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Ask Literacy Bridge Founder About Charity, Education, and the "Talking Book" 61

Literacy Bridge is a public charity working towards the goal of creating tools for knowledge sharing and literacy learning. More specifically, they have been working on producing a $5 "talking book" device that can both help improve literacy and provide a steady flow of important information while the education is taking place. Unlike many in the "wouldn't-it-be-nice" category, Literacy Bridge already has working silicon, shaped plastic, and actual presence in their target country, Ghana. Literacy Bridge has no paid employees, but several who volunteer their time to make this idea a reality. Cliff Schmidt, founder and executive director of Literacy Bridge, would like to answer any questions you have about the charity, the mission, or the technology. Prior to Literacy Bridge, 'Cliff ran a successful open source software consulting business for clients throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North America, specializing in intellectual property issues, nonprofit governance, privacy policies, and community development. He also served many nonprofit organizations, such as The Apache Software Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, the OpenSEA Alliance, and the Free Software Foundation' in addition to working as a industry standards rep for Microsoft. Click through to see the Google TechTalk given by Cliff earlier this year. The usual Slashdot interview rules apply — so ask all the questions you'd like, but please confine yourself to one per post.
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Ask Literacy Bridge Founder About Charity, Education, and the "Talking Book"

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  • by AltGrendel ( 175092 ) <ag-slashdot&exit0,us> on Thursday August 07, 2008 @11:11AM (#24510421) Homepage
    What are you doing to prevent over dependence of the users on the talking book. Human nature being what it is, there will be a percentage of users that will probably simply let the Talking Book read to them without bothering to actually read because it's simpler than making the effort to learn to read.

    Do you have plans to prevent this and encourage actual literacy instead of pseudo-literacy?

    • pseudo literacy is better than no literacy at all.

      Technology helps people who want to learn. People who don't want to learn ... well, they won't learn with OR without technology. Almost any tech aided project can lead to pseudo-learning instead of real learning, so don't get your panties in such a knot.
      • Literacy is a tool used to accomplish things, and like any other tool (car, gun, intelligence) they are power multipliers. Most societies grow at a slow enough rate that allows them to learn how to cope and deal with the negative side of the tools they use (like computers unintentionally give us cybercrimes, which we respond to with cybercrime fighters and cybercrime fighting tools).

        I can think of nothing more cruel than a group that would enjoy playing Superman or God, and prematurely introduce tools th
        • Yes, literacy is a tool. But since language, reading and the written word have been influential throughout history, and the vast proliferation of literacy and knowledge (gutenberg, anyone?) was in part responsible for the development of civilization as we know it ... then literacy is probably more of a good thing than a bad thing.

          Although history is written by the winners - it is safe to say that literacy is probably going to kill less people than, say ... men + horses + guns.

          Your argument that

          they need to develop at their own pace without those with good-intentions paving the way.

          would be v

          • Yes, literacy is a tool. But since language, reading and the written word have been influential throughout history, and the vast proliferation of literacy and knowledge (gutenberg, anyone?) was in part responsible for the development of civilization as we know it ... then literacy is probably more of a good thing than a bad thing.

            This is your first point, and from there you make conclusions in your post based upon this assumption. But your assumption is false, which explains why your conclusions are also false. I will explain: (as this isn't a personal attack on you)

            • Literacy is not a prime mover of civilization, Freedom is.
            • When you try to add literacy and education into a developing countries, where there is no Freedom, then you don't get progress, you get a Brain Drain. [virtualave.net]
            • A Brain Drain only further hinders progress, as the bes
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              Literacy is not a prime mover of civilization, Freedom is.

              Economic Freedom? Freedom to move around? Freedom of Ideas? Free as in beer?

              Your assumption that reading and literacy will enhance the effects of tyranny is odd.

              You say that freedom grows society. We agree, mostly - except you don't state what generates freedom. Literacy encourages freedom.

              # When you try to add literacy and education into a developing countries, where there is no Freedom, then you don't get progress, you get a Brain Drain. [virtualave.net]

              So, the people are FREE to leave, and that creates the brain drain. Since freedom is present for brain drain to occur, you can't state that a lack of freedom causes brain drain. (You need one for the other).


