Rob Grande's blog from Nepal 3

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Summary

◦ I have spent one week testing the Looma devices at Dol Shree Bhanjyang in rural Dhading. To see more information about the state of the facilities, see the “Dol Shree Bhanjyang” report, and for more unorganized notes taken during the classes see “rural class Looma scratch notes”

◦ The DSB school is partnered with the UMN and has been seriously developed over the past five years. The UMN monitors their progress and visits about once a month to check on maintenance of facilities, etc. They represent an excellent school to test out Looma and should most definitely be used in the future for beta testing.

◦ Overall, the teachers and students were very excited by the technology, although they desired more content.

◦ There were some difficulties in translation, and teachers did not use the Looma as I had expected. While I did not receive the expected feedback on GUI, content, and usability/comfort, I did receive a lot of information about how the Looma system will actually be used by Nepalese teachers, rather than the way we would like them to. This is an important distinction in international development as many times the villagers do not use the given technology as intended. For instance, aid groups building bathrooms, and having the villagers use them as potato storage. In the case of Looma, teachers not interacting with students more, but simply reading off the text book.

▪ The key is to imagine yourself as a rote lecture style teacher. Rote lecture style is extremely easy, and you do not feel personally interested in teaching well; it is simply a job and you want to put in minimal effort. Given a Looma, you will not say “oh wow this is great! Now I can finally stop using rote style, and can use interactive content”, you will simply use the new technology as a script to do more lecture style teaching.


State of Technology/ Development

◦ 5 years ago, before the UMN came in, the school was made of straw and mud, had no running water, no electricity or internet, and children did not even wear shoes to class.

◦ Now, the school has a drinking fountain, is made of cement and glass, has a library, a few computers, solar power and micro hydro grid power, inconsistent internet, and every student has textbooks

◦ Phone service and Internet are extremely unreliable but are occasionally available. When available, it is very slow. (slower than 56k)

◦ Currently, two rooms, the office and library have access to electricity, and so the Looma was only used in the library, not the classrooms. The electricity in the library had voltage regulators, but I was told the office did not, and often the voltage fell below a critical threshold resulting in devices malfunctioning

Key observations of classes

◦ Teachers in Nepal use a combination of rote learning and lecture method. The most common practices include:

▪ Reading directly from the textbook

▪ Having students read (or chant) from the textbook in groups

▪ Immediately answering questions in the book, and so giving the students no time to answer.

◦ All student answers are in group, and it is clear that while a few students understand the material, a large percentage (~30%) are not saying anything are clearly getting left behind.

◦ Teachers will often ask the class a question, but the students will not answer, either for fear of not knowing it correctly or for fear of challenging the teacher, who typically answers all questions. The teacher then says the answer, which is commonly incorrect (about 25% of the time in english class), and the students write down the answer in the book.

◦ The students will often just read the textbooks verbatim as a group in a sort of chant, where the students are not syncronized with one another at all. It is clear that the students are simply sounding out the spelling and words (in both nepali and english) and are not actually internalizing or processing any content.

◦ It is clear most teachers do not understand the material, but are simply relying on the textbook as a prop with the answers. In my opinion, most teachers in nepal could be replaced with a text to speech synthesizer of the book, and almost no loss in education quality could be had.

◦ Often, teachers will ask a question, not give the answer, and simply ask, “do you get it?” without actually verifying that the students know the answer. Ofcourse all students respond affirmatively.

◦ The text books sometimes include obscure western references to things that nepali students have never encountered, such as “jelly” or “hot air balloons”

◦ Many times, the students will just read the questions verbatim from the book, without answering them. That is to say, the students are never once quizzed on comprehension during their class.

Key observations from teachers using Looma

◦ They teachers were never really trained properly on the Looma (difficulties in translations), and so many teachers adopted one of two strategies:

▪ Have students read verbatim in group from the textbook on the projector

▪ Just spend the entire class watching videos and games with no reference to content

◦ Teachers do not wait for the students’ answers. It is clear that if we simply give the teachers interactive content, like questions in the Looma, they will immediately uncover the answer, in the same way that many young children immediately flip to the back of the book to find the answer, and never actually go through the thought process of answering.

◦ The students are fascinated by the Looma and absolutely love it as a piece of technology. They are very clearly excited by it and can't wait to use it.

◦ After a few days of use, the teachers became more used to Looma, and used it less to read verbatim from the book, and more as a prop, as intended.

Key feedback/desires from teachers using Looma

◦ Initial questions from teachers about desired content

▪ Teachers wanted to know if Looma had capabilities to teach “how to teach a topic (such as sonnets)”. I believe that this could have meant two things (translation was an issue):

• Wanted teachers manuals for books and teacher training material. They what to know how to teach the material (or so I think. A little bit was lost in translation).

• Wanted an easy to access whiteboard feature or window where they could put their supplementary explanation of the material

▪ They wanted to know if Looma had apps to show how to prove mathematical formulas, do grammar, read English text, etc. That is, will the Looma have additional documents on explaining the book material.

▪ Essentially, they wanted to know if Looma would have all of the answers and knowledge and be able to teach everything in the book, because the teachers themselves don't understand the material.

