- An Altruist-built, Ultra

The Shikkhok Project
Building an Ultra-low cost Crowdsourced MOOC for
Non-English Speaking Students in South Asia
2013 Google RISE
2013 ISIF Award Winner for
Innovations in Education
Ragib Hasan
[email protected]
Assistant Professor
University of Alabama at Birmingham
and Founder – The Shikkhok project
The Shikkhok Project
(pronounced Shik-khok), is a
Bengali language word that
means, literally, “teacher; One
who educates”
The Shikkhok Project |
Shikkhok’s Teachers
Shikkhok was founded on August 1,
2012, by Dr. Ragib Hasan, a computer
scientist and professor from the
University of Alabama at Birmingham,
originally from Bangladesh.
Shikkhok’s volunteer teachers include
Bengali speaking researchers,
educators, and professionals/experts in
various fields, who are spread all across
the world.
* All of Shikkhok’s contents are available for free under CC license
The Shikkhok Project |
How to change the world with little investment
(using the power of the Internet and Crowds)?
Low-income and rural students in South Asia with limited knowledge of
English do not have access to quality education.
How can we provide top-quality education at a very low cost to the
millions of students in rural Bangladesh and India?
The Shikkhok Project |
• Bengali is the 4th largest language in terms of native speakers (250300 million speakers in Bangladesh and India)
• Students in rural areas often do not have access to quality
teachers, books, or good schools.
• Higher education opportunities and content is scarce in
Bangladesh and India
– Only 50,000 opening in Bangladeshi universities and colleges
for incoming freshmen, while there are more than 300,000
eligible students
– Many students drop out due to lack of cheap higher education
opportunities or extreme poverty
The Shikkhok Project |
Shikkhok’s solution
Develop a highly localized MOOC with a hybrid
Internet-non Internet-based dissemination
Use the crowdsourcing model for both content
development, deployment, and marketing,
spending as little as possible
The Shikkhok Project |
Information Technology
to the rescue …
While regular computing devices are not
common/affordable in rural areas, Mobile phones and
hence Mobile internet have significantly high penetration
in Bangladesh, even in rural areas (100 million mobile
subscribers as of early 2013, in a 160 million population)
A mobile-optimized Bengali language MOOC can serve as
an alternative education platform for rural and nontraditional students
And an innovative non-Internet based delivery mechanism
can allow rural students with no Internet access to get high
quality education
The Shikkhok Project |
Why reinvent the wheel? Because,
Existing MOOCs are not enough
• has 709 courses, 86% are provided in English language
• The Khan Academy’s excellent online educational videos are also
originally created in English
• Unfortunately, Bengali translation/voiceovers of Khan Academy’s
videos are not popular among the students in Bangladesh and India
(most video lessons have an average of only 100-120 views in 1 year.
• Anecdotal reasons include mismatch between the lessons and
academic syllabus in Bangladesh/India, cultural mismatch/”lost in
translation”/artificial and literal translation
As a comparison,’s Culinary arts course videos received an average of 300+ views within 1
week of publication (
But don’t just take my word for it, let’s see some numbers.
The Shikkhok Project |
Students in Bangladesh overwhelmingly prefer
Bengali over English (59% vs. 17%)
Q: Which language do you prefer for a MOOC course?
The Shikkhok Project |
Preferred language for MOOCs
Higher Secondary (equiv. US High School)
Graduate degree
Undergraduate degree
Preference for MOOCs in native
language compared to English is the
highest among high schoolers (5.13
times), followed by undergrads (3.7
times), and graduate students/degree
holders (2.63 times)
The Shikkhok Project |
Preference for Bengali is consistently
higher in all age groups
The Shikkhok Project |
Students prefer locally developed
Bengali lectures over dubbed content
Q: Do you prefer lectures to be dubbed from English to Bengali,
or locally/organically developed by Bengali speaking teachers?
Students have very little preference for MOOCs created via dubbing
to Bengali.
The Shikkhok
Project videos
Project Requirements
• Education medium must be in Bengali
• Content must be highly optimized for mobile phone browsers
with limited and slow data plans
• Lessons must be short, include both text and multimedia, and
have easy-to-use student registration, feedback, and evaluation
• Must be highly-available, low access times even in Bangladesh
and India
• Must be designed, delivered, and publicized at a very low cost,
and provided to students for free
• Must not depend only on the Internet to deliver content.
The Shikkhok Project |
Identifying the Challenges
• Technical: Identifying the best tools and
design principles
• Team: Organizing and coordinating a
distributed team
• Stakeholder: Getting effective feedback
and attention information from the users
The Shikkhok Project |
Identifying the Challenges
Cost: Popular MOOCs such as have millions of dollars
in venture capital funding.
– Coursera itself has $22 million funding
– Such funding is unlikely for educating
rural students in Bangladesh and India
– Marketing/advertising such a site to
the masses is also expensive.
