Randolph Wang

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2009


This profile was prepared when Randolph Wang was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
The Digital Study Hall (DSH) initiative founded by Urvashi and Randolph is a user-generated video sharing system intended to overcome the shortage of qualified teachers in poor and remote rural schools. DSH provides tools to help local schools and citizen organizations (COs) make videos of the best teachers in actual classroom sessions, teaching standard textbook materials. These videos are stored and shared in a network of “hub databases” and then distributed to underserved local “spoke schools” via digital video disks using the postal system and other couriers. Local teachers use the videos live in their classrooms as they interact with their students.

The key principle of technology is using costs realistically through the innovative use of simple, readily available components that can produce many of the benefits of Internet-based distance learning without relying on connectivity. Pedagogically, the main principles are bridging the gaps between schools of different backgrounds and building incentives for people to improve their performance. This process delivers excellent instruction and helps train local teachers in their classrooms as they imitate and learn from the most talented teachers featured in the videos. When sufficiently advanced, these teachers may be featured in new videos that are shared with other schools, thus improving the system as it is currently being used.

A feedback mechanism for both teachers and students has been put in place via a mobile phone messaging system which posts a weekly teaching assignment followed by problem-solving and discussions. It is not only a ‘monitoring’ mechanism for teachers, but a potentially important aspect for building an educator’s community that serves the key function of motivating both teachers and students to improve.

In short, the focus of DSH is not to replace people; instead, it is about amplifying the reach and the power of a relatively small number of skilled teachers and training and empowering the less skilled teachers. In this sense, DSH is foremost a “people system,” enhanced by a computer- or network-system.

Beginning their work in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), which is significant due to its caste and gender politics, DSH works with some 35 pilot schools in UP, Maharashtra, and West Bengal in India, and ten schools in Bangladesh with the hub-and-spoke model. The DSH database contains more than 3,000 lessons in five major local languages and 500 other educational videos. A dedicated team of volunteers and staff in India, Bangladesh, and the U.S. collaborate on content production, distribution, teacher training, technology, pedagogical research, and other educational activities. The DSH approach has recently been adopted in spin-off projects for agricultural extension and rural health care education and also by an educational organization in Pakistan that is independently applying the model.

The District Institute of Education and Training, which aims to improve the delivery of education, plans to roll the DSH model out to all the 70 teacher training institutes in UP.

As the project evolves, the DSH team envisions working toward a freely accessible video database that covers every subject for every grade level and language, and for every state and national syllabus, presented in a culturally-appropriate manner. The result would be a “people’s database of everything” which they believe may one day have profound implications for democratizing knowledge and education in developing nations.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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