Negroponte Shows His True Constructionist Intentions

   
   
   
   
   
olpc negroponte
Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC
I am Roland, and I amazed what MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte and his team have achieved so far. They have reinvented the laptop and tailored it for kids. They have reinvented its user interface and also tailored it for kids. The number of innovations and the new opportunities for education are fantastic.

One Laptop Per Child has based their project on a teaching method called Constructionism. Like OLPC's hardware and software achievements also this method is innovative and intends to boost the natural curiosity of kids. I understood - hopefully correctly - that Constructionism is about asking questions and looking for answers, about independent thinking, about having fun, about collaboration and about creativity and expression, about making things, being active and productive, about learning by doing and by figuring out new ways.

With Constructionism applied using a Children's Machine XO there are no clear boundaries anymore between school time and spare time because learning is fun and having fun includes learning. If this philosophy can be realized by the OLPC project the positive impact on the learning experience as well as on the learning success must be tremendous. Even more importantly it creates independent thinkers and makers instead of repeaters and imitators.

Wow! These are truly prospects worth investing your best. The software suite available now (browser, tam-tam, chat, video-chat, the mesh-network-collaboration etc.) supports most of these new ways of playing/learning. With those prospects in mind I have been curious with what equally innovative learning content OLPC might come up to interactively apply the above learning style.

I did not expect that the limited resources of OLPC would allow them to provide complete sets of learning content for all topics and all levels. But I assumed they would provide sample learning content in order to flash those new possibilities. These samples could then serve as inspiration for the creation of more content by open communities or education ministries.

I was looking for it but could only find hints about digital libraries of e-books (PDF- or DJVU-versions of textbooks) and existing open-source e-learning content for Moodle CMS that is planned to run on the school servers. There was nothing (yet) about learning content making use of XO's constructionist functionality.

On OLPC Wiki there is a call for content but there is no list of already submitted content. The wiki pages on content make the impression of being outdated and abandoned. There is not much going on.

olpc xo btest-2
A funky-fresh OLPC activity

I wonder what content the kids in the presently active pilot projects are working on. And what content is planned to be used after the large roll-out this fall. If this content is just e-books I must admit that this would disappoint me because it would leave the great opportunities of OLPC's hard- and software as well as Constructionism mostly unused.

In Prof. Negroponte's interview transcripts I just found statements of his that worry me:

"But, you can also delete everything that's on the machine. You'll find Logo, Squeak, and your favorite Media Lab constructionist-type programs. Different countries will have different textbooks in each country. Several right now are already translating or digitizing the text books. The text books will be on there [XO]."

"We do not get engaged in curriculum." "There have been lots of studies of those [pilot projects 6 years ago] and what I'm afraid you're looking for is an answer like "their test scores went up 20%" "

"...for me, education doesn't mean school and it doesn't mean teaching. To me what education means is the passion for learning. If I could build a world where kids are more passionate about learning and have a bigger slice of their day to engage in it, that to me is the solution."

"We very much want the child to use it [XO laptop] outside of school. Yes, they bring it to school; yes, it is an electronic book; yes, it is all these things in school, but we've gone after education in a very different way than most people who look at it."

To Professor Negroponte the OLPC XO when used in school is just an electronic book! But when it is used outside of school it is a collaborative learning tool. That's why he does not engage in curriculum and why he's afraid of test scores. It's because he only aims at unguided self-learning during spare time. What actually happens during school time seems not to be his primary concern!

There is not much happening on OLPC's content-wiki-pages because the kids will not follow any curriculum or work through any learning content in their spare time. They will learn by playing with peers, with the Internet or with the on-board software suite without much direction or guidance. In the classroom still traditional teaching will take place. Just the paper books are replaced by e-books.

olpc ebook
OLPC XO only an e-book?

I could not find any interactive content at OLPC because the mentioned e-books are not just secondary reference books but some are actually the primary teaching content which is being digitized in the target countries to date. That is also the reason why the roll-out plan is not such a big concern to OLPC's leaders since the teachers need hardly training to continue what they did before using paper books.

