Focus on Educator eToys Activities, Not XO Laptops

   
   
   
   
   

There seems to be a lot of bad news for One Laptop Per Child lately (the Brazil loss, the OLPC CTO leaving), and even more bad press.

First from pundits in the computer field who clearly (and surprisingly) don't "get" what the OLPC project and the XO are for, and secondly from users who now have their hands on their G1G1 XO and are let down that it isn't a polished product and doesn't run like their $1500 Windows or Mac laptop does. People who expect instant gratification can be very hard to please.

I'm John Koger and I am concerned that the One laptop Per Child project may fail before it really gets rolling.

olpc production line
It's not a laptop project

Hardware is too Competitive

My blunt expectation at this point is that the OLPC project in its current form will fade away. Computer hardware is a razor-margin and ruthless market, and being non-profit isn't a huge advantage over competitors that are low-profit.

I suspect it will be very hard and expensive to keep up production of the hardware part of the XO, especially in the face of commercial--retail--offerings that will soon undercut the XO's price point by a significant margin. And the OLPC hardware team will be hard-pressed to keep the XO laptop competitive with the commercial offerings down the road.

It'll be expensive both in terms of cash flow and in terms of burnout of key members of the hardware team. I'm sorry, but I have a hard time believing in the "XO 2" hardware platform. I really hope that I'm wrong on this.

Software is the Solution

But the software suite developed for the XO will live on; it will migrate to other (commercial) platforms (probably hardware like low-cost versions of the Asus Eee, or similar competitors; bastard children of the XO, so to speak), and the educational aspect of the OLPC effort will blossom.

Educators will be able to download a platform-agnostic XO image and install it on low-cost laptops, just like they can do now with Fedora or Ubuntu Linux. They can then tailor the Activities within the image for their own specific needs.

That's my feeling for what things will be like in a year or two. So be it.

Because of those beliefs, I tend to think of my XO as three things:

  1. A fun toy for me to play around with right now, and a cool collectible down the road.
  2. A quite usable eBook reader.
  3. Most importantly, an excellent reference platform for working on the XO software; it is the ultimate "XO compatible" laptop.
So, what can I do for the XO project? I can help make things easier for the teachers.


Squeak on OLPC XO

Focus on Activities for Success

My guess is that what educators will need most is a set of Activities that they can change easily and quickly, without needing to learn esoteric programming languages or operating system commands, and that they can then easily distribute to the laptops in their classrooms in a locked-down form.

They need Activities that aren't dependent on a specific hardware setup, but will run on any "XO compatible" laptop. In other words, I think teachers need HyperCard. Or the modern equivalent thereof. And I think that the thing that comes closest to that is Squeak / eToys.

Unfortunately, the version of eToys currently on the XO isn't educator-friendly. It is kid-friendly, or demo-friendly. And getting it to the point that educators can start working in it takes more than just a few minutes. So, my feeling is that there needs to be a version of eToys that can be downloaded as an Activity, ready to install and run just like any other Activity.

Educator eToys Activity

With an Educator eToys Activity, I can see there being many flavors of it. For example:


Etoys on the XO laptop
  • An eBook template version. This is just the stock Educator eToys Activity, except that it is all set up and ready to go as an eBook.
  • A multiple-choice quiz version. Same stock activity, set up so that the educator can easily type in multiple-choice questions and the correct answers. When it runs in student mode, it displays the questions and saves the student's answers.
  • A songbook / reading tutor version. In student mode, this plays a song and displays the lyrics, maybe with a "bouncing ball" over the lyrics to show where in the song the player is.
I think it is very important to give teachers something right out of the box that they can customize without needing to jump into the details of Squeak. So, anyway, that's kind of a rough overview of where my thoughts about the XO and Squeak currently are.

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41 Comments

I don't think, that there will be a new laptop from OLPC soon. And even then, I think it will be rather incremental updates, than a complete new design. More an "XO-1b", than an "XO-2".

So, yes, software is the part of the equation that needs focus now. But that shouldn't mean, to give up on hardware completely. If you have to convince somebody of the superiority of XO+Sugar, over, say, Classmate+XP, it is much easier to throw an XO into a puddle of mud, step on it and turn it on. Then propose: Now do that with the Classmate.

I see the same facts in a different light.

First on, the "market" will see a barrage of rugged, low cost and low power laptops very soon, but hardly before 2009. And hardly below the XO pricepoint.

The one person who will be at the source of this barrage will be Mary-Lou, and part of the money will flow back to the OLPC to fund more XOs.