        • oh no, the region has been destabilised by people reading stuff! Look out mr president, the outlaws are coming to over throw you by writing things! Oh no, there are gangs of men armed with books going around slaughtering villagers, by... reading them books!

          I can't find any situation where people being able to read would suddenly throw their country into chaos. How does literacy cause bad things to happen?

          And I just read that article and it's about the government paying these men to attack rebelio
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I have taught students (at the upper end of the schooling system) who couldn't read. Yes, we were making efforts to teach them to read, but at the same time, they were interested in a lot of things, and _wanted to know and learn_ stuff. They just couldn't access it. If something like this acts as a bridge for these sorts of kids to stay engaged at school, then that's just brilliant.

  • A Talking Book? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Mesa MIke ( 1193721 )

    A talking book is somehow supposed to help improve literacy?
    How about a book that forces you to learn to read if you want to know it's contents?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mweather ( 1089505 )
      How do you learn to read without someone or something reading the words to you?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mark-t ( 151149 )
        By learning phonics, and sounding the words out. You only ask somebody for help when you come to a word you can't figure out on your own.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Stooshie ( 993666 )

          Erm, who do they ask exactly?

          The whole point of the talking book is that there are not enough teachers around to ask.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by mark-t ( 151149 )
            I suppose.... maybe if the AI was really ramped up, it might someday be possible to have a talking book that would encourage its reader to try to sound out words themselves first, only finally reading the word out to the child when the child has not been able to sound it out after a certain amount of time (this could be very subjective, and the book would probably have to learn to adapt to a particular child), and would be sure to congratulate a child whenever they had successfully sounded out a word they w
            • Very true, but I think the hope is that as they learn to speak, they will learn to read too. I am asuming of course that the text is displayed at the same time.
            • It's kind of funny, but you can sense this sort of technology coming. A perfect example is the scene in Wall*E when the computer helps the Captain sound out sep-tu-a-cen-tennial (cupcake in a cup!).
        • by smoker2 ( 750216 )
          And how do you learn "phonics" ? By reading ?
          There has to be a person in the loop somewhere.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by psxman ( 925240 )

      a book that forces you to learn to read if you want to know it's contents?

      I believe that's called a "book".

  • You know thinking about the talking book, and amazon's kindle with whispernet... it seems only natural to think that the primer from Diamond Age could be just around the corner for some enterprising group of folks.
    • Wow, I've never seen a reference to that book on Slashdot.

      Hmm I have a hardcover of that somewhere. Now I gotta read it again. Thanks!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Can not make it past large giant block of text... Must go tweet.

  • Is Neal [wikipedia.org] Stephenson [wikipedia.org] one of their contributors? ;-)
  • by pagewalker ( 1286802 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @11:31AM (#24510683)

    At the UNHCR camp in Ghana, the last I heard, tuition for a year in grades 3-8 was about $10/term.

    So my question is, given the choice between a term of schooling for one child and two Talking Books (or half a term and one Talking Book), if you had only ten dollars to spend on your children's education, which would you get and why?

    • The $5 iPod (Score:3, Informative)

      by Nymz ( 905908 )
      FTV - "Imagine a $5 iPod, used to play locally created podcasts."

      One of the advertised features is Device-to-Device copy (which my multihundred dollar iPod can't do) is sure to run into legal problems, thus raising the target price even higher. To be fair, he did admit they cost more than $5 during his presentation.
      • by smoker2 ( 750216 )
        Why does it have to be a fscking iPod ? And what legal problems exist in the places they would be used ?
  • Literacy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday August 07, 2008 @11:37AM (#24510763) Homepage Journal
    Based on the comments here so far, I have this question: how do you overcome the perception that you're harming literacy by providing speaking machines rather than "forcing" people to learn to read?
    • simple, these "speaking books" are a supplement not a replacement for actually reading books. same thing for those who read to their kids, the fact that it's a book reading to them rather than their parents is irrelevant.
  • by martinw89 ( 1229324 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @11:53AM (#24510983)

    One of my greatest concerns is that devices like these will be used as propaganda spewers rather than learning tools. How do you plan or protect for that circumstance? Was it a concern when you actually put these devices in their intended use? Now that they're out of your immediate reach, is there anything you can do to prevent their use for propaganda?