The only Constructionist activities in OLPC are what's incorporated in XO's hardware and software for spare time use but it is hardly going to be applied in the class room by trained teachers. Therefore in such a kind of classroom teaching using XO's with either Sugar or XP or even Classmates is unfortunately no big difference. Only in spare time the additional capabilities of the XO are going to be used.

I understand that many children in poor countries spend much less time in school than in 1st-world-countries. So learning during spare time is basically a good thing. But why not try to improve learning also during school time? Or why not try to implement a curriculum and interactive content giving self-learning in spare time more direction. And if OLPC is to improve learning why not measure at least some aspects of it by test scores?

Wow, this is quite a change of perspective! That is not how I perceived OLPC until yesterday. And I am afraid that's also the case for a good part of OLPC's supporters. Do the ministers of the target countries share Professor Negroponte's perspective or did they even enforce it? Don't they want to make better use of the XO's during school time? How about the US schools intending to apply XO's? Will they also want to use them just as e-books?

Professor Negroponte, please, tell me where I misunderstood you and which of my interpretations are wrong.

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32 Comments

"But why not try to improve learning also during school time? Or why not try to implement a curriculum and interactive content giving self-learning in spare time more direction."

I can think of some reasons why computer aided instruction often fails.

If you go back really far in history, to the classical world of the Greek (Socrates), India, and China. You will find that education of adults, and in those times, anyone over 12 was more or less an adult, was always done in a conversation. I think Socrates might be considered the archetype of the perfect teacher (and any great culture had its own examples). And he ONLY conversed with his "students".

If you go down to the basics, teaching is all about conversation. And it is extremely difficult to include technical tools in that. After thousands of years, school is still a teacher and students talking to each other. What helps is having texts, images, and sound to support the teacher.

Where tools help is to extend this conversation over time and place (books, radio, email, IM). But tools really help when students are on their own or in peer groups. I think curricula should try to recruit technology in the space and time around the teacher-student interaction, not during. At least, that is my experience with combining education and technology.

Winter

PS. With computers in the classroom, people tend to think of Powerpoint presentations. There was a recent article about why Powerpoint is such a bad way of conveying information. It was all about powerpoint presentation replacing the speaker, instead of supporting her.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/04/04/powerpoint_bad/
http://www.presentationhelper.co.uk/bad_powerpoint.htm
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html

Roland,

you have not misinterpreted anything. You have finally seen what I haqve been saying from the beginning: this emperor has no clothes!

The entire project is full of grandiose empty claims, vague staements and outright lies.

There is no strategy beyond dumping these devices on poor countries. That's the translation for "We do not get engaged in curriculum."


More translations:

""...for me, education doesn't mean school and it doesn't mean teaching. To me what education means is the passion for learning. If I could build a world where kids are more passionate about learning and have a bigger slice of their day to engage in it, that to me is the solution."

Translation: "I don't have anything to offer, but hope things will be ok".

"We very much want the child to use it [XO laptop] outside of school. Yes, they bring it to school; yes, it is an electronic book; yes, it is all these things in school, but we've gone after education in a very different way than most people who look at it."

Translation: "our machines don't offer much inside the classroom".


Negroponte KNOWS he has another failed project in his hands. The support of a few clueless geeks and currupt/ignorant third-world politicians is not enough to pull this monumental swindle.

And don't for a moment think that these machines will be in USA classrooms any time soon. Yes, he may DONATE a few with the intention of claiming the they "are being used by USA students", but the USA educational system will not buy into his suspect theories.

In the USA, as soon as Negroponte says: "To me what education means is the passion for learning", he will be asked:

"But the actual learning (not just the passion) is also necessary, isn't it, Mr. Negroponte? How will your machine help with the actual learning?"

Meeting over within 5 minutes...

There are plans for all this stuff on the laptop. Currently a number of content providers are interested in giving access to their content, and people are trying to coordinate the process of getting that onto the laptop (and figuring out licensing and formats and all that).

And of course any web content will be accessible -- and when it's possible given the source material, we'd really just rather all content be on the web, and then we can have more of an "ebook" style interface on top of that -- much of the content itself isn't qualitatively different from a web page.

