Imagine a World Where Technology Enables Better Education for All

Though this team is based out of Lahore, their selection earlier this year in Karachi along with the fact that I have followed the story for some time, perhaps qualifies it to be “local news”, Regardless – the story is an inspiring one for those IT Grads that think there is no hope for them – A story of how 4 students from LUMS came to Karachi to win themselves a chance to represent Pakistan in the International Imagine Cup competition in Korea –

http://karachi.metblogs.com/archives/images/2007/09/imagine_avril-thumb.jpg And so the story begins…. When Microsoft Corporation announced the 2007 Imagine Cup’s theme for students to “imagine a world where technology enables better education for all” students around the world rose to the challenge, and Pakistan was no exception.

University students around the country put their heads together and searched for the solution that would win them a chance to compete in the World Wide Finals in Korea this past August. According to Kamal Ahmed, Country Manager for Microsoft in Pakistan, “there were hundreds of teams that immediately displayed a keen interest in participating in the competition.” But then, because of the strong link that Microsoft has with Universities around the country through their technical education programs, the Imagine Cup was just another window of opportunity for students.

The Imagine Cup, advancing into its fifth year, is one example of Microsoft’s Developer and Platform Groups’ commitment to create social and economic opportunity through programs and products that transform education, foster local innovation, and enable jobs and opportunities. Kamal says, “The Imagine Cup is one way Microsoft Corporation is encouraging young people to apply their imagination, their passion and their creativity to technology innovations that can make a difference in the world – today. And with Pakistan going through a revolutionary change in its education system with the rapid rise of technological innovation and technically skilled manpower, this theme was perfect for us!”

The competition theme was announced in November 2007 in which several universities participated. Microsoft Pakistan then held a competition at the Bahria University in Karachi, where all the nation-wide finalists were asked to gather. “The quality and diversity of projects was impressive. It was amazing to see how many possible solutions the students had developed.” comments the Country Manager, Microsoft Pakistan. Where Quaid-e-Awam University from Nawabshah came in second position, an impressive team from LUMS made it through to represent Pakistan in the World Wide Finals in Seoul, Korea.

The four students from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Ahmad Humayun, Ozair Muazzam, Tayyab Javed and Yahya Cheema, called their project entry, AVRiL, which stands for ‘Automated Video Recording of Lectures’. Their software was developed to intelligently record teachers delivering lectures and engaging in interactive discussions while allowing the audience to see exactly what is going without the distraction of a moving camera crew. AVRiL allows you to “be” there without really being there making the dreams of education for most a reality.

“Think of AVRiL as a complete camera and direction crew in your classroom, just there to record whatever you learn” explains Ahmad, the lead on the project. “Imagine this becoming possible without the presence of the cameramen or the director who steal the lecture of its natural atmosphere in addition to being expensive. All this is made possible by machines programmed to see and understand a classroom environment.”

So how did this fascinating journey begin? Tayyab Javed says, “We were looking for cool idea for our senior project, and all of us were pretty excited to do something big. We looked at a bunch of ideas that involved computer vision or GIS, but nothing really seemed to fit the bill.” The first time that the team came up with, they obviously thought it was near impossible to do, but like all other good ideas, this one just wouldn’t go away.

“Looking back,” laughs Ozair, “we find it amusing that at the time we discussed the idea with our mentor, he was already thinking of something similar after having experienced expensive professional recordings for the workshops at our university. We were also excited about the idea because we knew the theme for the Imagine Cup this year was ‘education’.” And so they leaped, and never looked back.

The team developed AVRiL using Microsoft Visual Studio .Net, and used the Microsoft Expression product range with Microsoft Silverlight to develop a unique web service. “We chose to compete in the category of Software Design, the largest, most comprehensive competition for people our age in the field of Computer Sciences; it’s the holy grail competition of the Imagine Cup! It is like the global Olympics of computer systems!” explains Ahmad, project leader of the team.

“But you know, it’s more than just making education available to all – it’s, like the Imagine Cup theme suggest, using technology to provide a better education to everyone. Even with AVRiL in play, that dream will still take while longer to realize. Another objective of our project was to improve the experience that students within an academic system sometimes need help with.” explains Ahmad. There are students who are not always at the same level as others while a classroom experience is taking place. “Some require hearing or seeing the lecture again so that they can fully understand what is going and derive the correct meanings from what the teacher is explaining. Being able to access a recording of the lecture definitely creates a sense of balance amongst students.”

