A couple of years ago we were developing an offline Learning Management System (LMS) for the The Dinaledi Maths and Science Initiative, the main problem was that of connectivity. In South Africa the telecom costs are were so high, that although we managed to get all of the computer equipment donated, a week online would cost the equivelant of a teacher’s monthly salary.

The solution we came up with was to develop a CD based LMS, the LMS stored all data locally in a flash shared object (.sol) which is a type of cookie with a lot of storage space. Everytime the LMS was launched it would check whether it was connected and if it was it would send its data to the central LMS located in Johannesburg. In this way we hoped to keep down the connectivity costs, all of the uploading would occur whenever the school went online to pick up its email, which would happen once a week and at the same time it would allow the test and usage results to be aggregated in a central place. In other words, we developed a sometimes connected LMS.

Not an easy task back in 2003. Yesteday however, Google announced the release of Google Gears “… an open source browser extension that lets developers create web applications that can run offline. Google Gears consists of three modules that address the core challenges in making web applications work offline. LocalServer: Cache and serve application resources (HTML, JavaScript, images, etc.) locally. Database: Store data locally in a fully-searchable relational database. WorkerPool: Make your web applications more responsive by performing resource-intensive operations asynchronously … ” Now that would have made our lives a lot easier.

My hope is that offline capabilities will be used to develop sometimes connected applications for those who do not have the kind of fulltime connectivity that most of us take for granted. I am looking forward to the first forum with offline connectivity. Something that would allow learners in schools without full-time connectivity to still participate in global discussions and debates.