Curriculum is quite a bit more difficult, as it needs to be targeted at the laptop. Well, other curriculum would also be fine -- the laptop is also a way to communicate non-laptop curriculum and lesson plans to teachers. This should be a teacher learning tool too, not just a student learning tool.

For community-generated or community-collected content, we want to support (but not control) the generation and collection process. This won't be nearly as novel as the laptop itself -- you can generate content with any number of tools, from wikis to a CMS to Google Docs or just a word processor. From there we want people to identify different sets of content -- content that covers a certain topic, or a certain reading level, or just content that is good.

Since the content is on the web, none of this is dramatically new. Identifying content is not unlike what del.icio.us or StumbleUpon does. We'll need to consider (on the laptop itself) how you get good offline access to that content, how to pre-fetch content on the school server, etc. But this isn't terribly novel.

Anyway, that's the plan at this point. OLPC can't generate this content -- it's just a couple dozen people. This content needs to be generated by people in the countries where it's used, in the right language and with a proper cultural perspective. OLPC can enable or encourage or perhaps empower people who are writing material, but OLPC can't actually create that material itself.

Troy, you have been asking for evidence about the effectiveness of computers in educations for a long time.

In an earlier post, http://www.olpcnews.com/software/operating_system/windows_kill_laptop_child.html,
I gave some links where you could get your evidence (scroll down to the end).

Did you follow up on that?

If not, I get the distinct impression it is not the effectiveness of computers in education you question. I would start to believe you just don't want the OLPC project to be deployed. Irrespective of the unspecified "evidence" you call for.

Winter

Well one explanation could be that OLPC really has no plan beyond the distribution of the laptops. I hope this is not the case otherwise it would be very sad, indeed.

Another possible explanation gave Bryan yesterday by saying that in an initial phase the classroom usage of XOs should stay very close to the traditional style teaching in order not to overburden the teachers by a profound and sudden change of the teaching method. Only then, step-by-step, new style learning content would be programmed and gradually implemented in classrooms such that the teachers and students can "grow" with it.

If this is the plan, why not publically tell it? I can't see a reason to keep the public and the teachers in the dark. These are all adults that could understand the advantages of a cautious implementation plan. And this would also be no reason for not already making sample content to show the potential that later is going to be realized.

Sadly, Roland, I don't think that OLPC has a plan beyond developing the laptop (sexy) and dropping the laptops off at the country's doorstep (feel good), which is almost guaranteed to make this a Billion dollar waste of everyone's time, effort, and money.

That's why I've been so hair-pulling passionate about asking OLPC for an implementation plan, the messy, costly, time-consuming locally-focused detail that is the real work of any technology implementation.

Now to say that OLPC will be used as an incremental change in education, as Nepal is doing & what would be the logical path, does not fit with Negroponte's grand world-changing plans and might just disillusion many of his supporters.

Roland, Its early days yet. The OLPC phenomena will change its shape and targets will alter as time goes by. Lets see what will come of the learning content later. Most likely we'll find participating countries using their own curriculum anyway, in their own language and taught by teachers in classrooms.

Perhaps constructionist theory will triumph as children use the laptops at home to explore and discover.

We all know how early childhood development factors can determine what a person will excel at later in life. I was given books as gifts. My reading and later writing helped me develop those skills.

I also received developmental learning tools like 'Lego' and 'Meccano' and later, around the age of 11 I received an electronics kit with, I think, 30 different projects in it. Those childhood toys and an active imagination helped me to become the person I am today. I know this without a doubt. Constructionist theory in practice fourty years ago.

By giving a young child a laptop with tools in it to explore you are giving them the chance to learn far more than they ever could from one book or maybe even from a whole library. How do I know this? (I think Troy asked this a while back). I've seen it in action. I've lived it. I have an eight year old friend that is living the digital revolution now. Should I get him to IM you and talk about his experiences?

I take computers and the internet for granted and the Net is only 15 years old. What will it be like after several generations have had the chance to Google for answers?

