Archive for January, 2008

What’s wrong with the geeky HOWTOs?

Friday, January 4th, 2008

This is a story that unfolded around a discussion on using KGeography in the classrooms.

Managing the transition to FOSS in ICT-bridging scenarios like Bijra has been a revelation. The results are reinforcing my deeply held belief, that far more that FOSS software and tools, its Open Access / Commons content that are needed to drive the uptake. A look at proprietory / patent encumbered formats (Adobe Flash / mp3 for instances), and we know why this is so. There is just **SO** much freely available (as in muft) content for the taking… add to that the bulk of the commercially produced / govt / institution sponsored content that are coming online around the globe and in India.

At our LTSP-based CASTLELabs deployment at the Bijra High School, Durgapur, the students and the teachers alike had taken, like proverbial ducks to the water, to tools like KGeography. But there is a problem… there are *NO* India specific detailed maps in the package. This was of course, not surprising!

The solution looked simple enough. Let’s just write a HOWTO using the functional, if somewhat technical KGeography Handbook! It’s that simple! No??? In fact, one of our interns working on the project Arindam “mak” Ghosh did exactly that! He wrote a typical geeky HOWTO - “Insight into KGeography

It was fairly good! And it was also just plain WRONG! If we wanted the experiment to get the geography and history and language and science teachers to collaborate, really scale, then we needed to speak in THEIR terms, and NOT speak __to__ them in our langauge. To put it simply, we needed to take an activity oriented approach. So instead of talking tech to the geography teachers about XML layouts, lets discuss with them in terms of drawing maps, colouring them, adding them and creating questions and interactive activities around the maps - Activities with which they are already familiar on a traditional, non ICT basis.

Of course, the technology aspect won’t go away. But rather than being in-your-face, it should be specific and focussed on a step-wise description of the exact part of a tool or a technique, applicable for getting a desired activity going in the right direction. Arindam did do a re-make of his effort… the activity oriented approach draft exercise is over here -> How to add maps!

Geeky howtos are excellent resources, and yet they do not scale in case of main-stream use as functional documentation. For ICT bridge scenarios, they can certainly come in, but only at a later stage and specifically for the emerging potential power users.