LeMaker Provides Banana Pi’s and Generous Support for Solar Digital Library all-in-one Kit Project—and for Maker Spaces

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This past summer (July 2014), I became aware of LeMaker, a company that makes and provides support for open source technology. More specifically for the purposes of this post, I was interested in their Banana Pi, which is an open source, single board computer just about the size of a credit card, that can run Android or Linux. With an ARM based dual core processor and 1 GB memory, it offers more computing power than the Raspberry Pi, its famous cousin. (With even more features added, LeMaker’s newest version is called the Banana Pro.)

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This organization came to my attention because they were sponsoring in-kind grants of Banana Pi’s for multiple different kinds of projects—of which education was one. We’ve been working for some time now to bring educational content to remote schools with no Internet connectivity, and the Banana Pi sparked an idea: How about developing a simple-to-use, all-in-one, solar-powered kit to enable the use of this content at remote schools with no electricity or Internet? The idea of our Digital Library all-in-one Kit was born.

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I applied for an in-kind grant on LeMaker’s webpage, describing the project: 50 Banana Pis to Remote Pacific Island Schools, and in the next month, I found out that they were interested, and were going to support the project! They sent me the hardware (Banana Pi’s, as well as cases), and I set about brainstorming how to make this project a reality at Cal Poly, where I would start working in the next month. The previous post showcases the initial steps we’ve taken on the project, and I’ll be reporting on the ongoing work in future posts.

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In December 2014, we had the opportunity to meet two of the Founders, Leo Liu and Ivy Yao from LeMaker, while in Hong Kong. They were kind enough to travel from their office in Shenzhen to meet with us. (Here’s a picture of breathtakingly beautiful Hong Kong.)

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We spoke about the project and our (mutual) excitement for it, but what really struck me was our mutual passion for harnessing technology to improve opportunities for children around the world who happen to have been born into resource-constrained conditions.

During our conversation, I learned how passionate they are about the “Maker” movement, and their belief—with which I wholeheartedly agree—that having technology and physical spaces that promote creativity and innovation is one of the best ways to promote this mindset among (young) people across the globe. In many places around the world, education emphasizes rote learning and memorization and is not an experience that promotes creativity, innovation, teamwork, or all the skills and mindsets we believe will be the hallmarks of successful economies and “information and innovation societies” in the future. Maker spaces can be places that do promote such activities. So, even though we work toward making the educational experience more modernized around the world, this process won’t be easy and will take time.

Images below: Here are some fun things that can be done with a Banana Pi or Banana Pro: It can be used as a traditional computer; as a server, as the “brains” for a remote controlled car…endless possibilities!

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In a similar way, we know about the benefits that access to information and the ability to communicate, via the Internet, can have in the educational context, yet Internet connectivity will not become a reality for a long time for many, many resource-constrained schools around the globe, even though we may be working toward that reality. In the meantime therefore, we are working towards ways to develop the “skills of the future” related to information (searching, acquiring, assessing) and knowledge creation and sharing: in other words, cultivating Internet-ready skills before the Internet arrives.

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So, we’re working to develop an offline solution that provides educational content in an environment that replicates an online environment. We’re working to deploy this first iteration of our Solar Powered Digital Library all-in-one Kit at 50 remote, unconnected Pacific Island schools. I’ll be writing more about that exciting work in future posts, so stay tuned!

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Cal Poly students launch Pacific Islands ICT4D efforts with creation of three new videos

In the fall quarter of 2014, three student teams at Cal Poly worked to create videos that will help spread awareness of bringing information and communications technology (ICT) into schools in remote and resource-challenged Pacific Islands locations. (Scroll down to watch the videos!)

The teams worked in collaboration with partners Ian Thomson and Shikha Raturi, who co-direct the Teacher’s Educational Resource and E-Learning Center at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. Ian and Shikha work closely with Ministries of Education, development organizations, schools and individual teachers across the Pacific Islands. They also conduct national, regional, and local conferences and workshops that support teacher training and skills-building to promote e-learning across the Pacific. In this context, they often make use of videos to illustrate points or to stimulate creativity and/or discussion, yet none of the videos they use were focused specifically on the challenges and opportunities ICTs present for schools and education in the Pacific Islands.

