Cal Poly Solar SPELL Team Holds Successful Training Workshop with Micronesia Peace Corps Volunteers

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The Solar SPELL team from Cal Poly carried out a two-day training session with the incoming class of Peace Corps volunteers in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The training took place in Madolenihmw, Pohnpei in on August 4 & 5, 2015.

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Cal Poly Professor Laura Hosman and student Drew Balthazor led the training, which included an overview of the library’s hardware, content, and the tablet that the team included for each Peace Corps volunteer to be able to access the library’s content once in the field. Raymond Norte, also from Cal Poly, documented the training digitally, as he served as the team’s videographer and photographer.

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This training was the first of two this summer that will be carried out by Prof. Hosman and the team of students in the Liberal Arts and Engineering Program who worked on designing, developing, and deploying the library over the past few months.

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The Peace Corps volunteers in FSM, and indeed across the Pacific Islands, commit to two years of volunteer service, and are stationed at schools. Most of these schools will not have reliable electricity/power or Internet connectivity, so these libraries are designed to provide relevant educational content in these challenging environmental conditions. The Peace Corps volunteers’ responsibilities include teaching English, using technology where possible, and working together with the community and the school to help improve the education available at the schools where they are serving.

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The Solar SPELL library was designed to help meet the needs of the Peace Corps volunteers, vis-à-vis enabling and improving education, in the field. It includes open access content, much of which is localized for the Federated States of Micronesia and for the Pacific Islands. The offline library’s content can also be found in on-line version here: http://pacificschoolserver.org

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The library’s hardware is designed to be as simple to use as possible, with no moving parts in order to avoid overheating. The solar panel and plastic case are waterproof, providing an extra level of protection against the salt air and humidity that is ever-present in the Islands.

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A number of the Peace Corps volunteers expressed their gratitude to the SPELL team, for creating the library, for its relevance to their mission, and for giving the training session. The sentiment of gratitude was echoed by the Peace Corps staff as well. We heard so many expressions of “Thank you so much,” “This is so perfect for us,” “This is amazing,” “I can’t believe your students did this in such a limited time,” and that felt pretty wonderful.

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The team is extremely grateful to the Peace Corps staff in FSM, particularly including to Rodney Salas and James Ramon, who facilitated the successful training on-site, as well as to Peace Corps librarian Elizabeth Karr, who provided valuable input and feedback on the training materials prior to the workshop in Pohnpei.

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After the training in Pohnpei was completed, the team traveled to Chuuk, another of the four Federated States of Micronesia, to jump-start two new projects, and to check in on multiple other projects that Dr. Hosman has initiated or assisted with, there.

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The SPELL Solar Digital Libraries project was made financially possible through a grant from the Pacific Telecommunications Council, an in-kind donation (of Banana Pis) from LeMaker, as well as an in-kind donation (of Nexus 7 Tablets) from Inveneo.

Posted in Cal Poly, Micronesia, Pacific Islands, Peace Corps, Solar Digital Library, Solar Power, Teacher Technology Training, Vanuatu | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SolarSPELL featured on BBC World Service Program Click

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A short while ago, I was interviewed about the SPELL project on the BBC World Service Program Click. It was a fantastic opportunity to talk about what our solar digital libraries are, how they work, what the content is, and why having great content is so important. It was perfect timing to raise awareness of the project in advance of our deployments in Vanuatu and Micronesia in the coming weeks.

Above is a YouTube video with the interview and a slideshow of relevant photos.

If you’d prefer to listen to the full length podcast, here is a link to the Click website with the episode, and the SPELL interview starts at about 21:50.

Many thanks to Gareth Mitchell for a lovely interview, and to Colin Grant for finding out about the project and making the interview possible.

Posted in Micronesia, Pacific Islands, Solar Digital Library, Solar Power, Vanuatu, Vanuatu | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Solar Digital Library Demo to Peace Corps Librarian

Last week, I had the opportunity to demo our SPELL Solar Digital Library to Elizabeth Karr, a Technical Information Specialist (librarian) at the US Peace Corps. We had already spoken and exchanged emails about SPELL prior to this, but it was wonderful to meet her in person. In fact, two-and-a-half hours flew by before I even noticed what time it was!

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We met at Inveneo’s offices in downtown San Francisco, and were also able to discuss the various—and numerous—relevant projects that Inveneo has done and is doing, both related to this project and to educational technology and connectivity in resource-constrained locations more generally.

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We got to describe in greater detail our work in the Pacific Islands over the past few years that has led up to this project, as we gear up for our deployment of the first 50 SPELL libraries to Peace Corps volunteers in the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu in the coming weeks and months. We also discussed how the project could scale in the future, particularly to additional Peace Corps volunteers. Among other much appreciated insights, Elizabeth gave invaluable tips on getting productive feedback from PC volunteers in the field, so that we can keep improving the design and content on the libraries in the future.

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Elizabeth is extremely supportive of the SPELL library, and we are thrilled to be able to work with such an enthusiastic ally! We certainly look forward to working together with her and with the Peace Corps, as we continue to improve the library and hope to expand its implementation.

Posted in Cal Poly, Micronesia, Pacific Islands, Peace Corps, Solar Digital Library, Solar Power, Vanuatu | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment