New Millenium Learners Conference 2010 - Day 2


It's safe to say that day 2 of the "New Millenium Learners Conference 2010" was at least as interesting as yesterday, if not even more so.

NMLC logo

The day started with an excellent keynote by Peter Baumgartner (German Web site) from the Donau-Universität Krems, Austria. He generally spoke about learning and education and focused on 1:1 netbook projects that are currently taking place in Austria. One very memorable quotes from his presentation was:

"If it only were about content we would only need libraries and no schools."

From an OLPC perspective it was great that he mentioned Sugar (though without using the name) as an example for an innovative approach in software for its focus on collaboration and the network view. Also when he talked about a "learning log" it was impossible for me not to think of Sugar's Journal.

Other interesting things he mentioned is that he considers netbooks to be 5P-computers (portability, power, performance, price, providing world wide access via 3G connectivity) and the fact that only some years ago laptops only allowed for "battery life-long learning".

I was also intrigued by the use of a closed micro-blogging solution which pupils of the netbook classes were encouraged to use in order to get a better understanding of when, where and how the netbooks were being utilized. That also demonstrated the belief that by using netbooks a lot of learning can actually take place outside school, be it at home or on the bus to/from school.

All in all this was definitely a very inspiring talk that provided lots of food-for-thought.

The first real session of the day was called "The transformation of teaching and learning: are there new learning models or environments emerging?" and unfortunately turned out to be a bit dull for my taste. The one presentation that I did enjoy a lot was the one by Roger Doucet from Nouveau Brunswick in Canada. One key thought to take away from his talk was that it takes time to actually see a real impact from 1:1 computing projects in education. In his case it took 5 years to see "wonderful results" and that "one should be prepared" for what definitely won't be an easy wait.

Due to some scheduling conflicts the second and third session were swapped so the first presentation of the "Impact on equity: does 1-to-1 help to bridge the digital divide in education?" session was held by Cecilia Alcalá from Paraguay Educa which is implementing OLPC in the country. Having heard quite a bit about the project beforehand the talk didn't contain too much new information for me. It was however great to hear that the teachers received approximately 100 hours of teacher training before the project (currently ~4000 XO-1s) was started.

The next presenter, Angela McFarlane from the University of Bristol, United Kingdom turned out to be another highlight of the day. What I particularly liked about her presentation was the focus on children's achievements whereas the majority of the talks interestingly focused on teachers. She also brought a much needed broader perspective to the whole discussion which, as I already mentioned yesterday, was generally slightly too narrow and not critical enough in many ways.

The remaining two presentations in that session weren't particularly exciting from my point of view. The one quote that I will however probably remember from that session was Ian Halpin (Becta, United Kingdom) saying that:

"Investing 1 pound into ICT for children who don't have access to ICT now will pay back more than 5 pounds to the UK economy over the course of that child's life."

After a much needed coffee break the third and last session of the day "Impact on student outcomes: does 1-to-1 improve student results?" ended on a high note. Unfortunately I didn't catch too much of the first talk which was given by Jordi Pàmies (UAB, Spain) as I was battling with software problems.

The second talk was split between Paolo Ferri from the University of Milan and two of his PhD students who are writing their thesis based on experiences collected during extensive visits to Project Ceibal in Uruguay: Francesca Scenini and Andrea Mangiatordi. With 10min split between 3 people you can imagine that there was little to no time for really diving into their respective topics. Luckily I had had a chance to talk to them during Monday's reception so I was particularly intrigued by Andrea's work when it comes to accessibility within the context of OLPC and Sugar.

In the next talk Patricia Sierra from the Fundación Piés Descalzos in Colombia reported on some of her organization's early work with XO-1s. Currently approximately 900 XO-1s are used in the country, most of them by members of displaced communities. Interestingly almost a third of these XO-1s is running Windows XP. I didn't have a chance to inquire about any relevant findings comparing the experience of the pupils using the XO-1s with Sugar with ones running Windows XP but I do hope to do that tomorrow.

The last speaker of the day was Richard Rowe from Open Learning Exchange (OLE) and his talk turned out to be another highlight of the day. Having had a chance to talk to him on Sunday and Monday I basically knew what to expect but to see the energy and passion he brought to the room at the end of the day was really inspiring.

One of the most interesting things he mentioned is that OLE would run a trial comparing the educational impact of 500 XO-1s and 500 TeacherMates in Rwanda. His mention of "leadership" and the critical importance of defining expections when it comes to 1:1 computing projects in education were also important aspects that few other speakers had mentioned. In terms of the most memorable quote from what was a truly excellent presentation my personal winner is:

"Let's stay stay away from faith-based approaches."

Last but not least I really liked his reminder that even talking about the concept of 1:1 computing in education really focuses on the technology rather than education even though everyone is claiming to do quite the opposite.

During the coffee breaks I had a chance to spend some time talking with Oscar Becerra (OLPC Peru), Fernando Brum (Plan Ceibal) and Cecilia Alcalá (Paraguay Educa). Needless to say these discussions yielded some interesting, exciting and challenging pieces of information and impressions. Overall I really have to say that talking to these people is a really encouraging experience!

Unfortunately was a royal pain in the rear yesterday and while I did manage to livestream the majority of the sessions I had to deal with many crashes, odd lockups and a general inability to record the stream for later viewing. Some short recordings did make it to my page (under "archived videos") but frankly speaking I'm not convinced they are very useful for most people.

However just like on Monday I and several other people tweeted a lot so I'd recommend you to look through the tweets with the #1to1Viena hashtag to see what people wrote about the conference. The fine folks from the Interamerican Development Bank have also written a good overview blog-post with many links to the speakers and their respective projects who were on-stage on Tuesday.

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