Free and Accessible Education and Information
I think most people can agree that learning skills and educating ourselves is the best way to an improved quality of life. I am not talking just about academic education; but learning anything about any topic, available to anybody, anywhere, any time. It must be relevant and it must be accessible. That means the student gets to pick and choose which content to focus on, to be applicable in the students life. That means the student can create the schedule and the classroom will follow the student. This is the kind of flexibility that is required for education to be able to reach the people it has traditionally left behind.
This is a video about customizing education around the student inside the conventional system:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U (12 minutes)
A friend sent me this link today:
The most obvious example of free information these days is Wikipedia; but the Udacity link reminded me of a project to create a structured curriculum online, The Khan Academy.
The information in this paragraph is paraphrased from the TED talk presentation linked below. It is about using the internet and recorded media to deliver lectures, testing, and collect information about student skills and weaknesses in an unbiased way. That way what students conventionally do in school and as homework gets flipped. The in-school portion will be the “work” and it can be collaborative and interactive, instead of going to class for a lecture where they have to be quiet and not interact with friends. If there is something in a lecture they missed, they can re-play it and not have to feel like they are wasting the lecturer or classes time, or if there is a concept that takes longer to absorb for a student, they don’t have to feel embarrassed they can do that portion at their own pace.
Open Courses from Official Educational Institutions
The academic content is great for the idea of formal training and certification; but what if we want something that teaches people how to improve their living situation. We want skills and not just certifications… these might be appropriate:
http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/marcin_jakubowski.html (4 minutes)
Ideally we need a system that facilitates the development of a volume of content that is practical and possibly curated and created regionally or locally (any device deployed could have the ability to assist students and parents to create and edit content to be uploaded for future updates). The idea is to take something like Wikipedia and lower the barriers to participation, from a technical/computer usage perspective.
Improved Distribution (how do we reach the unplugged population)
The sheer amount of information and the ability of a Wiki to link to disambiguations, definitions, greater detail, and related topics make the delivery of a hardcopy paper textbook series impractical, difficult to store, difficult to update, expensive, and slow to translate. Many of these issues can be addressed technologically.
Now not everybody can access the internet, and not everybody has electricity supplied to outlets in their home. We do have the ability to store massive amounts of data in a very small form factor (64GB MicroSD cards the size of a pinky fingernail). There are also E-Ink book readers that are capable of lasting on a single charge or set of batteries for weeks or months. Devices that are durable and weather resistant can be built at a reasonable cost.
Here are some examples of development platforms and finished products that have some of the desired characteristics sought for an educational deployment:
For environments where storage, power sources, and environmental conditions are a challenge, we need to devise some criteria for the design of a “universal textbook” device (a lot of this will be simillar to One Laptop Per Child criteria):
- durable, can survive being dropped
- moisture, water, and dust resistant
- extremely portable
- Authoring capabilities to create local/regional content that is relevant
- self-contained with all content, to operate offline (assume no network connectivity)
- self powered and lasts for weeks/months (wikireader can last up to a year on a pair of AAAs)
- possibly solar charged or otherwise powered without wall outlets or new batteries
- easily modified to support different languages (soft keys or touchscreen)
- can translate English or other content to local language
- can be updated by network or portable media and automatically updates peers in proximity
- production price must be as low as possible