What is swag?
Swag is a gamified open source elearning platform meant for delivering education content especially in areas without internet connection. It allow users to create and share their content within the platform without the need for internet.
What challenges is Swag designed to address?
Internet access is still unreliable and cost prohibitive in many communities. This means that great learning content, if it is cloud-based, is still out of reach for many people who could otherwise learn.
How Swag solves the problem: Swag is designed to be completely functional offline. With a simple set up and about two gigabytes of data (which can be downloaded elsewhere then transported via sneakernet), any computer can become a server for a group of learners. Users can choose to sync whenever they choose to get newly created resources (or not at all)
Material not tailored to local needs
Online learning materials are mostly not tailored for local needs. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have revolutionized the way education can be delivered. However, most MOOC courses are adapted from Western university courses and are not designed for East Africa.
How Swag solves the problem: Swag makes it very easy for user to create their own interactive learning resources. Furthermore, all Swag content is released under a public license, which allows communities to adapt, remix, or update the materials to make them more appropriate for their own unique contexts. By using local languages and locally-relevant examples, the learning material can be even more powerful.
Rapidly changing technology
Available materials, especially textbooks, can struggle to keep pace with advancements in technology. Since the field of IT can change very quickly, it’s important for learners to have access to resources that are relevant and current.
How Swag solves the problem: Because Swag is distributed, and resources can be shared freely among different installations (if possible), local learners who create resources based on new advancements can pass information to other learners who may not be aware for the changes.
What makes Swag unique?
It is an offline platform and can exist entirely without needing internet and someone can get everything from another peer machine on a local network or a direct connection between the machine which reduces the need for internet connectivity. It has the chances to leapfrog education system in the west just like Mpesa or Mobile phones and since Mpesa caused a distribution in how people send, receive and bank money leapfrogging the traditional banking systems, we believe we can achieve the same but for education.
Swag is gamified. Rather than a linear learning experience, Swag offers a variety of options. Swag will trigger a person to learn and explore more there is also earning badges that gives sense of achievement and offers the need to collect more badges.
It is open and free, the code base is on github and anyone if free to contribute and make it better since. The content that is created is released under a public license and anyone can use as well as to download. We believe the cost barriers to learning should be minimized as much as possible.
It is easily replicable to any online system or locally and the system can be used to replicate another which is completely independent.
It allows version controls the same way as git and github which makes the system able to keep track of different versions between two systems and can synchronize them as required by the user.
Swag from Janet’s perspective
Janet is born and raised in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya. Kibera is one of the largest slums in Africa and living here is not an easy thing. Janet joined a school in the late 90s for a Kenya National Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) which took her 8 years to acquire. Thereafter, she joined a high school for a 4-year course in Kenya National Certificate of Secondary Education (KSCE). She sat my exams in November 2010 and attained a B minus (B -) of 58 points.
With the grade she attained, she knew that her dream to join a regular programme in computer science at any public university in Kenya and be a beneficiary of higher education loans board (HELB) was shuttered.
The board finances regular students with about 70 percent of their fees which the beneficiaries repay after they have finished their degree programmes and secured a job. Her only chance was to apply for a parallel degree which is a self-sponsored programme, but, like many of her friends, she did not have money to pay for large amounts of fees.
Her instincts were to find a job and raise finances for her personal upkeeps as she figured out her next actions regarding her college education. She secured a job in a supermarket and life seemed just fine until a year later, when she was sacked following a retrenchment due to inflation that had hit Kenya that year.
A month later, she secured another job at a local cyber cafe as an attendant. To quench her thirst to become a computer scientist, she started browsing for free online courses. She got quite a number of them but most required a reliable and high-speed internet which the cyber could not afford. One day while she was doing her usual work at the cyber, 2 guys came in and sat on one of the computers. She overheard in their conversation that there is a school which is run by a certain community-based organization (CBO) called Tunapanda Kibera CBO, that offered a 3-month intensive training in technology, design, and business. She followed up with the story and decided to apply for the course and test her luck. She applied and the school management invited her for an interview 2 weeks later, which went well for her. She was asked to join the program a week later.
The school used the Swag platform. It encourages a peer-to-peer model of learning to help trainees develop a growth mindset and acquire teamwork skills in addressing the challenges that their communities face. After the 3-month program, she was selected to join an apprenticeship program, which is a program focused on advanced skills acquisition for 6 months.
