The Meedan Blog Archive

Egret, a new project for multilingual learning

Meedan has recently completed the first phase of a multi-year educational technology project nicknamed “Egret.”

What is Egret?

Egret is a design concept for a multilingual web platform serving students and teachers in both the classroom and nontraditional learning contexts. The Egret project seeks to make it easy to create and share multilingual content in online networks.

The platform provides a resource library that allows bundling, sharing and discussion of various types of resources including embedded video and audio files, short passages, quotes, documents, web pages, simulations and other kinds of files. Egret’s niche in the context management world is unusual because of its emphasis on translation in tandem with content and discussion.

In essence, Egret facilitates discussion between instructors and students or among student groups. Discussions can be tagged and also sorted by popularity or group to make it easier to find and join relevant discussions. The purpose of Egret is to facilitate the creation of community-driven multi-lingual content.

Conception and Design

“Our design and research process would not have been possible without the support of the foward-thinking folks under Maggie Salem at Qatar Foundation International. We are grateful to our advisors Vijay Kumar, from MIT, and Mike Smith, from Carnegie, two visionary leaders of the Open Education movement. Also, Fernando Reimers from Harvard GSE has also been very generous with his time and enthusiasm. Lastly we have been especially lucky to have access to a number of teachers working in QFI programs who spent a lot of time patiently talking with the Meedan team and helping us better understand educational technology from teacher and student perspectives,” said Ed Bice, Meedan CEO.

He added: “Our Egret, like its namesake looking at the minnows swimming in the shallows, has an eye to the profound shifts in the educational landscape. Changes reflected in projects like Khan Academy that redefine the potential impact of Open Educational Resources(OER), and in organizations like iEARN and Teacher’s Without Borders that are redefining the boundaries of the classroom.”

Chris Blow, Design Director, explained the design process: “Meedan has worked over the last year through a discover and design process. The key takeaways from this process form the basis for the upcoming development phase:

Above all, keep it simple. Teachers have shown us repeatedly that they are minimalists, already up to their eyeballs in work and frequently overwhelmed by the internet.

Also, more surprisingly perhaps: Keep it private. Teachers need a simple to configure permissions, to create safe spaces that conform to non-negotiable privacy demands of administrators and parents.”

These design constraints have been addressed in a simple UI as shown in the images below. Some of the challenges we have paid special attention to include:

Make all of the resources “playable” inline

Use tags for folksonomic flexibility

Use categories for standards alignment

Use color minimally as part of the usability strategy

Language independent iconography

Use Modal dialogues to keep the IA small

The result of these conversations is a proposed educational conversation and resource platform.  The goal is for a simple experience — discussing Open Educational Resources between linguistically diverse classrooms.

“The difficult part of the design process was making Egret extremely simple; Egret is not an LMS, rather it is simply a platform for bundling resources (whether for a course, a standard, an experiment, or a single lesson) and having discussions (which may relate to individual OERs or ‘bundles’),” Blow added.

Whether rich media content or text-based chats, all the content on Egret can be translated - in this context it was inspiring to spend two days this spring with Lucio Rispo and his colleagues from the Qatar Science and Technology Park at the MIT Office of Educational Innovation and Technology. Lucio has been working on a comprehensive translation solution framework for texts called Logathi.

While the work we have done on Egret is really just a first step, the future implied in a global network of learners connected to open resources and each other is profound. Our thanks to QFI for supporting these efforts and networking a remarkable set of people around their programming.