Ways to Partner with the WiderNet Project

The WiderNet Project and eGranary Digital Library Overview

The WiderNet Project is a service program in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa.  It is dedicated to improving digital communications for underserved populations around the world through the development of human capacity, strategic planning, and low-cost ICT solutions. It has conducted in-country ICT training programs for more than 4,000 administrators, technicians, and librarians across the globe through individually customized programs to meet the specific needs of institutions and organizations. As well, WiderNet volunteers have shipped over 1,200 refurbished computers and 10,000 books to partners worldwide.

The eGranary Digital Library, under development since 2001, delivers millions of Internet resources to institutions lacking adequate Internet access.  Through a process of copying Web sites – with permission --and delivering them to intranet Web servers inside partner institutions, this digital library delivers educational materials for instant access over local area networks (LANs). With installations in more than 2000 educational institutions across the developing world, the eGranary Digital Library provides lightning-fast access to over 30 million educational resources including video, audio, books, journals and Web sites, as well as the ability to create and share local content using built-in tools like Moodle, WordPress, and Web editors.

There are numerous ways to partner with the WiderNet Project. Here are some brainstorm examples:

Empowering Teacher Training Colleges with Low-Cost Information Technology

The WiderNet Project can provide the eGranary Digital Library, networking equipment, and hundreds of new and refurbished computers to teacher training colleges along with ongoing systems training and capacity building for the teachers, faculty, and technicians. We could deploy 12-volt systems that provide 24/7 information access over an entire campus, leveraging battery-powered laptops, smart phones, and privately-owned devices.

Building Custom Information Collections and Interfaces

This project could include the development of portals to make it easy for trainers, teachers, and others to have rapid access to both locally-generated materials and supplemental materials from the eGranary, with thousands of resources mapped to the national curricula of the primary and secondary schools. We would partner with local educators and ministry staff and enlist volunteers from around the world to identify and organize the resources into locally-relevant packages. This portal project could also involve creating mini-eGranaries that can be put onto portable computer systems, memory sticks, and DVD-ROMs for wider distribution.

Training Teacher Librarians

The WiderNet Project could focus on training Teacher Librarians at the teacher colleges who will be responsible for setting up, managing, and teaching information technology and helping teachers to create curriculum and locate information to improve their curriculum. Similar to the teacher/librarian program offered at the University of Iowa, this program will provide teacher librarians with valuable technology and pedagogic skills as well as demonstrate best practices for deploying information technology in resource poor settings. As a part of their training, the teacher/librarians will set up and maintain a cutting-edge lab in their teacher college and teach courses to students in the teacher training college to demonstrate best practices and help develop curriculum that can be delivered to schools across the country.


Off-Grid Portable Libraries for Teaching in Under-Resourced Areas

We could develop a solar chargeable Classmate computer containing a million-document educational library optimized for remote educators.  Coupled with a solar charged, battery-powered 12-volt projector, this tool would give teachers the ability to project lessons, videos, slideshows, and reading materials in even the most remote areas.

Working with Schools of Teaching and Teacher Colleges to Develop Off-Line Moodle-based Curricula

The WiderNet Project could work with schools of teaching and teacher colleges to create asynchronous, off-line Moodle-based programs that could deliver high-end training in courses that are hard to staff in rural areas. We would help develop curriculum in information literacy, science, and math as well as develop studies in entrepreneurship that would be delivered to rural schools on a standalone eGranary computer or on a server attached to their network.

This instruction could be delivered in a mixed-mode fashion where the students work largely offline with the eGranary based curricula -- studying modules and taking practice exams -- and then interact face-to-face with a teacher trainee from the teacher’s college on a regular basis to discuss progress, cover obscure questions, and conduct proctored exams.

We would set-up an incentive program for teachers at these rural schools to assist the children with the use of the systems so that the teachers themselves become familiar with the process and the programs, developing a sense of ownership and engagement and introducing the rural teachers to innovative technologies that they can adapt for their own classrooms.

Developing Teacher Technologists to Promote the Integration of Technology into Teaching Endeavors

The WiderNet Project could help develop teacher technologists who would serve to integrate technology into teaching endeavors throughout the country. This would be like a certificate program where technologists receive hands-on training in the capitol city in the use and deployment of computers and the eGranary Digital Library in schools. They learn about the Internet, classroom computing, projection and audio, and the development of local content like Web sites, video, printable documents and lesson plans. These teacher technologists would then be enrolled in a program to do service learning, installing low-power computer labs and teaching computer skills in schools around their area. These teacher technologists would also be trained in information literacy so they could demonstrate best information use practices in their schools.

Building a Wireless Public Library – a Knowledgesphere – to Link Dozens of Schools

We could build a wireless public library using Wi-Max technology that links to dozens of schools and government offices in a common intranet. This system would provide access to the eGranary Digital Library plus a host of local materials to all the subscribers, many of whom could turn around and share their connection to their neighborhoods using Wi-Fi technology.

The overall goal of this project would be to improve system-wide coordination between the ministries, city officials, and school administrators; including sharing data, student information, lesson plans, and email.  

One emphasis of this project would be the creation of Moodle-based courses that could be offered at multiple sites simultaneously. Another emphasis would be on the development of tools within the eGranary Digital Library for teachers at one school to converse with students at another, giving the school the ability to provide advanced education in certain subjects with fewer numbers of expert teachers.

Of course, such a Wi-max system could benefit other institutions besides schools, so this might dovetail nicely with other USAID projects and local government programs to provide an information and communication backbone.