Preparing for Kenya: Education in a suitcase

The plan

Following the 2012 visits by two tutor-web participants (Anna Helga and yours truly) to Kenya, a plan was laid out and presented in a TEDx Reykjavík talk in 2014. The idea was to design a portable educational system, based on a laptop server and tablet clients, which could run without an Internet connection, and unstable electricity, but would utilise both when available.  

Specs: Education in a suitcase

This is Education in a suitcase: The tutor-web system running off a laptop controlling its own WiFi. We also  have 20 small tablets for demonstration. Each tablet should cost less than $100 but happily run the tutor-web software and sync with the laptop computer. Once synced the tablets end up with their local copy of the web page and the students can keep on working offline. Can this be done? Of course it can, but we've been hearing doubts from every reviewer of almost every grant application we have ever written.

We start the story one week before leaving for Kenya.

Sunday, laptop arrives

Jamie  has been working on the laptop for some months now and arrived on Sunday in Iceland, with the laptop to be tested and debugged during the week.

Monday, verification and purchase of tablets

Following a bid a couple of weeks ago we decided to go for 7" Lenovo tablets. This came as bit of a surprise, but these tablets only cost $80 off Amazon (July 2015) and they are also cheap in Iceland. We went to the store, flipped on the tablet and set up a local network off an Icelandic sim card. This worked perfectly, giving hope that the entire system should have a chance at running decently on this hardware in production mode with 20 simultaneous tablets.
I'll repeat in case you missed it: We had to wait for the salesperson so the sim card got inserted into the laptop, which then got turned on, right in the store. While waiting for the salesperson to bring the right tablets we tried the software off other tablets and laptops and everything ran without a hitch.
The next step was to test-run one of the tablets we wanted to buy. We had specified ahead of time exactly which web pages we wanted the tablets to be able to handle, but we were now able to test it directly off the laptop. The laptop ran a tutor-web server and had its own WiFi access point. The tablets hooked up to the laptop and got handed tutor-web pages at top speed.
We ran all of this with no access to electrical outlets, right in the store. We did not use any of the store's WiFi connections, only the sim card in the laptop. This show was off to a very good start indeed.
For what these tablets can do they come at a very good price. The only time we ever found any sluggishness in testing was in the first few minutes and the most likely explanation was that the tablets must have been busy completing some setup procedure. The screens are crisp and it is very easy to zoom in on equations and the like when needed.
We walked away with 20 tablets.
So this version of the tutor-web has a new feature: it works beautifully in standalone mode. After asking for quiz questions, they are simply loaded with the scripts on the page into local storage. So when the tablet is taken completely off the network, the tutor-web page continues to run on the tablet. Once the tablet comes back into a WiFi connection with the laptop the user can either sync manually or continue to work and the tablet will sync its answers and grades with the laptop. 
The laptop syncs to the full tutor-web server whenever it has a simcard connection to the Internet. 




In case you've forgotten, this is the tutor-web user interface on a tablet. This has not changed much. Recall another promise from 2012 to include a cryptocurrency in the system. You can see the menu entry for redeeming any coins which you may have earnt. Yes of course, the coin is called a smileycoin or SMLY 

android GUI


Wednesday, SMLY wallet additions

Andrea just completed an important wallet feature: The wallet on the tablet can now open a connection to the tutor-web to redeem the coins. No more copying and pasting wallet addresses!

Anna Helga and Jamie have set up quick-links to the tutor-web on all 20 tablet.


Thursday, testing and debugging

Fairly routine testing and debugging, including verification of remote administrator logins into the laptop. Also, wherever the laptop is in the world, the domain will always refer to the laptop. 


So during the week the group of 7 testers (Jamie, Gunnar, Arnbjörg, Anna Helga, Andrea, Chris and Erla) tried all 20 tablets and a range of tutorials (high-school math, R programming, computing and calculus for applied stats, fishery science). 




Friday, completing the preparations

The system is all set up and fits nicely into a carry-on suitcase.


Now, off to Kenya and a new blog entry!