Instant Google Map Maker Starter :Behind the Scenes

Instant Google Map Maker Starter Cover Page

Instant Google Map Maker Starter Cover Page

Geographic information is increasingly becoming an integral part of our lives. Sourcing and making a reliable geographical directory and database of the places we love, let alone one online, is a very expensive undertaking. However, with Google Map Maker, you don’t have to worry about the cost. Google provides a platform where individuals and communities can collaborate to put the places they love and know on the map for everyone to see and use across the world online, all for free.”Instant Google Map Maker Starter” offers a simple approach to getting started with Google Map Maker with clear and uncomplicated examples and diagrams to take you through the process of creating and sharing your first map. This is meant to help you realize the full potential of this free web mapping platform for both your community and your business.

…Reads the preamble of my new book, am an author, can you believe it? Heeheee, no am kidding right? You wish.

It has been 5 long months. Months that I set myself to write. Write on a topic and subject that I have always loved and studies, Maps. When one of the Scouts from Packt Publishing from the UK emailed me asking if I would be interested to Author a book on Google Map Maker, quoting my blog, yes this blog, as his reference, I laughed at that thought. I mean there are millions of avid users and contributors of Google Map Maker across the globe. Why me? After absorbing the shock, I took up the challenge ecstatically. I was determined to have that small circled letter C to my name. That Copyrighted material. I was excited

Soon after taking the challenge, I learnt that it would not be a walk in the park. I was presented to strict schedules, timelines and conventions. I was giving up barely before I even finished the 1st chapter after being asked to redo Chapter 1 and provide better quality images with strict conventions on usage, Screw it. I had a good job. Why was I bothering and toiling?. Luckily I had someone, an unsung and unrecognized figure in this book, whose contribution would remain unsung. That (yes am avoiding explicitly stating the gender) person was so influential. The moral support and encouragement got the better part of me and I resumed writing with vigor, more relaxed and more determined. And in 3 months, I had finished and submitted the 1st drafts of the entire book.

We then spent the next 3 months with different teams from the publication house ranging from Quality assurance teams, Layout, technical Editors and then of course the marketing teams. Each team came in and provided their expertise in the book, from laying it out neatly, to quality assessment and even typos. We shared and exchanged emails and ideas with each and every  member of this teams till finally we were able to layout the final book at http://www.packtpub.com/google-map-maker-starter/book

It has been an interesting period learning new skill sets and interacting with new people. I am grateful to all the unsung and unseen heroes and sheroes  who in one or the other consciously and unconsciously, directly or indirectly contributed towards the publication of this book.

With Hon. Calistus Mwatella and KIE Folks

I never knew I would meet and rub shoulders with such key and high members of the Kenya Education sector so soon. I mean I had just completed my undregrad barely a month ago Infact, I was still 6 months way from graduation? Yet here I was sitted at the KIE (Kenya Education Institute) boardroom, netbok in hand, projector on the table and XO on my Lap. Phew, I was all set to deliver a presentation. Shaking and panicky as usual….

Squeezed in between Assistant Minister for Education, Hon Calistus Mwatella ( 2nd right) and the top bras for KIE.

Squeezed in between Assistant Minister for Education, Hon Calistus Juma ( 2nd right) and the top brass for KIE.

I am trying to compose myself, to be myself, to speak myslef. Am excited. Am so happy. Am over the roof. Well if you think its because am in the presence of the Minister for education, well you are damn wrong. I aa about to make a life changing speech on the role of ICT in out primary schools? And I have all the justification and demo of the XO laptop . And I have my best friend and evangelist, Chris Kakoba, flanked by our supportive and instrumental power lady, Sandra Thaxter. As we start our discussions, highlighting to this top brass of education in Kenya what we have been doing, how and the results, one cant help but see the suprise in them. Not because they are marveled by what we have been doing, but because at how easy we make it seem and how we have managed to do that out of our own pockets and well, we are all amateurs in the education sector in Kenya, young, busy with our schedules and plus we probably have fullt ime jobs? 9Well am jobless at that time ) and Chris is a Full Time Hustler 🙂

