SolarCubed is an initiative begun within a university setting, but firmly focused on a real-world challenge. Over the past few years, teams of students, led by Prof. Laura Hosman at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), have contributed their time, efforts, skills and talents to addressing the challenge facing off-grid schools that want to harness information and communications technologies (ICTs) to improve educational opportunities for their students.
Over the past few years, teams of students have contributed to this project through IIT’s Interprofessionalization (IPRO) Program. For the first three semesters, the team focused on developing a macro-sized, direct-current-only solar powering system that they deployed at a primary school in Lascahobas, Haiti. The team next connected the school to solar-powered WiFi. (Read more here.) Haiti’s Ministry of Education opted not to continue the laptop project in which our team was a participant, so we reimagined what our team should be working on. We came up with the Solar-Computer-Lab-in-a-Box. We deployed our first iteration of this lab in Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), in August 2012. (Read more here.) In the current phase of the project, we are continuing to work within the State of Chuuk.
During our work in Micronesia, the importance of addressing two additional factors came to the fore, and we have added them to our approach: 1) Ensuring that teacher training accompanies any deployed technology that has not previously been used in schools and 2) Providing educational content (on a server) to accompany technology deployments, so that Internet connectivity is not required for such deployments to be useful.
The IIT course “Fieldwork Methods” has been working on all three aspects of the SolarCubed approach for the past semester (Spring 2013). The project team identified as their primary project goal creating an open source supplemental educational system. This would be accomplished by designing an offline server that contains a database of educational material to be utilized by students and teachers through a tablet-based, solar powered computer lab. We plan to set up a main server that will house the educational content, which will include material for students from 3rd grade to 8th grade, instructions on how to use the technology in general, and a teacher training plan for how to incorporate the technology into the classroom. We have set up a web-browser based user interface that connects to the server, which can be accessed by students and teachers.