As we continue highlighting the important topic of accessibility this week, we turn next to the Philippines, where Imagine Cup team DividedbyZero developed KidCAMP, which gives teachers and families of autistic children affordable educational tools on the web and mobile devices, designed to monitor student performance, improve communication and augment existing special education curriculum.
“As students, we originally never really thought we could spark any change at all; although, we were sure we wanted to help the community,” says Jason Mari (Jake) Josol, a member of team DividedbyZero. “The problem was that we didn’t know how. We were just ordinary students holding on to big dreams. Being able to join Microsoft Imagine Cup completely changed our viewpoint. The amount of technology present today can make even the most ordinary people, extraordinary.”
KidCAMP – which in essence helps teachers develop their own programs for their special needs students – won first place in the Microsoft Philippines Imagine Cup competition, and went on to compete in the Imagine Cup 2012 World Finals in Sydney, Australia. The team is currently working on KidCAMP 2.0, which should launch at the beginning of 2013.
Today, DividedbyZero share their insight into how anyone can make an impact in the lives of students today. As they say, “we are all educators in our own way.”
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
Because of the development of Project KidCAMP, we can target an often-neglected sector of society – children with special needs. Up until now, there has been a great barrier in education for these kids. Most families do not have access to the facilities and materials needed for special education. Additionally, teachers must pay for expensive applications that sometimes just seem confusing to them. Apps truly have the potential to make special education easier to manage, but developers often do not take into consideration the individual uniqueness of each child. Although technology seems to be quite a remarkable tool for educating these students, the problem is that it is often complicated and irrelevant.
Then, it hit us.
Why not transform the teachers into developers themselves? Sounds quite farfetched? It actually is. However, the idea is that instead of having to ask developers to make the educational programs, we wanted to create a tool for teachers that could give them the freedom to make their own material. After all, they are the best people to make it since they work face-to-face with the student. With simple queues like dragging and dropping, they can start building simple games that they could share with their students and other teachers worldwide. They can customize it to suit the student’s needs and ‘evolve’ it as the child grows. We envision an ecosystem where children, teachers and parents can start sparking change in the lives of many. We’re excited about KidCAMP and how much it can be used to maximize the power of the latest technologies like touch PCs, tablets and even the Windows Kinect device.
It may be a relatively small step at giving these children access to equal education but just like climbing a mountain, every step counts.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Currently, we are coordinating with various non-government organizations in order to integrate our system with their current programs. As a result of project KidCAMP, special education teachers in the Philippines now have an arsenal of tools and utilities to create fun and interactive apps for their students without having to purchase expensive equipment. With a regular web browser, children diagnosed with autism are now able to play countless games and activities that may also be customized for use on tablets and motion-sensor devices.
Special education need not be a static experience anymore, and students can now have a chance at accessing education in their own way. Education, after all, is organic. It is closely related to how a person behaves. And for students with special needs, these new generation apps can do just that.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
There are a lot of sectors out there with the same predicaments that most of these students have. The paradox of technology is that although it is growing, the costs to implement it are growing as well. Sometimes, a solution can seem very effective but because of its implicit costs, only a few have the privilege of accessing it.
What we’ve learned from our work is that instead of trying to create bigger and wider solutions, try creating simpler and more relevant solutions. A simple implementation that is culturally or geographically plausible is more salient than a grand implementation that completely misses the point.
In order to innovate in education, always think of the people who are part of it. Make it fun for students, easy for teachers and overwhelmingly satisfying for parents.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
We are currently using the .NET framework as well as HTML5 for the web interface of the application. Through this, teachers can create their own apps just by a click. Also, we are developing a Windows 8 store app that would prove useful in helping teachers modify their apps for touch-based devices. Windows Phone SDK and Window Kinect SDK have also been very useful in making the application as interactive as possible by allowing us to communicate through different devices. Lastly, we are working on putting the entire application in the cloud through Windows Azure to make it accessible anywhere and at any time.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
One of the biggest obstacles to quality special education is communication. As we earlier mentioned, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have different needs and preferences; however, one thing that is common among them is their difficulty communicating and socializing with other people.