Then for software. The ideas about eToys seem entirely reasonable. So why don't you start ;-) This is all FOSS.

My own take on the software side is that the XO is a marvelous communication device. A miracle that goes beyond the Science Fiction of the nineties. And this is for children who probably have seen a telephone only from a distance and maybe have heard about the internet in some fairy tale.

The XO is a newspaper, magazine, phone, radio, TV, library, office, and laboratory in one. And all for less than $200.

For most children, and teachers, the educational content is just the icing on the cake.

In the whole of human history, it is difficult to point out a case where improved communication did not lead to more wealth. I don't expect the XO to be any different.

Winter

1) "Hardware is too Competitive"

"And the OLPC hardware team will be hard-pressed to keep the XO laptop competitive with the commercial offerings down the road."

The hard work of designing XO is pretty much finished - from now on I can only see evolutionary hardware changes. As to 'competing' with others - I'm sure OLPC founders will be only too happy if XO becomes the reference design for the mass produced $188 laptops available for school kids which are as good or better than XO. But for the moment there's nothing on the market (forget about Eee PC and Classmate) which meets XO's design and price. I don't expect this to change any time soon...

2) "Software is the Solution"

"Educators will be able to download a platform-agnostic XO image and install it on low-cost laptops, just like they can do now with Fedora or Ubuntu Linux."

The problem with 'platform-agnostic XO image' is that, apart from XO, there aren't any laptops/PCs which support the hardware features of XO - Sugar's and its app main feature is the in-built collaboration and that's only possible with the support of the hardware it runs on. In similar fashion, I can easily see XO being used massively, thanks to its remarkable and unique screen, as a replacement for expensive paper (text)books. Again, it will be a while before laptops/PC with the same capabilities appear (see Measure Activity for another example: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Measure_/_Oscilloscope ) ...

You can expect rapid development of Sugar (eg. it needs to get more responsive) and its Activities - plenty of those will be 'Sugarized' existing Linux apps but many other, thanks to XO hardware capabilities, will be completely new ones.

As to Etoys/Squeak (or soon to be ported Scratch)- you could run them on almost any PC already for many years now. I suspect it will take XO to make them really popular. It seems that things went full circle - Alan Kay and his team were dreaming over 30 years ago about 'Dynabook' laptop as a perfect host for their ('mind expanding') Smalltalk environment - now we have Squeak on XO... ;)

Etoys itself is intended as like cray or set of LEGO blocks with that kids can create and play something and kids can learn something interesting through the experience. It seems many teacher might not be familiar with constructionism but I believe there should be place also for it.
But ofcourse "ootb solution" can be built on Squeak (or any language on XO) if you like. Why not you built it?

"plays song and displays lyrics, maybe with a "bouncing ball"

yes.. if anyone knows of tools and/or people working to do this on the XO, please share here or just add straight to wiki: http://more.read.fm/sync

thanks

winter, re: "In the whole of human history, it is difficult to point out a case where improved communication did not lead to more wealth. I don't expect the XO to be any different."

wow!

Wow,
Is the "Guest Writer" out to lunch, or a Sugar developer?

1: The XO hardware works, but he predicts its death.
2: The Sugar software is buggy, but he thinks it has wide appeal.

The XO project is in trouble. This is largely because it underestimated the difficulty of building a full desktop suite (same mistake as the PepperPad and the Psion). When you have nothing stable and solid to show, and you don't have a marketing or a lobbying group pushing use, how can you expect to win. Especially when the software competition is stable and fast.

To be blunt: The Sugar software sucks at this point. It is really buggy and slow.

The commercial providers will not develop an XO replacement hardware platform. The Eee is a striped laptop, it is not adapted for use in the conditions for which the XO was designed. I don't need to give you a feature list comparison here (charging, durability, price, etc).

So...

Why do you, "Guest Writer", think the working super-cheap hardware will die in competition with vaporware hardware but the non-working software will be in demand despite currently available competition?

"My guess is that what educators will need most is a set of Activities that they can change easily and quickly, without needing to learn esoteric programming languages or operating system commands, and that they can then easily distribute to the laptops in their classrooms in a locked-down form."

Yes to the first bit, but the idea of 'locked-down' activities goes against what olpc is all about - the concept that children can construct their own activities and edit source code. More importantly, the fact that the children OWN the XOs is critical - simply delivering the Sugar interface to computers which don't leave the classroom wouldn't have the same benefits.

