1:1 vs Computer Labs on Educational Technology Debate


Over two years ago now, when my OLPC News fame was at its apex, I was approached by infoDev at the World Bank about starting a website focused on discussing how low-cost information and communication technology (ICT) device initiatives for educational systems in developing countries are relevant to the very groups they purport to serve - the students, teachers, and their surrounding communities.

afghan olpc
Looking past an OLPC focus

And by ICT systems, they wanted the full gamut - from 4P Computers like the XO laptop, to mobile phones, PDA's. infoDev also wanted a sustained effort in bringing educators and pedagogy into the conversation.

Today, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the Educational Technology Debate.

ETD, as we like to call it, promotes discussion using a process loosely based on the classic debate framework. The monthly schedule will be:

  • Week 1 The moderator will present an overview of the topic, framing the issue at hand
  • Week 2 Two discussants will present their regarded opinion in an opening position.
  • Week 3 Through participation with commenters, discussants will amend their positions.
  • Week 4 The moderator will summarize the debate and its related commentary.

I am introducing ETD this month as our topic of conversation and our featured discussants should be of great interest to OLPC News readers:

1:1 Saturations and Computer Labs: Can Their Benefits Bring a New Model?
Go to most ICT-enabled schools and you see computer labs set up for limited student use. And while OLPC-type saturation my be idea, its not always reasonable. So could there be a better way to distribute computing resources? A mixed model where shared and private use can co-exist?

  • Walter Bender
    Walter Bender currently heads Sugar Labs, focusing on the award-winning Sugar Learning Platform (download it now). Previously he was president for software and content development at One Laptop per Child, and is on leave from MIT, where he was executive director of the MIT Media Laboratory.

  • Mark Beckford
    Mark Beckford is currently Vice President of Global Business Development at NComputing, Inc, whose virtualization software and hardware allows multiple users to work off a single computer. Previously, he led diverse global teams at Intel to extend its market leadership and promote growth in new and emerging markets.

I hereby invite the entire OLPC News readership (yes, even Irving) to join us for what we all expect to be a lively and informative conversation. You are encouraged to augment each section with comments, related information, and relevant news items. You can also apply to be a moderator or discussant at any time, just contact ETD editors.

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The site looks great. You're covering a really important topic, and I like the structured discussion format. I bet it would be useful with a lot of other areas.

I’m sorry… but I think this whole discussion about how to “distribute computing resources” may be a bit irrelevant before addressing what could we expect and why, from the use of these computing resources.

Computers in schools are more than 10years old by now and even 1:1 computing is more than 5years old (Maine started in 2002).
Shouldn’t we have some comprehensive, independent and reliable studies showing in which educational parameters computers succeeded and where they failed and most important why?
Based on these data (assuming they exist) decide first if you just want to reproduce that or aim for a different outcome. This decision is very important for the question you are trying to address.
If a different outcome is the goal (since the current one is far from stellar), provide an alternative implementation and explain how this implementation will address the IDENTIFIED (?) underlying reasons for the shortcomings of the previous practices. Assuming that this is done adequately, hopefully with some (preliminary) DATA, and generates some consensus, then you can discuss resources distribution in relevance to the one or the other goal.

So far, we know what is done and certainly this can be reproduced with shared access computing. There are no DATA I know of, about specific advantages in 1:1 computing wherever and however it was implemented, and certainly there are no DATA about Sugar and the required 1:1 computing as set by the original OLPC goals.

So this discussion juxtaposes reality and facts with models and hypothesis. Is certainly “catchy” but I can’t see how something relevant may come out of this.

Mavrothal wrote:

"So this discussion juxtaposes reality and facts with models and hypothesis. Is certainly “catchy” but I can’t see how something relevant may come out of this."

Well said.

This "debate" (about unproven premises, as you rightfully observe)is just more delusional stuff from people who often forget what the *supposed* goal is: children's education and the benefit that computer technology may bring to it.

Oftentimes, I get the impression that the actual goal for certain people is to dump a computer on a poor kid's lap and hope for the best. And there would not be anything wrong with that IF the computer were free. But we know what an expensive proposition this is...

Irv, thanks for the quote :-)
For the record though, I was referring to priorities, participant orientation and underlying discrepancies.
But above all, the NEED for an evidence-based discussion.

False dichotomy. Sugar on a Stick is another option.

There are published evaluations of 1-1 computing. Not enough to tell us the best ways to do everything, but enough to tell us that we are on the right track. I have collected a few at http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Academic_papers, and would be grateful to hear of any others.

In particular, the Ethiopia report describes how XOs were introduced within a total rote system in which asking questions was considered an insult to the teacher. The XOs plus appropriate training and guidance caused an evolution over several months to guided exploration, with time set aside in lesson plans for Q&A.

XOs and Sugar also affect test scores, attendance, and many other measures of success.

Irv, mavrothal, why don't you take a look at the papers and tell us what you think of them?

"There are published evaluations of 1-1 computing. Not enough to tell us the best ways to do everything, but enough to tell us that we are on the right track. I have collected a few at http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Academic_papers "

You are kidding right?...:-)

The record shows that I like sugar and I think that can make a difference, but when we are talking educational and cost/benefit outcomes in a(ny) specific setting, it doesn't matter what I "like" or "think". What does matter is what I know for a fact.

That we do not have data about the XO/Sugar, this is to be expected in such a short time and what you have there is fine. What really surprises me is that there are not in-depth evaluations and cause and effect analysis of the current implementations. Without these how do we know if sugar or any other approach, is doing the (some) "right thing" and does not repeat the same mistakes?

Example: It is now evident that the time spend watching TV is much more important than the actual content of the program. If a similar indication was available for computers wouldn't that change Sugar's approach?

I guess non of the interested parties (Hard/Software companies, politicians, ICT professionals, educators) want such a study. They are probably afraid that the result may not quite serve their interests.

PS: If you know of any good long-term, broad, multi-parameter, controlled studies or better yet meta-studies on ICT and education (regardless of sugar), would be valuable to add in your page, so people can see what Sugar is trying to do differently.

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