Wayan,
if you're right that OLPC will drop their laptops at the countries' doorsteps then other organizations will have to finish the project. Such as Nepal is doing. They seem to have a collaboration of an open community, the government and some of the teachers for designing teaching content.

The potential and the investments in those XO laptops is just too valuable to simply declare the project a failure when some trouble occurs. I am convinced that many share this point of view and some of them will take over the responsability to finish the project from the point where OLPC is possibly leaving it.

Robert,
I agree that the XOs are still of some value even when they are mainly used during sparetime.

But this would not exploit its full potential what might be a pity.

Roland,

You have realized that there is no implementation plan whatsoever. Wait until you strat thinking about some of the BASIC implications of Negroponte's other statements - then, you realize that there is A WHOLE LOT of uncertainty about these laptops.

How bad the situation is can be highlighted by this simplest of all questions:

"Mr. Negroponte, will my kid be able to take the OLPC machine home, install ANY printer I bought from my local computer store and start printing some of his homework 5 minutes later - like all other kids do on their crappy XP computers?"

Roland:

This is the story of four people named Everyone, Someone, Anyone, and No-one.

There was an important job to be done and Everyone was asked to do it. Anyone could have done it, but No-one did it. Someone got angry about that, because it was Everyone's job. Everyone thought Anyone could do it, but No-one realized that Everyone wouldn't do it. Consequently, it wound up that No-one told Anyone, so Everyone blamed Someone.

Wayan,
nice wordgame including some wisdom. Nevertheless, Nepal has already found Someone.
Maybe in other places there might be found more Someones.

One thing is for sure: Those who do something (like OLPC) are more likely to make mistakes and will inevitably be criticized by those who do nothing and hence never make mistakes (like we on olpcnews). My sympathy remains with the doers. But that does not stop me to criticize the doer's mistakes:-)

troy,
I don't know what Prof Negroponte would answer. Given the fact that the XO has several USB ports one might assume that printing would be possible. Do you have different information?

Sure, Roland

what about printer drivers? Are they available? Are they needed? What about storage needed by peripherals' installation/support files?

Im NOT saying it can't be done. I AM SAYING that even the simplest questions don't have a clear answer.

And that's the problem with this project...

troy,
have you asked OLPC?
(e.g. http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Ask_OLPC_a_Question)
What answer did you get?

Roland wrote:

" have you asked OLPC? - What answer did you get? "

No, I have not asked, for two main reasons:

1. It's Negroponte's responsibility to provide AT LEAST basic information in a clear, concise manner.

2. The questions are so many, that I'd spend an inordinate amount of time finding data that OLPC should have provided a long time ago. And, to be honest with you, I think I have a very clear idea of the project's limitations by CAREFULLY and OBJECTIVELY analyzing the information coming out of Negroponte's quarters.

troy,
I also find OLPC's PR work fragmentary and sometimes even misleading. On the other hand if OLPC spent substantial money and/or effort to provide professional PR the same people would complain that OLPC is wasting resources for PR instead of using it for the kids' benefit.

"I also find OLPC's PR work fragmentary and sometimes even misleading." Ouch! Better not tell W2: http://www.olpcnews.com/sales_talk/donors/olpc_foundation_website.html

one short point: why do we expect that a small group of american scientist to come up with a complete school curriculum that fits brazil, nepal and thailand? That would be called paternalism. Some would even call it ugly words like colonialism.

OLPC creates a tool. It's up to every education ministry, each individual school, to fit the tool to it's own language and culture.

Change "laptop" for "books". What would you think if I suggested that every school in the world should throw out all their books and have a translated copy of a few written by MIT scholars? Would you agree to that? Would that improve education and individual cultures?

Alexandre,

You're right, OLPC created a tool. A clock-stopping hot technology that can do things no other tool can do, with a unique design and usage. And it wants governments to buy millions of dollars of that tool.

If it was your government buying the shiny new tool, wouldn't you want it to make sure the tool came with a guide on how to use the tool effectively? How to change current practices to unleash its full potential? How to care for and maintain the tool? Or at the very least, proof the tool was worth the money?

