Intel’s Classmate PC/Laptop/Netbook is almost here

It’s been almost a year since there was any big news in the kinderlappy/UMPC front. But now Intel has released a pre-production model – and while small, it seems like it is going to be a real geek pleaser. Schools might be willing to pay the slight premium for it’s ruggedized body:

The 2go tablet is also one of the most durable netbooks we have come across (even though it doesn’t come with an SSD right now). Beyond the spill-resistant keyboard, the bottom edge has a rubber bump for falls. The hard drive is shock mounted. For extra care, the system comes with an attached handle but it can be removed by taking off the battery and unscrewing it.

OLPC 2.0 to be a book – for teachers or learners?

…. and clock in at $75 by making use of portable DVD player screens. While Nick Neg recognizes that cell phones are very common, especially where the OLPC is targeted, he does not believe that the phone can be used as a learning tool.  - via xconomy

The book-like design of the device “comes from something we’ve learned over the past couple of years—that the book experience is key,” Negroponte said during his presentation this morning. “Some people have asked me why not just give kids cell phones? And in fact there will be 1.2 billion cell phones manufactured this year, and cell phones are of huge consequence in the developing world—but the cell phone is not a learning device. The next generation laptop should be a book.”

Part of me is thinking that NN has missed the point – the form of a book isn’t as important to the students – the learners… the book is more important for the teachers – the ones who don’t feel comfortable with things that are not book like.

Our Stories

This one came to me through a colleague. Google, Unicef and OLPC have got together to bring the small stories of the world through a project called Our Stories. From the site:

The Our Stories™ project helps people share the stories of their lives, no matter where they live or how their stories unfold. We’re providing resources to create and share personal stories from all over the world, starting with children in developing countries who are using One Laptop per Child (OLPC) computers or those who are working with UNICEF radio producers to record and share interviews. Children are asked to record the stories of elders, family members, and friends. You can listen to our growing collection of global voices on this site, which includes stories from Brazil’s Museum of the Person and stories from Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Pakistan (through UNICEF). Soon, stories from other countries will also be available for listening here. And in the future, we’ll make it possible for people of all ages around the world to add their content to the Our Stories site.

This is a great initiative to help preserve some of the most valuable out there – the tacit information and the stories of our elder generations.  Google seems to be back on it’s “no evil” path and serving it’s own goal of gathering and storing all the world’s information.

Throw Sugar out the Window

Wired is reporting that the XO rev that is Windows capable is now getting field tested. Wired is saying that this is likely as much to do to ensure that kids in the developing world are “hooked on Windows”. While, I would agree – not being an MS fan – I think there might be a more “bigger picture” element to it for MS. It might be a way to get them to get Windows to work within stricter limits and help them see what is really needed in the system. It is also a way (I don’t know if it’s being thought of this way) that you can think that XOs running Windows are going to be slightly friendlier for NGOs to extend and support as they are likely bringing resources that at Windows based. It might be more expensive for NGOs and others to develop for the Linux based system, where there might be all manner of resources available for Windows that can be deployed to children and communities in short order. The biggest of all these I’m thinking is Flash – it seems that Flash will be far friendlier on Windows than Sugar and it’s flavour of Firefox.

OLPC Hospitals

I finally got to see one of the XO machines last week in a community of practice meeting and it sparked quite a bit of conversation. Some of the points that came up included… well what happens when they break down? Well it seems that not only are the kids learning about and with what comes off the screen of these little green gadgets, but also about what is behind the screen as well. It seems to fit well with this post from last week and while unrelated to the current posts… in my head there are some odd connections to Downes’ recent post on media and message. Hopefully I’ll get around to getting out of my head how these are all connected. 

When the media is the message – warning brain dump

Clark, Mcluhan and many others have being promoting ideas about media and message for a while now, but one thing that often gets overlooked (not by these two necessarily) the fact that there is a large cultural loading aspect involved in the delivery of messages. We see it everyday as we, in the developed world, value news from one source over another or we disregard the words of one official or another, depending on your political stripe. But what about in a place where voices from Westren devices or vehicles are valued over those of locals (as a legacy of colonialism) or where the words of an elder are still taken as gospel? These places do exist and it is often in these places where we find aid of one sort or another being delivered – if it’s needed or not.

OLPC is one such device that finds itself in those regions. And with any luck, part of the teaching and professional development that is done with the teachers is to ensure that they are able to tell their students that the content that comes from this device should not be placed above the content that comes from the teacher only because it is “new, Westren or technological”. Education can not be removed from the culture that it is trying to operate in. In Canada at least, we have some very painful reminders of what happens when the local traditions and ideas are not respected in the case of Residential Schools and every day we are being reminded as to how a cultural mismatch as to the value of education puts children from one family at a disadvantage to children from another family, regardless of the origin of the mismatch. No amount of technology will ever be able to solve this, and unless there is a real reason to use the technology as a tool, it is likely that it will be used to gloss over the gap that really exists as students cut and paste their way through the work that they are assigned.

