October 24, 2007

ICDL Going to Mongolia

I'm going back to Mongolia next week to finish the job I started last year. The International Children's Digital Library (ICDL - www.childrenslibrary.org), which I am the technical director of, is working with the Mongolia Ministry of Education, Culture and Science on a World Bank-funded project to help improve literacy, and a culture of reading for pleasure.

While the larger project is centered around traditional paper books, there is a surprisingly foresightful effort looking at digital technology. Last trip, I set up an ICDL server in Ulaan Baatar - available at www.read.mn. This time, I'm going to set up some servers in rural schools and to do teacher training (with graduate student Sheri Massey) to explore how technology can be used in places far off the grid.

While Mongolia is slowly wiring up the country, a significant number of soums (i.e., towns) may have electricity, but have no internet. We decided that since we know the internet is coming (eventually), and they were buying computers anyway, we would set up the ICDL on a server in each school, and use the local network to provide access to the 200 new books (plus many of the existing ICDL books) to the children in these schools.

I'm afraid that as crazy as it seems, the only way to set this kind of thing up is to go out there with software (and many, many backups) in hand, and set things up myself. We've got our system configured to now also run on Windows servers with standard distributions of Apache, Tomcat and MySQL. And we've got things set up so it all starts up nicely when the computer starts. And we can even update the library by sending a disk out there, and having someone press a special button (or so we hope).

Installing this software without recurse to help if things go wrong is a bit daunting. Especially because these schools are all 1-2 days drive on cold dirt roads from the Capital and each other. I'm really, really hoping I don't have a bad technology week.

And, of course, I won't be able to blog about the trip until afterwards since I'll have no connectivity - but I'll be sure to have lots of stories when I come back on November 12th.