One Assistive Technology Laptop Per Child

xo laptop
Here, take my XO laptop

In the New Year, I got fed up with the "I Don't Have My XO" whine in the OLPC News G1G1 Shipping Problems Forum and decided to do something about it. I donated my XO to a needy G1G1.

LesleyT was the lucky recipient, and now that the month is coming to a close, we have an update on XO laptop usage from an excited user group: special education students in North Carolina.

First off, let's hear Leslie's description of her special needs user group:

The children I use the XO with are in a special education class, and I'm only with them a few times a day, usually during their computer lab time. Most of them can read, write, and speak, although not always at grade level.

They are vociferous consumers of media, especially flash games, but I'm unsure if they understand what they are doing. They click and pound. They ask to be put on a specific site if they can't find it in the drop-down menu, then click on pictures of cartoons they like until they come to a game. If a game is too hard, or freezes, they simply open another browser, or move to another computer. While waiting for internet explorer to start, they might click enough times to open 10 browsers.

While waiting for the XO laptop to boot, Leslie's students put the screen through their own version of ruggedness - the lick test. Thankfully, Leslie reports that Mary Lou Jepsen can add "saliva resistant" to the XO check list. Leslie also reports that her students take to the XO in other ways too.
The kids are not allowed to open word or other programs in the computer lab, which, considering their click and pound tendencies, I totally understand. (I caught a girl typing text into a program's .ini file in notepad.)

If a word processor is opened, it's usually used to type long strings of joyful gibberish. So I let them type long streams of joyful gibberish in write. I also had a student type her spelling words, maybe the only time all year she hasn't complained about them.

Speak will be great for the gibberish typers to understand what a word is or isn't. I tutor a 19 year old with Angelman Syndrome, Jessie, and Speak was magic for her. She is mostly non-verbal, like most people with AS. She would sign a word and I would help her type it. She is familiar with speech output devices, but with Speak she seemed to realize that all those letters that I've been hounding her about for months create words.

What Jessie loves most is the screen rotate button. Jessie is non-verbal. When she moved the mouse while the screen was flipped, it did not go correct direction. She raised her eyebrows, pointed the mouse and said "huh"? I'm overjoyed that she knew something was wrong and told me about it.

xo laptop
XO laptop + Braille keyboards
Leslie is proving that the XO laptop is proving itself a valuable assistive technology. Gabey8 saw the same promise and formed an Assistive Technology XO User Group to look at other ways OLPC can impact the learning challenged.

But back to Leslie and her thoughts on One Laptop Per Learning Challenged Child:

My kids need access to possible resources. Computers can be an important resource, but only if these students stop seeing them as televisions with keyboards and start learning how to actively make their computers create what they want them to create. The XO, I hope, will be an important step in that process. At the very least, it's been fun.
True that. Especially for the kids licking the XO screens. I wonder what they taste like? Maybe a snozzberry?

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How can you stand to be without your XO?

My feelings are with you.


*Please* don't tell me you are posting while on your honeymoon, Wayan ...

This makes me smile! Thanks Wayan, for posting it. Seeing that picture of your poor little xo in your hands, before the total kid abuse, makes me a little sad for all I've put your computer through. So far, no visible damage, other than a definite "creak" to the case, but I think that was from falling on the ice in the school parking lot.

Report on using it at a heavy metal concert is next!!

I am also going to try to download a screenreader to see what happens.

Wayan and Lesley - thanks again for doing this project and for reporting back. I am fascinated by the ways Lesley has found to use this flexible and innovative tool with children with special needs.

There was a quote that really caught me, and it's relevance is far beyond just a special-needs or assistive technology audience. Lesley, can I use this in some promo materials I'm developing to start talking about OLPC with local schools? The quote is this:

"Computers can be an important resource, but only if these students stop seeing them as televisions with keyboards and start learning how to actively make their computers create what they want them to create."

It ties in so well with the constructivist theories, and it actually explains in a sentence the point about constructivism, in my opinion, which is something that often takes more than a sentence to explain. ;)

Thanks so much!

This report rocks. :) And XOs can stand right up there with Timex and declare, "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking!"

Which screen reader are you thinking of downloading? I want to install one if I can be reasonably assured it will talk to my friend's braille display (which has a USB connection, hooray!!!).

P.S. Wayan, thanks for the mention. I hope it brings even more interested parties over to the Assistive Tech user's group forum. I think that the cost-effective, portable, ruggedized, spillproof, battery-conserving XO will let a special-needs user bring their laptop (and its adaptive hardware and software) into conditions that would render a standard laptop impossible to use.

It crosses my mind that we are focusing on finding ways to use the first-generation, 1GB XO as assistive tech. But can you imagine what future generations of XO will be able to accomplish? Because I have no doubt that there will be later XO generations with additional features, more storage, etc. And if the OLPC Foundation prefers to focus on making hardware for educational settings, maybe Mary Lou Jepson's company can license the ruggedized features of the XO and make a version of the hardware that's intended for commercial and assistive-tech uses.

When that happens, everyone will win. :)

Oh, and I nearly forgot. Your description of using Speak reminded me of something. When my friend (whose braille display I hope to experiment with) was losing his hearing and learning to sign, he was in his early teens. The instructor introduced humor into the lessons by teaching sentences like "I eat my shoes". I mentally filed that away as one more example of how goofiness can be the proverbial "spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down". :)

Reminds me of my friends and me trying to learn French verb tenses:
Tomorrow, the president will eat a cat.

Teacher was not impressed, but it helped keep the lessons a little more lively.

I'm not sure which screen reader to download yet. I will work on it.

