swag is the codename for skills that help people earn a higher income and achieve greater personal freedom through self-expression. This is the software that helps people achieve more swag.
The Origins of swag
Teenager in Kibera, Nairobi, walks into a Tunapanda computer lab after school wearing his school uniform. The fat part of his tie is short, the skinny part goes down to his knees.
Me: Nice tie, Marc.
Marc: Thanks, teacher. It's my swag.
swag in Layman's Terms
A key mechanism for spreading learning to low-income parts of the world, including here in East Africa, is video learning content which can simultaneously decrease cost while increasing quality of education. Software and videos will never replace good teachers, but they are certainly the best option when no other affordable option exists.
However, both guidance and motivation are currently huge problems for video learning. This swag software is designed to help solve those problems by:
- Creating clear, automated pathways through material so students can learn at their own pace with minimal guidance.
- Providing a lightly-gamified environment to help with motivation.
- Allowing localized customization of the scoring system.
- Helping minimally-trained teaching facilitators guide others to mastery and see what's working and what isn't.
swag in Gamers' Terms
Every student interacting with our learning platform should be treated as much like a game player as possible. In other words: it's our job to keep them engaged and provide manageable challenges while minimizing boredom and confusion - we don't order them to engage or hit them with sticks when they fail to comply.
A player starts off in the game environment with very little knowledge of the world of technology, design and storytelling. Many have never handled a computer before, nor seen anyone touch-type properly. There is very likely no internet access and unreliable electricity. Thus the environment needs to be self-contained... and time is of the essence.
By moving around the open source software and freely-licensed content on Tunapanda Edubuntu, a player collects swag points. Some of this swag is automatically recorded - for example when a student achieves a certain level of touch-typing. Other swag must be verified by other players who have achieved higher levels of swag. For example, editing a short community journalism video following certain rules of film, or building a website using Drupal or Wordpress following certain specification.
swag from a Technical Standpoint
swag can be viewed as a proxy word for skill. There are various types of swag but we can ignore that for now.
To achieve a certain level of swag in a given skill area, players might engage in any combination of the following:
- Watch video content (can often be substituted by a human lesson).
- Complete a quiz, group activity or project. Note: quizzes are more often used to help players check their understanding rather than as achievement indicators.
- Achieve a certain level within a swag area based on experience.
Note: Achieving (or even attempting) certain swag elements might require prerequisites. Those prerequisites might be swag or level.
Swag is a system for guiding learners through different learning paths. It does not dictate a specific path to the learner, but suggests that some knowledge are prerequisites to other knowledge.
It engages the user by relying on metaphors from computer games, and tries to trigger the users curiosity for exploration and desire for completeness.
The system is also designed to be usable as a teaching aid in the classroom which in turn becomes a tool for propagating education through peer-to-peer learning.
The system allows for knowledge creation from someone who has knowledge in a given field and learners a like through suggestions
Swag system is built on wordpress therefore ensure you install wordpress.
The system has a custom made theme that ties everything together. Instructions on how to install it can be found here.
To set everything up, there are a number of plugins you need to install.
- Main swag plugin
- Remote sync
- H5P xAPI
- Deliverables plugin
- xAPI stats plugin
- Dasheroo KPIs(optional)
- Tabby resposive tabs
- Profile builder
- User shortcodes
We use github updator to keep all custome made plugins and theme upto date.
Features and capabilities
A piece of swag is a badge that a user can earn through completing different activities in the system. The swag that a user have earned is stored in the LRS. This feature is implemented by the wp-swag plugin.
A swagifact represents an atom of learning, example going throuhg a H5P course presentation about say "Ancient astronomy". Most Swagifacts are mostly H5P items and delivered learning items. This feature is implemented by the wp-swag plugin.
A swagpath is a course in the system. It is named this way because it takes the user from one swag to another, i.e. the path from one swag to another. Each swagpath can have a number of required swag, i.e. the prerequisites for the swagpath. It can also have a number of provided swag, which are the badges that the user will earn upon completing the swagpath. The prerequisites are never "hard", i.e. the system will never stop a user from exploring or attempting a swagpath, rather the system will let the user access any swagpath he or she wants to acces. If the user does not have the prerequisites for a particular swagpath, the system will hint the user that it might make sense to collect the prerequisite swag first.
A swagpath contains a number of items, and each such item is called a swagifact. A swagifact is usually a piece of H5P content, but there are also other types of swagifacts supported. See swagifact below.
Each swagpath is implemented in the system as a wordpress page, using a number of special Wordpress shortcodes.
The swag that is required or provided by the swagpath is implemented usig Wordpress custom fields.
