Good News from OLPC Sur is Complaints (Yeeha!)


A few months back I was visiting a classroom in Round Rock where they were had been using the Teachermates for already a few months. For the rest of you, the Teachermates are these tiniest of learning computers that, at that time, I wasn't convinced about.

After watching the kids go through their "centers", two of those involving Teachermates, it was quite interesting to see these First graders pick up their units, activate them, and in all appearance be using them intently.

Sometimes things didn't seem to work right away, and the respective kid would fill up a sticky note and attach it to a specific place in the whiteboard. Two parent-helpers were hovering around, working the 6 or so different "centers" and helping kids - it was noticeable some needed that help more than others, most seemed to be doing fine on their own.

Then we had a chance to talk with the teacher about her experience so far using these one-to-one platforms. Open Learning Exchange (OLE) had been at the time considering the Teachermates with much interest. I won't bore you with further details, just remark that I came back convinced of the Teachermates as a great platform for ages younger than 9, better than the XO, and very intrigued about one particular remark.

The Teachermates, apparently just like any computer, sometimes just don't work, and the standard approach after trying some basic troubleshooting is to reflash them, an operation that takes, including preparation, about half an hour.

Turns out this teacher had to reflash two units so far, in about 3 months, and that appeared to be her biggest complain, she would want this to be more stable. It seemed to bother her enough that she was quite specific.

A very simple principle: you don't complain about what you don't use.

Now, maybe half an hour to reflash, but probably those units were out of commission for a couple days already, maybe more, before she decided to do the no-return measure. That meant several days that a couple kids had no access to this learning tool. A learning tool, that as I saw by myself, was used every single day by every single kid. Thus the thorn.

Meanwhile, XOs had been around in actual deployments for well over a year. Oh yes, there were complaints, but those were mostly by geeks or wannabees that couldn't run some legacy buggy software. If you fine tuned and did your best, you could hear a teensy sound of discomfort in Sur, the email list Greg Smith and I started in April 2008 to help connect Latin American teachers to the rest of the community, but nothing as clear and specific as this teacher was saying.

Of course you could blame it on American softness, us Sudacas (a probably political incorrect term you may not qualify to use unless you're one of us) are a tough bunch, maybe those PerĂº and Uruguay teachers were just doing great things without nary a complaint. Which could have a bit of truth, when we are used in some places to buy our own chalk if we expect to use the blackboard.

Or you could assume the XO - Sugar thing was problem free. Yeah, dream on.

Or, maybe, you could suspect that there was little need to complain, when the reports of XO use that was trickling up said little of classroom use, and thus having one, two or many units unavailable for long periods really made not that much difference that the teacher needed to mention.

But now we have complaints! Bring in the bubbly!

Oh man, just look at Sur now! It's a quiet day there when someone isn't trying to figure out some bug or issue, asking for help or suggestions.

If I just revelled on that I would give too much fodder to those who see me as a "half-empty cup" kind of guy. Let me celebrate in passing also the fact that for every such request there's half a dozen or more offerings of activity ideas, curricular content, potential concepts and general working-together-for-a-common-goal that a good list is all about.

Now, I did not start with those "affirming contributions" as my measure for success, for they are meaningless in themselves, even though beloved by denialist administrators. Yes, you could do this and that! But there's no proof you are doing any of it. Now, if people are complaining that something doesn't work, that means, boy oh boy oh boy, that they are actually trying things out, some of those teachers actually developing pretty complex stuff, the kind of that gets them invited to international meetings and such.

It's an exciting time at Sur.

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