And you cannot change "laptop" into "book" - we have 3,000+ years of history to reference when using books. Not so much when using computers, and even less when using laptops in education.

troy, Wayan,

You are both assuming that oplc will be a complete failure because the education ministries in all the involved countries will be too incompetent to be able to create curriculum for it. I think that is quite questionable.

Wayan,

"If it was your government buying the shiny new tool, wouldn't you want it to make sure the tool came with a guide on how to use the tool effectively?"

How do you know they aren't working on such a guide? Have you contacted them to find out? The fact that they haven't stated publically they are developing such a guide might mean they aren't, or it might mean they just haven't gotten around to announcing it yet. Why don't you contact them and ask?

Roland,

You said, "Professor Negroponte, please, tell me where I misunderstood you and which of my interpretations are wrong."

Why don't you get in touch with olpc and find out? Send them an email, perhaps they will reply.

People, there is no law that says you can't contact oplc. I did this about the internet connectivity cost issue and got a nice answer.

http://www.olpcnews.com/commentary/press/one_laptop_per_child_transcribed.html#comments See my May 01 comment.

I think there should be a rule here that no one does a post (or better yet even a comment) that is critical or questioning of olpc without first tring to contact oplc on the issue to make sure he or she has got the facts straight. Otherwise we are just speculating in a state of ignorance.

In fact, for this particular issue, why not contact the oplc Chief Education Officer, Antonio Battro. I'll even give you his email: [email protected] How about it, Roland, troy, Wayan? Or Wayan, how about inviting him to do a post?

Eduardo,

I am confident that Education Ministries will be very competent in introducing a few thousand OLPC as a cheap computer in their favored schools. That's the easy part.

What I worry about is 200,000-1 million computers making it to schools nationwide, and used in any meaningful way. Without an implementation plan for the largest single distribution any of these countries have every attempted, I see multi-million dollar waste, Microsoft trying to add on Windows, and thousands of eBay sales.

And proof is not in a press statement or private email - the proof is in a publicly accessible plan.

Eduardo,

you have a point here. This would raise the quality of our discussion considerably. We should try this more often and see whether a more constructive dialogue can be established.

Eduardo,
concerning the competence of the target countries to implement OLPC on their own I assume that there are big differences among the different countries. And when I read in Prof. Negroponte's transcripts that some countries are right now digitizing books then that does not sound like preparation of interactive content.
I also don't mean that OLPC should dictate curricula but it should show sample content in order to demonstrate what is possible with the new technology. Maybe OLPC could also offer alternative curricula from which the countries are free to pick out interesting pieces.

Eduardo wrote:

"I think there should be a rule here that no one does a post (or better yet even a comment) that is critical or questioning of olpc without first tring to contact oplc on the issue to make sure he or she has got the facts straight. Otherwise we are just speculating in a state of ignorance. "

Perhaps that would be considered a good idea in a banana republic, but it won't fly in a more civilized society, Eduardo.

We are used to the idea that we questioning dubious claims is acceptable and beneficial to society...

But I have a good idea, too: why don't you become the 'voice' of OLPC, so that all legitimate questions are answered by you? all you have to do is pose the question, get the answer and then come here and show us.

I'll start with a childish one: can you print at home on this machine? Can you install a printer? Are there any existing drivers? Is there a plan for developing printer drivers? Is thre enough room on the machine for peripheral's installation/support files?

It doesn't get any more basic than that...

Winter wrote:


"Troy, you have been asking for evidence about the effectiveness of computers in educations for a long time.

In an earlier post, http://www.olpcnews.com/software/operating_system/windows_kill_laptop_child.html,
I gave some links where you could get your evidence (scroll down to the end).

Did you follow up on that?"

Hi, Winter.

I tried, but the damned thing is in Dutch!!! So, as you will understand, I have no idea what the site is about, or the quality of its content.

sorry...

Eduardo wrote:

"why do we expect that a small group of american scientist to come up with a complete school curriculum that fits brazil, nepal and thailand? That would be called paternalism. Some would even call it ugly words like colonialism."

