Guest post from Khan Academy Lite

Update: KA Lite dropped us a line to let us know they had a newer version of today’s post ready for us this evening, that they’d prefer us to use. The updated version is below. Enjoy!

Liz: We’ve been talking a bit about Khan Academy Lite on this blog recently. KA Lite is the offline version of Khan Academy, and we’ve recently seen the Kingdom of Bhutan’s first Raspberry Pi being used as a server to give kids offline access to the huge, free suite of Khan Academy’s top-quality video lectures and learning materials. You can read more about Khan Academy on their own website, but don’t just take their word for it: there’s a wealth of material online about the Khan Academy learning experience from users, if you have a few minutes to google for it.

The KA Lite team recently incorporated as a California-based nonprofit organization: Foundation for Learning Equality. They are dedicated to creating tools for the sharing and creation of open-licensed educational content for use by anyone around the world, with special emphasis on reaching the 65% of the world that does not have Internet access, and those with limited-bandwidth, expensive, or unreliable connections.

The KA Lite project emerged during a development internship at Khan Academy in the summer of 2012. Having just received their first eagerly awaited Raspberry Pi, a couple of interns decided to try porting Khan Academy’s educational materials for use on the Raspberry Pi. As a low power device that can run off batteries, solar, or a generator, and its ability to use existing hardware for output (such as old televisions), it is an ideal platform for distributing content to the developing world. After working on “Khanberry Pi” for several weeks, a very simple static file-based version that worked on the Raspberry Pi was presented at a Khan Academy company event in August. The overwhelming enthusiasm about its potential impact led to further brainstorming, while conversations with other organizations using Khan Academy in the developing world reinforced the strong need for a more general software platform for deploying Khan Academy content in offline contexts.

Following brainstorming and feedback from organizations, the design specifications shifted towards a platform that could run on any operating system, on any low-powered hardware (with the Raspberry Pi as an exemplar device), and with mechanisms in place to synchronize data and share new content through any existing channels. Development then began, outside regular working hours, on what became KA Lite, a standalone dynamic web platform that was demoed to Khan Academy at the end of the summer internships in September. In the fall quarter, at UC San Diego, a team of passionate undergraduates, joined later by graduate students, jumped on board to apply their development, design, and user experience skills to build out and improve the platform. In December of 2012, the KA Lite team first announced the open-source project publicly on popular developer channels, and developers around the world soon began contributing and collaborating on the development process, while teachers and organizations in many countries started testing out deployments with their students.

The Raspberry Pi was not only the original inspiration behind the KA Lite project, but continues to be the most cost-effective way to deploy the platform to areas without existing infrastructure. While we had originally envisioned the Pi primarily as a client device, it has proven itself to be an ideal server platform for bringing KA Lite to offline communities. With the addition of a cheap wifi dongle, and a bit of software setup, the Pi is transformed into a standalone wifi access point that can serve up a dynamic web interface to nearby client devices, without the need for internet.

We were unable to swamp the Pi server or its wireless connection even with 35 tablets connecting to it simultaneously.

Inexpensive Android devices, which have been proliferating through the developing world, serve as excellent client devices to connect to a Pi access point. How does the Pi hold up to the task of serving a classroom full of tablet users over a single wifi dongle? We had been warned that a small number of wifi clients would likely swamp the connection, so last week we put it to the test. The Raspberry Pi/Wi-Pi combo held up smoothly, with 35 tablets simultaneously navigating through the KA Lite web interface and streaming Khan Academy videos.

We’re experimenting with alternate power sources, such as the solar-charged d.light that is already in wide distribution through the developing world. The Pi’s low power requirements make this a breeze.

If you’re interested in helping to develop KA Lite or want to deploy it with your students, check out the KA Lite Wiki for more information on how to get involved!