Tag Archives: education

A rugged, mobile wifi device brings the web to schools in Africa and beyond

Now that BRCK has launched, Ushahidi is turning its attention to where it will be best put to use — in schools. Photo: BRCK

BRCK is best described as a “backup generator for the internet.” When it was announced, the idea of a rugged, rechargeable, mobile wifi device captured imaginations as a good way to bring robust connectivity to people in places with spotty infrastructure – particularly in developing countries.

The device is the brainchild of Nairobi-based technology company Ushahidi, and was created partly out of simple frustration with dropped internet connections and power outages in the city. After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, BRCK has now manufactured and shipped more than 1,000 units to 45 countries, many of them in emerging markets, and is catching up on the backlog of orders. So — what next?

Here, Juliana Rotich — a TED Fellow and founding member of Ushahidi — tells the TED Blog that BRCK is now looking for new ways the technology can be applied, and shifting focus from hardware to community action.

Tell us what’s new with BRCK.

Right now, we’re really excited about working with organizations in the education space and in the health space. We’re trying to figure out how to help people in these fields get resilient connectivity in support of their work.

To give an example, we’re working with Amaf school in Kawangware – which is an under-resourced area. The school has teachers and electricity — as well as Zuku, one of the most basic cable providers. The problem is that the internet connection here isn’t reliable, and if the power goes out, your internet goes out. So we’ve started to put BRCK in the school to provide a wifi hotspot and extend connectivity into the classroom.

How is this different from using a standard 3G connection?

BRCK is connected to 3G, but instead of only having the connection on one device, you can share it out among many devices. In the case of the school, it can handle 20 devices, so more students get access at one time. We’re also working closely with a company called eLimu that provides tablets with content as a learning tool for children.

In the case of health care, providers can — with BRCK — access software systems that can help gather patient information, helping to digitize patient data like health care records, ultrasound scans and educational content for community health care workers to make care provision more efficient. We’re about to deploy our first units into the Narok part of Kenya to five clinics to see how it works, with the help of the team at MedicMobile.

Basically, what we’re thinking about at BRCK is no longer the hardware itself. Now that the basic platform is done, what matters is constructive value.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

Ocean exploration for all: Fellows Friday with David Lang


David Lang wants to make investigating the mysteries of the ocean accessible to anyone curious and adventurous enough to dive deep. Here, the co-founder of OpenROV — a community of citizen ocean explorers and creators of low-cost underwater robots — recounts his blistering journey from office job to fledgling maker to inventor of a robot that could revolutionize ocean exploration, education and research. And, he tells us about his newly launched book, Zero to Maker, a how-to guide for makers everywhere.

You started out on the OpenROV adventure after you lost a desk job. How did you make the leap from that to creating open source underwater robots?

Just over two years ago, I was working for this startup, writing emails, basically. When it went under, I decided to move to San Francisco because I was dating a woman up here at the time. But I also really wanted to start making stuff. I had met a carpenter, and I thought, “You can’t take carpentry away from this guy. You can’t fire him from this. It’s a skill, and it’s real.” I wanted something like that in my life.

So my goal was simple: making things. I started taking these woodshop classes and welding, and then I got into 3D printing, laser cutting.

During that time I met my friend Eric Stackpole, who wanted to build this underwater robot so that he could explore the Hall City Cave, an underwater limestone cave in the mountains of Northern California, where we’d heard rumors of treasure. I was like ‘whoa, that is so cool! Let me just tag along.’ I helped him put up a website, OpenROV, where we explained that it was going to be an open-source underwater robot, and that we needed help building it – because we didn’t know what we were doing.

We started getting great feedback and contributions from people all over the world, and we still do. It’s in the DNA of our project — the fact that this is something we’re all building together.

Did you find treasure in the cave?

No. But actually, we went back there recently, with Men’s Journal and Range Rover, to film this commercial, with a film crew and everything. It’s like a three-minute documentary. It should be out soon. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

What sorts of people were sending you information?

It’s really diverse. Some are professional ocean engineers. But a lot of them are software developers or electrical engineers who just wanted to start dabbling in underwater robots. We have a group with diverse talents. And even brand-new makers, like me, have been making contributions.

Version 2.5 -- the latest iteration of OpenROV.

Version 2.5 — the latest iteration of OpenROV.

Why do you think people have been so enthusiastic about contributing to this idea? Do you think this represents a new consciousness of some kind?

It harks back to Clay Shirky’s idea of cognitive surplus, right? People don’t want to go home and watch TV anymore — they want to continue to use their brains and be engaged in things. I think everyone is attracted to the project not just because of the robot, but because of this sense of adventure. I think that the cave story is equally important to what we’re doing as the actual, physical robot is.

