We heard Randy Wang and Urvashi Sahni speak today about their Digital StudyHall project.  The best thing about their project is that it's attempting to focus on the problem rather than the technology.  It's surprising that Randy is trained primarily as a Computer Scientist - perhaps his Berkeley roots guided his user-centered thinking.  As it stands, the system's largest contribution is using high-quality videotaped teaching content, mediated by live teachers, to teach rural students.  I would say this is the biggest factor in the system's success.  It's also the one that relies least on bi-directional connectivity.  It's less clear why they need a network to support interaction from the rural school to the urban school.

If they videotaped all the teaching content and put it on VCD, trained teachers to mediate in the classroom so it's not just putting a video in front of kids (which, as Randy points out, is worthless), why do you need children to be able to surf the net or do even seemingly helpful things like post questions in newsgroups?  He offered one reason: grading papers.  His "Learning eBay" idea is to have volunteers from around the globe grade the homework of these rural children, and for this the rural sites would need a way to send data to the internet.  Another possibility is to hold interactive role-playing games or school plays between the rural and urban schools.  The high-latency inherent in his postmanet system is a big hurdle to cross for this idea.

I think the most compelling reason for network connectivity for these rural children is the one that is hardest to define.  As Randy noted, you give people connectivity and they will come up with their own uses - and these are difficult, if not impossible, to predict.  So maybe it's useful to focus on the tools, not the solutions.

-neema