David Cavallo, Where is the OLPC Learning Team?


Let me first say that I am a believer in the possibilities that exist for laptops in learning, and I've followed OLPC as much as my free time will allow. OLPC presents itself as a learning company rather than a laptop company. Calls to constructionism, collaboration, and children as "learning by doing" are pervasive in the website. There's this vision of how the laptop can change learning and schooling and give the our children the right tools to thrive:

What I have not seen, however, is substantive and concrete ways that the VP of Learning, David Cavallo, has introduced to turn this vision into a reality. (Please note that I did see something on the wiki called a curriculum jam, but this doesn't seem to be organized or endorsed by the Learning Team. Further, this site states that the problem is a lack of activities for teachers and students interested in using the laptops.)

I agree that it is important that the design of curricular materials be something that comes from within, after all locations know their context better than outside constituents. But in a vision for learning that is so different how can OLPC expect that teachers, administrators and others will just suddenly change their ways and develop everything by themselves without some clue as to where they might head? Where are the materials that help scaffold teachers from their reality into this new vision?

Where are the concrete examples that enable anyone, teacher or not, to embrace the ways that this laptop can empower the type of learning that Cavallo talks about in his papers. He and his students have done some impressive work, but the connection between what he has done in academia, and what he expecting to be done all over the world now is not clear to me.

If any technology initiative is going to be successful, there must be proper support and development of the people who are going to implement them. While this support may not look the same everywhere, the reality teachers must face in any deployment on any continent must be addressed properly and orderly to ensure they can fully capitalize on the power of the machine.

My hope is that the Learning Team will take the ideas that they have implemented in various places and create opportunities for the rest of us to design powerful learning experiences.

The post author is a concerned student who will be pursuing a career working with America's primary school education system

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I'd like to comment that learning education is definitely going on, even though it might not be widely reported. If you look through the OLPC news (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Current_events) and scroll down through some of the older reports, there should be some evidence. However, understandably, it is hard to see this from the reports.

One reason that the Learning Team has been fairly quiet is because they are very busy working to make learning happen. Some members of the Learning Team have been deployed in different areas (Juliano in Rwanda, Elana in Mongolia, Julian in Birmingham, etc) where there has definitely been successes in learning advances.

In my experience in Mongolia this past summer, teachers from the core team were able to come up with ideas for activities and curriculum, but it was difficult to motivate them to post it online so other teachers could learn from it. Also, because of language barriers and connectivity issues, they weren't really involved to the online community surrounding OLPC. Therefore, it's hard to see, but that doesn't mean it's not there.

I agree very much with the article about how the curriculum must come from within. But I imagine that because it is coming from within, it can be hard to get it out to the rest of the world.

I hadn't thought of the fact that the XO allows teachers to develop their curriculum electronically and share it. Really, that is what should be happening but obviously it is not.

Does give me an idea of giving US teachers a free laptop as long as they share their curriculum materials. There is so much reinventing of the wheel going on in education it is alarming.

I've always said that if I don't share what little I come up with - what good am I to my fellow peeps.

'obviously it is not' ?

From what I can tell, teachers are developing content. But the ideas and tools to share content with others (or indeed the idea digital sharing at all) is a bit of a new one to them.

This is something that has always bugged me about the project. We hear endless arguments about different operating systems, what different countries are signing for, Classmate, and software ideologies, which seems to lose focus of the entire purpose of the OLPC, which is to provide an educational tool

There's certainly advantages and disadvantages to both the available operating systems, but what truly matters is availability of educational content for either system (and the Classmate), and usefulness of the tool in general.

Plus it seems the OLPC to a certain extent suffers from the same issues as many open source projects, which is focusing so much on that ideology that they overlook what most users really care about. For example, the source code for sugar is readily available, and is fantastic for anyone interested in computers, but the truth is most people aren't. For them it's an "appliance", and as such they expect it to "just work", which as the XO is it's OK, but it still has a number of usability issues.


Show me comprehensive curriculum available to teachers for k-12. I'd like complete lesson plans, videos, etc.

It ain't out there. You have to buy it. Teachers are reinventing the wheel (in the US) because standards are all over the place and curriculum costs too much. They end up making stuff on the fly. Really. There is no "field testing" going on here. Plus it takes lots of time to gather a little from here and a little from there.

I suspect teachers don't share because:

1. They don't know how
2. Don't have the time
3. They pilfer so much there would be copyright problems

The solution is things like wikiversity.

This is exactly the point that we brought up two years ago when OLPC was taking its root in Nepal. We need to focus on building digital content based on national curriculum, and training teachers how to facilitate learning in a class where children and teachers are using the learning materials to learn math, science, English etc. But you cannot realistically expect teachers to preparing these curriculum based digital content. They have their hands full just teaching classes each day. In countries like Nepal where the teacher-student ratio is so low, teachers in public schools are forced to teach 7-8 classes per day. That leaves them with no time to work on developing curriculum materials. This work should be left to educationists who have experience in preparing curriculum.

At OLE Nepal, we brought two curriculum specialists on board to conceptualize and design software activities based on Nepal's national curriculum. So far our content development team have been making English and math activities for grades 2 and 6. These have been very popular amongst teachers and students at our test schools. In Nepal, you can actually walk to these rural schools and witness teachers and students using XOs to learn concepts outlined in the curriculum and doing interactive exercises that help fulfill the learning objectives. Furthermore, with instant feedback, students know when they make mistakes, and are able to correct their mistakes.

We believe that we have taken a huge step towards ensuring that XOs are integrated in daily teaching-learning process. We made a modest start, without splashing the front pages with smiling kids carrying around XOs. Instead, we went to our drawing board to carve out a plan so that this becomes a truly education project, and not another photo-op to distribute laptops.

PS. You can download OLE Nepal's learning activities from our website. They are made available for free for anyone and everyone.

I will not pretend to be knowledgeable on the XO's purpose attainment challenges. I have however been trying to follow its development and deployment, I see some issues:
*There is a need to develop a computing platform, to help facilitate teaching functions with the XO, among other education needs.
*It is my view that being a thick client, the XO is an administration and support resources hog.

There are so many challenges to this program, and so much potential as well. Working with communities in other countries, who already have a relationship such as Sister Cities is a good way to begin.

To my mind the biggest challenge is then working with the community's existing curriculum to allow for innovation with the computer tool, without creating a threat.