Why I Started a XO User Club for Children in Houston

   
   
   
   
   
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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.


The next nephew play station?

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.

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4 Comments

I think this approach is just the right way to go. A key difference between XOs and 'normal' laptops is the fact that the OLPC machine is almost enterily conceived as a networked device. The greatest impact is achieved when you have more kids in your network. So good luck in Houston!

Anyone wants to take on the challenge of schooling some noobs in Los Angeles area by forming something like this?

On March 5, 1975 30 people gathered in a Silicon Valley garage to see the first Altair personal computer to reach the area. No one knew what to do with it (it wouldn't do anything by itself but run a program that blinked its lights), but everybody was there because they believed that personal computers had great potential.

We kept meeting and the club grew rapidly. Fortunately we structured the meetings so that people could let others know what they were interested in and gave them the time to mix and discuss their interests face to face. It was wildly successful (the Los Angeles club, befouled by structure and rules, was much less so).

Now, with the Internet and many social networking tools, the prospects are even better for making breakthroughs with a new technology. I still advocate face-to-face get-togethers, using the web (most likely wikis) to handle the preliminaries, and I recommend that there be OLPC user groups everywhere.

I live in Northwest Houston in K.... ISD. The IT department bought nc440 12" TABLET HP's. They are 7 1/2 lbs and 4 of those are LI ION Batteries.

The Principal selected the HP laptops and office 2003 and XP. He is as incompetent in software as anyone I have ever met. My mother is much more competent than he. He, however does make a bang up presentation......

They run Office 2003 The teachers only know how to use One Note. The operational reason for buying these overpriced toys was the fact all the Textbooks were available on the web. Well the NOOBS in IT forbade going to the holt.com site, google and many others. The NOOBS in IT forbid altering a background or a pointer. The NOOBS in IT believe XP is Safe. Forbid installing anything else except IE 7.0. The NOOBS in IT believe that their content manager protects them from virus's and carefully crafted spyware/rootkits. It says it does.....

Naturally these Tablet PC's were taken over after about 15 minutes with rootkits.

Now here is where it gets really interesting. The rootkit's infect all the others with the standard stuff including porn.

So these zombie PC's hit things at 6 to 20 addresses per second. IT says it is the child doing this. The Principal tells the Associate Principals to punish the children.

So what you have is a 7 1/2 pound dead weight of a tablet causing nightmares for everyone. I have banned it's mac address on my network because it is always full of spyware, rootkits and virus's. The thing is useless to the children because they are punished when anything goes wrong and may not attempt to learn anything. The teachers just push "One Note" memo's at the child and the parents on the tablet.

So the machine may not be used to learn how to program the PC as a tool. The very things the XO is good at.

My Child at home uses ACER Desktop AMD 4400+Dual core running UBUNTU 7.10 which is much safer. He uses Blender, Gimp and reads his favorite comic using Firefox with Safescript. He figured out everything except org vorbis was the default format and not mp3 in Linux for that special reason known as patents.

I wish whole heartedly the XO or Classmate even, running Linux had been selected because you can lock down the OS and hosts files.

This nightmare of XP would be over and the bad dreams and stress on my child and myself. Having protect this junk and pay $71 for insurance for dead weight would be gone.

This is what the Houston XO Club should try and do. Dismiss the myth's perpetrated by Microsoft, Principal's, really sadly mis-informed IT departments and school boards or you will be paying for a bond for millions of dollars per school to buy and insure a paperweight for your child......

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