Winter wrote:

"The XO is a newspaper, magazine, phone, radio, TV, library, office, and laboratory in one. And all for less than $200."


I want to smoke some of the same, Winter - it's got to be good stuff...

:-)

Guest Author wrote:

"There seems to be a lot of bad news for One Laptop Per Child lately...[snip]...from users who now have their hands on their G1G1 XO and are let down that it isn't a polished product and doesn't run like their $1500 Windows or Mac laptop does."

Well, the problem is that these users were promised a $100 Laptop that can run like "their $1500 Windows or Mac laptop".

Now, three years later, the price is $200 (actually $400 through a forced "donation") and the features and performance are not comparable to "their $1500 Windows or Mac laptop".

How are they supposed to feel?

I disagree. I think the hardware is the (current) killer app of the XO. The software is still too rough around the edges, though that can, should, and will change I am sure.

A child-scaled, durable, readable, lightweight piece of hardware with cutting-edge design (the ears close off the ports when not deployed up for wifi, the hard drive in the monitor, solid-state hard drive, low heat, heat spreader.) There are a thousand things done right about the hardware design.

The software is getting there, but it still seems like a lot of people who thing technical geeky development stuff is cool are writing all the apps for it. We need to appeal to more educators, pair them with some of those awesome geeky technical folks, and design more simple learning applications focused on the bottom of the 6-12 age range. Early literacy, numeracy, simple science, basic stuff. Yes, give kids the chance to view source code and make their own - but first teach them to READ! So they can read all that awesome ebook content that exists or is coming. So they can tap into that awesome global network we all know and love. So they can read to their little siblings who can't keep their hands off the friendly green machine.

So while I disagree with how you stated your premises, guest poster, I actually think I really agree! :)

Nobody was promised anything, nobody was 'forced' to buy anything and nobody stated that the XO was built to replace a WINDOWS or Mac laptop. For those of us who donated for the cause, we're working/volunteering every day to make this a better tool for education. So, if you're not happy with what you see, fix it, make it better, and help out. Even ideas such as those found in this blog have the potential to make lasting changes in this project. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

@Guest
I would like to say "yea" to more content for the XO including a reasonable clone of Hypercard. I also think Sugar and Bitfrost could be made into a "real" Linux distribution. An OLPC supported Linux distro would be awesome. Why would anyone think a small, focused, rigidly standardized, power-optimized, edu-friendly Linux distro is a bad thing? Declaring the hardware DOA is a bit premature. I suspect the next Classmate, EEE and friends will still be playing catch-up to the XO-1. It doesn't have much competition on its own terms, except AlphaSmart. The EEE and Classmate are "just laptops", not an educational platform. The XO hardware needs to exist and needs to be deployed, even if only as reference for other manufacturers.

@Winter
I would modify this to: "The XO is POTENTIALLY a newspaper, magazine, phone, radio, TV, library, office, and laboratory in one." The software ain't there yet, but 2008-2009 are looking rosy.

Education has a simple hierarchy: Textbooks rule Teachers, Teachers rule Students. Textbooks tell teachers when, what and how to teach. There is a brilliant article about it: http://www.edutopia.org/muddle-machine

Creating textbook is a dirty job for “working bees”, not for University professors.
Educational laptop is a substitute for blackboards and pencils. Courseware is a substitute for textbook.
Without courseware, textbook will kill OLPC project.

"We need to appeal to more educators, pair them with some of those awesome geeky technical folks, and design more simple learning applications focused on the bottom of the 6-12 age range. Early literacy, numeracy, simple science, basic stuff."

Since you asked for an educators perspective. Here is some food for thought, when it comes to "activities" for the XO. I am a k-8 technology teacher. I teach 410 students each week. I see 6-8th 4 days a week- Everyone else 1-2 times a week.(Unless you count all the before, after school and lunchtime crowd.)

In each of these classes are students with very different learning styles. Some students are hands on learners who love to dive in, explore and figure things out. Another group of students HATE exploring with no direction. They want/need some step by step directions before they are ready to be innovative. Another group of students do really well when they see finished examples and are able to change things within the program one at a time. Yet another group likes to watch You Tube Video demonstrations. They watch the demo, pause it, try out the idea, watch again, pause, try ect.

Children have different learning styles, and follow along a wide range of multiple intelligences. We have auditory, visual and kinestic learners. What does all this mean???

