Sunday, July 08, 2007

Endless summer, or: with a single click, you can sponsor an OLPC Education Jam in the Philippines

This a post chock-full of happy excited announcements. Woo!

Endless summer finalist

First of all, I'm a finalist in the Endless Summer competition, which (by providing round trip airfare anywhere plus $1000 to donate once I get there) would put me one step closer to that 'round-the-world engineering education trip I'm working on. Vote for me here. (Voting closes July 13.) If you think someone else should go, by all means vote for them! I especially like Dawn's entry.

Now, I can't do the research trip on a single round-trip ticket. I'd also need a place to live, food to eat, that kind of thing. So if I win, here's what I'll be doing.

Running an Education Jam in the Philippines

Remember the OLPC Game Jam we did at Olin? (If not, the Boston Globe and Needham Channel article/video-clip here can quickly explain things). Well, we're doing an OLPC Curriculum Jam in the fall in several simultaneous international locations. Teachers and high-school/college students interested in education will spend a weekend developing open-content learning materials; after ~2.5 days they swap their curricula with a group in another country (so a teacher in Vancouver might make materials for a teacher in New York to use, and vice versa) and then proceed to teach their partner group's lessons to a group of younger local kids that very afternoon.

Instant feedback. Content creation, community building. And everything that's designed that weekend is automatically guaranteed to be sustainably flexible - usable by teachers in different countries with little to no support from the content's original creators.

Problem: Right now we have groups in the US and Canada. Not a very representative sample of folks from the developing world.

Solution: Go to the Philippines to run one in Manila. My family's there (read: free food and housing for the Mel). My parents went to school there and some of my cousins still do, so contacts (especially young student-testers from a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds) would be easier for me to find on short notice than most other places. Most people speak English, making communication barriers with OLPC headquarters minimal. We can mobilize the open-content community there, get something for the local userbase to nucleate around. $1000 goes a long way in Manila; I think we could do the entire Jam on that budget.

That's what I'd do with the grand prize. It's a win-win-win; starts a snowball of education goodness that ripples through a community my family once called home, jump-starts content development and a local community for OLPC, lets me visit and work within an educational system very different to the American one I'm used to. Also, I can (finally) visit my grandmother!

(By the way, if you're interested in running an OLPC Jam in your location or helping out with one in Manila, Vancouver, New York, Boston, or Chicago, give me a ping.)

And a few other things I should explain...

Astute readers of my Endless Summer entry may note some things I've forgotten to mention here.

  1. I'm learning how to talk! That is, I'm going to do aural rehabilitation, which is apparently code for "speech therapy for deaf people." If I'm going to teach and speak, I can't do that from behind a keyboard all the time. The catch is that the student-teachers at Northwestern are out for the summer, so I've got at least 2 months to do things on my own like learn about the musculature of the throat, learn IPA and go through lists of words people have heard me mispronounce, that kind of thing (if you have any ideas for fun things to do with this, please let me know; I'm totally making things up right now).
  2. I'm learning jazz piano. Okay, I'm slacking off on this and playing swing sheet music instead (my "how to play jazz piano" books are in Chicago) but I'm also starting to break away from sheet music and improvise around songs, even starting to bang out complete ones of my own instead of just aimlessly playing "things that kinda sound good." It's probably not jazz, but it's something.

Summer of Content

And then something you probably haven't heard because it hasn't been announced... until now. For those of you who are familiar with Google's Summer of Code, we bring you the Summer of Content. Basically, we're paying students to work with mentors from open content organizations to make... anything they want. Textbook, music, movies, photographs - want to make it? Propose it!

We're running a 5-week pilot at the end of this month (all students eligible), a Southern Hemisphere one in the Winter, and another in parallel with next year's Summer of Code. The program is still under construction, but it's moving forward fast. Interested in mentoring a project? Interested in doing a project? Know someone who would be? Please forward and ask questions!

Thanks for reading. I just had two mugs of Golden Monkey tea, so I'm super-hyper tonight, and proportionally more shameless.


L33tminion said...

Cool stuff. I'm sorry that I missed the Game Jam, it looks like that turned out awesome. Your interview came out excellently, too. (I was a bit surprised by their editorial decision to subtitle your segments, but maybe I'm just used to your accent...)

The Curriculum Jam is of interest to me, since I plan on continuing with meta-Olin stuff next year. I'm taking a class at Wellesley on "Psychology of Teaching, Learning, and Motivation" that looks really interesting, and there's apparently some people looking into doing a pedagogy focused sequel to the Meta-Olin CC. By the way, weren't you going to send me the white papers (or whatever) from the committee looking at grading last semester? I don't think I ever got those.

DJ said...

So yeah, I didn't know you were up to this much cool stuff either, and we were just hanging out. You modest person, you. I like the hardware design project concept; your disinterest in working to hear missing segments of the musical spectrum always did confuse me a bit, and it'll be great if others can do it without fear of stigma.

Consider me in (conditionally) on the Boston jam as well, provided I'm still in town (which I certainly hope I am).

Mel said...

l33tminion: Sweet - I wanted to take that class but it was canceled the semester I signed up, and then I graduated. Let me know how it goes! And regarding white papers - you're absolutely right, we're waiting for some data to come in but hopefully I'll be able to finish them next weekend.

your disinterest in working to hear missing segments of the musical spectrum always did confuse me a bit, and it'll be great if others can do it without fear of stigma.

Warning, dj - long reply!

I would really love to hear flutes. And birds. However:

1. Hearing aids won't work for me yet. I have a severe hearing loss concentrated in the high frequency ranges. I've been told that my hearing profile is one of the most difficult to deal with through amplification. (Btw, most of the ads you see for hearing aids are cheap ones built for older people; those aren't what I'm talking about. It's like comparing the wheelchairs they use at the airport with the wheelchair a lifetime paraplegic uses to get around.)

Designing a high-quality audio system smaller than your pinky in a high-stress, high-moisture environment is... hard. You deal with sweat, vibration, feedback (microphone is less than 2 in. from speaker), reliability, interoperability with other technologies (think of talking on your cell while wearing earphones and you'll get a glimpse of the problem) and the real kicker: customizing the aid for individual hearing profiles, since no people hear alike. It's a tough problem, and the technology isn't quite up to my standards yet (in terms of how much I'm willing to pay to get something that good).

2. Hearing aids (and cochlear implants, I bet) are hot, itchy, annoying, conspicuous*, and just Really Not Fun To Wear. I run around in crazy ways, dive through sprinklers, quasi-legally raft the Charles, and things like that - expensive (I could buy several good laptops with the money) electronics on one's person aren't usually compatible with such activities.

*It's amazing how differently people treat you when their first impression of you is "Deaf." Part of the reason I love computer is that on the internet, nobody can tell you're not hearing...

3. Quite simply, they sound bad. It's the difference between hearing Muse perform a song live and blasting the same song from lousy laptop speakers. Music, in particular, takes a terrible blow; even fairly recent cochlear implants have low enough resolution as to render notes indistinguishable from each other.

Cochlear implants destroy your normal hearing. You either remain a cyborg for the rest of your life, or you're totally deaf. I'd rather cling to the shreds of good music I can get now and work on making the technology better so I might actually want to use it in the future.