UC San Diego students create KA Lite, an app providing free offline access to online courses.
By Nicole Spewak
The sound of chalk screeching on blackboards is rapidly becoming a thing of the past with the growth of the “MOOC,” or massive open online course.
Birthed in 2008, MOOCs experienced increased recognition and growth in 2012 through the development of leading websites like Udacity and Coursera which provide free educational courses to anyone with internet access.
Even Ivy League schools have joined the trend, offering their expertise without requiring students to foot the bill.
The pitfalls and benefits of online learning are currently under debate by education gurus. The concern of the moment is the narrow completion rates for online courses. A recent New York Times article suggested that a 20% completion rate for MOOCs could be difficult to call a success.
Despite the disagreements surrounding the efficacy of MOOCs, a group of students from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) was inspired by the idea of offering a way for everyone to be educated.
For them, that meant providing not just online content.
UCSD student Jamie Alexandre and a group of undergraduate students, created KA Lite, a free web app launched in December 2012. Through the app, all educational content, including videos and practice exercises, from online learning site Khan Academy are made available to those without internet access.
By going offline with the materials, Alexandre aims for the KA Lite app to reach the 65% of people worldwide with no internet access. “Only 35% of the world has internet. 100% of the world needs education,” the KA Lite website says.
The idea for the app first came to Alexandre while he was interning at Khan Academy last summer.
Now, the goal is to create a “sneakernet,” through the app, where Khan Academy content is downloaded at a location with internet connectivity, and then distributed on USB drives to locations without access.
An article on the UC San Diego News Center details further background of the app’s formation.
Alexandre described his views on the spread of learning worldwide on his personal blog. “Education, once a distinguisher, can now become an equalizer: a way for us to join together collectively, as a global society, to better ourselves and maximize our chances of solving the shared challenges we face,” Alexandre said.
He cites two ways he envisions KA Lite making an impact. The first is bringing Khan Academy content to schools in South Africa that have already expressed interest in KA Lite. The second is using the app within U.S. prisons that cut off inmates from internet access for security reasons. “We can’t wait to see how and where KA Lite is going to be used,” Alexandre said.
The app has received backing from Open Learning Exchange (OLE) and Raspberry Pi.
On Feb. 13 2013, the KA Lite app presented to Khan Academy with an explanation of its background and motivation.
Khan Academy’s goal is to provide “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere,” the Khan Academy website says. The top of the webpage boasts more than 200 million online lessons have been delivered so far.
Populated by 4,000 plus videos on subjects like math, computer science, the humanities, and test prep, Khan Academy provides instruction through roughly ten minute lessons explained by an invisible teacher writing on a virtual blackboard with a hand shaped cursor. The videos are supplemented by interactive challenges and assessments.
Most recently, on Feb. 28, 2013, the state of Idaho received funds to offer the online lessons provided by Khan Academy to 47 schools within the state.
At this rate, person-to-person classroom interactions may disappear altogether. Some argue that this fact, combined with the disjointed nature of online learning, are a severe detriment to an individual’s education.
What do you think about the growth of the virtual classroom? Have you taken an online course yourself and, if so, how was your experience in contrast to the traditional classroom setting?
Image: Screen shot from Khan Academy YouTube channel – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpCJyQ2usJ4