Students Make Innovative Educational ICT Program for Micronesia
Longtime Inveneo friend and colleague Dr. Laura Hosman has led her students this past semester on an exciting digital library project at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. One of the project’s leaders, Cecillia Tran, is a 5th year Liberal Arts Engineering Studies Major, and she recently spoke with Inveneo to give an explanation of the ICT project. She has been inspired by how people can make a powerful impact just by using older technology in inventive ways. Read the interview below.
- Inveneo: What is the SPELL Project?
SPELL stands for Solar Powered Educational Learning Library. Students in the Federated States of Micronesia as well as Vanuatu have no access to Internet or electricity in their schools. Our solution was to create and donate 50 solar-powered mini servers, pre-loaded with educational content, that could be connected to any WiFi enabled device through a WiFi dongle. The educational content our team curated onto an SD card was based through extensive research of what levels of education were needed on the islands. Some of the materials used were various Khan Academy videos on subject matters such as math, writing, and science. Due to a recent typhoon, we also decided to upload weather related content so students are better prepared if another accident were to happen.
- Since the Banana Pis are going to Chuuk, will the educational content be in English, Chuukese, or another language?
The educational content will be in English, since students are required to learn English in the classroom. However, there will be some content that is in Chuukese.
- What is the role that students play within the SPELL Project?
We divided into four teams. There is a contents and deployment team who are responsible for researching and curating the educational materials that is put on the SD card. There is a design team responsible for creating the outer shell for the mini-server itself so that there is a protective casing and an attached solar panel to power the server. We also have a SPOT team (systems performance optimization team) that is responsible for testing and configuring the Banana Pi (mini server) and WiFi dongle. And also, we have a promotions team that is responsible for the marketing and branding of the project. We even created a website and logo for the team.
- How will this project made a difference in Micronesia?
This project will give students who don’t have access to Internet or electricity a new way to receive their education. They will have the chance to be able to interact with electronic devices that many of us are fortunate enough to have easy access to. Our contents team is working very hard to provide a good, substantial amount of information and educational materials that would be helpful. The platform could possibly open their minds and eyes like never before.
- What lessons have you learned from this project?
I think we learned a lot of real world skills, especially teamwork; our class was composed of students from many different backgrounds of education. For example, we have many liberal arts and engineering studies majors, as well as electrical engineering, computer science, journalism, graphic communication, and political science. We’ve gained a lot of knowledge and have seen many different perspectives as we’ve moved along through different parts of the project. We also learned that projects will not always go as planned. We have hit many bumps in the road and have had to change directions, but it was a good experience for all of us. We managed to work our way through them. Finally, we learned a lot about Chuuk and the islands, what educational access they have, and how we can make a difference. That’s what excited me about this class: this project really could make a difference and we could reach out to people who are in need. It’s exciting to be a part of a project that would go beyond the classroom and make a tangible difference that matters in the world.
- What can the ICT community learn from SPELL’s experience?
I think it’s amazing what a difference a small group of 15 people can make. We were donated 50 Banana Pi brand units, given as part of LeMaker’s non-profit educational program. We turned them into a powerful educational tool that we believe could make a real difference in Chuuk students’ lives, as well as other countries, that may not have Internet access or electricity in their schools.
The ICT community should be aware that anything can make a difference. Products that one may think is outdated can be turned into something incredible that would help people. Sometimes it’s the small but innovative changes that can make a big impact.