Classifying and Sorting Content

The Ulwazi Programme attempted to put together an online resource around the local history and knowledge of the people of the eThekwini Municipality. To do this, we trained participants in digital media production as well as online content management. An important aspect of this work was sorting and classifying information, to make it accessible to both the end-user as well as indexable by search engines.

Gathering content through methodologies such as oral history and field research is only the first step in creating an accessible and useful body of information. In order to make it easily navigable and retrievable, it is important to apply classification and sorting principles in a logical and consistent way. This ensures that the content follows a set hierarchy and is presented in a way that is most appropriate for the intended users.

Why Classify Content?

Classifying content for the web involves very similar disciplines and systems to those used in bricks and mortar libraries, with the Dewey Decimal System being one of the best-known examples. When using this system, each book is assigned a number based on its content, which dictates its place on the shelf. This system works well for physical texts because it allows for very specific classification that is universally understood and used. 

However, with online content,, a slightly different approach is needed. Digital content tends to evolve more organically as  files can changed, added to and updated as needed.Yet, it still requires the same rigour and consistency in hierarchy. When conducted properly, the process of sorting content also ensures that search engines can properly index the site. This is necessary for the content to be displayed as results in search pages, and helps to increase the readership of the site and its general profile online.

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The Heart of the City

(Chapter written for Undressing Durban book)

Inyanga, Warwick Triangle. Photograph by Roger Jardine.

I’m hopping about on one leg, in the middle of a busy walkway, obstructing morning commuters.  Directly across from me is the herb-sellers market, above me cars funnel into the city while below colourful aprons are strewn across stairs, the ladies selling them sitting on upturned crates.  “Is this the right size?” I ask Crops as I squeeze my foot into a cross-strapped rubber sandal.  “Sure, sure, stretch to fit,” he answers.  Crops makes and sells imbadadada (a home-made shoe or literally ‘someone who walks with an awkward gait’) from a small outlet on the edge of Warwick Triangle.  Pairs are lined up outside his shop, in rows based on style and size. The imbadadada is a thick, hard-wearing sandal, with two straps along the front and one along the back, originally made by Zulu tribesmen.  Johnny Clegg made these shoes popular with a wider audience in the eighties, dancing in a pair on stages across the world.

“I make these myself from the car tires,” Crops tells me.  “It’s an old design.  They first started making them in the 1950s.  The people buy it for the traditional dance or just to wear.  It is comfortable and they last a long time.   I am also making these new styles now, ones with the buckle and ones with Nike.”

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How to build an Indigenous Digital Library through Community Participation

African Libraries and Information Centres are poorly equipped to make a meaningful contribution to the current global digital knowledge economy. The paucity of African stories and community information on the web predicates the limited role of heritage and information practitioners in Africa. Low local content on the Web retards buy-in from local communities into digital resources, impeding ICT skills development and social transformation. These issues could be addressed successfully through provision of indigenous knowledge resources, sourced from the community, as part of public library services.
This paper describes a concept for the development of user-generated content compiled in an Indigenous digital library, making use of current mobile and web technologies. Informed by empirical practice based on a real African case-study, the innovative use of internet-based mobile applications that permits the exchange of information is explained, highlighting the interaction between the library, the community and the latest technologies. By re-aligning their services thus public libraries in Africa have the potential to reduce the digital divide an promote sustainable development.

More Info: Co-authored with Elizabeth Greyling. SCECSAL 2012 Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. Published in the conference proceedings ‘Information for Sustainable Development in a Digital Environment’: 400-411.
Publication Date: 2012
Publication Name: Information for Sustainable Development in a Digital Environment

The Ulwazi Programme and Goethe Institute Schools’ Project

In 2011 I initiated a project – in collaboration with the eThekwini Municipality and with funding from the Goethe Institut – to teach 21st Century Skills to learners in township schools around KwaZulu-Natal. Run at four schools with existing computer laboratories, the included a practical task-based section and an online e-learning component.

Through funding assistance from the Goethe Institut the programme is being rolled out to township and rural schools in a bid to create opportunities to enhance ICT skills among the youth and generate interest in their own history and culture. The School’s project will be run at four township and rural schools where there are computer laboratories, two schools during the 2nd semester 2011 and two schools during the 1st semester 2012. The pilot project will be run with a practical task-based section and an online e-learning component.  This report looks at the first half of the project, recently completed.

Task-based section

A mentor worked with a group of 10 students, from one school at a time. They introduced the programme, showed students how the website works, provided training on interviewing and story-writing and provided mentorship to the students with regards to their story writing. Working with the teacher responsible for this project, the mentor also set weekly themes for story collection (e.g. the story of my family, the area I grew up in, etc.) and helped mark the stories. 

On-line e-learning section

Students loaded their own stories and images onto the Ulwazi website and learnt to assign appropriate categories to them. They also completed an online test at the end of the eight weeks, with questions set that required the student to use the Ulwazi wiki to answer. There were also a number of questions on the ICT skills that students picked up through the programme.