And so, with their project all set to compete in the Imagine Cup World Wide Finals in Seoul, Korea, the team was off to one of the most memorable experiences of their lives! “It was a perfect combination of tough competition where we drudged through presentations, all nighters, meetings, strategy-making and more all-nighters!” says an animated Yahya. Of course there was so much learning going on. Ahmad explains that seeing some of the most ingenious student projects in the world, meeting people from so many different cultures, so much inspiration packed into one ‘milestone’. It was the realization of how one individual effort could impact so many people with their work and contribution.” All Imagine Cup themes cater to a demanding social need – adding the networking dimension to the world’s smartest and most competitive programmers is a challenge in itself! “Of course with all the hard work, there was the fun part of it – the five star hotel stay, gourmet meals, city tours, unlimited x-box access and the opportunity to meet with people who really speak the same language of programming as you do! The Imagine Cup competition is every programmers dream!” says Tayyeb.

As with all world class events, the exposure that students get through meetings with the top executives from Microsoft, British Telecom (BT) and other patrons, judges and experts, is phenomenal. “They take such an interest in your team and your project. Getting their support and suggestions really makes a difference.” explains Ozair.

So, now that our young professionals have created a world class project, a potential component into the possible solution for education dissemination to the masses, what have been their most valuable lessons learned? After some thought, in true AVRiL team style, Ahmad begins, “I think universities should encourage students to take part in such competitions as the Imagine Cup. That’s the first level of support that is needed. I’ve seen students not bothered about competitions because assignments, quizzes and GPA matter more to them. Of course, those aspects of our studies are very important, experiences like these will open up their minds to the possibilities they never previously knew existed.”

Lots of universities participate in Microsoft programs throughout the year. “Now it’s no longer a matter of selling the Microsoft brand to an institution- they know what we bring to their students’ futures – the more students are encouraged to participate in such programs, the greater the representation and exposure of Pakistan will be in the international competitions such as the Imagine Cup.” comments Kamal.

When asked about local industry support, the team thinks that the government has done lot to help the IT sector but so much more still needs to be done. “We are the future of the industry after all. I think that there is a critical need to attract the youth earlier on – before the talented ones leave to find opportunities abroad. I’m talking about fostering talent at the high school level, and then at the undergraduate level. Build incubation centers that provide infrastructure that makes it equally favorable to start your own company in Pakistan.” says Yahya.

“Companies should also take a more active role in local competitions – we grabbed the opportunity that the Imagine Cup brought to us and the exposure has honestly been beyond our imagination.” says Ozair. In addition to Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, there are other national level competitions like ProCom (organized by FAST-NU) and it is important for students to take part in these and equally important for the corporate sector to support these efforts. “When companies take notice of these stepping stones,” says Tayyab, “it just helps students work harder on their projects and increase the level of the competition.”

Believe it or not, the team does have plans to make a business out of their project. Ahmad explains “We plan to take our system further; to implement new ideas, and to make it work for other similar environments, like board-room conferences or talk-shows. We plan to build a business on top of it where we envision providing the system to the top universities in the world.” The team wants to see a direct impact of AVRiL on the developing countries, as education in those areas remains one of the biggest challenges.

Kamal continues to add that “at Microsoft, we strongly believe that the most important asset for any country or institution is its people and in order to develop this asset, the most important use for technology is to create an educational experience that connects, removes limitations and creates opportunities today and for the future.”

He continues to say that Pakistan has such great talent and team AVRiL is a great example of this fact. “With the right exposure and the right support, we should be able to reap the benefits from the thousands of talented youngsters, right here in Pakistan. Investment into their talents is the best way to create an environment to allow the business to grow and prosper in our own country.”

A fully automated classroom that can be accessed within seconds after a lecture has been delivered, is just an example of how much we have progressed in the creative application of technology in problem solving. Pakistan has always been a country overshadowed by India and China, but groups like the AVRiL boys are part of the solution we are all looking for. And while we have many reasons to be indebted to these four from LUMS for rekindling hope in a younger population, team AVRiL is humble enough to thank everyone for the support that was offered to them.

“If it weren’t for the Developers and Platforms Group at Microsoft Pakistan, we wouldn’t have ever known about this!! The team took a keen interest in our project and gave us valuable advice, and even enabled meetings with top executives at Microsoft.”