The Shikkhok Project |
Identifying the Challenges?
• Overcoming the language barrier: Students
with limited English language proficiency
cannot utilize existing MOOCs such as edX,
udacity, or Coursera, so how do we ensure
maximum impact for such students?
• Finding teachers: How to gather teachers with
the right expertise and technical know-how?
• Reaching stakeholders: How to publicize and
deploy content to the intended audience?
The Shikkhok Project |
The Shikkhok Solution
• Explore Human Computer Interaction
principles and methods to effectively reach
the rural students
• Take extreme penny-pinching measures to
develop the platform at a low cost
• Use social media marketing strategies to
publicize the service to the target audience
• Utilize non-Internet based supply chains to
deliver content to the rural students
The Shikkhok Project |
Design Strategies
– Use an iterative model for creating the most
effective user interface which has to be mobile
friendly, less-graphics intensive, and suitable for
both smart and non-smart cell-phone browsing
– Follow a User Centric Design methodology by
constantly evaluating user responses to lessons
and modifying teaching tools accordingly
The Shikkhok Project |
Design Strategies
– Use rapid prototyping and design methods to
develop courses (lessons and lectures augmented
per user feedback and view counts)
– Use ultra-low cost and open source tools in a
crowdsourced model
– Use Social Media marketing for free, leverage the
power of cloud to distribute content
The Shikkhok Project |
Design Strategies
– For evaluation of lecture style and content,
measure user responsiveness and attention span for
each lecture (use webpage stats to calculate how
long users stayed at each lecture page, how many
users came back to view further lectures, i.e. user
– Measure user engagement by correlating lecture
views with participation in quizzes associated with
The Shikkhok Project |
(Ultra-cheaply) Designing
• Over summer 2012, we rapidly developed platform
• Total development cost: only US $15.00
• Total number of registered students (first 6 months)
= 20,000
• That is, cost per registered student = US $0.00075
• Total number of courses designed = 55
• 4500 lecture views per day, from 3000 unique visitors
The Shikkhok Project |
(Ultra-cheaply) Designing
• To minimize development costs –
– Adapted open source CMS (Wordpress) to provide
authoring platform
– Mobile-optimized front end
– Host all media/videos on free online repositories such as
Youtube, Dropbox, imgur
– Use Google forms and embedded scripts to automate
user registration and MCQ quiz processing
• Cost: Domain name: $5/year, 100 MB low-cost host:
$10/year (Development (mostly wordpress theme tweaking) done by one volunteer for
The Shikkhok Project |
(Ultra-cheaply) Designing
Site design and graphics: Crowdsourced via
Social network contacts (received 5 submission
from a volunteer within a few hours of request
on Facebook)
The Shikkhok Project |
Insight: Social Media is extremely
effective Getting content and volunteers
To gather a team of volunteer teachers:
I posted a request on Facebook
10 volunteers signed up in 1 day
Two courses were developed by day 2
By week 2, 5 courses were running
By week 8, 15 courses were started
By month 8, 25 courses running, with 5 courses
– After 24 months, 55 courses have been developed
The Shikkhok Project |
Reaching rural students: An
Innovative Distribution Channel
• A major challenge was to create a nonInternet based distribution channel to reach
rural students without Internet access
• Solution: Develop innovative distribution
The Shikkhok Project |
Innovative Distribution Channels:
Using existing Social Interactions
Our Approach:
Approach 1: Videos in Mobile Bazaars
• Create short 3gp version videos; put a collection of courses on
USB sticks, give out to phone vendors/shops in rural bazaars.
• Students visiting the bazaars can load the videos on their
phones for free or for a nominal fee (charged by the vendors,
not us)
• (We found this model to be very useful, as rural bazaar phone
shops are already used as a distribution hub for music
videos/songs, and people are used to going there to load
videos on their phones)
The Shikkhok Project |
Innovative Distribution Channels:
Using existing Social Interactions
Approach 2: Cable TV partnerships
• Partner with local cable TV distributors, persuade them to
create a channel for Shikkhok’s videos
• The operators were happy to do this for free, as they
were getting the content from us for free
• For long term sustainability, the operators could even
charge a small amount of money per month to
• This helps distribute Shikkhok’s videos to the homes of
students even in rural areas
The Shikkhok Project |
Innovative Distribution Channels: Cheap
compute boards for Shikkhok Kits
Approach 3: Raspberry Pi based Shikkhok Kits
– Use ultra-cheap Raspberry PI computers (Each
Pi costs only $35)
– We put a large number of courses on SD cards
on each PI, add a donated keyboard, mouse,
and ship this to rural schools. (No internet
needed, we preload everything on the SD
cards, and make a kiosk-like interface easy for
even non-computer users)
– The schools can hook the Pis directly with
regular TVs, and have the video lectures
delivered to students
The Shikkhok Project |
Solutions - User engagement
strategies that work …
To engage users in easy discussion, integration with
existing social networks is the best strategy:
– Using wordpress native commenting: about 2/3 comments
per lecture
– Using Facebook comments: at least 50 “like” and 5-10
comments, questions per lecture
The Shikkhok Project |
Solutions - Marketing strategies:
utilizing social media
Social media based “free” marketing campaigns
worked very well
• Did not use regular advertisements, rather used
Facebook and Twitter to publicize Shikkhok
• Got 3000 fans on its Facebook page within a few days
• Each lecture announcement is viewed approx. by 4200
people within one hour or so (stats via FB Insight)
• Total fans as of August 11, 2014: 30,000
Anecdote: We found there is an “optimal” time for our Facebook
shares – 10.30 pm on weekdays!