During her apprenticeship, she got a chance to dig deeper into the Swag system and learned how its backend was structured. The system is based on WordPress and relies on plugins and libraries such as H5P. It is comprised of swagpaths, which are a group of courses that are related, and swagifacts, which are a group of related concepts within each swagpath. She learned how to create these swagpaths and swagifacts as well as setup an instance of the system on my computer. She also learned how to synchronize the swagpaths and the swagifacts from the remote server to her computer, with an aim of cloning the learning model of the school back in her village after her apprenticeship program ended.
As her apprenticeship program ended, she went back to her village at Laini Saba and started a cyber which grew to become the first IT ‘hub’ in the area. The ‘hub’ runs on Linux and it uses the Swag system to teach people technological approaches of value creation and problem-solving. The skills she acquired from Tunapanda Institute and the Swag system have helped her to help others with much ease. Her dream is to help her trainees replicate the model in their villages, and since the model requires less skilled teachers and low or no bandwidth at all, she is confident that she can achieve this. The only time you need a fast and reliable internet is when synchronizing content from the remote server to your local server which takes only a few minutes to complete.
Installing and replicating Swag
Swag is built on top of the content management system WordPress. WordPress powers more than a quarter of all Web Sites on the Internet, so even if you are not familiar with how to set up WordPress, there are good chances that you know someone who knows. We have tried to make the installation process as simple as possible, both for setting up the basic system as well as filling the system with learning resources. The step you need to go through to set up Swag are the following:
- Install WordPress.
- Download Swag from github.com/tunapanda/wp-swag.
- Copy the wp-swag directory into the wp-content/plugins/ directory of your WordPress installation. If you use a unix based operating system, don’t forget to change permissions if necessary.
- Log in to your wp-admin dashboard and click on the plugins menu on the left side of the screen. You should see the Swag plugin listed. Click ‘activate’ to activate the plugin.
- Click on Tunapanda Swag in the Settings menu and follow the instructions there. This will help you to install required plugins and download learning resources from the Tunapanda server.
Swag is an open source project, and we are very happy to welcome contributions from other developers. This section includes information for developers who wish to help with the development.
As mentioned before, Swag is developed as a WordPress plugin. In order to help with the development it is therefore helpful if you have some experience with the development of such plugins.
Swag uses xAPI to store information about what students have learned and achieved. xAPI is an e-learning software specification that allows learning content and learning systems to speak to each other in a manner that records and tracks all types of learning experiences. In order to make installation easy, we have developed our own xAPI enabled Learning Record Store, but you can also use any other available Learning Record Store if you want, such as LearningLocker or lxHive.
Swag supports different types of learning resources. It uses a modular architecture in order to support the addition of new types of learning resources that can award Swag to a learner. Currently, we can work with the following types of learning resources:
- H5P, an open source project which allows authors to create and edit interactive videos, presentations, quizzes, games and more.
- Learners can submit coursework, such as written essays, photos or program source code and have it graded by a decentralized team of teachers or senior students. As the coursework have been reviewed, the learner will be awarded Swag.
It is possible to imagine other types of learning resources that would fit well in with the architecture. We are continuously working on adding more, and these are some types of learning resources we might support in the future.
- Learning resource created in using the SCORM standard.
- Presentations created in OpenOffice Impress or similar tools, such as Microsoft PowerPoint.
- We could let the learner connect his or her account to a MOOC, and import achievements and badges from there.
As mentioned before, Swag is developed as a WordPress plugin. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that it is a number of plugins. This is the list of plugins and their role within the larger system.
- Wp-swag – The main plugin that ties everything together. The features such as the rendering of swagmaps and showing the swagpaths is done here.
- Wp-deliverable – WordPress plugin that lets learners submit deliverables and have coaches review them. It is used in Swag to earn swag for coursework.
- Wp-remote-sync – Syncs content between the sites in a network of WordPress sites.
- Wp-xapi-lrs – An implementation of an XAPI learning record store.
- TI-wp-content-theme – Our WordPress theme.
If you want to help out with the development of Swag, please look at the list of issues for each plugin and repository on GitHub. You can also contact us, and we will be happy to explain more about the architecture and answer any questions you might have in a Skype call. There is an ongoing work with organising the issues and communicating them, if you want to help with this work it is also very welcome!
If you share our values, and if you believe that a system such as Swag can have an impact and help to make the world a better place, we invite you to join us!
We have tried to make Swag easy to install and use. But have we succeeded? It is very valuable for us to hear your real life stories!
Swag is open source, and as such is developed by a dispersed team of developers from around the world. If you enjoy programming, we invite you to hack on Swag and make it better. Please see the list of issues as suggestions, if you think that they are boring or misses the mark about what is needed, hack on whatever you want!
Tunapanda, the creators of Swag, is a nonprofit organisation in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya. We survive on contributions from the public, and every dollar helps! Please see our contributions page.