UOG partners on tech project to bring educational materials to outer islands
A projection of near-term climate changes specific to the islands of Micronesia is one of many educational documents that the students of Micronesia, even on islands without electricity or an internet connection, can access through an innovative resource called SolarSPELL.
The technology is a digital library equipped with a solar panel and a storage bank that can connect to a laptop, smartphone, or other electronic device via an offline Wi-Fi hotspot. It holds reports, documents, storybooks, and videos specific to Micronesia and the Pacific Islands as well as localized content in the subjects of language arts, the creative arts, math, science, the environment, and health and safety.
“Some of them had never seen videos of people like them, and they were surprised to see videos of how climate change was affecting their islands,” said Mary Jane Miller, a professor of education in the University of Guam, who introduced the technology last summer to students in Yap pursuing their education degrees remotely through UOG.
The digital library for the Federated States of Micronesia is one of eight libraries that has been developed through an Arizona State University-led project called the Solar Powered Educational Learning Library, or SolarSPELL, and was introduced in Micronesia by the U.S. Peace Corps in 2017. The University of Guam is a partner on the project through its membership in the Global Consortium for Sustainability Outcomes, an international network of universities and research institutes focused on solutions to sustainability challenges.
Curating content specific to Micronesia
Miller is part of a multi-institutional team that is working to provide these digital libraries for students in areas with little to no access to electricity or internet. Her role in the project has been curating content specific to Micronesia to complement the library’s archives and to assist in training Pacific Islander teachers with the technology.
“This has enormous potential for Pacific Islands,” she said. “In a world that’s relying more on internet, it’s important to have the experience in using it. Otherwise, it deprives you of knowledge. SolarSPELL provides that access, but without having to be online and in a much safer way.”
Miller used the device to supplement her lessons when she taught an undergraduate course in Yap last June. Her students were very receptive to using SolarSPELL in their future classrooms and implementing its resources into their future curriculum.
“For some places, it’s more than just teaching them how to use the technology. This library is their first time having access to a wealth of information,” said Laura Hosman, co-founder and director of SolarSPELL.
Laying groundwork for future expansion
The project overall has introduced more than 350 devices within the Federated States of Micronesia, Fjii, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Comoros. Bruce Baikie, SolarSPELL co-founder and technical lead, said the success of the project relies greatly on forming partnerships with the people in or near these areas of need. Miller’s support in the project will help lay the groundwork for SolarSPELL to expand to Guam and have Guam be a project point to reach out to other areas of Micronesia.
“The goal is to train these teachers and continue to give them support so that they can help identify the community’s needs,” he said. The project is funded by a grant awarded to ASU by the Global Consortium for Sustainability Outcomes. Other partners in the project include Kamehameha Schools in Hawai’i, Leuphana University in Germany, and Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico. As a member of the Global Consortium for Sustainability Outcomes since 2018, the University of Guam anticipates many more collaborations with ASU and other member institutions on sustainable technologies and frameworks that can positively impact the Pacific Islands.