Nothing is a one size fits all! Activites developed for the XO or software applications developed for education in general, need to take the learning styles of the children into account. That means developing a support network for the application similar to what is on the Scratch Website. The Scratch website has a video tutorial, it has a set of help screens (about 15% of my kids think these are the candy of programming), a step by step guide my linear thinkers love, and they have uploaded samples the kids can download , tear apart and experiment with. My 6th grade classes loved Scratch . I was surprised my 5th graders did not like Squeak when I first introduced it! So I went home, sat down and created support materials for Squeak similar to Scratch-Wow what a positive different. I put all the support material on a wiki page-and they are now happily working together.

I guess that's where teachers really do make a difference. We can provide a variety of methods for students to use to learn. So as all of you wonderful hard working volunteers write your programs for Sugar-consider adding the support materials that some students will want and need.

I am getting off my soapbox now- Should I duck- will things be thrown at me???

Well, as an armchair cynic you get the bonus points for making gloom and doom predictions based on nothing but your own stupidity and then hoping they don't happen. I predict that you will be ridiculed and then ignored, I hope it doesn't happen, really I do!

OLPC is pulling Acer, Everex, Gigabyte, Lenovo and so many others in the right direction. But there still needs to be products on the market, prices under $200, with sunlight readable ebook displays, WiFi Mesg and WiMax, 10-20 hour battery life, open-source software and hardware and so many other of the technologies of the OLPC project. Until the whole industry has stepped up to the task and delivers, then OLPC is the only one who can continue to make this happen.

And I think OLPC will probably continue to play a decisive role in lowering the cost, improving the battery life, improving the software, improving the connectivity, accelerating the production and distribution, implementing successfully. Since the deployment of those laptops need to be open-source in the software and hardware for this to work, since there are so many countries, so many languages, so many different cultures that need access to this technology.

Only 1/6th of the world population has a computer with Internet access today. The other 5/6th need this tool to make the world a better place. This is really a huge undertaking, and only an open and global effort like OLPC can continue to make this happen and join the whole industry into making the correct new type of technologies to make this possible in terms of low power consumption and low price.

To simply make conventional laptops like Asus and Intel does does not lower the price, it does not lower the power consumption. So the industry needs to understand this and act upon it. Go fanless, go ebook, go mesh, go dcon restart/resume, go open-source, go open standards. This is the scientific fact that are needed for this to work. So talking about distribution a competing product to OLPC is simply completely ridiculous and is none other than seriously misinformed commentators or by people who want to kill of the OLPC revolution because they feel it is a threat to their established market domination.

Kelley,
Thanks for the input from a real live teacher. How do the other teachers (ie non-tech classroom teachers) feel about using technology in the classroom? Do they react the same way as the children, ie (some are 'let me at it', some are 'what do I do next' and some are 'oh, since it can do that can I make it do this?'

How do you think they would react to XOs in their classrooms?

I have been following the threads here for a month or two and value the thoughts expressed. I am not officially part of the OLPC team nor of any competitor. I am merely an independent research geek who likes the concept of a tool that can be used in the most rugged of environments. The XO is what I call an electronic swiss army knife.

There are many things I love about the device. It was developed with CHILDREN in mind; not technogeeks, not adults, children. It is not a toy. It appears to be an awesome tool to effect collaboration and mental and technical play that can increase a child's desire to learn more. I love the inherent capability of the device to allow a child to create additional tools that the child thinks would be helpful to themselves and others. I love the fact that the child can take this thing home to engage and school the rest of their family members in the possibilities the device may give, not just to the child but the rest of the family.

I love the mesh networking capability and shall continue to test it. I love the capability to run with a minor carbon footprint, but that is probably because I really like solar and human-powered capable devices.

What don't I love? I don't love the nit-picking about the device, ala comparing it to the Asus EEE (which I am currently benchmark testing the device against). I don't love that most of the comments I have seen are NOT from children or teachers, but from the techo/other community at large. I don't love the conversation about open source vice Windows. What does it matter? If a child can navigate this device, a child can navigate a windows environment. And probably do it much better being exposed to Python in the XO environment. Why? Understanding how something works decreases fear of that very object.

I suppose my point is this. It saddens me that there is so much speculation about what NN has done right or done wrong. I am not an insider so I don't know. What I do know is this. This device is revolutionary and I commend every single individual who had any input into this project. Collectively, you threw a pebble in the pond and I don't think that you will ever completely see the long-range ramifications of your contributions. I salute you.

@Irvin:
"I want to smoke some of the same, Winter - it's got to be good stuff..."

