Knight Foundation and OLPC Association Launch Project in Miami


Resumen en español al final del artículo

Two weeks ago the Knight Foundation and OLPC Association launched a project at Holmes Elementary School in Miami. More than 500 XOs were handed out to pupils and teachers in what is OLPC's latest effort to get a foothold in primary schools in the United States.

Reading through the press release I stumbled across a number of very interesting points:

The XO laptops, specially designed for primary school children, will be provided by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), with $245,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Seeing that $245,000 figure in combination with the earlier mention of 525 children having received laptops (and ignoring the teachers for second) makes for a per-seat TCO of ~$467. Given that the XOs themselves only cost about $200 this was an encouraging indication that the project would go beyond the mere distribution of laptops. And indeed it does:

Along with the XO laptops, One Laptop Per Child is providing in-house training at the school for parents, teachers and students on how to use the computers to advance students' learning. ... OLPC is also assisting in creating a localized curriculum to help kids meet their academic benchmarks.

While it's not entirely clear what exactly these in-house training and localized curriculum efforts entail it's certainly a good sign that the importance of training and support for teachers and parents is recognized early on. Plus more than $100,000 worth of services from OLPC Association should be able to provide a reasonable amount of support to the project.

Especially when you consider that the project could possibly only run for 11 months as the school might be closed at the end of the year:

Holmes Elementary School, which serves the majority of Liberty City residents, is at risk of closing at the end of the year if its state test scores do not improve. In an effort to boost performance, a variety of tools and resources are being used to enhance teaching and learning, including the laptops and training.

In this situation it will be particularly important for OLPC to prove that an XO-based project can indeed significantly improve test scores. In a blog post SJ Klein (OLPC Foundation's Director of Outreach) referred to this as:

...natural assessments built into the program, with a fairly short timeframe, thanks to existing conditions at the school and their risk of closure.

Since this is an area where OLPC has so far done very little work it's going be fascinating to see what happens in this particularly challening project context.

So while I would say that the announcement itself and its mention of training and evaluation components are encouraging signs it remains to be seen how things will really work out in the coming months. After all the last thing OLPC needs is another initiative like the 15,000 XO project in Birmingham, Alabama which saw its funding being cut in mid-2010, two years after the project was originally launched.

An analysis of the project in an upcoming a recently published research paper called "One Laptop Per Child Birmingham: Case Study of a Radical Experiment" by Mark Warschauer, Shelia Cotten, and Morgan Ames is fairly critical of Birmingham's OLPC project. Among other things it mentions:

Though the computers it used are the least expensive of any deployed in a U.S. laptop program, the benefits achieved at the time of our data collection appear to be minimal, thus resulting in a high cost-benefit ratio.

OLPC had better take note of such critical research efforts to improve and guide its ongoing efforts and counter with strong research evidence proving its effectiveness and efficiency compared to other educational interventions.

This seems to be particularly important when you consider the following quote by Rodrigo Arboleda (OLPC Association's Chairman and CEO) which indicates that OLPC is eager to try and start similar projects in other cities around the United States:

"We believe that partnering with foundations, the private sector and the public sector is an excellent model that can be replicated across the country."

So overall this is certainly an extremely interesting development and we'll do our best to keep an eye on it over the coming months. For now I'll leave you with a nice 3min video with some impressions from Holmes Elementary School.

Resumen en español: En enero Knight Foundation y OLPC Association lanzaron un proyecto con más de 500 XO en una escuela en Miami. Aparte de la distribución de los XO mismo OLPC Association tambien va a dar suporte a los maestros y padres. Además el proyecto viene con una componente de evaluación dado que la escuela esta corriendo el riesgo de ser cerrado al fin del año y por esto OLPC tendrá que mostrar que una iniciativa como esta puede mejorar los resultados academicos de los alumnos. En total parece que esto será un proyecto muy interesante y lo vamos a seguir en los próximos meses.


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