Light to Read – why the apparent lack of interest in libraries by ICT4E pundits?

I guess that supporting teacher involvement in what Niall Winters’ and many other pedagogues’ (peculiarly) narrow notion of mobile learning is a messy, time-consuming and resource-intensive process.

Frankly, I’m amazed by the apparent lack of interest in libraries by all these sage ICT4E ‘readers’ – in all shapes and sizes.

[Library – a mostly public place which keeps a representative collection of reading material – books for all ages – and diverse other media such as audiobooks, music and film, for mostly anyone to read for pleasure and/or study.]

When did libraries stop being *the* fundamental source of educational information for learners and teachers to do their homework, plan their next lesson or find out more cool stuff about the world they live in?

When did encyclopaedias become obsolete?  When did the subject index stop working as it should?

An affordable and easily accessible library should not be seen as yet another attack on teachers’ time, resources and professionalism, to justify technology use in education.

A well-resourced library, locally contextualised, and so much simpler to use than Dewey Decimal Classification ever was, should be embraced in the spirit of constructivism !

I would like to share with you a development I’ve been involved in for several months. I have blogged about this already, but it’s reached critical mass.

A solar-powered light kit (lights and USB outlet to charge your phone and/or tablet) with some other off-the-shelf bits and pieces bought locally in conjunction with stable Open Source software and a comprehensive, locally *contextualised*, library of open educational resources (such as Khan Academy and Wikipedia) accessed by any web browser/platform with wireless access can make sense in schools (and perhaps more importantly homes!) without electricity, or the burden of costly and tardy internet access. 
The idea of making use of off-grid solutions (without internet) for education is not new (eg eGranary, Khan on a stick), but most of these solutions have been insensitive to local conditions and educational needs. And power requirements have usually been overlooked. Our new ‘gizmo’, with some flashed firmware modifications, meets several of these local requirements.
We’ve called our local development “light to read” (L2R) and this costs about US$ 70;  a battery-powered 5V wireless router, USB power cable and (hot-swoppable*) USB memory stick with open education content (but you could populate your own USB memory stick with files of your own choice – so long as these can be read by your personal mobile device’s web browser.  
[*by hot-swoppable it means you can insert or remove the USB stick without having to turn off the L2R first]
We’ve added a 7 Amp-hour, 12 V  solar light kit, 4 LED lights, a USB charger, 10W Photovoltaic (solar) panel, and cabling, locally distributed by a couple of appliance retailers, which also cost about US$ 100 (this solution should be *significantly* cheaper – we’ve shopped around and seen huge margins being added in Namibia – upwards of 300% !!)
I can land new android 7″ tablets at about US$ 60 presently; this price is expected to drop to under US$45 by mid 2014. I expect that (ubuntu and other)  smart phones will retail for less than US$25 by 2015.
Off-the-shelf L2R + solar light kit + one tablet for a home without electricity will about cost US$ 230, presently. It costs between US$0.5 and 1.00 to have a mobile phone charged at the local bar, with the added risks of losing your phone to theft.  Apparently mobile-phone theft accounts for one in every three robberies reported!   
A cluster of L2R and 24 library tablets, all simultaneously able to stream video or other library resources from the USB memory stick (!), will cost US$ 1510. So the math is pretty simple – Ministry of Education is entertaining the idea of getting Samsung solar-powered refurbished shipping containers with a local PC server, 24 Intel Classmate netbooks, running licensed Microsoft, and claims of rural internet access for the stunning sum of >> US$ 100,000 per unit.
645 schools without electricity makes for a lucrative profit! My recent experiences with government decision-makers suggests that affordable solar light kits with LED lights and the means to charge mobile devices would be a highly attractive product for rural communities; about 600,000 children read (if at all) by candle or kerosine light in Namibia; this estimate is based on there being 240,000 households in Namibia without electricity.  The scale of such disadvantage is even more enormous in countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia and DRC.
The extent to which the L2R will actually be adopted as a valuable educational resource is unknown at this stage, and some ‘experts’ argue that I’d be more successful if I offered *entertainment* instead of school library resources.
So be it – I’m exploring suitable non-proprietary entertainment as a value-add:-)! I am now looking for partners to trial this mix of tablets + L2R in 50 schools and 50 homes without electricity. We’ve configured some basic usage-logging capacity, so we’ll get a sense of what happens. I’m negotiating telephonic help for L2R with a local call-centre willing to take on out-of-school/university/polytechnic interns to man a L2R help desk.  
I am also looking for a local distributor who is willing to underwrite one-year warranty returns on L2R and provide off-the-shelf component replacements if and when needed. We are working with a local “FABLAB” to procure some alternative casing for the kit – they have an industrial class 3D printer which we expect to use for modelling some appropriate packaging and branding.
Peter Muller, a local retired maths teacher, has indicated his interest in making Khan Academy resources locally relevant, and we’ve identified an NGO in South Africa who are keen to drive local video production for those lessons which are, as yet, not represented on Khan’s existing suite of maths and science curriculum. So lots of ideas, and still looking for the right (angel) investor to get involved. I’m open-minded, have lots of time and enough resources ;-).
Do let me know what you think.  Pictures to follow soonish!

Read my blog

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Posted in #eLA13, #Idlelo6, #namibia, @stevesong, activism, Uncategorized
3 comments on “Light to Read – why the apparent lack of interest in libraries by ICT4E pundits?
  1. […] become a working prototype which evolved from earlier work with Raspberry (Library) Pi (see earlier blogs),  and historical influence of my SchoolNet Namibia experience […]


  2. […] a working prototype which evolved from earlier work with Raspberry (Library) Pi (see earlier blogs),  and the historical influence of my SchoolNet Namibia experience […]


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