Well, let me cut short this post, we got the attention fo the Education brass, got a followup meeting with the LIE folks with directives from the minister and then we posed for the pics and we all lef very happy, very encouraged and feeling ready to bring the change to our education. We both went to the bus stage and we both took our matatus to our respective hoods. I bid farewell as my bus no. 45 blast with latest Bubble gum riddim as it took me to my hood (then), Mathare.

Watch out for what hapepned next 🙂

Role of ICT in Primary Education in Kenya

For quite sometime, I have involved myself with lots of ICT oriented programs in education without really having a clear understanding or having a clear metric to measure my success and impact. After helping Found Wikimedia Kenya (www.wikimedia.or.ke), we went ahead to carry out our very first education oriented program which simply involved installing the offline version of Wikipedia for Schools in Kenyan Secondary Schools. It was an interesting and thrilling project most of us. All of us still being in Campus then, felt that we were already doing our bit of Social responsibility through the skills and knowledge we were/had gained in Campus. The feeling was ecstatic to some of us for a few reasons:

  1. We had managed to have the Chair of the Board of Trustees for Wikimedia Foundation then  Mr.Ting Chen grace the official launch of the project
  2. We had managed to secure audience and participation from various high ranking stakeholders like Google Kenya, Kenyatta University,Strathmore University ,The ICT Board and many more

This we considered quite an achievement at how we could rub shoulders with such stake shoulders all with the aim of promoting the place and use of ICT in Kenyan education. After a successful launch of the project and official endorsements from the Wikimedia Foundation which gave us a small grant to carry out the pilot, we set out to the challenging task of executing the actual project which we found  more challenging than we actually thought. First of all we had to get an approval letter from the Education Ministry okaying the kind of Content we were to install in the Secondary school’s computers. After numerous unsuccessful visits to to Jogoo House to get audience and explain the nature of our activities to the Permanent Secretary, we decide to carry out the project without the approval but leave our request and proposal with the Ministry. After all, we were helping the schools and students access content that they would not otherwise have access to due to no internet connection. Being the Lead for one of the regions we had agreed on for the Pilot  phase, I did a quick reconnaissance visit to the region to get to understand and collect statistics on the kind of infrastructure the schools had and get their buy in.I was both pleasantly surprised and sad to learn that some schools were really quick to buy into the idea. Exciting and thrilling was the idea of them to have a repository to supplement and complement their teaching resources that are usually obviously strained.  Sadly, some teachers ( or is it schools) could hear none of it.There argument being, unless we had a written and official permission from the Ministry of Education to okay the kind of content we were distributing, they would not participate in the project.This was very disturbing to me personally as I could not understand why a school needed approval to provide resources to its Techares and Students?! We had categorically explained to the schools that this was content that the Techares and students would otherwise need an internet connection to access but we were just easing the accessibility and cutting the cost, they would have none of that. We however did carry on with the project to the willing schools in 3 regions Kakamega, Nyeri and Mombasa but this would get me thinking what exactly was the role of ICT in primary education in Kenya? Drawing comparisons from my earlier days in schools, when I would hunger and thirst for resources, books and anything that I could read to increase and broaden my knowledge scope. I wold find myself finding solace in novels, journals, magazines besides the conventional school based textbooks that the school would provide. Not to sound my own trumpet but I strongly credit my presence to the extensive reading habits, not just for school content, but for far and beyond materials to broaden my knowledge discourse, that I would understand and interact with the world. This to me was the best learning experience . Having to learn and discover things, people, places all on my own through all those pages of text. It gave me solace, taught me many customs, exposed me to new horizons and places both in thinking and understanding. This to me ,provided the fertile ground that would allow me to undertand and comprehend and put into perceptive the abstract education concepts that i was taught in class. As a result, I could understand and answer question drawing arguments, conclusions and abstracts from far places and people. This is the kind of fertile ground I believe ICT should play in our Primary education. Everyday and very often, the tem ICT in education has been overly used and abused in education sector in Kenya to connote  simply Computers , t o me, I think ICT should be thought of as a tool to help change and enhance the mindset of the learners to new horizons and thoughts. To enable them think  differently. To introduce to them a different world with different terms and aspects. To allow the learners expand their horizons in education. If we think of ICT as the tool to  learning in schools, and not simply as a means to learn, we would churn out the kind of learners that Kenya needs. Learners who are able to think and provide solutions to Kenya problems , with a global perceptive and mindset… With this understanding, I have personally engaged  and started a small program that involves the use of XO laptops as leaning tools. I have introduced this to my remote village school and I must say am very satisfied with the progress.

