ASU Now | July 26, 2019
Initially developed as a student engineering project, the Solar Powered Educational Learning Library (SolarSPELL) has evolved into a global humanitarian mission that has the potential to revamp the way communities in disadvantaged societies learn and receive healthcare. It all began at Arizona State University when Laura Hosman, an associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, asked her students to construct a portable solar-powered library. In just five years, the initiative has distributed hundreds of digital libraries filled with educational resources in communities in nine countries that have limited or no internet connectivity.
SolarSPELL is particularly important because most people in developing countries have no access to the internet and in the rare cases that they do, it is primarily used to communicate with family members. Hence, many are unaware of the vast educational opportunities on the internet. SolarSPELL provides a unique solution to this problem because the simple, inexpensive and waterproof device contains all of the digital library content that have been made relevant to the local community. Additionally, it generates its own Wi-Fi hot spot so no internet connection is needed. Accessible from any type of browser, anyone can then connect any device capable of connecting to the internet to access and download content.
The initiative has seen a lot of success and is garnering more support. Heather Ross, an affiliate of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and a clinical assistant professor in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, traveled with a team to South Sudan to build a medical library that can be shared with SolarSPELL. In addition to Sudan, SolarSPELL has also been tried in other sites like Tonga, Rwanda and Fiji. However as the program expands, it needs more student volunteers. According to Hosman, it is a “good fit for students who are looking for applied projects or capstones. If they can already make a positive change in the world while they’re students, imagine what they can do with the rest of their lives.”