  • If the #$%^ book reads aloud to him!
  • Contributions... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Notquitecajun ( 1073646 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @12:01PM (#24511095)
    What % of your contributions go to administration as opposed to real charity work?
  • Copyright issues (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jandrese ( 485 ) <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday August 07, 2008 @12:02PM (#24511113) Homepage Journal
    You appear to have half of the problem worked out in the form of an inexpensive ebook reader, but what are your plans for getting material to put on those readers? As I am sure you are well aware, the Public Domain is being strangled by changes to copyright law. Do you have a source of textbook material suitable for these children that can be given away for free? Presumably these poor communities can't afford the typical $20-$50/book fees for such material.
    • by andphi ( 899406 )

      According to the video of the presentation, the local users and local charities will create the content. The Literacy Bridge folks won't be creating any of it.

  • Y Kant Tori Read?

  • Reading the headline and the homepage, "Our mission is to empower children and adults with affordable tools for knowledge sharing and literacy learning,...", I'd say that what they were trying to say is:

    "We seek to teach children and adults to read and communicate."

    I am very interested to see if their products work. Once they have tried them out, will they update their mission statement to reflect their newfound skills?

    • Hmm... I'd simplify that:

      We will provide students with affordable tools for education.

      Of course I haven't read the article to see what you elided, and as we all know, "Reading is Fundamental."

  • Could this possibly be bundled with Playboy?
  • If the whole purpose of the device is simply to read text aloud, they could essentially go with a slightly more souped-up Speak 'n Spell. It doesn't have to be high tech at all. It could have an old-fashioned LCD (or even LED) display of the kind calculators use (i.e. no pixels, just bars for letter and number shapes) and a very, very basic text-to-speech program of which there are many available and are often relatively tiny pieces of code which have been working perfectly for decades.

    It doesn't need to
  • by querist ( 97166 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @12:53PM (#24511803) Homepage

    I have reviewed your website and I believe that I understand your objectives and how you intend for this device to be used. To aid literacy, it takes the place of a literate person reading the book to the learner.

    I know that cost is an issue and that affordability in the target area is a major concern, but I am curious as to why there is no display, not even a simple LED/LCD display similar to that on several toys, such as the "Speak-and-Spell"?

    My concern here is that if the physical book is lost, your device essentially becomes an inexpensive music player and its purpose fails.

  • More background (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lulu of the Lotus-Ea ( 3441 ) <mertz@gnosis.cx> on Thursday August 07, 2008 @02:24PM (#24513357) Homepage

    There's lots of good material on Literacy Bridge's own site, and elsewhere. But a little plug: I had a change to speak with Cliff for about an hour and a half when I was reporting from OSCon. He was an interesting guy with a really good project. I wrote up my impressions of the conversation at: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/davidmertz?entry=project_leaders [ibm.com]

  • As a former Literacy Volunteer/Instructor, I'm curious how an eBook will help a learner read the instructions on a medicine bottle, help their kids with homework, or fill out a job application?

  • My wife is a kindergarten/first grade teacher and she likes to use a technique to help some of her struggling kids. They are given a bit of PVC pipe shaped like a phone that allows them to hear themselves sound out words. For some reason, this helps many struggling kids to connect what the word sounds like and what the word looks like. Is your device similar to this technique?

    Also, for kids with a teacher, does your "talking book" device give them any added value? Is it just to replace a teacher and i

  • What is the benefit of this new technology over traditional books and human interaction and how will this project help the fundamental problems that lead to illiteracy (poverty, lack of family literacy, and learning disabilities)?
  • Why not develop an app that teaches English? There are many more resources available in English to learn from. And when people know how to speak English they should be able to communicate, grow, develop and learn on their own. You will give them the tools to learn.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers