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The Digital StudyHall

Report ID:
February 2005
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In this paper, we describe a distance learning system that would
allow resource-starved village schools in rural India to benefit from
the better human and content resources available in the urban
environments. The e-learning landscape is littered with misguided and
expensive ``wire-the-schools'' projects that have little to show for
in the end. To avoid retracing these missteps, we must follow at
least two important principles in our solution: (1) cost realism,
which is essential if we were to scale up the system to encompass a
large number of villages, schools, and students in the long run; and
(2) building systems that solve end-to-end education problems,
instead of narrowly focusing on just providing connectivity.

The proposed Digital StudyHall system has the following novel key
components. The first is a generic digital communication mechanism
that places bits on storage media transported by the postal system
instead of wires. This mechanism, the ``Postmanet,'' provides
pervasive, high-bandwidth, and low-cost asynchronous connectivity to
just about any place. When combined with a low-latency channel, such
as a packet radio connection, we may combine the latency and
bandwidth advantages of both channels. Robotic arm-based automation in our
headquarters site further enhances transparency and efficiency. The
second is a mechanism that turns regular TV screens into ``networked
thin client displays.'' This mechanism, which we call ``EdTV,''
lowers the cost of end user devices, and truly bridges the last mile
by leveraging TV and radio control signals. The third is a web
repository that collects education content, and connects learners and
teaching staff across time and space, so staff in urban schools and
volunteers (potentially from overseas) can contribute in a way that
allows them to make flexible time and location commitments. This
site, dubbed the ``learning eBay,'' would be accessible via both
conventional networks and the Postmanet. These components would
enable a wide variety of digital education ``workflows,'' such as
lecture capture and replay, homework collection and feedback, and
question-answer sessions. We also plan to perform pedagogy research
on the Digital StudyHall, so that it can serve as an effective
learning science testbed, tightly combining education research and

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