I am Robert Nagle, and when I bought a XO laptop for my nephew I thought, "Wouldn't it be better if he had friends in Houston to play with?"
Sure, the XO may be popular internationally, but in the US market it registers hardly a blip. International deployment are focused on furnishing technology for classrooms, and the implicit assumption is that governments --not families--paid for it. But in the US that is specifically not happening.
Instead of getting in the hands of children from low-income households/societies, XOs are going to end up in the hands of children from educated/affluent households--most of which already have PCs of some kind in their household. It will be interesting to see how this type of child (already used to Playstation and Xbox) is going to react to this exotic device. Will they find it dull or slow or strenuous to play with?
On the other hand, there are educational advantages associated with owning a device (as opposed to using one provided by the school). A parent is more likely to become involved in helping the child get into it if he has paid for the device himself. (On the other hand, a lot of Christmas presents are ignored after the first week). An American child who receives an XO outside of a classroom might find himself isolated; who can he share things with? Where can he find help? How does this eToys thing work anyway?
That is why I decided to start a monthly XO user club in Houston for XO owners and their kids. Its purpose is to help owners in the same city to meet up with one another and share tips & tricks. Doing that will expose children to other users to see what other kids are doing with it.
For the first month or two, I expect that adults will guide the initial club meetings. But after the first month, I'd like to see kind of a show-and-tell structure where kids show off new things they have learned from previous month.
Two years ago I taught my nephew how to play videogames on the Playstation. Today, my 6 year old nephew is politely condescending about my gaming incompetence whenever I try to play. He has already mapped out territories and picked up the secret tricks for getting past a trap in Lego Star Wars.
It is funny. I don't feel like an idiot except when I am playing videogames with him, and I fully expect this trend to continue with XO. Will parents participate in a child's XO explorations after the child has surpassed the parent's casual learning?
Another issue is adult content filtering. Many parents use content filters on the desktop via NetNanny or some other desktop application. But here's a case where parents need to configure solutions on the router. The XO is a device that a parent will likely never use (except in certain cases to view the child's work). It will be totally unsupervised; that is why we need some kind of parent's guide to answer the basic questions.
I have been corresponding with another Houston instructional designer who will be helping out with this Saturday club. We want to come up with lesson plans, modules, objectives for the XO owners while at the same time we don't want to make it seem like school. A club is a way to accomplish this. In fact, a club is a freeform learning environment. A school is not. At school, there are rules, oversight, skills-and-drills and of course, grades. At clubs, there are no grades, just opportunities to learn and show off.
XO laptop enthusiasts inside the USA might assume that eventually OLPC will end up in institutional settings. Actually though, OLPC in USA schools is unlikely. US school districts already have longstanding relationships with PC vendors and software vendors. They are unlikely to abandon those distribution channels, and in fact may be unlikely to choose a one-laptop-per-child solution unless it is branded with Windows, Apple, Dell, etc.
I cannot speculate about whether these commercial solutions will be inferior to XO. If/when school districts deploy laptop solutions, the decision may hinge more on IT security and technical support concerns rather than on whether the device itself facilitates learning.
But even if XO doesn't make inroads in school districts, it still be a powerful learning device for children (especially with the right level of involvement from parents and adults). A "user club" model can do a lot to make that possible.