If you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that two guys in their garage can build robots and go explore underwater caves. I mean, this is a different era of exploration, when anybody can do this stuff. It doesn’t take a research grant to go out and be curious, and have pretty amazing adventures. I think it’s really exciting for everyone to consider all the potential. It’s just flat-out cool!

So essentially, you took all the information people were offering, and then you went to a maker space and cobbled it together?

Yeah! We did our first hundred OpenROVs at a TechShop. Now we have this lab in Berkeley, California, where we’re making these robots. We have a test tank, tools, everything we need.

There’ve been underwater robots in the past, obviously. So why is OpenROV a breakthrough? Is it the low cost and total accessibility?

Yes, that’s the goal. We want to make a scientifically capable robot for less than a thousand dollars. We still have a lot of room for improvement and evolution, but the rate of improvement is now really impressive. The big innovation, though, is the community. It’s not just about one low-cost robot — it’s the fact that we have this growing community of citizen ocean explorers.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

Don’t Judge a Book by its Title (How the N-Word Changes Everything)

Could the N-word stop a book from being shared?  

Last week, just a few days before the 25th anniversary of the national holiday celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I finally released an audacious collaborative ebook on Scribd.com;  a collection of 34 essays by students from my fall 2010 racism course at Baruch College-CUNY. We unanimously chose to call the ebook of op-eds about racism COULD YOU BE THE BIGGER NIGGER?  But the title has been causing a little anticipated controversy, and some unexpected concern. 

Since my first ebook on Scribd had reached over 1100 ppl fairly quickly over the last 9 months, and my 2nd collaboration with a group of students in my anthropology course a year ago reached almost 5000 in less than 6 months, I was hoping people could trust me and read the ebook to get the point explained below but it was clear from early responses that some change was needed. But I couldn’t undermine the students’ vote.  


Then I got a Facebook message from a trusted friend from Nashville whom I’ve never meet in person. We adore one another on Facebook so I wanted to respond to his concern. After reading the ebook, he wrote:

i’ll be honest … i posted the link to the essays on racism that you had on your wall. i struggled greatly doing it because of the title but i felt like the value far outweighed my reservations. anyway ...

As a result of Jim Palmer’s message, last Monday I made a little tweak to the title so it could be read as COULD YOU BE BIGGER? without betraying the students’ decision. Someone reminded me not to “don’t judge a book by its title” and that gave me the opening needed for this post to launch the ebook. Here goes… 


Don’t Judge a Book by its Title

The title “Could You Be the Bigger Nigger?” may alarm you but 34 students arrived at it by a unanimous consensus. One of them said, “they’ll get it when they read our essays.” The price 15 year-old Elizabeth Eckford (the cover photo is attached) paid so that we all gained access to our educational civil and human rights must have required that she be “bigger” than she and especially whites “knew” her to be as a so-called “nigger.” In 2011, racism may be less overt for many blacks and perhaps more overt for Muslims and gays. These essays are our testimony to being the “bigger nigger” or simply, being “bigger” that we ever imagined when it comes to racism. Who we are in the small, ordinary moments that offend us around race and racism matters.

Racism Is Not Personal

At the start of BLS1003: The Evolution and Expressions of Racism, most students considered racism “a collection of individual-level anti-minority group attitudes” (L. Bobo in Gallagher 2009, 157). During the course we discovered the persistent structural inequities found in symbols (i.e., skin color), discriminatory laws and practices, and social group position, power and privilege that we all were born into whether experienced or not.

Why Op-Eds and Why Students Writing Op-Eds?

Last summer, I participated in The OpEd Project with the support of a grant for women in the Baruch College community given by philanthropist RuthAnn Harnisch. The intention of the OpEd Project, created by Catherine Orenstein, is to expand and increase the volume of female thought leaders in the world. I have a similar aim for college students as they embrace their adulthood.

According to data from 2009, of the over 307 million people living in the U.S., over 14% or almost 43 million are between the ages 15 and 29. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there were 18.3 million college students in 2007. Why is it that we so seldom hear, or listen to, the voices of young people and young adults in key public opinion forums when so many key issues directly affect their future? Writing op-eds (crafting a lede, learning to create an argument in various ways, crafting a “to-be-sure” response to anticipate opposition to your argument, and a conclusion) and then publishing them together disrupts the structural inequity and age subjugation that often separates each and every college student from publicly engaging in her/his own adulthood, learning to openly voice their citizenship and influence humanity.