We are still looking for possible solutions to the problem. One way we plan to overcome the obstacle, however, is allowing our application to cater to multiple players. This allows students to play with other kids even just by focusing on the screen first, instead of immediately talking to them directly. In addition, we are looking into making KidCAMP a social network of sorts that is gamified through leader boards and shared insights to help not only the kids, but their parents as well. One factor that is apparently important for the child to communicate is for the parent to persevere in understanding their child’s world. By allowing parents to talk with other parents, they can gain new insights, and do just that.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
We have something called the National Service Training Program that encourages college students to lend a helping hand in teaching primary education to remote areas. Basically, a part of the program asks students to help build small learning centers, regularly teach kids who usually are out of school with their own lesson plan, and generally provide service to the country. As a wise man once said, everyone could be a teacher in his or her own way. This program exemplifies that. Just as much as kids learn from the college students, so do college students learn from these kids. And with the ever-increasing student-teacher ratio in our nation, such programs can be of big help in providing universal primary education for all.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
Currently, there are still some public schools where the number of students ranges from 60 to over a hundred per teacher per classroom. There are hardly enough books, as some students have to share one book with a few other classmates.
Hopefully, in the next years, we will finally start investing in providing adequate facilities for these schools. One good investment we might want to suggest is trying to look for a cost-effective means of integrating technology to the educational system. A single computer can do a world of wonder, especially since it packs a whole lot of information. Also, Filipinos are resourceful by nature and if we give them the right tools to innovate and invent, then who knows what they’ll be able to come up with.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
The best opportunity for innovation would be to go mobile. With the advent of tablets, phones and cloud computing, students these days like to study on the go. Instead of packing thick heavy books in their bags, they would rather have all of the things they need on a tiny device inside their small pockets. Also, having fluid education, as we mentioned earlier, is key.
Solutions that allow them to explore on their own, instead of feeding them endless data, are very powerful. We are now living in an age where people have completely different study habits than what they had years ago. We students usually study better with a television screen in front of us. We also work better when we socialize with others. Living in a networked life, students would prefer education that involves sharing and interacting instead of reading a seemingly endless article all alone.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
The most important advice we can ever give to education enthusiasts would be to immerse themselves in the actual experience. Understand the students. Understand their woes and their strengths. Make it relevant to them. Also, simplicity is the key. A simple idea that directly allows the student to learn a lot is far greater than a beefed-up lesson that completely makes learning harder.
Ultimately, making a difference in education is not that difficult if you think about it. We are all educators in our own way. We all just need passion. With passion, again, even the most impossible can become possible.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
The latest trends that seem to help students are online groups. These online productivity groups help students collaborate and finish a particular team task together. Right now, students usually do all of their group assignments on the web and because of this, time and location is no longer a constraint. In retrospect, dependency on the web is also becoming a hindrance to learning. Because students depend so much on the Internet, they are starting to neglect the power of books and researching articles offline. This becomes quite a problem when they are suddenly stripped of their Internet access. Somehow, there must still be a balance between the virtual and real world.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
We would give them a smart phone. We are all witnesses to what the power of a smart
phone is. A single tap can send you straight to a library. A simple pinch can zoom in and out of a diagram. A subtle shake can display a new set of random information. Smart phones are like classrooms in a box. They are probably one of the biggest repositories of information. If every child had one, they would practically have access to the world.
Can you Imagine?
Microsoft’s Imagine Cup is the world’s most prestigious student technology competition, bringing together student innovators from all over the world. If you have a great idea for a new app, bring it to life through Imagine Cup. With Microsoft resources and support, you can make a great app and win travel and cash prizes!
Get Started and Register today to participate in Imagine Cup 2013!
About Team Divided by Zero
Answered by Jason Mari Josol
- Birthplace: Manila, Philippines
- Current residence: Manila, Philippines
- Education: De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde
- Websites I check every day:
- Persons who inspires me most:
- Leonardo Da Vinci
- Favorite childhood memory:
- The first time I ever used a PC – Windows 98. I remember being amazed by the mouse, paint and the intrepid adventures of Jack Rabbit.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure):
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? A couple of days ago. I was waiting in front of an elevator with some friends and a few people. Around 10 minutes had already gone by and everyone was starting to get impatient while complaining how slow the elevator was. Mind you, there were only four floors inside the building. People were starting to get restless but my friends and I decided to just laugh it off. Then, it struck me. Apparently, nobody had pressed the UP button all along. We were all there waiting for nothing. I finally pressed it and true enough, the elevator doors opened. It took a while before I could recover from the amount of laughs everyone shared after the incident.
- Favorite book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
- Favorite music: Rhythm and Blues, Contemporary
- Your favorite quote or motto: The world is full of obvious things, which nobody by any chance ever observes.
Visit Microsoft’s Accessibility in the Classroom website
for more ideas on making education accessible to all. The following are just a few examples of the wide range of resources and tools available:
Curriculum Resources – Curriculum Resources for Special Education for Windows 7 and Office 2010
Workshop – Accessibility Teacher Training Workshop