Teachers, help us improve the Sugar Labs website!


Are you a teacher interested in the Sugar Learning Platform who has wandered the endless warrens of the Sugar Labs wiki without finding an answer to your question? If so, you are not alone, according to a new study organized by John Tierney of Sugar Labs with students at the MIT Sloan MarketLab to better understand if our web presence is fulfilling the community's needs.

The MarketLab team presented three key findings:

  • There is a developer/teacher divide - differences in user experience, language, and community support.
  • Accessibility: Technical language and software create barriers for users.
  • Lack of identity as an education non-profit.

Sugar Labs Web site on XO-1.5 HS

This last is not too worrisome - perceptions that Sugar Labs is a fancy startup instead of an all-volunteer nonprofit can be addressed. The other two findings are more serious. The survey [PDF] showed that teachers encounter difficulties attempting to download, install, and configure Sugar, and generally getting technical support.

For example, fewer than one in three teachers (29%) have found Sugar resources to help with bug reports and feature requests; the comparable figure for developers is 100%. And although 90% of survey respondents affirmed having recommended Sugar to others, of these only one in three were successfully implemented. Moreover, while half of the developers surveyed stated having found resources on the Sugar Labs website concerning how to recommend Sugar (a dismal enough figure), a mere 14% of teachers said they did. Across all respondents, only one in five agreed that Sugar Labs is driven by education, and even fewer (16%) felt that SL is supportive to users.

Clearly, work needs to be done to better welcome and support teachers. As a first step, we are going to revamp the Sugar Labs website. Two years have passed since it was first launched amid a dearth of visuals (the wiki section is older). The new site is being worked on by Christian Marc Schmidt (creator of the fab Sugar Labs logo) and students from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Mike DeVine and JT Mengel.

Teachers, we need you to help us! A draft outline of the new site's sections is under review (available here). Suggestions are welcome and in particular, we encourage teachers interested in Sugar's learning mission but who are not already active in the Sugar Labs community to beta-test the site from around mid-April. Please contact us by e-mail at feedback at sugarlabs dot org or via the It's An Education Project (IAEP) or Sugar Labs Marketing mailing lists. Thanks!

Sean Daly is Sugar Labs' Marketing Coordinator

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As a teacher with a question, being treated like crap probably doesn't help. Although the sugar labs people are all volunteers, when you ask a usability question across multiple venues (wiki and IRC) and are told I'm asking for too much, well, that is when I gave up on the whole sugar thing. There is no community. For community, they need to look at what drupal is doing - THAT is community.

Sold my XO the other day for $270. Other than trying to find someone to port Typing Turtle to Windows or ipad, I'm done with it.

Hi there. Generally speaking I find the Sugar community to be a welcoming one so I'm sorry to hear that you had a negative experience. Out of curiosity: (1) What kind of usability question did you have? (2) In which ways do you think that other communities could learn from the Drupal community?

1. I tried to figure out how to add lessons to Typing Turtle at the command prompt as the methodology had changed. Someone finally felt pity and pointed me to the help switch in the OS command prompt.

2. Drupal has a threaded discussion board that isn't a pain in the butt to use like wiki or IRC (which, btw, MOST teachers don't use!). Discussion boards/blog posts are much easier to use and search. Also, there are groups in Drupal that you can join and get subscription emails for discussions. Their "issues" tracking is fabulous, however, I suspect that is because so many people now use it. Back in 2005 when I started and Drupal wasn't as popular, I found that the community was still very helpful. People trying to use Drupal and the modules were supported by developers and others that were trying to figure things out. Although it was felt like the blind leading the blind, we still got enough information to push ahead.

Simply, there is no community outside the core sugar programmers and I certainly was not welcome but instead made to feel like a pariah.

I daresay your experience as a teacher is not at all unusual, as the Marketlab study found.

A key change in the website revamp will be a forum/discussion board meant to orient & support teachers.


> Although the sugar labs people are all volunteers,
> when you ask a usability question across
> multiple venues (wiki and IRC) and
> are told I'm asking for too much, well,
> that is when I gave up on the whole sugar thing.

This behavior is unacceptable and should not be tolerated in a community of teachers and learners.

Can you remember who did that and when?

I'm afraid that the problem of SugarLabs _and_ OLPC with its users (teachers, students, "enthusiasts") is not a technical, design or even marketing one. Is a personal relations/personality issue.
Both organizations are dominated (understandably) by overstretched volunteer developers, mostly with the hacker mentality. On the other hand kids, inexperienced user and teachers not only need to be encouraged but rather invited and persuaded to come forward and speak up. For people outside the US, much more so (see Yama's comment on the April 13 post).

Web pages an wiki's need some experience and knowledge to find what you want and do not give you much opportunity to ask questions or clarify something.
The existing mailing lists (even IAEP) are mostly technically oriented and fairly intimidating or even "rude" (the overstretched hacker mentality) to the "non initiated".
Forums have a lower entry threshold but are mostly for troubleshooting and do not give you the sense that someone that should listen, (s)he does and takes relevant action (because simply does not!).
And of course you can forget about "tickets" when it comes to this target audience.

