Why the XO-1.5 introduction is a real challenge for OLPC

   
   
   
   
   

When I read the news about the XO-1.5 hardware refresh on Friday evening I was initially very excited. A 1GHz CPU, more RAM, more Flash, (hopefully) faster mass-storage access due to the CaFE chip being retired, etc. That's certainly the kind of upgrade that people can get excited about.


Never judge an XO by its cover!

However thinking about this development over the weekend I realized that the introduction also poses significant challenges to OLPC.The main challenge is quite obvious: How do you keep the announcement of the upcoming XO-1.5 hardware from cannibalizing sales of the current XO-1 hardware?

While key data such as the exact release date (prototypes in late August probably mean mass-production start in late 2009), price (it's likely that the current price will be matched) and the battery runtime still aren't known I can't help but think that it would ridiculous for anyone to make a large commitment to an XO-1 program when Gen 1.5 is just around the corner.

The only thing for potential deployments that makes sense in my opinion would be to order a small quantity, maybe a couple of thousand, of XO-1s to start pilot programs. But would you advise anyone to purchase something when a seemingly superior product will be available by the time the next school year (in the southern hemisphere where most of OLPC deployments are happening) starts?

One might argue that the current XO-1 hardware could be made available at a significantly lower price, maybe even $100, but frankly speaking I'd be surprised if that happened. I fully expect Quanta to keep producing XO-1 to fulfill current orders but as soon as the XO-1.5 reaches mass-production stage it would likely be too expensive to keep producing two very distinct products.

Plus even without the XO-1.5 announcement drawing extra attention to it the fact is that the XO-1 hardware is getting long in the tooth. OLPC certainly didn't succeed in making it the educational appliance I had imagined when I first read about the project. The XO-1 is a laptop, a green one with antenna ears and everything, but still very much a laptop or rather netbook as they call it these days. And it's showing signs of its age.

The artefacts that would make the XO, regardless of whether it's an XO-1, XO-1.5 or XO-2, a timeless educational device are still largely missing. I'm thinking of educational activities, interactive teaching materials, lesson plans localized for different school systems and mother tongues, a million digital books, etc. So for all the attention that the hardware is getting let's remind ourselves that what we're trying to do here is design an educational tool!

Anyway, this is just the tip of the iceberg that OLPC will need to address over the coming weeks and months. Something tells me we certainly won't run into a lack of stories to report here during the summer months.


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10 Comments

Is there a guesstimate as to when these will be available?

Nevermind, I see it is late 2009 (probably sometime in 2010).

OLPC certainly didn't succeed in making it the educational appliance I had imagined when I first read about the project.

[snip]

The artefacts [sic] that would make the XO, regardless of whether it's an XO-1, XO-1.5 or XO-2, a timeless educational device are still largely missing. I'm thinking of educational activities, interactive teaching materials, lesson plans localized for different school systems and mother tongues, a million digital books, etc. So for all the attention that the hardware is getting let's remind ourselves that what we're trying to do here is design an educational tool!

You must be new here. It seems many here are more interested in cool technologies like mesh networking that has yet to do anything, Wifi that can't connect to WPA, instantaneous standby e-reader mode that doesn't work right, a new GUI paradigm that is unstable, untested, and slow (because it's scripted), and a kewl direct access flash device that no other OS or distro can install to (even Ubuntu has to use that EVIL SD slot that Microsoft had put in there). Also interesting is the latest designs, and above all else, a major circle jerk about how FOSS and Linux can block out Microsoft. This is why ARM is so hot!

When asked about educational content I get pointed to articles about how the kids love the devices, love playing the games, and turtle, or whatever one of 9 programming languages are accessible. And the best part is they can change the code!

When I grew up computers had Commander Keen, BASIC, and solitaire. Fancy ones with soundblasters even had sound recorder. I have yet to see the educational advantages then, and I still don't. I also don't see a wonder free library of educational content.

@John Smith

There seems to be a split in OLPC world view and attitude between the professors and students. If you want to see education stuff, the professors never have it. It is the MIT students and other university students that have it.

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPCorps_MIT_Kenya

Our three-member team consists of Eli Ben-Joseph, Monica Hu, and Joel Veenstra. We are all upperclassmen at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and we are excited for this opportunity to work with elementary school students in Mombasa, Kenya.

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPCorps_MIT,HARVARD_%26_LEHIGH_-KENYA

"children will create both cultural and nutritional libraries. With these computer skills, the children will themselves be instrumental in solving the community problems such as child prostitution, poverty, and malnutrition by creating awareness both locally and online."

> Also interesting is the latest designs, and above all else, a major circle jerk about how FOSS and Linux can block out Microsoft. This is why ARM is so hot!

I am sure, you would not be complaining if the project was all about "educational content" was in Microsoft Office(R) and Silverlight(R) -- despite the fact that it would create a massive barrier for any locally produced content, not to mention promoting Microsoft under the guise of education.

There were plenty of Microsoft shills here just like you, so you are not adding anything they have not said already. If you think, you can create an impression that your "opinion" is popular, we already know that it is -- among marketing companies' employees hired by your masters.

