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UPM School of Computing researchers adapt the Moodle e-learning platform for use in the third world

The TEDECO (Technology for Development and Cooperation) Group based at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid’s School of Computing is adapting a universal e-learning program (Moodle) for application at the University of Ngozi located close to the Rwandan border in northern Burundi. The project is part of a cooperative agreement between the UPM’s School of Computing and Ngozi University entered into in 2006.

Moodle is an open software courses management system. The system helps educators to set up on-line learning communities. Moodle is now a popular on-line learning system. It is based on a layout of networked students that receive distance education from a remote teacher.

As Susana Muñoz, director of the TEDECO group explains, the situation in Burundi is nothing like the Moodle layout. Students do not have a computer at home (where there is often no electricity) and have to attend a teaching institution, where there may be computers, but there is not always a teacher.

Moodle has had to be adapted to this real-world situation. The idea is for students to receive training from a remote teacher based at the UPM’s Montegancedo Campus via a local computer.

Phase II

This adaptation of Moodle is part of phase II of the UPM School of Computing’s cooperation with the University of Ngozi. Stage I, which finished at the end of the last academic year, targeted the provision of data transmission infrastructures and training, the installation of a self-financing cyber and the connection of the university to the Internet via satellite, as reported in another press release.

Some 25,000 euros were invested in the first cycle of cooperation (TESON project). Most of this funding paid for the 15 trips School of Computing students made to Burundi during that period. The second cycle, kicking off now, involves more programming hours and has a budget of 52, 000 euros. During this phase, the thick of the software development work is to be done at the UPM’s School of Computing and trips to deploy the applications are planned for 2009.

The second cycle of this cooperative project is to equip the University of Ngozi with the software applications it requires to operate: university management, library use and student monitoring software. Other universities will be able to benefit from this software in the future.

The adaptation of the Moodle platform is part of the development of this software. It will enable School of Computing professors to teach University of Ngozi students without having to travel to Burundi.

Academic arrangement

The TEDECO Group has integrated the development cooperation activity into the UPM School of Computing’s academic arrangement, enabling students to earn academic credits for MSc and PhD theses, final-year projects or computer systems course unit assignments targeting cooperation.

This applies to the adaptation of Moodle. A School of Computing student is working on this project as part of his computer systems course unit assignment. The continuation of the project will be his final-year project. When finished, the adaptation will be a powerful tool of cooperation between the School of Computing and the University of Ngozi.

The members of the TEDECO Group now number five School of Computing professors and over 20 students. In its two-year history, it has grown into the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid’s largest cooperation group.

As Susana Muñoz explains, the School of Computing’s cooperation project is part of international technology transfer to third-world countries. It has nothing to do with charity in that it is a short-term project that aims to provide the University of Ngozi with the knowledge it needs to develop its own sustainable technology in time.

Another TEDECO Group innovation is that it paves the way for a new form of vocational guidance, as its members encourage, through their research and teaching, the development of technology for developing countries. Developing countries have different needs from the developed world, and the products and knowledge developed by the software industry overlook their particularities.

Eduardo Martínez | alfa
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