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Interview: Maureen Hilyard, Cook Islands

Maureen Hilyard has worked in Education for many years, mainly in New Zealand. For the last four years she was the Distance Education Manager, a consultancy position with the Cook Islands Ministry of Education.

Maureen Hilyard is featured in the publication Capacity Development: How the IGF empowered people from developing ...

Maureen, this work sounds very interesting. Can you tell us a little more?

This role helped me recognise the need for the development of IT in our outer islands so that we can advance education, commerce and community development for our "rural" populations.

At the beginning of 2008 I started working in the ICT Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister. I was originally the ICT Director, but my position has since changed so that I can now concentrate on the duties of the eGovernment Project Manager.

What is your vision about eGovernment?

eGovernment puts me in touch with public servants and their role in delivering government services. eGovernment is about improving the way that public services are delivered through using the internet.

Not only do I have to work on changing the way that government agencies deliver these services but I also have to direct managers to making internal changes in the way that they gather, organize and archive their information.

New ways of doing things require new policies and sometimes new legislation. Internet delivery will require us in the Cook Islands to investigate what policies we will have to introduce to ensure privacy and safe use for children as well as security of information and of e-commerce transfers, just to name a few of the issues.

Can you tell us something about the dynamics and debate of issues in this field, Maureen?

I have been assigned recently to eGovernment work so I haven't been to any conferences specifically to do with eGovernment yet.

In 2006 I attended a UNESCO ICT in Education Toolkit workshop in Fiji. The objective of the workshop was to develop a tool to assist governments to analyse and provide for the IT needs of Pacific Island countries.

In the same year I attended PacINET2006 in Samoa, and this year I coordinated PacINET2008 which was held in the first week in September on Rarotonga.

Please share with us more info about PacINET.

PacINET is the conference of the Pacific Chapter of the Internet Society. It is an opportunity for anyone in the Pacific who is interested in the internet, as a technician, non-technical user or decision-maker, to come along and share their information and knowledge about the internet and ICTs with others from other parts of the Pacific.

The theme of the conference was "ICT for quality of life" but we also had a local theme - INNOVATIONS - connected with my eGovernment work.

My colleague Pua Ngamata and I assist government Ministries to develop their websites so that they can make their information and servics more accessible to the public. We have been assisted in this task by our Official Information Act 2007 where the government has actually legislated that Ministries must give more access for the public to information about how each Ministry operates as well as its services and policies.

At the same time, we also want Ministries to think about how they can more effectively deliver their information and services to the public using IT.

So what are the expectations?

We hope that any innovation one Ministry creates can be replicated by others, so that the public benefits from any improvements from within the public administrative sector. Another major advantage of eGovernment is that the public will be actively encouraged to feedback their opinion about how their government is performing. In the Pacific it is a brave government who will take that step.

These innovations may not be all that outstanding to the world's more developed nations, but in the Pacific just being able to get our Ministries accepting the importance of a website to provide information to the public has been a major breakthrough.

Do you have a goal in the middle of all these eGovernment initiatives?

My goal is to have every Cook Islands government Ministry online by the end of the year !

Some of the innovations we are working on include basic features like enabling online users to complete and submit customized application forms and to make payments online, to pick up the latest news in Cook Islands Maori online, to refer to the traditional planting calendar or to concoct traditional medicines from local plants.

We also want to develop a website presence for each outer island administration centre that will also incorporate access for their local community to eLearning, eCommerce and eHealth. We want to enhance the opportunities for outer island communities to be exposed to global communities of learning and business and interactive health services.

A national eGov portal will eventually link all the information from the Ministries and other government agencies on Rarotonga and the outer islands into ONE site. Now THAT's the big project and we are currently investigating funding to make that happen.

What would you like to highlight from the Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme - IGCBP'08?

The highlight of my studies with Diplo in 2008 was the closing ceremony on Diplomacy Island. It was great to "meet up" with my virtual colleagues who worked with me during my three topics of study since March. The ceremony provided a grand finale for the distance learning process in which we had been involved over the months. It was something different, but in keeping with the virtual nature of Diplo studies.

