Barefoot In the head

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Sunday, September 30, 2012


A Tablet to grow up with

What if every child were to get a tablet computer at age 6? And what if the tablet is such that it grows up with the child and is still useful at age 100? What sort of a tablet would we need?

Here is a 2012 fantasy tour of the tablet that could be....

Its called 'The Prime'

Abu got his Prime on his sixth birthday. It was in a sleek and shiny, wine coloured box next to his pillow when he woke up. Abu thought he should hug his mother, but considering her mood at six in the morning, he decided not to. Instead, he opened the box.

A soft and very organic silicone clamshell slipped out of the box. The prime nestled inside it. Abu opened the paper thin cover, like the cover of a new book. A tiny light blinked red, yellow and then blue on the top right corner of the very thin, half a millimetre, bezel around dark screen.

'I am your Prime, Abu', said the Prime and Abu nearly dropped it although the five inch screen was a perfect fit for his small hand. 'Do you want to give me a name?', said the Prime.

'Boomba', said Abu, now quite enjoying himself. His Prime giggled and said, 'OK, Abu'

In the next fifteen minutes, Boomba took a picture of Abu's face, his fingerprint, had him recite a poem to get his voice pattern, had him stand on itself to measure his weight. The black screen was now lit up with a pale blue light and a lovely abstract, fractal background. Abu found out that he could turn it off by saying 'Get dark!' and turn it on by picking it up, staring at it, or by saying 'Boomba!'

Boomba found a WiFi signal, the date, time, its location, the ambient temperature and humidity from the Cloud and its sensors. Then it 'dressed itself' as it put it. Its quad core processor took less than ten seconds to do that. Now Boomba had a face, somewhat like that of a large mobile phone. Abu plugged its tiny wireless charger into a power socket, even though he was not supposed to touch any power sockets. Boomba told Abu it would charge upto 25 feet away from the socket, so he could put it next to his bed.

The Prime was expensive, but Boomba's mother got it for free. The price of the Prime and unlimited lifelong 20 Mbps wireless broadband were paid for by the government, for every child, from a 1% tax on cigarettes, alcohol and cosmetics.

Abu carried his Prime everywhere. In school he found out that you could join Primes together to make bigger screens. In their Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs), Abu and three of his friends would take two Primes out of their silicone sleeves and put two Primes side by side until they clicked together. Then they would put two more below these two to make a ten inch screen. The bezels were so thin, they could barely make out the edges dividing the screens. Once, the entire group put all their Primes together to make a 60 inch screen and watched a TED talk. The speaker was nearly life size!

The tiny camera on the Prime could be slipped out of the Prime and put back facing the front or back of the tablet. So, Abu would have the camera face him when he was Skyping his friends or mediators. But he would turn the camera the other way when he wanted to take pictures or videos.

In Norway, a 10 year old had tied his Prime to his head with the camera pointed outwards. Abu was online with him over Skype. Then he got on a bicycle and Abu guided him to ride around his village and show him everything. It was different from India, Abu decided, but not that different. That evening he asked Boomba to tell him about the history of Norway and India. So different, and yet, so same.

Abu was too young to realise that his Prime would turn the camera and microphone on every 5 seconds for a quarter of a second so that it could make patterns from the pictures and sounds to figure out what Abu's life was like. Once when Abu was sneezing, Boomba asked him to put his finger of the thermal sensor and told his mother that he was about to get a fever. Boomba would later also tell Abu's parents that his height and weight were increasing normally and that his hand-eye coordination was fine. Boomba also reported that Abu's hearing was really good and that his reading comprehension was a level above what it should be for his age.

Abu's sister Julie was 17 and her Prime, called Amy, had been with her for the last 11 years. Amy was a bit battered from use but Julie had got the screen, camera and battery changed several times, so it really was like a new Prime. Amy knew Julie more than anyone else in the world. It knew her friends, her interests, her abilities, her looks, her moods, her relationships and her sorrows. Julie could not imagine a life without her Amy.

Sometimes, Amy would join with Boomba over the WiFi and exchange notes, or they would look for global patterns of child behaviour with millions of other Primes on the Cloud.

In school, the children would research topics in groups of four with their Primes joined together into 10 inch screens. Groups would talk to other groups, sometimes in other places in the world and discuss what they had found. During examinations, the Primes would help their owners work out the best answers and also check the childrens cognitive, creative and imaginative abilities.

Boomba had, in the meanwhile, taught Abu to play the guitar and sing. They often played a tune together and Abu's mother thought that was really good.

Sometimes, at night, Boomba would call an eMediator from the Granny Cloud to read out fairy tales to Abu until he fell asleep. Then it would turn the lights out and keep an eye on the room door until morning. When Abu walked to the bus stop to go to school, Boomba rattled happily in his pocket. Once, when Abu tripped on the pavement and fell, Boomba had screamed out of his pocket, 'This child needs your help, please, this child needs your help'.

Boomba grew with Abu, changing his stories, his games, his music, his research habits. It monitored Abu's learning, his healthcare parameters, his learning and thinking styles, his intelligences. Boomba suggested solutions when it detected problems – it used the best resources from the Cloud to do so. It even changed its own voice to match his baritone. When, at 13 a thin moustache began to grow on Abu's upper lip, Boomba showed him what it looked like and what he might look like at 40!

Then they laughed a lot, together.

Well, thats it, dear reader, about the tablet to grow up with. Except for the last bit. When, after a happy and productive life, Abu, now 93, fell into a quiet coma and died, Boomba did not make a sound. It waited for a while, as Abu's fingers grew cold....then it deleted its drives on the Cloud....and switched off.



Wednesday, September 19, 2012


A Self-Organised Assessment Method (SOAM)


A few year ago, I was a bit curious about how well learners can evaluate each other. I designed a small experiment to find out. It goes like this:

  1. Take a group of learners, say 15 in number, in a classroom.
  2. Give everybody 15 sheets of paper and ask them to write their names on the top right corner of every sheet.
  3. Now, ask everyone to write down a question about something they have recently learned, been taught or discussed. It should be from whatever course you are conducting. The question should be such that the person making it should be confident of answering. Also questions should be such that each can be answered in two minutes or less.
  4. Now collect all the sheets with the questions. If there are questions that are very similar to each other, then ask one of the authors to change his or her question.
  5. You can now construct a question paper with 15 questions. Make 15 copies of this question paper.
  6. Distribute the question paper and start a 30 minutes examination. Each learner has to write the answer to each of the 15 questions on a separate sheet of paper. On top of each answer sheet, they should write 'Answer to Q no. x' etc. Each person must answer all the questions except the one they made. So each person has 14 questions to answer on 14 sheets of paper.
  7. After the time is over, collect all the answer sheets and put all the answers to question 1 together, all the answers to question 2 together, and so on. At the end, you would have 15 piles of 14 sheets each.
  8. Distribute all the answers to question 1 to the author of that question, answers to question 2 to the author of that quesiton and so on.
  9. Ask each learner to give marks out of 10 for each answer sheet for the question authored by him/her.
  10. After all the answer sheets have been graded, take them back and re-group them by the name of each learner. So, now you have 15 piles of 14 sheets each, for each learner.
  11. Total the marks for each learner and convert to a percent score. You now have a list of scores.

In other words, you have conducted an examination without making a question paper and without having to mark a pile of answer books.

I tried this for three years in the course I teach on Educational Technology for M.Ed. Students, each time usually after the first two weeks. There is an uncanny correlation between the scores and the scores at the end of the one year course. I haven't yet done all the stats and written it all up as a paper but I will.

In the meanwhile, I thought you might like to try....