It is called "genuine interest" and has the effect that you get informed. I can recommend it.

@Irvin:
"Well, the problem is that these users were promised a $100 Laptop that can run like "their $1500 Windows or Mac laptop".

Now, three years later, the price is $200 (actually $400 through a forced "donation") and the features and performance are not comparable to "their $1500 Windows or Mac laptop"."

At $400, it still is a bargain Mac :-). However, what users do you refer to? The Give 1 children get them for nothing. Only the Get 1 people have to give one. Are you angry that YOU cannot get a $1500 Mac for $100? But the XO was not designed for children who do not even KNOW what a Mac laptop looks like.

But, Irvin, you have never shown any interest in these children anyway, and this remark is completely in line with that attitude. If I remember well, you were fighting against the OLPC even at a cost of $100.

A genuine Mac laptop would still be useless for children in the developping world at any cost. The XO, currently at $200, can be very useful. So make your choice.

@Karen Smith:
"Yes, give kids the chance to view source code and make their own - but first teach them to READ! So they can read all that awesome ebook content that exists or is coming."

It has been long known that children need at least four year of "experience" to remain litterate into adult life. The main problem here is supplying enough reading materials to keep these children reading for that time. That is the main importance of libraries for children. The target children live in semi-litterate societies where texts are rare. The XO seems to be the only access these children will have to enough interesting texts.

@J. McNair:
"I would modify this to: "The XO is POTENTIALLY a newspaper, magazine, phone, radio, TV, library, office, and laboratory in one." The software ain't there yet, but 2008-2009 are looking"

I am surprised to hear that the browse activity does not allow the text types of access. A library is easy.
Videoconferencing seems to be possible:
http://www.engadget.com/2006/12/21/olpc-video-conferencing-for-the-children/
This includes sound and video broadcasts. So what am I missing on the technological side?

If you mean that the content is missing, that would be handled by the children VERY fast. I have seen it happening with the children in the West. I have absolutely no reason to assume that Nepalese, Mongolian, or South American children are any different. (and given the level of Western TV, that should be easy to match for any 9 yo)

@Grishel:
"Without courseware, textbook will kill OLPC project. "

And exactly what is it that prevents textbooks from appearing on the XO? In many developping countries, text book copyrights are state owned anyway.

@Kelley:
"In each of these classes are students with very different learning styles. Some students are hands on learners who love to dive in, explore and figure things out. Another group of students HATE exploring with no direction. They want/need some step by step directions before they are ready to be innovative."

Give those student that can work "on their own" free reign and concentrate on those who cannot. Everyone will be happy, as those who don't need your time are not bothered, and those wo do need it, get more.

@Maddie:
"How do you think they would react to XOs in their classrooms?"

Why would they need an XO in the classroom? Maybe to take notes and as a textbook. But the main thrust of the XO will be OUTside of the classroom in situations where there are not enough teachers to teach all the children full-time. Only for courses where lots of tools are needed (music, technology, science) can I see a specific use of computers INside the classroom.

But in language classes? You don't read books or train vocabularies inside the classroom during teaching, but at home.

@Valkyrie:
"The XO is what I call an electronic swiss army knife."

And a great communication device.

"I suppose my point is this. It saddens me that there is so much speculation about what NN has done right or done wrong."

This seems an USA thing: Don't play the ball, go after the man. I have asked before what exactly the role of NN is. The only answer I got was Marketting. That he has been brilliant at. But as I am completely uninterested in marketting, like most "geeks" and "nerds", I hardly take notice of what he does. Maybe you should ignore him too? There are so many other interesting people working for the OLPC.

Winter

The OLPC is asking for testimonials. Anyone interested can go to:
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Testimonials

There is one example posted.

Winter

Winter,
I think another American thing is the XO can't be just good, it has to be better than anything else ever created. Every feature the designers came up with has to be the most important feature in the history of computing. Every criticism of it is 'you just don't understand'.

I can see how the eee is a better fit for some people, just as the XO is better for others. If OLPC only listens to positive feedback they'll never know why some countries choose a different solution.

BTW - I thought the XO was designed to be used in a classroom (and at home). I thought that's what the mesh was for.

"BTW - I thought the XO was designed to be used in a classroom (and at home). I thought that's what the mesh was for."

The whole point was that there is too little time in the classroom with too many pupils present. The XO was intended to be used mostly OUTside of the classroom as that was the position the students spent most of their time anyway.