Voicing Adulthood 

Why not take 34 emerging thought leaders and have each of them link an individual experience with racism to a systematic inequity or embedded disadvantage known as “structural racism.” Have them cite evidence from assigned readings and individually connect to the often elusive or overlooked of race as a social construct. The brilliance here is the collective wisdom from reading the stories of a student who is black with a white, a woman with a man, or––relative to the nationally-recognized ethnic diversity at Baruch––a Asian American with a Bangladeshi-American, a Pakistani Muslim with a Syrian Jew, a disabled mother with a Pagan lesbian and an undocumented student from North America (Mexico). Having these voices in op-eds about racism, publishing them together in a free e-book, has been the most powerful and emotional final project with a real-world or public impact I could ever imagine and fulfills what students ask for.

Create & Share a Racism Op-ed E-book

We invite your class or organization to publish op-eds together. Help us create a social media movement of student thought leadership. We used Scribd.com but whatever you use, SHARE it widely with your family and friends through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Share it with leaders in your school and community. Send it to your principal, dean or local politicians! Don’t limit learning to the classroom. Give it away! Social and collaborative learning can reach thousands or more. A former anthropology class published SPEAK! The Miseducation of College Students in May 2010. Speak! has been read by over 4500 people in less than 6 months.

Dare to be Different: Go Public!

Think about it! Publish a “little” idea, a little story with your classmates’ little ideas on race or social justice. Say to yourself “Maybe I’m right!” rather than starting from what if I’m wrong. Practice trusting yourself. Practice trusting your students. What young adults have to say matters! Openly sharing prepared (and not-so prepared) thoughts in public is the best education there is. Be the audacity of that!


Kyra Gaunt


Kyra D. Gaunt, Ph.D.   
2009 TED Fellow
Associate Professor at Baruch College-CUNY
Voicing “the unspoken” through song, scholarship and social media


An idea worth spreading: Agree to be Offended & Stay Connected. Reveal Your Connection to the Remarkable Oneness of Humanity.

“I have learned silence from the talkative, tolerance from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strangely, I am ungrateful to these teachers” — Kahlil Gibran 

The 10,000 Hour Initiative


What is the 10,000 Hour Initiative?

The 10,000 Hour Initiative is aimed at offering a space for younger people to pursue their passions alongside professionals working in the field. The concept is very much inspired by the 826 National Project, which offers kids in the U.S. an after school hours community center where they can work alongside professionals who act as tutors and mentors. The name comes from Malcom Gladwell’s OUTLIERS, where he theorizes that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice for anyone to become truly exceptional at doing something. Of course we want to help offer those hours.

In Africa, prior to (and even at) University there’s a lack of this type of voluntary mentorship. Which is unfortunate because it’s not what we learn in school that makes us great, it’s what we learn by using that knowledge outside of school. That’s where ideas are born and that’s where students find the motivation to do more than what’s asked of them

Fostering a Culture of Apprenticeship

Instead of attacking this problem with my limited resources as most institutions would, my goal has always been to approach Education by maximizing existing resources. Instead of creating institutions from scratch that require enormous resources and high overhead (rent, security, staff etc) the 10,000 Hour Initiative would identify talented individuals and create co-working and co-learning spaces (dubbed 10K Spaces) for them at existing institutions and businesses. The program would allow youth to interact with other peers as well as trained professionals who could tutor and mentor them, helping them to improve their skills, while exposing them to new technologies, ideas and fields they may not have been aware of.

The goal is to encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship, apprenticeship and creativity prior to attending university. Hopefully this will ultimately result in students who are even better prepared to be the leaders of tomorrow. Likewise, it allows working professionals to take these kids under their wings to show them what’s possible.

Anatomy of a 10K Space

This is my own wish for the Africa’s education system, and as such I intend to devote my own resources to it. The first space will be at my office in Kampala where I’ll encourage students interested in programming, new media and blogging to come by after school hours to spend a bit of extra time either working on their homework or learning new things from myself and my staff. Here they’ll have access to our staff, our internet connection, books, our computers and other resources that they can experiment with.

Other institutions who wish to get involve would mentor these kids in their particular area of expertise. The mission is not to ask for money to do this. Anyone can do this with what they’ve already got. Any office suite or company can put in extra hours allowing their staff to participate as time permits, without any support. We’ll start with our facilities and encourage more to do it as we go.

If you want to know more about Appfrica’s 10,000 Hour Initiative or to get your company involved please email me at j.gosier@appfrica.org

Photo By: TeachAndLearn (Fazeka High School, South Africa) used under the Creative Commons Attribution License

Inspired by TEDsters Malcolm Gladwell and Dave Eggers, the 10,000 Hour Initiative’s goal is to offer time, resources and mentoring to students while exposing them to their future careers.