Conclusions of OLPC Pilot in New York City


In general, the XO pilot at Kappa IV has been a success from the point of view of all the participants, including Teaching Matters staff, teacher, students, and parents. The XOs low cost, portability, and quick learning curve, as well as the fact that it was easily accepted by both students and parents, make it a viable candidate for a genuine one-to-one computing solution--a computer that students can not only carry with them around the school but can carry home to use there as well.

Praying for XO success

However, the success of the pilot was undoubtedly due in large part to the specific conditions in which the XO was introduced at Kappa IV. Some of these conditions relate to the reasons that Kappa IV was chosen as a site for the pilot and others to the planning and support that went into its introduction and implementation:

(1) The school was selected not on the basis of its technology (which was not particularly good) or because it was a troubled school that laptops that would somehow benefit from an infusion of technology, but because it seemed to be a setting that would be conducive to a successful pilot. This meant that it had the following characteristics:

  • It was a well-organized school with a strong leader who was supportive of the pilot.
  • There was a positive school climate overall, and good cooperation among the teachers.
  • There was an ongoing relationship between the school, its teachers, and the sponsor of the pilot (Teaching Matters).

(2) The planning that took place before the XOs were introduced and the support given during the implementation were crucial to the success of the pilot--especially since the XO itself is still being tested in urban environments. The planning and support included the following:

  • The introduction of the XO was connected to clear educational goals, as well as to a specific curriculum that was supported by Teaching Matters.
  • The curriculum fit into the teacher's curricular goals, was engaging for the students, and could be adapted to take advantage of the XO's capabilities.
  • The teacher had ongoing, onsite support from a Teaching Matters professional developer.
  • Additional Teaching Matters staff members were always available for technical support, both in the initial stages of the deployment when there were a number of highly technical issues that needed to be resolved in terms of connecting the XOs to the Department of Education network, and during implementation, when there was a need for some troubleshooting.
  • Parents were brought in during the initial stages of the pilot, before the XOs were distributed to students, and were supportive of their children bringing the XOs home.

(3) In addition, the results may well have been affected by the fact that the pilot was small and because the students knew they had been chosen to test the XOs and felt special as a result. They also knew the pilot was being watched--by the school principal, by their teachers, by Teaching Matters staff, and by the evaluators.

While not all of these conditions need to be in place for every implementation of the XO, those considering their adoption should take a close look at the school leadership and climate, the educational goals that the XOs will support, the professional and technical support system, and the extent of parental engagement to make sure that they favor success--and if not, to do the preparatory work necessary to put them in place.

Happy XO laptop users in USA

Finally, there are some small improvements that would facilitate the use of the XO in urban U.S. schools and homes:

  1. Load time: The students uniformly complained that the XO was slow. This translated into time lost accessing applications and getting onto the Internet. Although the students learned to live with this, they did not like it, and adults are likely to like it even less.
  2. Frequent freezes: The students also complained that the XO often froze. Again, they learned to live with this but nevertheless found it broke their concentration and broke into their work.
  3. Accessing the Internet: Most of the students did not have routers and wireless networks at home. Once they learned how, they found they could use the open networks in their neighborhoods, but these were unreliable, often slow, and not available to everyone. The XOs have a USB Ethernet adapter but its costs an additional $30 and were not made available to the students in this pilot. It would significantly expand Internet access for those students whose families have cable or DSL modems at home if these were included with the XO purchase.
  4. Wireless networks: Both students and their families need to understand how wireless networks work. Some students (and we suspect some parents as well) apparently thought that simply wireless signals emanated from their desktop computers. A digital Help file might help them understand how the XO's networking capabilities work.
  5. Mesh Networking: The computer-to-computer sharing function was not reliable enough for the teacher to be able to build on its functionality--for instance, by having students read and edit each other's work--presumably because there were too many conflicting signals. Where possible, it would be advisable to set up a school server to act as a switchboard for all the XOs in the school.
  6. Projector Integration: It is helpful for a teacher to be able to mirror, and model, his/her students' activities by adopting the XO as his/her machine. However, many teachers (including the teacher in this pilot) make extensive use of a projector in their teaching, and the XO did not work with the pilot school's projector. Having this facility would make it more likely that the XOs will be used by teachers and not confined to students.

These conclusions come from the Institute for Learning Technologies' evaluation of the Teaching Matters pilot - a small deployment of XO laptops at Kappa VI school in New York City.

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For what it's worth, the OLPC begat the netbook and the netbook will provide the rationale for municipal wireless broadband.