The team’s mentor, Dr. Sohaib Khan provided technical and academic guidance and Dr. Umar Saif provided the directional support in everything from competition strategy, presentation skills and even helping them get in touch with MIT for technical consultation.

The association that LUMS and other universities have with Microsoft is a relationship that will always benefit their students. Events such as the Imagine Cup are opportunities that must be embraced, windows that must be opened with passion and gateways that students must run through. As the Team AVRiL proudly says, “We learned so much and we see only possibilities with our project.”

It’s not just about an event or about one project. It’s about embracing an opportunity and creating a future around it.

25 Comments so far

  1. kar-ACH-i (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 3:18 am

    .


  2. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 6:37 am

    Excellent reporting Rabia, very very informative. Would you like to share the URL of their project details(if there’s any)? I would love to know more about this project. Also, it seems that you interviewed for some magazine? if yes then do share the name please.

    As far as fate of these young guys, let me tell you what could happen:

    – they will be hired by Microsoft hence they will fly to Redmond.

    – some Western company will buy their products in millions and these guys will be tempted to enjoy the life which they deserve.

    who’ll come out as a loser? Pakistan and their people who have tendency to disrespect their own talent.


  3. Straight Talker (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 6:47 am

    Why would a top technologist work for you (Pakistan) after how you humiliated your best techie ever A. Q. Khan?

    Wake up Pakistan!


  4. Obi Wan Kenobi (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 9:19 am

    Executive summary any one please ??


  5. pa(kiss)tani (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 4:36 pm

    how brilliantly she told us the story in a nut shell ;)


  6. Original-Anon (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 5:43 pm

    @Obi: I’ll do one again for you, here we are:
    “The author is in love with her own written word.”

    However, the title made me happy and I leave you with some good poetry.

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace…


  7. Dee (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 5:59 pm

    I wonder how much competition AVRiL will give to WebCT and moodle moot?
    Dee


  8. MB (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 6:42 pm

    Adnan has a very strong point.

    I see just another brain drain fortunately/unfortunately with these 4 guys (deservingly so ) flying off to Redmond. If they were provided resources to go all out with their ideas they would sure love to stay in Pakistan but kon apna dimaagh waste karay yahan is what they will think when they will have to decided in or out.


  9. Ali Kamran (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 7:25 pm

    Straight Talker @ our best techie (my former hero – personally and I still have respect for him) hurt and seriously compromised Pakistanis Interest.
    Iran, Libya had provided the UN and IAEA bundles of hard copies (dossier) on Dr.A.Q Khan’s involvement on personal levels in leaking / abusing the powers he was trusted with. Libya went a step further to provide blue prints of centrifuges dating back to designs Kahuta worked on 1987.
    I am sorry to see that we Pakistanis still believe in conspiracy theories – and in a state of denial. General Pervez Mushraff should be given credit to safe Dr. A. Q Khan’s life.

    A.Q Khan’s dubious involvement in:
    Taking over IBS (Institute of Behavior Sciences) by force is an example of how A.Q Khan abused his capacity.

    (IBS is located right at the back of Karachi University, Sparco Road – the case was registered against Dr.A.Q Khan and Cowasjee wrote articles to highlight the issue during the period of 2001-2003)


  10. Jamal Shamsi (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 12:51 am

    ALI KAMRAN – YOU ARE WRONG !

    Imagine you doing some high profile heist within your home, whose blessing would you look for 1st – The person who protects yours home – The Watchman –

    Replace Home with Pakistan and Watchman with Army – and you will get 2 + 2
    – – – – –

    How many ‘US’ HAVE believed that AQ was alone in his ACTIONS – Imagine a C 130 flight loaded flying out of Islamabad to Khartoum, Tripoli, Pyong Yang, Mashad, Dammam & coming back without the knowledge of Chief of Airstaff, Chief of Army Staff and on TOP it goes loaded with what not and comes back Empty -???

    The institute next to suparco – it was a cover for something realted to bio warfare R&D.
    – – – –
    Consider your car parked inside porch 2 watchman at the gate, gate covered through the security camera – Your son or grown up nephew want to take car out, what shall they do 1st. !
    – – – – –

    AQ Khan – The nation is in HIS DEBT as long as Pakistan Exist in current geographical shape, we as nation are Thankless BA$ TARD$.

