Menlo School students work on Village Tech Solutions projects this summer

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on August 5, 2015

We stopped by  David and Haydi Sowerine‘s garage in Menlo Park last week to watch various demonstrations by Menlo School students involved with the school’s Connections Beyond the Classroom program this summer. The Sowerines’ founded the non-profit, VillageTech Solutions (VTS), with the purpose of providing safe, clean and affordable technology solutions to rural communities in Nepal and other developing countries.

Skip Stritter with Looma device_by David SMost of the Menlo volunteers are working on VTS’ educational solution, Looma, under the direction of Skip Stritter (pictured right), VTS Board Chair. Looma is an affordable, low-power consuming audio-visual technology device which will provide an interactive window to the internet and access to educational content to Nepalese village schools that have never seen electricity, computers, or in some cases, even books.

Explains David about the summer work: “Skip is guiding a dozen young programmers working on a variety of projects which they selected.”

Among the projects, as described by David:

Looma programming: “Over the winter, we completely re-wrote the Looma software creating a new version: Looma 2. The new code address all the comments and feedback we have had from our field testing in Nepal.

“Most exciting, the Looma 2 code is extensible so that we can now add new types of activities and educational experiences. To do this, and make Looma 2 a much more compelling teaching environment, we have 5 student programming teams working this summer.”

On-line, interactive english-nepali dictionary. “Two students are making a dictionary that will allow clicking on words in the textbooks and will: 1) provide the english <-> nepali translation; 2) provide a definition; 3) pronounce the word on Looma’s audio system; and 4) allow us to attach media to further explain the word.”

Looma learning board

Interactive map of Nepal. “Two students are creating a map of Nepal, Google Maps/Google Earth-style, annotated with points of interest, and with selectable layers for various geo characteristics [e.g. cities, rivers, mountains, administrative areas (development regions, zones and districts), ethnic groups/local languages, earthquake data, etc.”

In-line annotation of textbooks:  “In Looma 2, we have the ability to annotate within the chapters. This will include access to the dictionary and text-to-speech, informational pop-ups, quizzes and games, and links to media files that further explain the subject matter.”

Looma 2 user interface “look and feel”: “The UI team will be redoing all the visible aspects of Looma 2, including icons and button labels, to make it look modern, fresh and beautiful. They will also make the interface as language-neutral as possible, and implement clickable translation of any visible aspects that have to be expressed in language.”

Vocabulary learning tools: “Two students are building vocabulary/spelling activities, like quizes and games, based on the vocabulary we gather from the textbooks for the dictionary project”

More information about Looma is available on the Village Tech Solutions website.

Photo of Skip Stritter, courtesy of David Sowerine

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