KA Lite: Bringing Education To Those Who Need It Most


KApicIf you don’t already know, Khan Academy is a nonprofit organization that was born of one man’s idea to help a family member succeed in school. It has now become a huge force for free online education. KA Lite is an offline version of the Khan Academy content, aimed at serving individuals who cannot readily access the internet. This includes those in developing countries, prison education programs, or any other knowledge-seekers for whom internet availability is a challenge.

Working on this project has been exciting, as having a part in creating any product that can affect so many people in a positive way should be. To give the reader a bit of insight into my background, I am an undergraduate Linguistics student at UCSD who is interested in numerous aspects of both language and technology. One of my most significant contributions to KA Lite has been integrating Google Maps through the Google Maps API. This is a core feature of the product, allowing administrators to label their facilities on the map, and to help the development team understand how the product is being used. Administrators add and edit facilities using the map interface, and can keep track of students and teachers in different content sharing zones. In these zones, content can be shared between users’ devices without an internet connection, to facilitate sharing in the absence of the internet.

mapsPic

The inception of KA Lite occurred over the summer of 2012, when the lead developer of the product, Jamie Alexandre, was interning at Khan Academy. Jamie provides a full account of how the idea for KA Lite came to him and describes the product in detail in a compelling bout of storytelling over on his blog.

The most common question I come across when describing KA Lite is why it is necessary. The internet seems so ubiquitous these days, that most people can’t quite grasp why an offline version of Khan Academy would be useful. Though in America it may seem that everyone can access the internet, nearly 70% of the world has no internet access. With this figure in mind, the utility of KA Lite comes into focus. This need is especially prevalent in the developing world, as depicted in the graph below.

internet-usage (Source: Wikipedia: “Global Digital Divide”)

Another pertinent question regarding KA Lite is just how people download the content in the first place if the target audience has such great difficulty accessing the internet. KA Lite has been developed with this question squarely in mind. The development team has taken care to ensure that the KA Lite server can be downloaded and run on devices as inexpensive as the $35 Raspberry Pi. This means that administrators download the server only one time, and then users can download the content by connecting to the server, as opposed to having to access the internet itself.

I hope that everyone shares in our excitement in this possibly game-changing idea.  Any interested readers are encouraged to ask questions in the comments below. Also, please note that the KA Lite development team is not located at Khan Academy, but is instead an independent team based at UCSD. This continues to be an open source development project, and any interested developers are encouraged to inquire further.

Data Visualization with D3

Data-Driven Documents (D3) is an awesome tool for displaying data on the web. Anyone who knows how to write code in Javascript can get started using this technology immediately, and those who want to learn can find excellent (mostly free) resources to learn both Javascript and D3. For beginners, I would recommend this great book, Getting Started with D3.

D3 outputs Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), which means that visualizations are both high quality and compatible with desktop and mobile browsers. One of the best features of D3 is the ability to make interactive graphics, enhancing the user experience by allowing for an interactive, as opposed to a passive, experience. From simple everyday topics like a coffee selection wheel, to more complex endeavors such as nationwide statistics, this tool seems well suited for any scale. Given all of its positive qualities, it is no wonder that D3 has been embraced by professionals and novices alike.

Check out some cool examples over at their gallery.