This month I got the opportunity to tinker with the Pi and explore different things one can do with it. The motivation behind this research is to explore the possibility of using this device in high schools in remote areas in Kenya to get students more excited about programming and computer science. In Kenya, students are taught Computer Studies from Form I-IV. I can bet if you ask them what they learned it probably wasn't quite memorable. The raspberry pi was designed in the United Kingdom with the intention of teaching students computer science and raising their interest in programming.
The exploration around this mini-computer consisted of extensive literature review to see what people are saying about the device, reviewing things done with the Pi and as physically testing it to experience it myself.
What is the Raspberry Pi?
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC that can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. For its intended educational purposes, the Raspberry Pi has a major advantage over the others. It was conceived to be a complete working computer. You simply need to insert anSD cardcontaining the OS, connect the peripherals and power, and it's ready to go, as well as a display unit.
From using the Pi, the device boots like a normal computer only on a different operating system (Linux) and works pretty much the same. It has a few limitations where you are required to use command line instead of a flashy Graphical User Interface at login, however once you log in, you can switch from the command line to the GUI. You can surf the Internet through the Ethernet port or through WIFI (wifi dongle).The programming language you can use on the Pi is Python. Google Coder allows you to turn the pi into a mini web server.
For a computing device that costs between 25-35 USD, it’s quite handy.
Across the world the device has been used for many things. In David Hayward’s article25 things you can do with the raspberry pi’, the device has been used to make a cloud server, a keyboard using beer cans (I particularly enjoyed the ingenuity of this), a weather station, a bit torrent server among other things.
Locally we have many artists who make different kinds of gadgets from scrap materials and just imagining how much cooler these devices can be when plugged in with low cost computers like the raspberry pi, the potential of this device is limitless.
To incorporate this device in schools in Kenya will require a three tier process which I think should be explored. This involves selecting the content and purpose for using the raspberry pi, training teachers how to use it then deploying it in the schools ( have the students tinker with it).
Matthew Bennet who works with the Raspberry Pi foundation in his article on training teachers in Texas highlights the cost benefits, practicality of the pi over iPads and issues to consider when including the pi in the curriculum. Details of his presentation can be accessed here and here
The common challenges faced when using ICTs in the Kenyan education sector is there are too many users and too few devices for a student to properly explore the functionalities of the computers. Additionally, the instructors in the schools have limited knowledge on how to use this device.
At this point the ongoing research aims to explore how high school students would use this device and the potential benefits that can come out of exciting them to program. The Curriculum for Computer Studies for Form I-IV covers a variety of issues and it would be interesting to see how the Raspberry Pi could be used to complement this curriculum.