RSS and Education

Mary Harrsch says that RSS is the killer app for education. Here’s one of many examples she gives on how it can be used:

You are a teacher looking for content that can be used in the study of the Spanish conquest. You find a Web site that has excellent biographies of the cultural leaders, profiles of the different native cultures, and even some patterns for ceremonial masks that can be reproduced for a class activity. In the past, you would have e-mailed a few colleagues about the site and your plan to incorporate some of its materials into your curriculum. Now you post the URL and your ideas for implementation to a weblog equipped with RSS generation capability. Other teachers like you who are looking for ways to improve their learning environments–including student teachers in colleges of education around the world–can easily “subscribe” to your news feed and learn from your unique professional experiences. In essence, you have established extensive online community of practice specific to teachers of social studies.

We all have unique experiences and solutions that can benefit others. No rule states that only professional textbook publishers should be allowed to create curriculum materials or suggest how to use them.

PC Disassembly

Arnold Kling makes sense of the emerging world of devices and gadgets that we are seeing emerge around us:

Back in the 20th century, the imperative of personal computing was integration. We needed a display, input devices, mouse, processor, modem, and storage media in a single machine. Above all, we needed software to assemble these parts into a functional whole. Peripherals were built under the assumption that they would be physically connected to the main hardware.

Today, we are seeing the outlines of a different design strategy. Wireless radio signals can provide the digital connection between devices. Instead of assuming that your device is designed to attach to a standard personal computer, you can be relatively agnostic about what other types of devices your gadget might encounter. Your cell phone can communicate with other cell phones, of course, but you might also want it to talk to vending machines, cash registers, or global positioning satellites.

The wireless revolution is creating a centrifugal force. Before the advent of protocols like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, information technology was dominated by centripetal forces, which drove everything closer to the central personal computing device. Now, we have centrifugal forces, which are pulling the personal computer apart.

With the centrifugal trend toward separate components, the software can be simpler, because the devices are more specialized, with much of the user interface embedded in the hardware. In fact, to the extent that communication among disparate devices requires clearly-articulated standards, it is the software that will be commoditized.

On the other hand, the types of devices will vary, and the hardware design becomes critical. How can the user interact with the device without a keyboard? How large a screen is necessary? What functionality must be compromised in order to lengthen battery life? The big winner in the personal computer era was called Microsoft. It could be that Microhard would be a better name for a company today.

Wiring Rural India

Aditya Dev Sood has “a survey of the problems and possibilities of digital development”:

To effectively drive digital development in India, therefore, we need a new pattern of interaction between the different estates of our society, so as to maximally utilize their respective expertise and abilities. We will need: (i) well funded centers of research into technology, media and the social sciences, where new ideas and new models of development, governance, and business can be generated, (ii) venture capital funds and new hybrid public-private corporate entities directed towards the development of social and human infrastructure, (iii) authoritative and responsible civil society organizations that work with, rather than either against or in parallel with the state and private sectors, and (iv) governments and bureaucracies that work in transparent dialogue with these other estates.

Google’s Self-Service Ads

WSJ reports on a new service being launched by Google that will allow websites to carry ads from Google’s advertisers.

In March, Google introduced a new advertising service called AdSense for delivering ads on wide range of other companies’ and individuals’ Web sites. The program was intended to match up related advertisements to Web sites with similar content. It was also created to broaden the reach of Google’s advertising program to more Web pages and generate more advertising revenue.

This latest “self-service” option to Google’s AdSense program allows Web site publishers to submit their sites to the company’s network so that promotions from Google’s more than 100,000 advertisers might be delivered on those pages.

Susan Wojcicki, director of product management at Google, said this new option lets advertisers broaden the number of Web sites where their ads are displayed.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin also says this program will allow small Web sites, which might have had problems attracting advertisers to their sites in the past, to generate advertising revenue.

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TECH TALK: The Discovery of India: SMEs (Part 2)

The opportunity lies in creating the software, and making it available as a bundle for a flat price. Many of the building blocks are available in open-source. What is needed is to componentise these modules, build a web services wrapper around them and use a single login for access to all these applications.

The primary target audience are the small and medium enterprises (SMEs). One can think of three types of SMEs, based on their maturity level: the babies, who need desktop computing, and the messaging and security applications; the teenagers, who need the business applications, to automate their processes; and the adults, who need topsight in the form of the information management applications.

The alternative paths in terms of technology adoption that we have been following in India are non-consumption and software piracy. Not using technology when the rest of the world does is not the solution. Business will go to the most efficient. Technology is a key weapon in this war. It needs to be aggressively adopted by enterprises. The few who have chosen to adopt technology find the price of hardware and software to be high. Many among them take the route of piracy. The result is that India has among the highest piracy levels in the world.

The solution does not lie in either forsaking technology or stealing it. The correct approach is to create compelling, cost-effective alternatives these may not be as good as the best in the world to begin with, but they are more than good enough to make a difference. This is where server-centric computing and open-source software can form the foundation for creating the SME Tech Utility.

India has at least three million SMEs. Imagine the potential market if one can start servicing these organisations with IT solutions. My estimate is that there are at least 50 million employees across these enterprises. Putting a computer with the appropriate software on each persons desks is the way to realise productivity gains. Fulfilling just their software needs is a potential market of USD 10 billion (Rs 50,000 crores) which can be opened up over the next 5 years.

Affordable computing solutions are the starting point. Where are the human resources to build and operate these systems going to come from? The answer again lies within the tens of thousands of students in Indias engineering colleges are waiting.

Tomorrow: Engineering Colleges

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