A laptop is only useful to make notes during teaching. It's true value surfaces when the teacher is NOT teaching and the sutdents have to fill their own time (eg, peer tutoring).

The mesh is mostly to supply extended coverage of internet acces.

(That is how I interpreted it, but I cannot look into the heads of those who designed it)

Winter

"Education has a simple hierarchy: Textbooks rule Teachers, Teachers rule Students. Textbooks tell teachers when, what and how to teach."

I keep getting shocked by people's ignorance of education. Perhaps that's what happens when people are poorly educated. This is a constructionist project. Intel's running the classroom project. Constructionism, for bad or for good, disrupts the student teacher relationship and focuses on tools for the learner to create their own learned and learning relationships.

Yes, the OLPC IS the only real child-centered option I've ever seen that isn't just a toy. The hardware's amazing. And certainly works better than early versions of other computers I've used (Irix, NeXt, Window3.1 dos, OS/2 come to mind).

The question will circle around the learning tools and the first language materials, however.

The current OLPC crisis can be traced to a terrible decision made early in the project's life: complete dismissal of the need for pilot projects - to see how the XO could help improve education in the target countries.

Who can forget Prof. Negroponte's infamous speech dealing with the needs for Pilot Projects? Incredibly, this is what Prof. Negroponte says at 5:28 into the video:

“This is not something you have to test; the days of pilot projects are over. When people say 'well, we’d like to do 3 or 4 thousand in our country to see how it works..' SCREW YOU! Go to the back of the line and someone else will do it, and then when you figure out that this works, then you can join as well”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5ySOqtxhbw&mode=related&search=

Yes, the vulgarity ("SCREW YOU!"), arrogance (why should we test it?) and total lack of respect for the buyers (saying "SCREW YOU" to poor countries/organizations who would like to buy in the VERY RESPECTABLE 4-5 thousand unit range) has come to bite the Nutty Professor in the butt. these daays he is willing to sell one XO at a time to save his project.

The question is: was all that really necessary?

Of course, not. The OLPC Project would be a success right now if the approach had been more humble and scientific. Teachers should have been involved from the beginning; pilot programs should have been implemented at the earlies opportunity; educational software should have been a priority as high as the mesh networking or the crank power generator.

Sadly, it is pretty clear that Prof. Negroponte seriously miscalculated in thinking that the $100 price tag would blind people to the point they would not ask relevant questions. His mistake was compounded by the lack of honest questioning from other people involved in the Project. It seems nobody has ever questioned any of the numerous blunders committed by Negroponte over the last 3 years. Every bit of criticism or honest questioning has been answered by accusations of "you don't get it; this is a charity project!" or "are you against the kids?" or "It's Microsoft / Intel's fault!".

As the song goes, I ask: "If it makes you happy, why are you so sad?";

In other words: if no mistakes have been made, if the XO is all that it pretends to be, why isn't anyone, poor or rich, rushing to buy the wonderful product?

But I guess, as always, when I ask these very legitmate questions, I'm just being a bad guy, a Negroponte hater, a child hater or an Intel employee...anything but honest answers.

Kind of sad.

Wow, it is great to see so many people thinking about this.

I'd like to clear up a couple of things. I'm not part of the OLPC development team. I'm just another person monkeying around with an XO. But I'm also an experienced software developer who has worked on large complex projects, often very closely with the hardware teams.

I don't mean to sound gloom-and-doom. But developing a new hardware platform is insanely difficult. We're currently going through a time where new hardware designs are rolling out fast and furious. It causes us to get used to the idea of new hardware being commonplace, ho-hum, easy. It isn't. It is about the hardest thing that groups of people can do.

The XO hardware, in my opinion, is amazing. I am stunned at how good it is, especially for the production cost, and the short development time. I honestly don't know how the OLPC team pulled it off. My hat is off to them. Cheers cheers cheers for the XO hardware team.

But it can be very, very difficult to keep a team together and focused for the next build. They've put their all into getting the first one out the door. Now they have to put their lives and families aside and do that insanely hard job all over again.

And then they need to find a manufacturer who will be willing to devote a line to the XO-2, given that the XO hasn't been purchased in near the numbers originally hoped for. This could be very difficult to do, as every manufacturer has to weigh the "opportunity cost" of tying up a production line; if they decide to produce the XO-2, they'll give up the possibility of using that production line for a commercial product that might sell very well. OLPC may have a very hard time finding someone willing to build the XO-2.