Although I have no numerical and mathematical metric to measure the success of this program, I definitely have the change mindset and learner satisfaction that I have seen in the kids. Last month when I visited the center to do an audit, I had a one on one interview with the learners to measure how much change in mental mindset and ambition had happend in the kids. I was mesmerized when the kids as young as 3 had learnt and were aspring something bigger after the interaction with the XO’s. Particularly interesting was my 7 year old Cousin who pleasantly surprised me with his Art Skills. He had mastered how to draw using the Paint Activity and told me he is contemplating pursuing art in future. My 11 year old sister whom I had tried for many years to introduce modern learning concepts to her in vain, after interacting with the XO, she has surprised very many of us with her mastery of writing and speech. She was able to identify 2 possible carees in life: Journalism or Law. This is the kind of learning I want my kids to associate ICT with. Learning by discovery and interaction.

Thumbs Up: To An Interactive Learning Platform through XO’s

Lastly, encouraged by the success model of my small site, hardly 3 months in operation, we have teamed up to put forth our idea of learning to the Dell Social Challenge with a  very simple idea: Maktababadala which means “alternative learning resources”…Find time/effort to support the effort.

OLPC XO Resource’s: How Chris Saved the Day

As I prepare to get my 1st XO site up and running at this remote and tiny location  Village where I grew up and schooled Partially. The pressure is mounting and I fel overwhelmed yet embarrassed at the same time. The 1st batch of the 6XO’s I was awarded of 4 XO;s hav been lying idle in my house. After configuring and adding some few more Activities (Read Apps 🙂 ). I have finally managed to Convince a cousin of mine to volunteer to this noble course. She has agreed to be a volunteer Teacher for my Site. After all, she always wanted to study and teach computers  and she getting started at the University.

I am however worried if she will get acquainted with the XO environment and teaching. So I draft a few emails and do a few Google Serachs fr any useful Teaching Aid’s for XO’s. I Cant find any with local relevance. I am getting frustrated, frustrated as I know that I will have to do all the Training manual again. arrrgggg, this sucks….

However, in the midst of my Frustrations, my Good friend Chris calls and he tells me he has some nice Manual he developed. I am excited. I am happy. Knowing Chris for the brilliant young man he is, It is welcome relief as I am pretty sure the kind of Materials he developed are quality work. i know my site ill get started now. I am relieved even more when he agrees for me to share some of it. I Particularly find this one very useful. So anyone looking for an XO teaching aid, especially for XO in Kenya, here are the links:

1. Guide to OPLC and XO in Kenya

Taking Map Activity to amazing Eshibinga Pupils

Am seated on a pikipiki enjoying the ride from Khumusalaba to Eshibinga .Its the C39 road and I have mixed emotions on the ride. I am excited to be on way way to teach kids about maps, excited that I am ridding on this road that I worked on as an intern three years ago but am saddened and disillusioned just like the local as I suspect about the state of the road. Hardly a year after it was commissioned, the road is already in a sorry state. Am not shocked because as an intern, i witnessed first hand blatant impunity and unethical practices. it saddens me and i chuck out my Ideos phone to tweet about it…tweeting, riding..

