Meet the Team: Ashish Gurung

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Ashish is a PhD student in Computer Science. He is interested in learning science, modulations and deploying technology in rural areas of developing countries.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I did my bachelors in engineering from Tribhuvan University in Nepal. After graduation, I was at an impasse in my life; there were so many possibilities and I didn't know what I wanted to do. The one thing I knew is that I wanted to do something that had a positive impact on the Nepali community. I took a job as a junior android developer for about a year. After, I joined the Nepal chapter of the Open Learning Exchange project. OLE Nepal deploys learning materials to rural areas of Nepal, focusing on developing content for affordable devices. OLE deploys these materials to very rural parts of Nepal where people do not have internet access and teachers have fewer resources than teachers in urban schools. We want to give rural students access to the same educational materials and content that urban students have. This goal to help rural Nepalese students motivates me to work in the field of digital learning.

Why motivated you to join the ASSISTments platform?

By the end of my third year at OLE Nepal, I was the software development team lead. In this role, I was very involved in the development and deployment of different learning tools. However, the burgeoning question within me remained, how can I make this system more efficient and effective? This motivated me to look for university programs that conduct research in the field of education and computer technologies. The ASSISTments lab fit what I was looking for perfectly, so I applied to work with Dr. Heffernan.

How do you think technology can merge with education most effectively?

For a while, deep learning has been a buzzword in our field. From the software side and from the research side, deep learning can be used to implement more advanced models to improve education. Education models can learn to mimic tutors in situations where teachers are too busy to provide full attention to a particular student. In those circumstances, these models can serve as a medium to bridge the gap between the teacher and the students while giving personalized feedback to students.

Educators have largely arrived as a consensus that computers cannot replace teachers because teaching requires a human touch. Human interaction is extremely effective getting students to remember information. But still if we can produce models and tools that can enhance the learning experience, these models can be of great help to teachers.

There are lots of students who study on their own and modify their learning techniques to match their learning style. But many children do not have these self-guided skills yet. We need to continue researching to make sure that we have more effective models to guide students in these learning processes. I like that ASSISTments tests different interventions to see what is really working.

Any other thoughts to add?

In addition to the work being done on the software end of things, I believe there are lots of innovations to be made on the hardware front. Currently, there is lots of research and resources being dedicated to improve high end smartphones. People are always trying to push the boundaries of high end tech, sometimes with little regard to cost or practicality. I wish more industry leaders would put their effort toward making affordable devices that are long-lasting. A good example of the type of device I am talking about is Lenovo’s ThinkPads. A lot people in tech prefer ThinkPads because they have a very long lifespan and are easy to upgrade. Industry leaders fear that affordable, long-lasting devices will not find a niche in the market. Devices that are focused on longevity can be deployed much more effectively in developing countries.  

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