One Laptop Per New York City Student a Success

   
   
   
   
   

Columbia University's Institute of Learning Technologies just completed a 4-month evaluation of the OLPC pilot in New York City. The evaluation's summary is clear about the outcome of the pilot so far:


Young New Yawkers and their XO's
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.

This report isn't light at 33 pages in length. It is a qualitative report that uses surveys of students, parents, and teachers. If I read the evaluation correctly, a quantitative evaluation will come eventually. The evaluation also compares the OLPC pilot with two other pilot schools, one that used laptops that moved between classes on a cart, and tablet laptops were one per student.

The evaluation document gives a great overview of the planning process that Teaching Matters, an NYC education NGO, did to make the pilot a success. I met the Teaching Matters guys, John Clemente and Evan O'Donnell, at the OLPC Learning Conference back in January. These guys impressed everyone because they understand the educational theories behind OLPC, the education system in NYC, and the challenges of implementing an IT project. I believe that one of their key elements of their success so far is that they integrated the XO into the existing curriculum.

There are a lot of comments from the kids and teachers of what they liked and didn't like about the XO and its activities. This report is a must read for anyone involved in the development of Sugar and the XO or ICT in education for that matter.

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14 Comments

Reading the report only strengthened my opinion that the real market for these machines is in fact the developed world, not the poor countries.

Developed world schools are prepared to use these machines effectively:
- Integrating them with the curriculum (electronic text books...etc)
- Internet connection in the school
- Charging in school
- Staff experienced with hardware, actually capable of doing field repairs
- ...other infrastructural issues

Many of these are missing from third-world schools thus severely limiting the effect of the XO (no real benefits).

@Sola, I have to disagree. At the 2 pilot schools we have in Nepal, my experiences show the opposite

- designated teachers do most of the field repairs
- the schools have the necessary power infrastructure for charging in school
- the content is integrated in the curriculum
- We have connected the school to the Internet by wireless

It took OLE Nepal a lot of work to train the teachers and integrate the XO into the curriculum but we did it.

In fact, I think schools in the developing world find the XO's much more useful because of the incredible dearth of libraries, physical books, and any kind of laboratory facilities.

As pilot schools the OLE Nepal schools are hardly comparable to the vast bulk of public schools in poor nations. None of your bullet points can be assumed in the nations for which the OLPC was originally targeted.

Also, the report from the Institute of Learning Technologies doesn't have much about the attainments of the involved students either in isolation or in comparison to their contemporaries.

@allen:

actually the OLE Nepal pilots are comparable to schools in many poor nations. The pilot schools in Nepal are poor government schools and the vast majority of children come from disadvantaged castes.

What does "success" mean in such a venture?

Clearly it supports the proposition that if you give a pupil a free computer and spend time teaching him how to use it and encourage him to chat and share with it, he will be happy. I would be happy to get such a computer, and the same help and support, and I would use it often too.

And it proves that some--not all--the pupils preferred the XO to ordinary computers. I could not find the numbers of XO and Windows fans--are they in the report?

Is there any evidence of greater learning in math and English? Or does "success" mean preferring an XO to a computer on a cart?

@bryan

> actually the OLE Nepal pilots are comparable to schools in many poor nations.

Are you seriously asserting that the equivalents of teachers trained to maintain XOs, reliable electrical power, internet access and an XO-integrated curriculum are common among developing nation's public schools serving the poorer segments of their populations? If that is what you're asserting then I'd be interested in some support because the comments in this forum, and others, say just the opposite.

Also, the pdf you linked doesn't have any information that indicates the value of the XO with regard to educational attainments.

Do the kids who get the XO read better then their socio-economic/cultural peers without the XO? Are their math skills superior? What other objectively-verifiable criteria have proven the XO to be a superior learning tool?

I sincerely doubt that the Nepalese education minister will be impressed by documents like the final student survey you linked.

When the education minister goes into a budget meeting to ask for budget for an expansion of the XO program the minister will have to contend with the public works minister who wants budget to build bridges and roads which will most assuredly improve the lot of the average Nepalese, measurably and immediately. If the health minister wants to increase the number of clinics in under-served areas will the education minister be able to make the case for spending the money on an XO program expansion using the final student survey as support?

If the XO is going to become a permanent presence in the Nepalese education ministry budget it had better demonstrate either notably superior performance from students or significant budget savings and best, both. So far no computer education project has demonstrated either and it's looking more and more like the OLPC project will be no different. I'd be pleased to be proven wrong the operative word being "proven".

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91853797

Using XOs with migrant children in Florida.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91891812

corrected reference (ie both parts of 2 part story.