And just who is expecting that?

As far as I know, all everyone wants is for Negroponte to show how to integrate these things into children's classrooms.

If that was never his intention or if that was never part of the project, then he should openly disclose thant and provide the estimated cost of implementation. That would give prospective clients the opportunity to make an informed decision (the initial investment would be very different).

Without implementation and without curriculum, this is just another computer sale. and even then, we don't know if the dam thing will work as advertised. After all, nobody has seen the "mesh' at work; nobody has seen the kids 'collaborating"; nobody knows if the shiny new screen will stand the test of time, physical abuse and climate factors.

nobody knows much :-)

Wayan,

"proof is not in a press statement or private email - the proof is in a publicly accessible plan."

So are you saying that until such a proof comes about we can be sure there isn't one, or that we just don't know?

As far as press statements or private emails go, I tend to assume oplc staff are truthful. That's because they seem to be very bright and well motivated, and I can't think of any reason they would be motivated to lie.

On the other hand, it seems that you think there is a good chance they will lie. Perhaps you could explain your reasoning here.

In any case, it seems to me to be a very odd stance that if you want to know what a project is doing, you decide to not ever just ask them. Is that how you handle things in your own work, you never believe anything you are told in private? And that being the case you never ask anyone anything in private?

For that matter, by your reasoning, what is the point of oplctalks? Might it not, by your reasoning, just be all lies, except for what has already been proven by other means, in which case oplctalks adds nothing to what we already know?

To my namesake Eduardo:

"How do you know they aren't working on such a guide? Have you contacted them to find out? The fact that they haven't stated publically they are developing such a guide might mean they aren't, or it might mean they just haven't gotten around to announcing it yet. Why don't you contact them and ask?"

At least in the case of my country, there is nothing like that. I'm sure about it.

Also: there have been examples about shiny new technology overestimated by politicians due to a combination of overeagerness and political expediency. When you sell an idea directly to politicians, they tend to overlook any subtleties and start believe any hype coming from anywhere. And they care little about the details, like implementation plans. This is what's going at least in my country, and I believe elsewhere too.

Check out this: MacKenzie, “Missile Accuracy: A Case Study in the Social Processes of Technological Change,” in Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch (eds.), The Social Construction of Large Technological Systems, pp. 195-222.

(Wayan: don't worry, the post is coming).

Wayan,
concerning that PR contractor of OLPC:
In one point they seem to have been successful: They created a lot of publicity. Many news media are still reporting about OLPC. So they beat the drums loud enough to be heard.
However PR consists not only of increasing the awareness level it also means to provide sufficiently detailed, and correct information about it in order to improve the trust level. Obviously this part was not subcontracted since most of the details that can be found come from OLPC's wiki or from speaches of Prof. Negroponte. And that may be the reason why there are still substantial unfilled information gaps and even contradictions. Maybe OLPC should reallocate a part of that publicity money for providing more coherent information mainly about the field of education. By the way the info available about HW and SW development is much better with only few missing details. Why isn't the same possible in the field of education?

I wish to thank Prof. Nicholas Negroponte for having introduced such a wonderful project which aims at developing the ICT sector in developing societies.

I know it is not an easy task because Giant Computer companies were reaping big and the good Proffessor is steping on thier toes.

However, we need both OLPC and other Computer technology all together and the market is ernomous and almost 80% unexploited, therefore no cause of in-fighting brothers and sisters in ICT advocacy.

Here in Uganda Uganda Media and Research Foundation (UMERFO) developed a 5 year program called Computer for Uganda (CO4U)to increase computer usage by 50,000, from 200,000 being shared by the 26 million Ugandans.

Please Prof. Negroponte I need your attention immediately.

Gilbert Busuulwa
President, UMERFO
Tel: 000256 772 353826
[email protected]
[email protected]
www.umerfo.com

Gilbert,

Perhaps the best course of action for you would be to contact OLPC themselves:

http://www.laptop.org/contact.shtml

This site is independent and I'm fairly sure that Nicholas Negroponte is not a regular reader here, given that he spends 397 days of the year travelling.

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