On the software side, the XO clearly isn't done yet. I would call the current software build "early Alpha". I wish the OLPC team had made this very clear when they first started shipping the XOs. I think a lot of people are let down by the XO simply because the software isn't done yet. But, judging from what's going on with the developer builds, the software is looking really promising for 2008.

Oh, and yes, I am working on new Activities for the XO myself.

John

@Irvin:
"The current OLPC crisis can be traced to a terrible decision made early in the project's life: complete dismissal of the need for pilot projects - to see how the XO could help improve education in the target countries."

Irvin, please write us a description of your "ideal" pilot project that could have saved the OLPC.

Personally, I am really anxious to see the details, sizes, duration, hardware, number of children, costs etc. Especially, the time it takes, and delay after you get any kind of hardware, to get any kind of reliable information.

And must this be a scientific study, with control group for a full year, or just a test program of a few weeks? Because a scientific study requires orders of magnitude more children in study and control group.

Because, if you are right, the next project to help the children can then learn from this all. Although I fear that if they start with a 2-4 year on-the ground, multi million dollar, scientific study, the results will be too late anyway.

Btw, you can find almost anything you want to know about computers in education in the developping world here:
http://www.infodev.org/en/Publication.150.html
(Irvin, this is a good source to get the facts for your OLPCnews post)

Winter

Is the OLPC now validated in the USA?

"For computer-based learning to transform schools into child-centric learning environments, schools must implement the instructional software disruptively, by letting it compete where the alternative is no teacher at all. There is evidence this is happening in several places--from helping small, rural or low-wealth schools where specialized courses would not otherwise be available to serving students who need special tutoring, or for whom attending the normal school day is not an option.

Despite skepticism about the school system's ability to shift, online classes now account for 1 million enrollments in public education, up from 45,000 just seven years ago. Programs like Utah's Electronic High School are disruptively gaining ground and improving--and transforming education in the process."

http://www.forbes.com/2008/01/22/solutions-education-christensen-oped-cx_dme_0123christensen.html?partner=yahootix

Winter

Quoting John:
"On the software side, the XO clearly isn't done yet. I would call the current software build "early Alpha". [...] But, judging from what's going on with the developer builds, the software is looking really promising for 2008."

@Irvin & John "Guest Writer":
They have been showing the software for months and have been trying to sell the project for years, and it is still "early Alpha". In retrospect, the insistence on huge orders and THE LACK OF A PILOT PROGRAM may have been so that the project could KEEP THEIR CRAPPY SOFTWARE A SECRET longer.

@John "Guest Writer":
If the OLPC people were serious about keeping the XO in production despite the lack of 1,000,000 computer contracts, they could sell it into the space occupied by the NSLU2. While it is twice the cost of a NSLU2, the XO could have features that home users would pay for (access point, print server, music output device with display, etc.).

http://www.nslu2-linux.org/

The open-source software needed is ready NOW and runs on computers with 1/8th the hardware resources. The WRG54gl, the Linux-based WiFi access point, sells about 50k units a month and costs more then the non-Linux version of the same product.


If the OLPC project dies it will because the egos involved were not able to make strategic compromises and set realistic goals.

John,

"The XO hardware, in my opinion, is amazing. I am stunned at how good it is, especially for the production cost, and the short development time."

Yes, most people will agree that XO is a few years ahead of anything else on the market for this type of computer.

"Now they have to put their lives and families aside and do that insanely hard job all over again."

What for? I'm sure XO hardware will evolve but you seem to suggest a completely new effort. If you think XO is so amazing now why they need to "do that insanely hard job all over again" ?

@Valkyrie:
"The XO is what I call an electronic swiss army knife."

@Winter:
And a great communication device.

Completely agree. I hope that I conveyed that message. Thank you for restating it.

@Valkyrie:
"I suppose my point is this. It saddens me that there is so much speculation about what NN has done right or done wrong."

@Winter:
This seems an USA thing: Don't play the ball, go after the man. I have asked before what exactly the role of NN is. The only answer I got was Marketting. That he has been brilliant at. But as I am completely uninterested in marketting, like most "geeks" and "nerds", I hardly take notice of what he does. Maybe you should ignore him too? There are so many other interesting people working for the OLPC.

Winter: :-) I am slowly learning of those who have done/do work on the project. Fascinating.