A more friendly and informative web design is always welcome but I'm not sure is going to go much further.
What is really needed is something in the forum format that people could post questions, suggestions and ideas in a "native" (not technical) speech. A group of technical or semi-technical dedicated people will try to understand what the person is trying to say and more important act on it (delegating the issue or autonomously) and *deliver*.
Something like a very inviting and enthusiastic helpdesk/forum hybrid.
However, by all means keep the core developers out these pages and at the same time close to the "front persons" for help and solutions.
Finally, and maybe most important, have people on the ground *talking* to people.

I know that non of these is simple or easy and that volunteers are not flooding SL's and OLPC's doorsteps, but I think that by know should be clear that neither hardware nor software by itself is going to change people. People are going to change people.

I agree with this assessment. I myself have a terrible time finding things on the SL wiki.

A forum/discussion board has been proposed by the website revamp team (link in article) but of course such a resource will require friendly people in the know actively participating.

Is it possible to reshape the SL community to be more inclusive of teachers? The Marketlab team told us this is not merely desirable, but critical for the survival of the project.


I really do not know how could you do that.
The project from its inception was "geek" driven, but you need a "meet and potatoes" one to approach your target audience

Is a community of mostly developers/technical people. As all people value most the opinion of /seek recognition from their peers and "above"...
Being volunteers make things even worse since you have neither carrot not whip for them.

Instead of reshaping the community, maybe someone could try with one or two technical people that have the right personality for the job, and pay them some money! But I'm not sure that the resources are there.

Alternatively get 3-5 semitechnical volunteers and give them the sense (and corresponding reality) that are more than the carrier or the middle man. That they actually do something _very_ important and both developers and "managment" _provenly_ think so.

If non of the above is possible, try a "teachers appreciation contest" or a "good karma points" race among the developers ;D

Here is a mystery.
Why do you always see the typos in the formatted web page and never on the typing box?.... ;D

You guys are completely clueless. Even Dickey, the teacher.

Why do I say that?

Teachers are end-users. They DO NOT care or know about operating systems or command lines. They don't have the time to debug software.

Teachers need a stable operating system with Educational Software that works in a user-friendly manner.

The future belongs to Online Applications. How you access them is quite irrelevant. It could be a Win machine, an I-pad, a Smart Phone, a Classmate or any other device we can think of.

Trying to re-invent the wheel, like Sugar Labs is trying to do, is a monumental waste of resources.

And thinking that teacher input (on what????) will somehow save the misguided project is just the final delusion.

your credibility was never high but at least you were consistent.
From "the 1:1 computer programs are for banana republics" to "the future (in education) belongs to Online Applications" ?….
I'm disappointed!

Not a problem, Mavrothal. My ideas are not popular with people like you, and that's quite understandable.

That might be true if you had any ideas...

Well, no need to get all worked up, Mavrothal. Just keep toiling at it.

It's very simple: if the countless hours you spend at the forums, the blog and the command line result in something tangible, I'm wrong and you are not clueless. If nothing comes out of it, you're still Mavrothal.

Right, right...
But I still miss YOUR idea.
If you EVER have one please help us see the light.

Irv, right now teachers have access to crap software. Most, like 99%, do not use research in the field of learning. For instance, they allow a user to cruse through lessons/pages without mastery. Have you looked at various typing programs? They throw about 3-5 new letters at you at a time. Once you do the lesson, it moves you forward, no matter how badly you did. There is no data taken as to which letters you need more practice with.

If you want good software, lookey loo at Funnix or Headsprout for teaching reading. For typing, Typing Turtle, baby: it allows you to design which letters to teach and how many. With some more programming, it won't allow you to move on until some sort of mastery level is gained.

So, if you've read this far, sorry. The point is - even if software for teachers are not full of bugs, they are crap anyways. The only way to get good software is open sores, reinventing the wheel, and careful development using research based instructional principles (see Theory of Instruction, Skinner's Technology of Teaching and the principles behind crowd sourcing).

Dickey wrote:

"The only way to get good software is open sores, reinventing the wheel, and careful development using research based instructional principles (see Theory of Instruction, Skinner's Technology of Teaching and the principles behind crowd sourcing)."

What you call 'good software' will not come from a bunch of hacks - the usual crowd behind the overwhelming majority of 'open source' projects.

You won't get 'good software' from anything even remotely related to the XO (yes, including SugarLabs). That's not the goal - as Negroponte has made abundantly clear.

'Good software' will come from private enterprises willing to pay for the necessary expertise at development time. The hope for a big financial reward is the driving force behind the best products - as simple as that.

In the meantime, congrats on the good sense to realize the XO is a dead end.

You have a point Irv. Although I'm a licensed teacher, I don't actually teach a classroom ;) I used to be a web programmer (with Oracle databases) so I'm not a typical teacher. That said, a teacher with a technical background is unable to get info to use a program and goes out to get any help (even how to get help in the OS), I should have been able to get some. But alas...

I got into OLPC because I saw it as a way to do Direct Instruction curriculum - which is also funny because they claim OLPC is for "experiential" learning.

Maybe Negroponte, Sugarlabs and the rest of the hacks expect teachers to 'learn learning'!!!!

Its probably right! teacher what ever field or lessons they teach us make us improve and be better. Well the case of sugarlabs i think teacher fits to it;)