The Shikkhok Project |
What we have achieved
We demonstrated that localized strategies work better than globalized
universal MOOCs (local language based and cultural context-aware
content is more effective)
• E.g., Unlike Khan Academy Bangla, we did not translate
existing MOOCs, rather developed localized content from
scratch, which turned out to be more useful to students.
(our video lectures viewed many times more than the
translated content)
The Shikkhok Project |
What we have achieved
• We developed a set of tried-and-tested design principles for
educational content delivery over mobile internet to rural students
• Evaluated various site design and lecture content to
determine the best possible strategy and content formats
that serve the mobile-internet-using rural students
The Shikkhok Project |
What we have achieved
• Our user centric design and constant
feedback/evaluation loops allowed us to detect
strategies that work (mobile optimized video,
Facebook Integration) and that do not work (e.g.
live sessions with teachers using Google
• Constant user engagement strategy allowed us to
improve our lecture content (lectures with lower
user retention/attention span are rewritten/developed)
The Shikkhok Project |
What we have achieved: A microlesson model that YOU can use
Our biggest contribution is the generalized set of
design and evaluation principles for the
development of a localized micro-lesson model
that can be effectively used by e-learning
systems in other languages in other parts of the
developing world.
The Shikkhok Project |
The results? Some numbers …
The Shikkhok Project |
Results – some numbers …
• Since it’s start on August 1, 2012, has
– 55 online courses on diverse topics such as
Bioinformatics, Neuroscience, Computer
Programming, Finance 101, Calculus, Cloud
Computing, Cancer Nanotechnology
– Total number of students registered for all
courses: 80,000 (actual student count larger ,
unique visitor count>500k, since registration
isn’t mandatory)
• The Computer Security101 course alone has 4000
registered students
– Total number of quizzes/tests taken: 100,000
The Shikkhok Project |
Results – some numbers …
• Total unique visitor count in in 24 months: 1.2 million
• Total lecture views in 24 months: 3.80 million
• 80% visitors are from rural Bangladesh, using
mobile phone browsers
• is getting 5000-6000 unique visitors
a day
The Shikkhok Project |
Quarterly Visitor data as for 2012-2014
The Shikkhok Project |
Results, that matter
• is the first e-learning MOOC
site in Bengali language, completely free and
open for everyone
• Students from rural Bangladesh and India
regularly contact us to express their
– “I wanted to study Computer Science, but had to drop
out of school due to poverty. has given
me the chance to enter the wonderful world of
computer science once again” – testimony from a user
from Jamalpur, Bangladesh
The Shikkhok Project |’s Awards
Winner of 2013 Google RISE Award
Winner of 2013 Award for
Innovation in Learning and
Winner of 2013 Deutsche Welle Best
of Blogs and Online Innovation
Winner of 2013 Internet Society
Community Grant
The Shikkhok Project |
Future goals
• To create a complete set of science courses for grade 6-10 of
Bangladeshi school curriculum
– Project timeline: 2014-2015
– Technical content development began from May 2014
– Content distribution and pilot studies in several Bangladeshi
schools: September 2014-June 2015.
• To create a complete set of math courses for grade 5-12 of
Bangladeshi highschool and college curriculum (Fall 2014)
• Reach at least 200,000 students and 100 schools by the end of
The Shikkhok Project |
Summary: What did we learn from
• Lesson 1: It is possible to design successful MOOC e-learning sites at
ultra-cheap cost via an altruistic volunteer model (Shikkhok cost only
$15 to develop and deploy compared to millions for many MOOCs)
• Lesson 2: Attention to HCI design principles such as user centric design
can allow better retention of users and improved attention to content
• Lesson 3: To reach rural students, focus should be more on nonInternet based textual content designed for low-bandwidth mobile
phone browsers
• Lesson 4: Localized, native language education is more successful than
the one-course-fits-all approach by many well-known MOOC sites
The Shikkhok Project |
Ending thought? (My X)
Educating millions using
ultra-low-cost Technology
IS possible
The Shikkhok Project |
To view in action
Please visit:
The Shikkhok Project |
Thank You!
The Shikkhok Project |

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