As we alight at Peter Amunga, I relish in the he fresh air and I quickly throw myself on the lush grass  as I wait for Sandra. apparently our host strictly instructed the pikipki guy not to0 over-speed. I wish he only new how she is a need for speed lady :-). Soon she arrives and we are in no time unpacking and packing our XOs, GPS units and off we cross the road to Eshibinga Primary School. We are met by an eager audience of both teachers and learners. I am more taken with the learners who had been briefed of our Map Activity the previous day. The pupils here are simply amazing: they all have some sketches of their community maps. I have a feeling these kids are going to impress me.

I

True to my expectation, as i take to the chalk board, am not disappointed. As I take the pupils through the Map elements, the  (x,y) staff, the l(at,long), the Greenwhich Meridian, the equator and finally the GPS, the pupils were all but amazing. In fact they took charge of the lesson and I felt bad having to go to JKUAT for a whole half a decade to study GeoInformatics yet here are this pupils who know at at such a tender age. Their attention amazes me and I am so happy to take them a little too far by explaining to them what GPS means, how it works all the satellite staff in a mild way. I have a strong feeling that this pupils are going to be great Geographers some day, I tell them that and with that I have nothing much but to tell them ” go yee and make maps!”

 

Teaching Bukokholo Kids GPS and Maps

It has taken me lengthy and sleepless nights pondering over this day and how I am going to do it. I am going to teach kids the things i have learn at University level! Sounds crazy haaaa! Anyway I have volunteer and am happy as step on the pikipiki and take off from my small village to a place I have no idea of.But fisrt I have to meet my friend in town and grab one for the road,just to make sure I will have the courage of the most feared animal in the jungle.

As I check in on the matatu to Bungoma, I am feeling on the top of the world and am all set. I arrive an find Sandra and Fred awaiting me in probox.. As we take off,I can only think of the lenghty and exciting days ahead.We drive on the smooth tarmac for a few kilometers as we exchange a few pleasantry with my Odiero friend. We soon turn into a dirt road that takes us a bout 3hours to get to Bukokholo. as i check on my phone, I am reminded that I am now using Musevenis network,MTN. My geography tells me am barely a few kilometers to Uganda.

We enter our “Hotel” ( our Hosts home ,Juma) and we are greeted and met by a whole village.  i am dog tired and i quickly grab a few bites of Ugali an head to bed.I get to meet the OLPC kids the following ddaya and they are just amazing in using XO laptops.They were talented in Rapping and they clearly blew me with their music.

As I stepped into the makeshift class to introduce the abstract concepts of GPS and Coordinates, UTM and WGS, I am a bit scared if the concepts will sink home. Casually and comically, I start gently by introducing the kids to the Cartesian plane( woe unto me for thinking it was a simple concept ), the (x,y).

Taking kiods through the basics of GPS and the Globe

Am surprised at how long it takes me but am happy at the end when I drive home the (lat,long) and the GPS concepts.I am more than thrilled as I take the kids out and they start to collect the GPS coordinate date from the Garmin etrex Unit and using the Write activity in XO, they record the same together with attribute data. I sigh with relief and let them carry on as I sit down under tree to catch some fresh air.

I am however shortly bombarded by a crowd of students who demand ” something ” from me too.Looking into their shiny and expectant eyes, I cannot afford to let them down.  I take out my Ideos phone and recollect my Scout days. the activites we did to keep jovial come in handy. I start my teaching them some a few corrupted songs, take them through the Kitendawili sessions ,Mchongoano and before I put on Merimela an let them dance .

A Mchongoano session in progress

They are realy excited and so am I. so far so good an I can only sigh with relief as the end of break bell (a thick mettalic plate placed on a tree) rings …..I drift off and cant wait for lunch.