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Creating some targeted, to-the-point videos on these precise topics, which could be useful for our partners in Fiji, became our team’s goal. This project took place in the context of a Technology and Public Policy class, and the challenge I issued to the students was to undertake a Learn-by-Doing public policy project that would have an impact in the real world, despite the fact that we were not able to leave our campus setting during the five weeks we worked on the project this quarter. In this case, we chose the policy-relevant activity of awareness-raising, of the public and of teachers, all the way up to policymakers, while also using the very technologies we were advocating for and demonstrating the use of. P1150690

The teams set out to understand the appropriate and desired messages to convey, the cultural contexts into which the videos would be introduced and of which the videos would attempt be representative, and the specific challenges and opportunities ICT presents for education in the Pacific Islands. Three groups were formed to further refine the videos’ content, each with a distinct target audience and message.

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Although there was variation and creativity in all of the videos, all three teams did agree on using a stop-motion whiteboard framework within the videos, to keep the continuation of the theme, visually, across all of the videos, but also because the writing out of words in a visual manner (while combining this act with the use of technology) tends to help get a message across—especially to teachers!

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The first group set its focus on policymakers, emphasizing the point that ICT in the schools can bring about significant benefits, even (and especially) in resource- and infrastructure-constrained locations, through the use of simple and robust technology.

The second group’s video focused on the educators themselves, demonstrating through examples some simple and straightforward, yet creative, methods for using ICT in the schools.

The third video’s target audience is the general public, with the goal of raising awareness of the next stage of our work: Designing, Developing, and Deploying 50 Solar-Powered All-in-One Digital Library Kits to schools across the Pacific Islands.
Please watch the video and stay tuned for updates on this exciting project!

On the final day of class, the students debuted their videos, over a Skype-connected call, to our partners in Fiji. Happily, our partners were quite enthusiastic about the videos, and provided very positive responses to all 3 videos – for example: “Blown away,” “Fantastic,” and “Very impressed” were repeated phrases. We hope they will prove useful!

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Akoyikoyi School in Chuuk, FSM receives RACHEL Server for offline educational content

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Last week, the PISCES (Pacific Islands Schools, Connectivity, Education, and Solar) Team visited the Akoyikoyi School, located in Penia Village, on Weno Island, in Chuuk State, in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). This is a unique primary school, presently comprising grades 1-3, and operating like a charter school yet charging no fees, while focusing on community involvement to ensure long-term student success.

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We met with the Akoyikoyi Team of teacher-volunteers, principal, and director (Clark Graham). We spoke about the PISCES Team’s progress to-date and future work in developing an off-line repository for educational material to be made available to all of Chuuk’s schools.

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Among other things, we demonstrated the RACHEL educational content server to the Akoyikoyi Team. The RACHEL server is an ultra-compact, ultra-low power computer (on a Raspberry Pi) preloaded with free educational content (RACHEL, from World Possible). There seemed to be a great fit for a RACHEL server at the Akyoikoyi School, as they have both electricity and technological devices (tablets) for the students to use, but no Internet connectivity (which can otherwise severely limit the usefulness of devices such as tablets). RACHEL provides an offline repository of educational content, but does still require electricity and devices to be useful.

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A few days after our initial visit, we brought a RACHEL to the Akoyikoyi School for them to keep, explore the content and how to use it, and discover what they’d like to add to the content. Pictured above is Hiro, from the iSolutions Micronesia and PISCES Team, handing the Rachel Pi over to Grace, one of Akoyikoyi’s teachers.

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This is only the first stage of what we believe will become a fruitful partnership moving forward. Not only do we hope to be able to provide the Akoyikoyi School with a greater number of more powerful devices, so that all of their students can make use of this digital technology and content, but we also look forward to their input to our team on digital content that will be valuable and primary-level appropriate, which we can add to the off-line repository for all schools in Chuuk to be able to access in the future.

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We understand that an ethnomusicologist is coming to visit the Akoyikoyi School in the near future, and it would be fantastic to be able to add some Chuukese music to the digital library!

Posted in Chuuk, Micronesia, Pacific Islands, RACHEL | 3 Comments