. Africa has very high cellphone penetration rates-and everyone with a cellphone now has the ability to produce media, interact with other media and talk to other people-think how this kind of interaction can be leveraged for community based conservation for example", explains Tipping-Woods.

"There is still a long way to go, but initiatives like SANParks Week and other opportunities to showcase and collectively develop our website make a difference", believes Tipping-Woods. Keitumetse, for example, was able to ask a forum member in France about the National Parks there. Didintle from Tokyo Sexwale Middle School got to write and share her poem about nature. DuQues from Holland learnt who Tokyo Sexwale was.

This comment posted on the forums sums up the challenges SANParks faces with regard to the internet, but also the oppertunities:

Posted: Wed Sep 20, 2006 12:47 pm. "Hi my name is Marry, I'm 16. I would like next year for there to be more laptops so we can all practise and have fun on the website, cause it rocks!!"

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