Please share with us your perspective about distance learning.

I undertook my Business degree and my postgraduate studies by distance. The degree by distance was necessitated by my job travelling around New Zealand as a regional advisor for The Correspondence School.

My postgraduate studies incorporated online as well as traditional distance learning with Massey University in New Zealand, but from Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Participating in the Diplo programme therefore was not a new experience for me, but the format of creating annotations and "discussing" inserts with colleagues in our class, as well as the weekly chat sessions and forums certainly introduced a new way of delivering curriculum.

In which way was the Diplo eLearning system different from your past experiences at other institutions?

It was more interactive and these interactions became more personal through the regular contact with others. However, my involvement was only made possible by the quite recent connection in the Cook Islands to broadband. I might not have been as keen to participate in the programme if I had been on a dialup connection.

Having come from an educational background, I have an intense interest in making e-learning programmes available for our students in the outer islands.

I would like to be able to incorporate the features that have been used by DiploFoundation – the annotation feature, the forum and the chat sessions - into a virtual learning experience for our outer islands students who are studying NZ qualifications programmes on their home islands.

It is all about trying to make learning interesting, interactive, personal and fun. I really appreciated the encouragement and support that our tutors gave to students in the daily/weekly emails and during the chat sessions. They were great. They really helped to build a positive and supportive learning community for each of their classes.

What are your expectations for the future?

If I was to look at a next step it would probably be to ask IGCBP to help me to produce teaching programmes for senior secondary students working on qualifications level courses in the outer islands.

Sometimes there might only be one or two students doing the same courses on different islands. I would like to be able to use a programme similar to that used by Diplo, and be trained in how to use the programme effectively as a teaching and learning tool. I would like to incorporate other learning features and perhaps some multimedia as well.

One important aspect of being in a virtual classroom is to ensure that there is some personal contact with others in your class. Diplo facilitated this through the types of interactions they encouraged – annotations, forums and chat sessions. This worked well for adults. However for secondary students, even seniors, I believe that a little more personal contact is important for individual learning to be effective and more self-sustaining. For this reason, I would like to eventually introduce virtual classrooms with a mix of learning modes - traditional distance learning interspersed with virtual experiences like Diplomacy Island, video conferencing, skype conferences and traditional online chats as well as the occasional face to face contact - to help students to feel less isolated and more engaged with learning through their relationships with other students and their teachers as well as with their learning resources. And it would be fun for everyone.

Perhaps some of these ideas can be incorporated into the Diplo teaching and learning model?

Definitely, Maureen! Since the first edition of the Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme (IGCBP) in 2005, we have always added new features and improved the teaching methodology and class structure. Your valuable contributions are certainly points to be considered for 2009!

Interested people to network with Maureen about eGovernment projects and learn more about PacINET can email her directly at hilyard@oyster.net.ck or add her as a friend here in her profile at the Diplo Internet Governance Community

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Comment by Charity Gamboa-Embley on August 22, 2009 at 6:32am
Hooray Maureen!

Perhaps like Elluminate or DimDim? DimDim is free so that can be an alternative. I had the opportunity of attending a trainers pod that provides global educational webinar like Elluminate. The chat feature in the Diplo classroom reminds me of Mirc with just a list of chat members in which everybody can join in the main channel. So a lot of emoticons can be used to show a bit of "personalized" feeling while chatting. The drawback is you get simultaneous text at the same time...not knowing who will be the first to type in, unless a clear rule was emphasized at the start of the channel as to who will type in their thoughts.

But with the use of Elluminate or DimDim, there is a moderator who can give the floor to someone who cares to talk one at a time. Elluminate has an option that allows one to send a message to the moderator alone or to everyone in the group. Both Elluminate and DimDim have a chat box, too, where everybody can type in their hellos or questions. The good thing about these two is that it can be moderated with several options of communicating (with audio and video). Perhaps this is the "personalized" thing that Maureen was implying?



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