The screenshot shows the editing of a swagpath, including the shortcodes and custom fields discussed above.
This feature is implemented by the wp-swag plugin.
A swagmap is a map that shows the relationships of swagpaths and their required and provided swag. It is intended to be a guide for the user, where he or she can get an overview of what skills build on top of other skills.
The circles on the swagmap represents the swag. Hollow circles means swag that is not yet completed by the current user, and filled in circles represent collected swag.
The black links in between the swag are links to the swagpaths for colecting the swag. This feature is implemented by the wp-swag plugin.
Synchronisation utilizes the concepts of a version control system, where a user can pull, push, merge/sync changes. Synchronization in the swag system is handled by the wp-remote-sync plugin.
Learning Record Store
The learning record store keeps track of the progress for each user. In order to talk to the LRS we use the xAPI protocol. The LRS is a standardized component that speaks xAPI, i.e. not something we have built specifically for the Swag system, and we can replace the currently used LRS with another one as long as that one speak xAPI. We currently use Learning Locker, which is an open source implementation of an xAPI compliant LRS.
xAPI is a RESTful API, which means that it uses HTTP as its underlying protocol. This is the same protocol that a web browser uses to talk to a webserver. This means that it is relatively simple to create software that speaks it, since it is possible to reuse software libraries already created for other HTTP communication. There are implementations of xAPI in most popular programming languages.
H5P and content/knowledge creation
H5P is a third party software that we use to create different types of content/Knowledge. It is very easy to integrate into wordpress and very easy to use. It allows generetes xAPI statements that make it for the system to track the progress of a learner.
Integration of reporting application
When we create swagifacts, we can make it easy for ourselves and choose tools that support xAPI, and these will easily integrate with the rest of the architecture. H5P is an example of such a tool. However, we would like to be able to gather information from as many sources as possible, also from sources that do not support xAPI. In these cases, we use a reporting application to bridge the gap from those systems to our LRS.
One example of such a reporter application is ktouchxapi, which takes statistics from the touch typing tutor application KTouch and inserts it into our xAPI compliant LRS.
In order to have a modular approach to the architecture of the system, the reporting application doesn’t have dependencies on any other components of the system, other than the fact that it speaks xAPI. Reporting applications are command line tools that can be run periodically in the background, and they look and behave in similar ways to standard UNIX command line tools.
Ktouchxapi is the first reporting application we have developed, we envision more of these in the future. The next envisioned reporting application is for arbtt, which is a system that tracks which applications a user runs and how often and how long these applications are used. This way, we can give users swag credits upon using certain applications.
Why be so concerned with offline deployment? Can't you just put the software and learning materials online?
Money is scarce for most people and internet bandwidth is expensive. Even people who can afford their own smartphone are often happy to browse Twitter but are very careful to avoid video sites like YouTube. Videos are great learning tools - but a "free" 100MB TED Talk is not free when you earn $2/day and would have to pay $0.50 to $1.00 for that 100MB of bandwidth on your mobile phone. It would actually be cheaper to buy a DVD with the data already on it than to download it yourself! Deploying/distributing offline means that people can learn more and spend less.
Internet is unreliable, even in relatively connected cities like Nairobi. Unreliable internet means waiting for videos to load, which is very frustrating. Frustration is not conducive to learning. Hosting content locally decreases load times and removes frustration.
Why teach technology, design, and business skills when so many people have a hard time affording food?
People earn an income by creating value and solving problems for others. Technologies are effectively tools that enable humans to do more with less. Besides the fact that the internet and other ICT (Information Communication Technology) advances enable people to perform work in Africa for clients around the world, knowledge of such skills can help people a) learn more individually or in groups, b) solve local problems, and c) apply those solutions on a global scale.
On the topic of food: a great deal food in Africa rots or gets eaten by pests because there is a lack of pricing information and efficient distribution channels. The proper deployment of software, other technology, design thinking, and proper business practices can solve problems like that - and those closest to the problems are the ones who will discover the best solutions. But only with the ability to learn.
Don't we need more teachers? Are you trying to replace teachers with technology?
Our planet absolutely needs more teachers. We have a saying at Tunapanda Institute that "everyone on our team is a teacher." We don't just build software and create learning content, each of us regularly stand up in front of real people and runs real classes. We select and train new team members based on their aptitude for teaching and ability to facilitate peer-to-peer learning.
All the software, technology tools, and learning materials we create and deploy are aimed at enabling teachers, formal or informal, do their jobs better. And that includes us, we use these tools in our own classes before we send them out to the world. Ultimately we don't want to replace teachers, we want to enable anyone to become a better teacher of herself, her family, her community, and her planet.