For the individual who was speaking of teaching materials:

There is the Guttenberg project, which has been electronically e-booking public texts for years. I have been using their texts since 1999. Mojo is another. There are also efforts afoot to digitize textbooks in certain countries. A simple Google search should give you all the information you need in that regard. Finally, MIT has website of hundreds of free course ware and textual materials for those who wish to extend their learning experience. I am self-taught in Spanish, German, and Russian. I have studied quantum theory and fluid dynamics, just because I can. Without the Internet, I don't think that would have been possible. I think it awesome that this project is intended to "level the playing field" by giving a vehicle for access to these materials to kids and their families.


Regards,
Valkyrie

Kelley,

Thanks very much for your insights. It is so good to hear from teachers about the XO.

I strongly encourage you and other educators to take a look at the "Teachers' Want List" on the OLPC News Forum. Please post a note if you see anything that you agree with, or think that the list needs an addition or three. I've quoted your comments on there for reference. Thanks.

http://olpcnews.com/forum/index.php?topic=1082.0

-- John Koger

Kelley,

I was wondering if you have publicly posted your support materials for Squeak that are similar to the ones for Scratch? I would love to get copies!

Thanks,
- Larry

Multiple choice questions are not very constructivist. Sure, they may have a place in educational software, just as Pavlovian behaviourism has its place in education of humans as well as dogs(a small, specific place), but there are way more important things to be developed. Generally, one shouldn't make the kids seek a one correct answer. So what should we develop instead of a simple multiple choice template? I'm not sure. I'll get back to you on that.

Negroponte dixit
“This is not something you have to test; the days of pilot projects are over"
Where are the results of those pilot projects? i.e., the creative websites, content?

Not a rhetorical question, I'd really want to know, please

Yama wrote:

"Negroponte dixit
“This is not something you have to test; the days of pilot projects are over"
Where are the results of those pilot projects? i.e., the creative websites, content?"

Yama, what Negroponte meant is that he would not run any pilot programs at all. That his idea (his computer was just an idea at the time) was so good that he didn't have to test it like everyone else.

As we know by now, he has been forced to change his attitude and they are now beginning to run a few small programs. It is the days of "Screw You!" and minimum orders of 1 million, not pilot projects, that are truly over...

@Yama Ploskonka:
"Not a rhetorical question, I'd really want to know, please"

For web sites, the children need some ISP that will host them. I think you could ask at the OLPC themselves. Say, email somone who was involved in the uruguay employment (Ivan Kristi'c?).

For a wide range of links to OLPC (pilot) projects, you can look at wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Laptop_Per_Child

Winter

@Winter
uh? They can't like set up a blog somewhere like the rest of us?
There are literally zillions of free hosting opportunities, and the very least the OLPC could do would be to provide them a few recyclable bytes. If that is what is stopping them, shame on them, really. Or maybe they are not allowed to? That I would understand. It has been mentioned that the town where the first reported deployment of OLPCs in Uruguay has happened is "off limits" to journalists "to preserve an unintruded experience".

@Irvin
Thank you, that makes sense

sorry, pressed 'post' before finding the link to the 'guay story. will be back soon.
Also, my use of 'OLPC' in my previous post means the organization, not the machine itself or the local programme.

@Yama:
"They can't like set up a blog somewhere like the rest of us?"

No, because for that you need frequent internet access. And with the low bandwidth available in the target schools, if they have reliable internet at all, that won't be easy.

You might complain to the buyer. The OLPC has made deals to allow internet access over satelite etc. However, the buyer is responsible for setting up internet access in the schools. There really is no way that you can arrange that from Boston.

Winter

@winter
we were both wrong. As I mention in another posting, there are already Uruguayan blogs, sent from the school, which I think is a good idea - it provides at least a minimal human filter and chance to QA.

It is interesting how people commenting on the posts are participating by encouraging the posts and in pointing out errors. This would be wonderful if it eventually provides for interaction between the schools and public at large, to develop communaly. mmmm... feels like ubuntu. (the actual meaning)

Remains to make it safe, which is probably too time consuming (would require savyy monitoring, which I doubt teachers in OLPC schools are ready for). So it might take a while to work.

Like my first AlphaSmart purchase for my older son living with Asperger Syndrome, the OLPC is the hardware that I use with my daughter living with Downs Syndrome and my younger son who lives with Asperger Syndrome. They are comfortable with using the OLPC without fear of hurting it. The are comfortable with exploring the apps and are not afraid to explore the apps functionality. My daughter's use is limited because it requires my participation. I hope that within the next two years she will no longer need my support. I will buy the next version of OLPC as I did this one. Using this app with students with special needs to be explored more

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