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Updated: Idaho Prisoners Use Khan Academy Offline to Study for GEDs

KA Lite is an open-source project that runs much of Khan Academy’s functionality off a Raspberry Pi.

Updated: Idaho Prisoners Use Khan Academy Offline to Study for GEDs
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Khan Academy has 5.4 million monthly users of its educational videos, exercises, and gamelike badging platform online. Tens of thousands of schools are using the platform. But an estimated 65% of the world’s population has no adequate means of getting online. Not surprisingly, there’s a huge amount of overlap between populations that lack educational resources and populations that lack Internet access. Even in the United States, not all schools have the bandwidth they need.

Jamie Alexandre, a grad student at UC San Diego, was interning at Khan Academy last summer when he got the idea to build a version of the site that could be used offline or in places with only limited connectivity. Khan Academy videos and exercises are Creative Commons licensed, so sharing is A-OK; KA Lite is independent of Khan Academy, although they are friendly.

KA Lite is written in Python and can be run using almost any computer, including outdated, donated machines, or an open-source, $25 Raspberry Pi. “What we’ve built is a ‘web server’ that runs on lightweight hardware and interacts with videos and stores progress with users and creates user logins,” says Ben Cipollini, another UCSD grad student who is part of the KA Lite volunteer team. “You can reimplement the Khan Academy website with those pluggable parts onto a web server that can be used almost anywhere.”

Students can download just the videos they need and connect to sync all their information, like progress through the courses. “All the resized videos fit on a 32GB SDcard,” says Cipollini. “A Raspberry Pi with the storage, the case, and the dongle costs under $100.”

Since they announced KA Lite last December, the Foundation for Learning Equality, the nonprofit Alexandre and his team founded, has recorded over 1,000 installations in 80 countries. Their best guess is that there are far more out there.

Most recently, KA Lite got hooked up with the Idaho Department of Corrections. The Albertson Foundation is funding the first statewide pilot of the use of Khan Academy in schools there. But Internet connectivity for prisoners isn’t at the top of Idaho’s budget priorities. So Khan put the Department of Corrections in touch with KA Lite to see how the software could help approximately 1,000 inmates study. Ages 14 and up, the students range from those reading and doing math at below a sixth-grade level to those preparing for their GED test, and some with a high school diploma preparing for college or the workplace, says Julie Oye-Johnson, director of the education program at the IDOC.

“This has been quite an exciting program that we’ve been involved in,” she says. “The offenders are actively using KA Lite–they love it. They’re using the rewards system, they like tracking their own progress, they enjoy using the coaching program to see where they are and what areas they want to focus on. It’s something new, it’s interesting, it’s out of the book.” While the Albertson’s grant is specifically to study the impact of math exercises, the students have access to all the Khan Academy videos on economics, finance, science, and the humanities, as well, instantly expanding the range of instructional topics offered within prison schools.

The prison program has been in place since June. Among the first 20 prisoners using Khan Academy exercises offline, all 20 passed the math portion of their GED course–the first time that had ever happened. “They were super thrilled, and so were we,” says Cipollini.

This post has been updated to reflect some corrections. The Idaho prisoners are using Windows computers, not the Raspberry Pi.

About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.