This is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Even a discussion where I'm concerned about the lack of educational content gets hijacked into a Linux circle jerk.

I'm not saying Windows is better and thus the way forward, I'm just concerned that Sugar is so terrible that it's virtually unusable. But everyone gets so excited because it's so "kewl".

Windows, OS X, Linux, it doesn't matter to me, as long as it provides a good platform for an educational tool and delivers educational content. Sugar is so appalling it's virtually unusable, AND there's no educational content for it. Why couldn't an existent, more standard Linux platform be modified for the task. Something like Puppy, DSL, or whatnot. Instead, the wheel has to be reinvented AGAIN.

I question the value of Computers in education. I mentioned PC products (Commander Keen, sound recorder, BASIC, solitaire) which didn't provide any value when I was growing up, and suggest the modern day Sugar equivalent as doing the same. I don't see how this couldn't even be construed as being a Microsoft Shill, because I condemned products that worked on Microsoft operating systems. I also see people (here or elsewhere) so excited about American schools to get x many computers per y students, yet don't see the value added. And these are pricey (at least $500), Windows machines, so again, I don't see how it is a Microsoft shill. When I grew up most of the computers in classrooms were Apple II's, and they had all sorts of educational "games" and typing tutor, but I didn't see what they provide to the class. And from the available sugar activities, the educational content available now, is about par with that on the Apple II that many years ago.

John, I see your point on many things. BTW, the Commander Keen game dates you ;)

I agree that I haven't seen computer programs that actually teach. Yet. They are poorly done. Have you tried Mavis Beacon teaches typing? It tries to teach about 5 keys at once! It doesn't realize the kid is never going to be able to learn that many at the same time. The program is very limited.

I use Turtle Typing and created my own lessons. For my own kid! I tried the old method of teaching from a typing book but how do you know where mastery takes place. In typing, you know by accuracy and speed. What better method than by having the computer figure it for you. And track it. And have the kid redo the lesson if not to par. You still need the teacher behind the kid to remind him/her to sit straight, feet on the floor, fingers need to stay on the keys, the index fingers on the bumps, and don't look at the keys (oops, the lessons are progressing too fast).

Math facts are another great thing to computerize. I had 26 kids doing math facts - verbally - at the same time. It was loud. A couple could concentrate. I had the timer malfunction a couple times. And some kids can do their timings very quickly and go through several sets of timings to advance quicker than other kids. With a computer they can all advance at their own rate.

BTW, for those poo-pooing math facts here is a fun article for you:

http://tinyurl.com/c65uy7

So yes, John, computers are not a panacea. But used properly with good programming, they can be a time and effort saver!

"...Math 111, that it was the number one failed class in the university, so I got in the mindset that I was going to fail, and I did"

Maybe the problem isn't only Math, but also attitude? this kid set himself up for failure, and oh surprise, he failed...

Speaking of Commander Keen, we could always say (but rather shouldn't) that from a Constructivistic POV it develops strategies, goal setting, Scientific method, and kinestetic coordination, but I, contrarian, would rather point out that the hardware able to do that level of graphics and interaction, IMHO plenty good, goes now in Asia for about $15 USD.

I totally agree with you. Neither I have come across good software that can help kids learn, not for love (Tux Typing seems to be stalled), and not even for money, and if an International Education Specialist with diamond-studded frequent-flyer status I spoke with at UNICEF Bolivia is to be believed, neither has she, and I guess she would know, if anybody at all.

Yama, you have to remember that math facts are not necessarily taught at the elementary school level. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) which often drives the standards for states did not include math facts in their standards for many years. They just added it a year or so ago but it can take 2-4 years to incorporate that back into state standards.

So you have kids that feel like failures all through school because they never got basic skills (math facts, arithmetic, fractions, etc) at the very early grades that are now trying college. So failure of the school system is now the fault of students? I don't buy that for all kids - and I give the kid you quoted the benefit of the doubt.

He was failed by the school system by constructivist education that stems from teacher schools, teacher standards and practices, organizations like NCTM, and even teacher unions. I can say that now that I've fought the schools on behalf of my son with autism, become a certified teacher (pending paperwork), become a Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst, and have taken dozens of days of teacher trainings and read books on constructing curriculum. I'm no expert but I have a clue. Our kids are failing because the schools are failing our kids.

Sugar (or something like it) will give the opportunity BACK to students willing to work for it. They WILL learn their math facts, countries, capitals, etc all with required practice and fun! It will be paced correctly and the lessons will allow for extra practice when needed and will allow fast students to go at their speed.

Again, like a broken record, the nerds will save us all :) (I'm not one of them but I see the writing on the wall)

I have to sort of agree with teapot. The reason why FOSS and Open Source is important is because eventually we will be able to make educational programs (and curriculum) that is freely available and modifiable for all. This is very important. As a teacher, I could see myself saying, well, that works for this kid but not this one because the lesson plan goes to fast. Or to add in stuff about Oregon. Or even to take a program such as math facts and modify it to work as a spelling mastery program. I see the potential.

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