Also, I am leaving my speak activity open and on the jabber neighborhood right now. What happens if someone accesses it? Will it verbalize what they type? That would be a cool, talking, chat activity for visually impaired learners. I'm hoping someone tests that for me. I keep waiting for it to suddenly start talking. And damn, won't my cats be surprised.

I also want to address something that's come up:
people have been speaking about how users of the xo in other countries don't have access to specialized hardware, etc. Testing the xo for 1st world users to use as assistive tech assumes that the user had access to some things a user in a developing nation might not have.

I am aware of this. I know serving the needs of first world kids is not the mission of the OLPC. But I think this is still valuable work because:
1) disabilities are more prevelant in places where there is less access to medical care
2) I can only do what I can do. I have no idea about the AT needs of a kid in Mongolia. But I think that by us G1G1s field testing this thing, we can give the OLPC guys valuable info for them to translate to their mission overseas.

So whether or not the XO works with Jessie's $4000 Springboard (an augmentative communication device) is not necessarily something the OLPCers will check on. But to have this information to translate to their target markets can only be a good thing.

m: Wayan left us with weeks worth of content to post; hopefully he's not even reading the rss on his crackberry, but I sorta doubt it.

I am so glad to see it work with special needs children. That is what I ordered mine for, I have 2 third grade boys I am hoping to have use it. One is autistic and the other is POHI. They are in the same classroom so when it comes it is going to be their computer for the school year. If it works out my school district wants to see it and possibly order some. (I work for a large inner city school district with 80% free or reduced lunched. I service both public and non-public school children teaching technology classes) I got a letter today and it looks like mine will be here in 45-60 days. Hopefully they will be able use it finish out the school:)

After reading this article I realized that Wayan already knows what an XO tastes like.

That picture of him with his x-XO actually shows him licking the back of it.

The favourite game on the XO of my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter is also the "write" program. She loves that and asks for me to open it for her, where she spends much time poking at letters and saying their names. She also is a master of the "make-it-big" key (that is, the shift key).

So i thought it interesting, the tales here of other kids' adventures with "write".

Maybe those of us still waiting for our XO will get an improved version since everyone has been busier working out the problems! That is how I am selling the wait time to my students.

Hey guys, someone mentioned to me that she thought this blog was offensive and making fun of my kids. I love my kids and don't want anyone to see them as a joke. Do you all see this? If so, what is it that is the issue? I know there is non person-first language sometimes (learning challenged child) and maybe we spend a little too much time on the screen licking (which wasn't a public school issue anyway, but someone kissing her picture in Record and then, when I tried to stop her, licked the screen to be funny).

Anyway, please email me privately (I'm on the news forms) if you find anything offensive.

Ya know, anyone who finds anything posted above offensive does not know anyone who is disabled. I can only speak from my own experience as a relative of someone with CP and of two people with hearing loss, and as the friend of several people who are either deaf or deaf-blind. In my experience, ludicrous and sometimes funny things happen that are connected,directly or indirectly to the special-needs situation that we find ourselves in. OK, it helps that my friends and I are all nuts, I admit, but then again sanity is way overrated. :)

For example, there was the social at an AADB convention (American Association of the Deaf-Blind) when someone accidentally tried to use a door labelled "Do not open -- alarm will sound". Whoops. These things happen. Predictably, the fire alarm went off. This was only a source of distress for the hearing people in attendance at the social -- everyone else was just fine, plus they got to tweak the hearing people and call us poor things. OK, maybe you had to be there, but if you were, it was funny. My point is that there is, or can be, *good-natured* humor attached to ALL aspects of human life. There has to be. Surmounting some obstacles wouldn't be possible, if there wasn't a part of us able to detect the ludicrous side to dealing with these things.

OK, let me get off the soapbox before I fall and damage myself. I'm a klutz, so I should know better than to be standing on boxes anyway. ;)


I am still on my honeymoon, but now back online (with the wife's blessing, she's at a work conference!) so I can pick up the thread of people feeling I might be making fun of LesleyT's kids, or any kids with challenges.

I gave LesleyT my laptop for her use because she's working with kids who could use the XO more than I. And if anyone thinks this post disparages them in any way, please don't be bothering LesleyT, be real and leave a comment here. That's what open comments are for.

I found were they got the idea to combine Constructivism with Computers. It is from the branch of computer science and engineering called "Cybernetics". It is not a new idea. It is from the 1940's. Which makes much more sense. People like Norbert Wiener would have known Maria Montessori when she was actually alive.

Constructivism: the philosophy that models are not passive reflections of reality, but active constructions by the subject.

Cybernetics is the science that studies the abstract principles of organization in complex systems. It is concerned not so much with what systems consist of, but how they function. Cybernetics focuses on how systems use information, models, and control actions to steer towards and maintain their goals, while counteracting various disturbances. Being inherently transdisciplinary, cybernetic reasoning can be applied to understand, model and design systems of any kind: physical, technological, biological, ecological, psychological, social, or any combination of those.

Cybernetic epistemology is in essence constructivist: knowledge cannot be passively absorbed from the environment, it must be actively constructed by the system itself. The environment does not instruct, or "in-form", the system, it merely weeds out models that are inadequate, by killing or punishing the system that uses them. At the most basic level, model-building takes place by variation-and-selection or trial-and-error. Norbert Wiener 1947 (pioneer in RADAR and computers)

@Robert lane:
"Norbert Wiener 1947 (pioneer in RADAR and computers)"

Although it sounds important, it still doesn't do him justice. They named prices after him.

Whole areas of electronic engineering, electronic communication, and control systems (aka cybernetics) are based on his work. For instance, RADAR is just one of many applications of his mathematical signal/noise theories. There have been years in my life where I came across his name several times a week (I am that old).

(sorry, I will step down my hobby horse)


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