▪ UMN contacts wanted to use apps to teach about global warming and wanted to know if the Looma could do apps too

◦ Feedback from classes

▪ They would like more pictures to explain things like “jelly” which are foreign concepts, and like “myosis” which are difficult scientific concepts presented in the book without pictures.

▪ They would like a english text to speech synthesizer.

▪ They would like more games from e-paath (although some of these games are really boring/ not interesting to students.)

▪ They would like an easy ability to integrate their own explanations (like a white board app) or to write/edit the book. For example, they wanted to cover up answers in the book, and then have them revealed later

▪ Teachers mentioned that the books introduce the algorithms/rules for math and science first, and then provide examples. They said they would love to have examples first, and then teach the general rule. This echoes what Christine Stone said.

Suggestions for next iterations of Looma

◦ Look into filter for dust on the projector. After just one week, the front was caked with dust, and the projector was running a little hot.

◦ Add voltage sensor that will not allow Looma to turn on if the voltage is too low

◦ Many of the text books are now outdated. To my understanding, the math and science of grades 6+ are now new, but their may be others.

◦ Add images and videos to difficult or foreign concepts in the book

◦ Add interactive content, like questions. Note: this is the most difficult one to tackle:

▪ If we require an answer from the class, the teacher will not use the technology at all

▪ If we don't require an answer in the Looma, the teacher will immediately uncover the answer, and never give the students the opportunity to answer or think.

◦ Text to speech

▪ Really the key is to require that the students repeat as well. They are used to just listening without comprehending, and if given an English TTS, will continue to do so

▪ We could try to do a word by word app like Christine said, which requires the user to prompt the next word.

▪ Students have never heard a native English speaker.

◦ Translation app

▪ Again, there is the problem that the teachers will use this on every word immediately, not letting the knowledge sink in

◦ Explanations of mathematical theorems, proofs, algorithms, etc. - perhaps in form of movies or tutorials

◦ Include the rest of the e-paath games and add links to main text

◦ Create lesson plans, as mentioned previously in correspondences

◦ Use Looma as full lesson or simply as prop?

▪ While it was my original idea to use Looma as a prop, and have teachers do their regular plan, I think that it is too much switching between things, and it is a new technology they are not familiar with, so they may be comfortable with just reading off Looma like a script.

▪ It's possible with more practice, they will become more comfortable, but we need more testing.

▪ When testing, it reminded me of people first learning to use PPT. Many people initially put tons of text on the slides and read verbatim. Then, after getting more experience, they use less text and just use it as a prop for visual aids.

◦ Include teacher device training tutorials and videos (either in Looma or in a external physical paper manual)

▪ A lot of the confusion dealt from teachers not being trained to use Looma, and so they just fumbled around, not knowing what material was available, or how to use this.

▪ If we could have a training session, or a manual, this would help. Of course, those teachers not interested, will remain not interested.

◦ Add hyperlinks/buttons in book pdf to following content types:

▪ Videos

▪ Images

▪ Games

▪ Recordings of text

▪ Answers to problems

▪ Additional questions

▪ How to solve problems (explanations)

◦ Make it easy for teachers to transition out of the lesson/text book pdf and into their own explanations (like a white board app).

◦ Down convert all images and videos upon uploading so that they are not slow/big

◦ Think about training one interested teacher (such as Badri) and then have him teach everyone else at the school how to use the device

◦ Look into a local tablet + projector combo, and use Bluetooth/wireless to project wirelessly.

▪ After some problems with the FPGA board, it became very clear that it is not good to have esoteric hardware that is unavailable in Nepal. If something breaks, it must be shipped from America, which could take a long time to villages. Additionally, debugging requires a large amount of technical knowledge. For example, if the FPGA board needs to be reprogrammed, the teacher cannot do this himself, an engineer (presuming we have a full time hire here) would have to go to the village himself and do the work.

Final thoughts/ Analysis

◦ The biggest thing to watch out for is that teachers simply read off the interactive content of Looma and don't actually quiz. They will most likely use the Looma as a script in a lecture style, and not much will be internalized. On the other hand, videos and additional explanations would be highly beneficial to the students because the government explanations are exceedingly short and dense.

◦ While Badri (the English teacher) wanted me to stay longer to test the Looma, teach him how to use it, and in turn have him teach the teachers. I believe that I collected all the information I need for this level of maturity of Looma. I additionally believe that while surveying additional villages for the state of technology would be useful, not much extra information would be gained in terms of education style.

◦ I believe that the most important things to do at this point are to update the Looma software to allow for easy content addition, and then get in contact with teachers who are interested in designing courses, as well as open source developers.

◦ After making these changes, then I will start meeting with more schools and partners interested in distributing Looma, such as UMN, OLE, Three60. However, until this point, I don't believe there is much utility in meeting with such partners. They are waiting for a finished Looma project, and not developing it. Since we have substantial information on what to develop next from this week, it remains that we should implement these developments before reaching out again.

◦ Lastly, the most important thing to do is to start looking into hiring 1-3 full time staff here in Nepal or outsourcing to India to design hardware/ manufacturing specs. Nandu has the contacts to these people, and is willing to facilitate.