December 18, 2006

Google Education - Distance Learning

Google has a habit of coming out with extremely user-friendly and innovative products and I wonder if they could do something for distance learning.

In the explosive growth of the knowledge economy, nothing -- bar nothing -- is more important than new and innovative ways of imparting knowledge. Google would do a significant service to humanity ( and perhaps to their shareholders as well ) if they could design a hosted, web-based tool to further this activity.

The broad functionalities of my proposed system is as follows ..

a] A hosted presentation server, that would allow a teacher to broadcast a set of educational slides over the internet. Streaming video is good, but we would need far higher broadband penetration before that can happen

b] A white board ( or screen sharing ) application for the teacher to communicate to the students

c] A way for students to join a particular session and a way to manage the interaction with students. A way for a student to "raise your hand" to ask a question and for the instructor to choose which student to respond to. Many distributed presenations like Centra have this feature

d] Principal interaction would be through a low bandwidth text chat screen with VoIP voice chat available for those with higher bandwidth.

e] A secure and integrated payment system ( like PayPal ) to allow teachers to make money from the system, if they choose to.

f] An overall course registration system similar to YahooGroups or GoogleGroups so that the education is available only for those who have signed up or joined the class

g] An integrated wordprocessor / drawing tool for handling assignments that students can do offline and upload ... and a way for managing assignments. Built in mathematics and chemistry symbols are needed.

h] An online ( or offline ) testing strategy with the possibility of handling (1) multiple choice questions (2) subjective questions with paragrapy long answers.

None of this rocket science, and all these solutions can be built individually. What we need is an integrated package that will run this off the web in a manner that makes economic sense to (a) Google - or any other hosting company (b) the teachers who will offer such tele-tuition and (c) the students who are the ultimate customers or consumers for this.

Advertisement on the web-pages that are targeted towards each individual students profile would help pay for this service to some extent.

Is someone at Google or some other organisation listening ?

Given the huge amount of money that students in India spend on tuitions, this could turn out to be significant value proposition for some enterprising Indians ... and perhaps the service if and when launched could be named after Ekalavya - the pioneer of distance learning in India - remember he was not accepted by Dronacharya as a student and yet by observing from a distance he acquired the skill to shoot better than the pampered Arjun.

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