"When the education minister goes into a budget meeting to ask for budget for an expansion of the XO program the minister will have to contend with the public works minister who wants budget to build bridges and roads which will most assuredly improve the lot of the average Nepalese, measurably and immediately."

Nice argumentation. Still you forget that to SPEND all that money effectively they need skilled workers. Skilled workers is the scarcest of all their resources.

Countries like Equador, Bolivia, and Nepal do understand where the future of their children lies. They simply do not have found a way yet to make it happen. You will be amazed to learn what parents are willing to do to get their children an education.

Winter

No Winter, I didn't forget anything. I was outlining how the political process, the process Bryan expects will fund further expansion of the OLPC program in Nepal, works. Before the money can be spent the money has to be allocated.

Ignoring opportunities for graft, the way to get funds allocated is to demonstrate superior results or cost reductions. Preferably both. So far the OLPC, and indeed all computer-based education programs, have demonstrated neither.

The U.S. and to a lesser degree the rest of the developed world, can spend money on computers without much reason to believe the money's well spent. We're so freaking rich we can continue to fund computer labs not because of a demonstration of superior results but because we're so freaking rich.

Nepal doesn't enjoy that dubious luxury. If the rupees are to be spent on XO's instead of roads the case had better be pretty clear that XO's will better benefit the Nepalese people then the roads.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately since there's been no demonstrations of efficacy of the OLPC so far, there's been a fairly high-handed approach to the grubby details of allocating government funding starting with Dr. Negroponte's extraordinary pronouncements about how the XO would be sold, to whom and under what conditions and filtering down to the on-the-ground pilot programs.

As is gradually becoming more obvious, that approach won't work. Once the pilot funding runs out what will be the case for further funding, for expansion? Proponents of the OLPC program may feel that they're doing something extraordinary but without proof that they're doing something quite ordinary the funding will dry up.

"The U.S. and to a lesser degree the rest of the developed world, can spend money on computers without much reason to believe the money's well spent. We're so freaking rich we can continue to fund computer labs not because of a demonstration of superior results but because we're so freaking rich."

The "Computerlab at school" is the official, and completely useless picture of technological innovation in education.

In large parts of the developed world, almost all children have access to a computer at home. In my country, you cannot complete high school without a computer and internet access. The school depends on it. Internet access is considered to be one of the basic necessities of life by children.

The computers in school are mainly used for special purposes, eg, printing, looking up things while doing project work at school etc. But at home, the children spend most of their time behind a computer screen (using IM, if they aren't SMSing on their mobile).

So it has become impossible to measure the effect of computers in education in the these parts of the developed world because you simply will have difficulty in finding children who do not use a computer and the internet. But maybe in the US there are communities who do not have access to computers and the internet (but they will be disadvantaged in other respects too).

Educational policy is not as straightforward as it looks.

And in educational spending in the developing world. You have to look at different levels. Educational spending competes with other budgets. And that is irrespective of the introduction of XOs. The XOs will be introduced if the people think it will give enough benefits to justify the costs.

The benefits of the XO are:
- connectivity (communication that benefits the whole community)
- text materials (books, digital libraries)
- other learning materials (video/sound, writing tools, interactive demonstrations)
- up-to-date information, news, and weather
- medical benefits and general guidance.

Whether the XOs will help to get better grades in the standard curriculum will undoubtedly be part of the equation. But for a very poor community like that in Nepal that might even be less relevant.

It is rather difficult to get the importance of knowing, say, the name of the capital of Portugal, communicated to children. But when this information can be combined with exploring these cities with Google Earth and Maps, this will be more memorable. And this is certainly more useful. Most children learn and forget topographical place names in a week.
(for a literary example, see this German text, search for Lissabon:)
http://www.vaeternotruf.de/pippi-langstrumpf.htm

It is quite obvious that parents are convinced that when their children have access to all news and information (ie, the internet), they will become smarter. And I think it will be a challenge to prove them wrong.

Winter

@allen:

The idea of saving money with laptops sticks its head up in many places:

Can we give every school child in the UK a Linux notebook and still save money?
http://www.computerworlduk.com/community/blogs/index.cfm?entryid=951&blogid=17

Winter

thanks for this one, Bryan, I agree a "must read"

for me it shows that in the developed world we are just beginning to grapple with the transition from computer labs to extended individual ownership including take home use

the basics necessities of having individual ownership of cheap robust machines have to be solved before we can systematically do the educational evaluations

many teachers (not all) will be prepared to change once the computers come out of limited access environments (labs) to ubiquitous use -- and that improve educational outcomes as well

paradigm shift is a rocky road but we don't really have a choice - as the costs continue to come down computer labs will become a thing of the past

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