Response from the participating schools

From the Students

“I would like to say thank you to the campus manager for accepting this opportunity so that we can participate. A big thank you to Mr Mchunu, Project Leader Mrs Greyling, our mentors Mr Zuma and Mabusi Kgwete, mentor for Menzi School, our technicians Mr Mathebula and Mr Niall McNulty for assisting us. To be honest this has been fun. We enjoyed participating in this project. We gained a lot, we have had huge excitement through this. We gained a variety of skills such as working in a team… we also gained more skills like creating Gmail accounts. We gained researching skills… how to use search engines like Google and how to write a query so that you can get the relevant information…

We also learnt more skills like how to interview people, how to use questionnaires to obtain more information and how to use libraries and so on. We gained communication skills like when you research and approach different people from different cultures, you cannot just say you are from Ulwazi, I want this information, because some people will think that you want to expose their personal lives or maybe you want to make or gain some profit out of them.

We had to be very polite, we had to respect. We knew how to greet, how to ask for something, how to introduce ourselves, how to make somebody understand what is it you want to talk about and how then it is important. After persuading them to feel that they are part of the programme is how we gained information.

We also learned how to use Ulwazi website, writing skills and so on. There is a lot, and I can assure everyone that we are ready for the industry, for working with other people using the skills that we gained. Thank you!”  Thandwayinkosi Myeza at Elangeni College.

“My fellow schoolmates, the problem is that I’m too excited, I don’t know where to start. On behalf of the CAT classmates we would like to thank the programme of Ulwazi, it’s been really a wonderful eight weeks. We learned a lot and some things that we never knew before. It’s like, for us we did know how to use internet. We really learned incredible skills and a big thank you to you all.”  Ntobeko Cele at Menzi High School.

From the Principals

“Words cannot be sufficient to express our appreciation of the project. What has been done by this project, you have assisted us because… this project has broken the boundaries of ignorance… we have learners who will understand that learning is not dependent on teaching. These are two different concepts – teaching and learning. You can be taught for 45 hours and at the end of the week when we check, there was no learning. But you can learn and without any teaching. With what they have taught you now, they have given you tools which must be used for you to learn.”

“You have assisted us because you have added value to what we are doing to ensure that we have learners that are empowered. Thank you very much for the project. As Mrs Ngema said, we have to take this project from this campus to other 7 campuses with +- 5000 learners. We can’t only benefit KwaMashu Campus. We need to steal this idea and see how do we take this idea to Ndwedwe Campus as a first priority because of their location. They need to be exposed to activities like this. I will appreciate it and then we can focus on Qadi campus and others can follow.”

“Really, I am excited. I will report this project to senior management. The head of your department Mr Thembinkosi Ngcobo is the college’s treasurer. I will also inform him about what you have done. I will give him feedback because he must know about what his soldiers are doing on the ground.”

Thank you very much [to the students] for being ambassadors of the college. Thank you to everyone, the municipality. The project should be the start of bigger things to come. Thank you!” – Mr Mbili, Rector of Elangeni College.

“We are here just to celebrate the work well done, mission accomplished. Ours is to receive our visitors and to listen to the message and make sure that what has been contributed to the school is really taken care of and becomes a lifetime investment. So I’m sure the few learners that have been trained will cascade this information to the majority of the school learners.”

“Thank you! We thank the funders of the project for making a contribution to our school. We can only teach the few learning areas that we are teaching. The type of skill and the type of knowledge that have been given to our learners is really a lot and we are sure that the entire school will benefit from the few who have learned the skill. We really have to say thank you so much, I know you have so much patience and I know it has been taking more of the mentor’s hours [than planned] because they used to remain even after four [in the afternoons] to continue finishing their work. It has proved to us that it is something they are passionate about. Finally I want to promise the municipality, the funders and the facilitators of this programme that the seed that they have planted will really grow, it will blossom and I can assure as a school we are always thirsty for the knowledge. Intellectual development is our specialization. This special skill is also adding value to the work that we do as a school we are really grateful. We would like to say please keep it up, do it to others. And we promise you that you invested in a very fertile ground at Menzi High School.” – Mr Mshololo, Principal at Menzi High School.

Extracts from the project blog

“Most of the children did not know what an email address was and for some it was their first time to log in to the internet. You should have seen their faces. ” – from First Day of Ulwazi School’s Project at Menzi High School.

“Enthusiastic students couldn’t wait to talk about Thursday, which is the day when everyone will be getting down with the project and our first activities.” – from Ulwazi Project Launch at Elangeni College

“The first two weeks reminded us that the project is mainly about researching and this needs time to get the right information. ” – from Lessons Learned so far!

“The team has been been diligently doing their research on the two themes and have done well in them. The delays have come when the typing of the stories had to be done with limited time access on the computers. ” – from Progress of the project.

“They have been working in small groups to research their stories and I hope everybody is going to learn something about their area and about the learners who participated in this project from their family histories.” – from Preparing for Ulwazi School’s Test.

Full project report below.