Science and Tech Workshop in Sri Lanka

Just got back from a short trip to Sri Lanka, where I conducted two workshops for teachers.The first was in Maharagama on Dec 15th & 16th. The second workshop was in Kandy on Dec 18th.

Here are some stories about the workshops:

Much thanks to my co-presenters:

  • Dr. Paul Funk – Engineer, US Dept. of Agriculture, New Mexico (Via Skype)
  • Ruben Gameros – Autonomous Collective Systems Laboratory, Arizona State University (Via Skype)
  • Scott Logan – Montessori International School, Mesa, Arizona (Via Skype)
  • Lal Medawattegedera – Lecturer, Open University of Sri Lanka
  • Nalaka Gunewardene – Science writer, author, trustee of the Science and Development Network
  • Nazly Ahmed – Web App Dev at Social Seed Media

Also the two Keynote Speakers:

  • Dr. Ajit Madurapperuma – Dir. Of Information Communication Technology, ICTA
  • Dr. Nalin Samarasinha – Astrophysicist at Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona (Via Skype)

Finally, thanks to the American Center in Sri Lanka who made this possible – especially Joshua Shen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hands-On Engneering – Spaghetti Tower Challenge

 

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Hands-on session on Audio Recording

Scot Logan & Students

Hands-on session on Motors and Electro-magnetism

Scott Logan & students at Montessori International School, teach class – via Skype

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Aaron Fernando facilitates session

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Using audio and video for content creation

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Photography in Science – From SLRs to GoPro

Nazly Ahmed, Social Seed Media explains Depth of Field

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Engineering & Problem Solving – Building a Solar Oven

Paul Funk, US DOA

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Teaching Science Writing

Nalaka Gunewardene

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Future Ready Classroom – Google Cardboard & Augmented Reality

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Future Ready Classroom – Teaching Robotics

Ruben Gameros, ASU, teaches class on robotics – Via Skype

Joshua Shen - STEAM Workshop Introduction

Joshua Shen  Delivers Opening Address

Balloons could add new flavors to the ‘Cloud’ and Digital Democracy

Most of you know how I dislike the word ‘cloud’ as a catchall for anything accessed online. So how about getting used to balloons? As in Google’sProject Loon that has been in the works for some two years, and now is supposed to be set to launch in Sri Lanka.

It’s a crazy, heady idea. Sri Lanka will be the first country to get ‘universal Internet access’ as TechCrunch put it.

I just got back from Sri Lanka, and did an extensive train and road trip with the family. I experienced first hand what connectivity is –and is not. The new, fast highways are obviously connecting more people to more opportunities. The Telcos are providing easy-to-get (via a scratch card) low-cost bandwidth for smart devices. There is growing free Wi-Fi presence in towns as diverse as Galle, Anuradhapura, Kandy and some places in Jaffna; even on a train we took to the hill country! Access does get spotty and sluggish at times, but the appetite for connectivity is growing in leaps and bounds.

And now balloons!

Here’s why I welcome this. Not for the obvious reasons, such as giving everyone including tuk-tuk drivers or election monitors the ability to tweet or upload pictures – which could be useful in and of itself.

Education: First sorely needed bandwidth to homes, schools and offices will change the game. I was at one outstation school, and the science teachers had to use a dongle to get online. ‘Universal access’ for schools would change the dimension of how learning takes place beyond the Google search. Young people could be empowered to create content and not just consume it. It’s about time schools got a better deal when it comes to connectivity. Why haven’t the telcos given schools a better deal? What will they do now?

Political participation. Sri Lanka has demonstrated that despite the dismal examples of governance, that democracy and citizen participation works. ICTA reported recently that “Sri Lanka has shot up to 74th position in the United Nations E-Government Survey of 2014, after climbing 41 places since 2012.” Nalaka Gunewardene goes into rich detail about how Digital Democracy is at work. Beyond elections, this will affect transparency and accountability, when everyone has an uplink, a camera and a voice.

There are obviously several more examples, which some of you might like to add. Please do!

SMS as a crowd-sourcing channel for… farmers

Remember when Short Codes were all the rage? That was a few decades (in Internet years, that is) before QR codes walked into the bar and stole the limelight.

I’m still a big fan of SMS, even though I use QR Codes for all manner of things. More on this later.)

We in the West are all enamored when we hear how a majority of the world is now mobile. 91 Percent of Americans own mobile phones, according to a Pew report in May.

When I was visiting Sri Lanka I ran into some interesting uses of Information-Communication Tech, I touched on ICT in a passing way in Chat Republic, only because I was making the case that social media users need to understand that the new, new thing they stumble upon is based on some very old concepts –crowd-sourcing being one of these.

I met the folks at Sri Lanka’s Information Communication Technology Agency, and they talked about a lesser-known project that enabled rural villages to use of ‘short codes’ via mobile phones to provide what amounted to SMS-enabled commodity trading.

Yes you read that right: Commodity trading for farmers for farmers!

It worked like this: A farmer sends an SMS to a knowledge hub using a particular short code, providing details of what he has to sell. Buyers or whole-sellers also subscribe to the service, and the portal matches the buyer and seller. The mobile device is just the tool that enables that digital hand-shake between these two groups of people.

They may never meet, but have learned to trust each other because of a secure network, and their comfort level with short codes.

Trust is a rare commodity in the social media space we inhabit. There are workshops and books on building trust, and I’ve read a few. But in practice, the ease of use, and the ability to fake it on social media is causing a backlash. We have become more skeptical of those who push links at us. Our digital handshakes, though instantaneous, and seamless are fraught with problems.

We may be all Web 2.0 but we tend to forget the basic tenets of being Human 1.0. Just ask those farmers who are using basically 1.0 tools.

Note: The image, above, is from a similar project in Bangladesh.