New Millenium Learners Conference 2010


It might seem a little early to say this but I honestly think that next week could be one of the most interesting weeks of 2010. Why? Because the "New Millenium Learners Conference 2010" which is organized by the Austrian Ministry of Education, The World Bank, OECD and the Inter-American Development Bank will take place right here in Vienna, Austria.

NMLC logo
Vienna, February 22-24

Since the conference's sub-title is "Internationale Conference on 1-to-1 Computing in Education: Current practices, international comparative research evidence and policy implications" I was basically expecting One Laptop per Child to be mentioned somewhere along the way. What I however did not expect is to see so many people and projects involved in OLPC being represented at the conference:

  • Oscar Becerra (Una laptop por niño, Perú)
  • Fernando Brum (Plan Ceibal, Uruguay)
  • Cecilia Alcalá (Paraguay Educa, Paraguay)

The official OLPC will be be in town in the form of:

  • Rodrigo Arboleda (OLPC Association, Miami)
  • Giulia d'Amico (OLPC Europe, Brussels)

On top of all the OLPC folks I'm also happy that I'll get chance to meet Michael Trucano again, plus with people from Portugal's "Magellan" project, companies such as Cisco, Intel and Microsoft and many others from around the world being in town this should make for a great conference. Do I need to mention that I'm excited?

I haven't quite figured out how exactly I plan to cover the conference but my current thinking is that apart from tweeting I'll try and do a brief daily roundup of all the discussions. Obviously I will focus on anything OLPC related but with the broad range of interesting initiatives at the conference I'm sure to hear, learn and write about these as well.

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Great news. I am missing a global coordination institution for all these efforts and projects.

Thanks very much for an excellent running summary of the proceedings of what was truly an exciting conference.

I should like to add a few comments about the discussions at the conference on the merits of one-to-one computing in schools in general. Interestingly enough, there was no discussion that I heard about the relative merits of introduction of one-to-one computing in primary or secondary schools. No projects described have a saturated approach that includes all school children. In U.K., for example, the government is targeting low-income families with a subsidized programme that aims at ensuring universal access to computers in homes.

People who work with OLPC projects naturally favor a saturated approach, because that is the OLPC philosophy. Other researchers and practitioners are more cautious if not outright skeptical. Evidence is clear that there is enthusiasm on the part of most end-users about a saturated approach to school use of computers. The evidence about the influence on learning outcomes compared to alternatives is not clear at all. Added to that, there are simply no studies that evaluate cost-effectiveness, particularly if one attempts to calculate total cost of ownership (TOC), what Chris calls including the hidden costs. Alfons ten Brummelhuis from Kennisnet (Netherlands) gave a comprehensive overview of research that gives very mixed results for ICT use in schools in general. Some research seems to show that it is home computer use that is more influential than use in schools, although it might be argued that home computer use is equally a socio-economic predictor and separating out the actual impact of learning could be difficult even there. A few participants claimed that laptops are less conducive to group work and participatory approaches than other devices: hand-helds or tablets. Others emphasized the need to implement one-to-one projects in a favorable infrastructural environment.

The conclusions of the conference were measured: even its advocates acknowledge that one-to-one computing is an approach chosen more on belief than evidence. However, they argue that one cannot wait for evidence that might never be sufficiently convincing to do something that to them is obviously needed for developing 21st century skills.

Others feel it is important to explore a variety of options. Most participants emphasized the centrality of educational and pedagogical goals in shaping decisions about the tools required to achieve those goals.