    When he was in AKU Karachi, I managed to meet him, spend few minutes and what he told me is:

    App bholyay ga nahi, App ke shakseyat app ka waqar Pakistan hai, App iss kay leay PAKISTAN kai maqroz hai, sochyeay aur kuch wapas karyeay takay app ke nasal sakoon aur fakhar aur aram sai reh sakay iss mulk mai.

    AM Sorry I drifted from Topic but people like ali kamran shall be more reasonable when dragging Honorable people like AQ Khan into disucssion.


  11. Ablai (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 1:35 am
  12. SELF (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 1:41 am

    “your best techie ever A. Q. Khan?”

    AQ Khan is not top anything except a top thief. Read Dr Samar Mubarak Mand’s interview below explaining Dr AQ Khan was just another head of department among 15 or so others. Dr A Q Khan just has a knack of getting credit for other people’s work. In other words he is a dishonest person…but we knew that didn’t we since he stole from Holland? We just kept quiet as it was in our interest we thought.

    If Dr Qadeer hadn’t stolen it, Pakistani scientists (the real ones) would have figured it out like they did the rest of the stuff needed to build the bomb…and finally, the seeds of building the nuclear know how were sown in 50s and 60s. Remember Dr Usmani, anyone?

    Dr Samar Mand’s Interview with Hamid Mir
    http://oraclesyndicate.twoday.net/stories/4167731/


  13. Straight Talker (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 2:30 am

    Today we are an independent state only because of A.Q. Khan. Go figure!


  14. SELF (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 2:41 am

    “Today we are an independent state only because of A.Q. Khan. Go figure!”

    How, care to explain? or are you just another dim wit Dr Khan supporter who ha no interest in facts or knows how science works.


  15. Darthvader (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 5:00 am

    a little bit of John Lennon never hurts nobody i say

    peace all
    DV


  16. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 6:07 am

    the status of samar mobarak is no different than status of Chudhary brothers of Gujrat. Nuff said. The interview just reflects his hatred and jealousy against Dr.Khan. Mobarak wanted to be named as a “Pakistani Hero” but when he didn’t achieve that status, he started bitching against Khan. So low but what else could be expected by Pakistanis who never feel happy to see prosperity of other Pakistani.

    Kamran Ali, The Gen actually saved his own butt rather Qadeer Khan. Get your facts straight. if AQ is involved in such business then he got support from so called “Pak” Army. without army support he couldn’t do anything at all. The general made him “Qurbani ka Bakra” and saved his fascist community by declaring him terrorist just like he saved his own people who fought with Mujahideens[today’s Militants] and saved his own people from corruption scandals and declared them *terrorists*. HumaYun Akhter,minister of commerce and trade couldn’t lead a good life if his late father Gen.Akhter Abdul Rahman wouldn’t have sold Scuds to iran. How Dr.Siddiq of Military Inc was threatened by Army goons is enough to figure out how these army men deal with people who go against them.


  17. SELF (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

    All of Dr Qadeer’s supporters are either dim wit Mullah wannabees and/or those with no idea what scientific research entails. Not surprisingly, credible scientists have not come out in support of Dr Qadeer as everyone of them knows how much of a real scientist (not) Dr Qadeer really is. This explains very well the credibility of Dr Qadeer. His jahil supporters just need a hero as they are so short (read zero) on any real heroes.

    btw how many research papers has Dr Qadeer published in reputable journals? If any of his supporters knows what a research paper is, that is. Oops forgot, you can’t publish stolen research. :)


  18. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 1:47 pm

    the kid has really lost his sense and has started calling names to save his dur ka mama. *shakes head*

    Dee, the other product, WebMD, I was told that Pakistanis were involved in some of its module as well. Not sure though what’ the worth of WebMD now.I t was very hot during 2000/2001.


  19. Ramla A. (unregistered) on September 26th, 2007 @ 10:32 pm

    Well – reality is different from dramatic imagination. Young persons who are working abroad aren’t getting up and leaving. After all is robbed, burnt down, and undone (in the homeland) – the truth remains that several youth are actually rallying their corporations to invest in Pakistan – and they are doing it already. Except their stories aren’t usually heard in favor rating-grabbing stories of depravity and self-pity.

    For example this company http://www.supertec.com/cfms/ has a presence in 4 countries including PK with significant operations here. The CEO, an American lady, found me and other entrepreneurship-related Pakistani online and proudly shares the stories of her Pakistani team.

