A look back at Conozco Uruguay Tour and eduJAM! summit

eduJAM! summit 2011 group photo by Chris Ball

As I'm writing this it's been three weeks since I got back from Uruguay where I participated in the Conozco Uruguay Tour and eduJAM! summit 2011. The main reason why it's taken me so long to write something about the events is that life in my current home Madrid and some traveling has kept me quite busy. I also needed some time to reflect on my experiences in Montevideo and around Uruguay because on the plane home - when I originally wanted to write up my impressions - I realized that I simply didn't know how to put things into context.

Pre-summit dinner in Montevideo

On a personal level this trip has definitely been one of the most enjoyable ones I've had in the context of OLPC so far - no small feat I dare say. This is mainly due to the excellent organization and preparation by ceibalJAM! and the other organizers and supporters of the event which made things as a participant very easy and effortless. As a result I had plenty of time to catch-up with old friends and finally meet others who I had previously only known from e-mails and occasional conference calls. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The OLPC and Sugar community is made up of a very friendly and interesting bunch of people and regardless of the time of day it's basically impossible not to be in or listen to interesting discussions about learning and technology.

From a practical point of view both the summit itself as well as the prior Conozco Uruguay Tour - which led a bunch of us to different schools, related projects, and meetings with volunteers and was documented by Caryl Bigenho and myself on - has also made my life a little easier. After my trip through Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru and my subsequent reports here and over on EduTechDebate last year some people scolded me publicly and privately for being too negative and harsh in my observations. Now that quite a number of people had a chance to make first-hand experiences in Uruguay there's somewhat of a fact- (or at least experience-) based common ground on certain issues. This makes it easier to move towards solutions rather than having endless arguments about whether X is or isn't a problem.

Yes, I admittedly do enjoy playing good cop, bad cop most days but sometimes it is also very tiring and I'm pretty sure others in similar positions feel the same;-)

On more of a project related level I wasn't quite as satisfied with the summit as I had hoped for. In too many ways it felt as though a lot of time was spent repeating what had been said before rather than moving forward. Stagnation is a word that came to mind more often than I care to admit but maybe I'm just being impatient.

Journal multi-selection! (thx @tch)

On the upside there was progress in some key areas such as for example the discussion about Sugar's Journal. There now seems to be a broad consensus that particularly given its central role as storage and retrieval facility the Journal simply isn't anywhere close to where it should be in terms of functionality. This list of notes from the Journal Unconference track does a great job of providing an overview of areas which need development. So I'm confident that the next Sugar and Dextrose releases will include significant improvements here. In fact some important first steps such as being able to select multiple items (mailing list thread / video) are already being implemented as we speak!

Another topic where things do seem to be moving into the right direction is the broader realization that OLPC and Sugar is really embedded in a larger ecosystem of formal and informal, for-profit and non-profit groups and organizations. No single actor or approach will be able to solve the challenges of meaningful integration of technology in learning by himself. As a result broad collaboration on a variety of fronts is an absolute necessity. Some entities, particularly the various Uruguayan organizations, are doing an excellent job here already and are definitely providing some important lessons which OLPC itself, Plan Ceibal, as well as others in the broader ICT4E field should really learn from.

Visiting Rosamel's Escuela No. 33

It's no overstatement to say that what ceibalJAM!, Flor de Ceibo, and RAP Ceibal are doing is absolutely critical to allow for sustainable and meaningful long-term progress. It is also not hard to see that with improved support from Plan Ceibal their work could go even further yet it is unclear to me whether Plan Ceibal truly understands this opportunity. But as indicated above I'm optimistic on this count, overall it seems as though steps into the right direction are being taken, albeit slowly.

I could go talking about beer-fueled discussions about the future of tablets in education, the desire for more educators to attend future OLPC and Sugar events (which are being planned as we speak, stay tuned for details!), the need for improved documentation of all sorts, and a plethora of other topics but I'll resist the temptation to make this a 2000 word article. Let me end by saying that the energy on display in Uruguay was quite amazing and will fuel many of the exciting developments and projects we're going to be seeing over the coming months and years.

If you participated in the Conozco Uruguay Tour or eduJAM! summit 2011 then please let us know your thoughts and impressions by leaving a comment below.

Please also note that a broad variety of resources such as photos, videos, slides, links, etc. related to the Conozco Uruguay Tour and eduJAM! summit 2011 are being collected on this wiki page and in this Etherpad document. The program of the eduJAM! summit 2011 can be found here and further information about the Sugar Code Sprint which took place after the summit is available here. One resource which deserves special mention are the videos of many sessions which Chris Ball kindly recorded and is making available over on SugarLabs's Dailymotion account.

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Link a una version en español al final del artículo



Now that things are getting back to normal, and my computer has been repaired (3 times since the trip), I finally have time to comment a bit on the whole Uruguay experience. First I would like to thank all the folks who helped make this happen. It was an unforgettable experience and the chance to meet so many people I had only known online before was wonderful.

I think the thing that most impressed me was the enthusiasm and effectiveness of the various volunteer and auxiliary groups we visited. I would like to learn more about how the folks were recruited for these groups and whether they exist as prominently in other parts of the deployment or only in the ones we saw.

I was impressed by some of the teaching we saw. But, not so much by others. Also, it was disappointing to confirm what I had previously heard, that many teachers do not even use their XOs, keeping them locked away in a cupboard, or use them to teach the same old, same old way. The cartoon about the multiplication tables was right on target. This problem is not unique to Uruguay, but also exists in the USA and, probably worldwide.

One thing that speaks to this issue is the apparent lack of teacher events where individuals, like Rosamel (wish we could clone her), do hands on workshops to share techniques for effective uses of technology with their peers. I discovered this in a discussion I had at the university with one of the people from Flor de Ceibo. I will be sending her some information about how this sort of event works.

For now, let me share a link with you all about an event by CUELA (Computer Using Educators of Los Angeles) that, unfortunately I will have to miss. It will give you an idea of what I am talking about and what I wish we could have done as a parallel event with EDUjam:


CUELA is an exemplary organization.... something else to be cloned! They will be using hand-held devices, but the same thing could be done with XOs.

In short, the missing link still seems to be teacher awareness of, involvement in, and enthusiasm for, new and exciting ways to teach, both with and without technology. I would love to see future events work to change this.

Caryl, thanks a lot for your thoughtful reply and sharing your learning centric perspective, much appreciated.

As previously mentioned the CUELA event certainly sounds interesting and I agree that we should have something similar in the OLPC and Sugar space. It's definitely already on people's radar screens and judging from some comments seen on the mailing lists recently it seems like such an education focused event could happen towards the end of the year;-)

Thanks Christoph for the article!

The one thing I would have liked to see more is an overview of the interesting presentations or a reference to the program (http://ceibaljam.org/node/1106).

I have to say I don't agree with the concept of stagnation, in fact I think last SF summit and eduJAM start to show new dynamics in a community that wants to move forward, although we all would like to see it happen faster. At the same time, the number of people that was hired by OLPC and Activity Central in the last year is producing a new development speed there wasn't before. Of course, we all would like some discussions - like the journal or collaboration - to be already overcome, but now I see more people working professionally on those issues.

Even though we'd all like to move forward faster, I see a vibrant and growing community!

Pablo, thanks a lot for your comment. As per your suggestion I've updated the last paragraph of the article and added a link to the program. As for the overview of interesting presentations maybe you want to fill in the blanks in a guest article?

As for my comment on stagnation I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree here for now... :-)

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