Interview with Dean Dundas who has created a free CXC learning aid for the Caribbean

For many of us who grew up in Jamaica and the Caribbean the CXC was an exam that defined our future. There were many study guides and tools to prepare for this exam. Technology has provided us with a new online tool called Notesmaster.  This month we interview Dean Dundas who has created this free CXC learning aid for Caribbean students.

Are you Jamaican or of Jamaican parentage?
Yes my father was born in Hanover and my mother was born in St Andrew Jamaica. I was born in Guyana, but spent my early years in Kingston Jamaica.

Tell us about the Notesmaster website?
Notesmaster is a free e-learning portal with the core idea being to provide a first class learning resource for teachers and students arround the Caribbean. Notesmaster currently enables any CXC teacher to create and save their class teaching material online, and allows students to browse content, save and learn both inside and outside the classroom. Most exciting of all is that Notesmaster will become the official e-learning portal for CXC teachers and students, and this has been made possible through a recent partnership agreement with the Caribbean Examination Council. Notesmaster will continue to be free for teachers and students across the Caribbean and for 2010 our users can expect greater interactivity, content for an increased number of subject areas, a host of new features and significant improvements in usability and security.  

Why did you create the website?
Notesmaster was made possible through the efforts and ideas of many people who embrased the vision of creating an online education focused resource specifically to meet the needs of CXC students and teachers.While development of the web portal started in 2006, many of Notesmaster’s current features are a direct result of ongoing feedback from students and teachers dating from as far back as 2004. The experience of one of the Notesmaster’s founding memebers, gained while teaching CAPE economics at St Georges College in Kingston Jamaica led to the formation of the blueprint for Notesmaster which was originally called the CWES project. Over the years the idea was presented to schools and teachers and then refined until Notesmaster beta was custom built and released. Notesmaster was designed to give teachers a place online where they can interact with their students, and where students can engage in self-directed learning. I have also persoanlly worked on many of Notesmaster’s unique features, including the ability of students to access and even customize their own ‘virtual desk’ to store all of their class material online.

What is your goal?
To make Notesmaster the premier online resource for teachers and students across the Caribbean region. The platform is to be free at the point of use to all and offer the best technologies and the best interactive resources to facilitate teaching and learning both inside and outside the classroom.

How long has the site been online?
Notesmaster officially went live on October 19 2008 

Is the site still in the Beta version?
Yes. As the portal covers every subject offered by CXC, it will go through an extensive testing period. In 2010 the portal will be rebranded CXCNotesmaster with a host of new features.

Runing a website has cost. I do not see any banner ads or sponsorship on the site. How do you plan to support the site?
The portal, though free to use was also designed to be commercially sustainable. Notesmaster will be funded by sponsorship and advertising. It’s development phase and initial deployment has been funded by Dundas & Associates ltd 

How has the site been received by students in Jamaica and the rest of Caribbean?
We have had great feedback from students. We currently have full content for CSEC Caribbean History and CSEC Spanish. CSEC IT, Integrated Science and Social Studies and CAPE Sociology are available to students and will be completed shortly by their teachers. Students love that the portal is free and covers all specific objectives in the syllabus. Based on student feedback and requests we are also planning to release new features which will allow for greater customization.

How about the teachers? Were they involved in the development of the exams and content on the site?
All of the content on Notesmaster is created by practising CXC teachers, they were the first persons to test the portal. In the coming year there will be a master set of content created by CXC themselves. CXC will also be involved in the further development of the portal and as our partners, Notesmaster will be highly tailored to meet the exact needs of teachers and students. I think it is also great that students are encouraging their own teachers to get involved since teachers are given free unlimited web space to store their class material online.

Do you plan to add other exams in the future?
Being the official e-learning portal of the region means Notesmaster will cover all aspects of education and all subjects. Notesmaster will also allow students and teachers to form groups so that ideas can be pooled and shared from across the region. Through Notesmaster, a student in Jamaica can form a study group with a biology student in St Lucia and work on projects together. Notesmaster will aim to network the region under the umbrella of education.

What do you do when you are not working on Notesmaster?
I love watching movies to unwind. Of course it means i spend all day looking at a screen, but a great film can really draw you in.

What are your top 3 movies?
Top 3 favourite films:

  1. Casablanca
  2. Return of the Jedi
  3. Terminator 2

Any other favorite pastimes?
My other favourite pastime is hiking. My wife and I regularly plan walks that bring us closer to nature. 

Do you see your self as an online pioneer for online education in the Caribbean?
Many people have made valuable contributions that have taken Notesmaster from a small local portal to a regional provider of official e-learning material. I see myself as part of a team of excellence. Team work built Notesmaster.

Any final thoughts?
I hope, that through Notesmaster and the forthcoming CXCNotesmaster, we can make a real difference to education in the region. People aren’t used to getting much for free, so I further hope that through Notesmaster, acceptance of world class, free educational access, across the region will not be seen as a privilege, but as a right.

About the author

Xavier Murphy