    Pakistani techies in ISB earned venture capital for the Web 2.0 venture Scrybe. Story here:
    http://islamabad.metblogs.com/archives/2007/09/entrepreneur_rises.phtml

    The writer of this blog post is a techie and education activist – who I have seen mastering challenges over the years. She went abroad to learn and network, and is back now, doing her thing. Self-effaced manners prevent people from talking about themselves, so someone’s gotta talk about them!

    There is another female in Karachi who is the young CEO of Body Shop PK, in addition to working on entrepreneurship. Their stories need to be knows so that we stop drawing miserable-only conclusions about ourselves.

    There was another group of LUMS students which won an international competition, and tried hard to get coverage of their news anywhere on local media. I was new to the media world then – they contacted me months after they had won the competition – but I couldn’t help them at that stage being naive myself. But it stuck in my conscience, and had become my (partial) motivation to join KMB then so I could write about everyday young achievers (among other subjects) but… I felt it would be seen as nepotism and thus refrained to bring unnecessary criticism to those I planned to highlight.

    It’s a truth that our tukkay-baazi and unnecessarily imaginative stories are actually scaring away talent – b/c talent requires nurturing, not darkness. Many people are disappointed by the time they are 16, and often times when hiring I felt I had to step away from my need of a quick hire, and step over to do therapy for the self-pitying applicant. I learned that that’s the phenomenon faced by experienced HR persons.

    So. The real challenge is to make things happen – look into ways of serving and making use of our talented people rather than imagine disaster – b/c imagination is what is turning into reality.

    Good luck to the winning LUMS team.


  20. Ahmed (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 12:41 am

    Another prize winning masterpiece by LUMS students:
    http://www.vidpk.com/view_video.php?viewkey=a03099a1c0393373c5b4


  21. Tayyab (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 12:51 am

    Thank you for the great coverage Rabia! Coverage like this is what gives us even more motivation to work towards a better Pakistan and a better world.

    In reply to the general comments on this article, I would agree that the only thing missing from our youth is vision and belief in themselves. We have a lot of talent, determination, passion and potential in our youth.

    Especially in the IT world, with the level of globalization and technology proliferation today, any Pakistani group of students or entrepreneurs can make history if they believe in themselves. We are never going to get anywhere by thinking small and re-inventing the wheels others have invented years ago.

    As printed on a note in our Computer Science department at LUMS… “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    Once again, thanks Rabia for the great article, and thanks everyone else for the great wishes! :)

    AVRiL on the net:
    AVRiL Team E-mail: avril@sproj.com
    Website: http://avril.sproj.com
    YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ldWzbt6yXw
    Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2386498741

    Cheers,
    Tayyab
    Team AVRiL


  22. ShahidnUSA (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 12:52 am

    @ Original-Anon and DV
    You may say I am a dreamer
    But I am not the only one
    Lets hope someday….(you sing the rest)


  23. Yahya (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 3:53 am

    Rabia – I didnt know you blogged about it also, Thank you for writing a wonderful article :).

    Ramla – I appreciate your comment on how pessimism is hurting this country even more. Things are not really all that bad but it’s the ranting that’s really worsening things, I think what really made all the difference for us while working on AVRiL was how much our faculty and mentors supported us. Besides the guidance, it was mainly their optimism and belief that kept us motivated throughout. In all my meetings with fellow students throughout the country, a major thing that’s lacking in some very capable people is the vision and confidence to aim high-something that only comes through guidance and support.

    The LUMS project that won international awards a few years back was SensUS developed by Tashfeen Suleman, Zaheer Khan, Muhammad Afzal and Ahsan Mughal and they were a major inspiration for us.

    ..and Im betting big on Scrybe- I think they’ve broken a major barrier on how you can compete with major players on the internet even on something as common as a calendar app while being in a third world country such as Pakistan!

    Yahya
    Team AVRiL


  24. Concerned (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 9:03 pm

    Those that cant write in papers type here. Good article though but this belongs in a news paper.


  25. Rabia Garib (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 10:57 pm

    Thanks for pointing that fact out. The “writeup” has been placed in various newspapers and submitted to Microsoft in the form of an extended case study – I would hope that we would go ahead and use any means of promoting such efforts and initiatives.

    If people search for people, projects and efforts that can add to the talent pool and more promising image for Pakistan, I’d push it through every opportunity available. Your comment might be more appropriately altered and phrased to read, “those who can write, do”.



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