subscribe: Daily Newsletter

 

Freedom Toaster flies as Kusasa crashes

0 comments

As one of the first of the Shuttleworth Foundation projects, the Freedom Toaster, goes live at Unisa (University of South Africa), another has been cancelled.

The Freedom Toasters, from Breadbin Interactive, are being used by Unisa to provide students with course-related resources.
Rebranded as Unisa Toasters, the concept is an innovative content delivery kiosk that allows users to choose and burn relevant content on to CDs, DVDs or USB flash drives using an easy touch screen interface.
The Freedom Toaster uses a customised open source operating system that allows the kiosks to burn multiple disks at once.
Thanks to the open source nature of the Freedom Toaster, Unisa has been able to customise the platform for its own requirements.
"There is a global trend towards providing students with digital courseware at universities," says Louise Schmidt, head of Electronic and Web Communication at Unisa. "However, in Africa this is limited by the digital divide and challenges in terms of connectivity.
"The Unisa Toaster helps us to bridge the divide and provide digital content to students who do not necessarily have Internet access, or enough bandwidth available to download resources.
"Unisa piloted the project in 2007," she adds. "Our initial plan was to gauge the interest of students to receive digital material. The pilot was a success and we decided to expand the project.
"We are now launching it at all registration centres in order to assist students to have their study material immediately upon registration, saving them having to wait for material to arrive via conventional mail."
Schmidt says that the Toaster is robust and user friendly and fits well into the Unisa environment.
"We ordered 30 Toasters and are busy rolling them out to all of our offices nationwide," she adds.
Meanwhile, the Shuttleworth Foundation has decided to cancel the Kusasa project it was incubating.
Practical considerations in implementing the objectives of the project have led the Foundation to conclude that Kusasa faced problems with the execution of its vision and to halt all work on the initiative.
All the resources generated by Kusasa have been donated to schools and made openly available online.
Helen King, principal advisor to the Shuttleworth Foundation, says: "We're not afraid to take risks on new ideas or projects and we're not afraid to tell the world when they've gone wrong and failed.
"The Kusasa project has failed. Not because it was a bad idea or a shaky project, but it became apparent that we would by necessity challenge and perhaps stray from some of the project's aims in applying a developmental approach to its implementation."
She says that the decision to cancel the project was based on the difficulties in reconciling the original vision with the compromises needed to make Kusasa work under challenging circumstances.
Kusasa aimed to provide learners with free software to model the objects, organisms or processes under study in any learning area while facilitating learners to explore and discover.
"It was apparent that the project success would depend on teachers developing skills we did not initially anticipate," explains King. "Teachers would need to develop confidence in the Etoys modelling environment used by Kusasa in order to effectively manage classroom interaction. The original vision placed very low demands on the teachers and was to some extent intended to remedy individual teacher challenges.
"An enduring approach employed by the project was to use illustrated stories to introduce and role model effective thinking," she continues. "This component of our material, and its relatively large costs, was always hard to align to the original vision.
"Another challenge arose from the need to provide instructive material in order to develop skills. It was almost immediately apparent that children would need to be familiar with the modeling tools in order to apply them. This meant creating materials to teach the tools, adding a further level of complexity," she adds.
King says that all equipment in the project has been donated to the schools that used it and all intellectual property created is available online, under open licenses, at www.kusasa.org.