So what got me onto this kick? A post on one of the lists that I follow (reposted here -Martin Lucas, original author- and here) had a really good look at one of the places that has received the OLPC/XO. From the post:

In this rather thinly populated media landscape it is worth noting one area where communications technology is burgeoning. Cell phones are to Malawi what Coca Cola once tried to be in the US: iconic and ubiquitous. The average Malawian has only sporadic access to clean water; electricity and paved roads are a rarity. While some might think infrastructure projects are a higher priority, they depend on a socio-economic base and a level of state intervention that lie in the future. In the meantime, individual Malawians are busy linking themselves up to one of the three competing cell phone networks. While Malawi had about 100,000 landline phones in 2005, there were already some half a million mobile phones according to the CIA Factbook. And this number is growing rapidly as cell coverage is extended around the country.

Join our World!’ ‘Let us connect you!’ shout the slogans in yellow on bright red backgrounds painted on walls, on the sides of trucks, on umbrellas, tee shirts and billboards.

More intriguing than the hard sell of a large well-supported corporate campaign are the ad hoc local efforts to create support systems for cell phone usage. Typical are the tiny ramshackle wooden shops, ironically similar in size and shape to the telephone booths of another era in Europe and North America. Here small entrepreneurs haul a lead oxide car battery charged at the local garage. For a miniscule fee users can plug their cell phones in at this ‘charging station’. These small local efforts to create communications infrastructure speak to the central place the ability to communicate holds for Malwians, even in what looks like a situation where logic might dictate other priorities.

After all, this is a very poor country. Almost no one buys a full tank of gas here, and cell phone cards are ‘topped up’ at the filling stations by customers who don’t even own a bicycle. On the main streets of Blantyre and along the highways women in red vests and parasols come to the car window to sell you minutes, , or or wait patiently sitting in little kiosks like miniature outdoor cafes perched in the otherwise muddy marketplaces.

For Malawians on all economic levels cell phones hold the gloss of the new. I am shown an iPhone, imported at great expense by an IT firm. The employee told me they were waiting for the hack to come any day. People often have two phones, one for each of the major networks, or as another young tech-savvy user showed me, a cell phone from Dubai capable of handling two sim cards. Malawian mobile etiquette seems to dictate that almost any activity, particularly a meeting, can be interrupted to take a call.

All of this interest in cell phones is set against a backdrop of a country where few of the basics can be taken for granted. I visited a pre-school. Although it is inside the city limits, the locale is hardly easy to get to. I engaged a taxi for about US$30, about a week’s pay for a middle class person. [A local might expect to pay half what I do.] This is the rainy season, and the dirt road is just on the edge of what is navigable for a regular passenger car. The building the children use has a leaky tin roof. The outhouse in back has actually collapsed in the rain, as had several shops (built from mud bricks) along the highway nearby in the torrential rains.

it is hard to know where the laptop fits in this picture. Children can and do buy paper exercise books and pencils. It is tough to keep them, or any printed matter, in huts where people sit on the floor, where furniture is scarce, and water and dirt are everywhere. As it is, although there are schools, text books are rare. Schools with electricity are also uncommon. Because the classes are so large, well over 100 each in the public schools according to informed sources, school desks are also not practical. And many classes end up under a shade tree as an alternative.

What is appropriate communications technology for an educational situation here? In terms of social context, Story Workshop, in conjunction with organizations such as UNICEF, works with schools and NGOs to develop ‘radio listening clubs’. These are groups that meet to discuss the issues raised in broadcasts on the social topics mentioned above. The groups get reading matter related to the shows, tee shirts and in most cases a radio for the group to listen on, as well as on air recognition and interaction. This model is a tried and true one in Southern Africa, going back to before independence, and creating a viable context for the technology and the content, content generated by Story Workshop writers using extensive time in the field talking to villagers.

One component of a critical assessment of the OLPC initiative, or of IT products, involves a critique of a Western technology-based answer to social problems in societies already living with a long legacy of Western solutions. While the version of colonialism practiced here was not extremely vicious by the standards of some other African countries, it was hardly benign.

What is clear that, like television before it, with new mobile phone technology, the medium is perceived as the message. The cell phone is the voice of a new world, of a modernity acquirable in a way that leapfrogs the difficulties of creating the infrastructure and institutions of contemporary industrial society, however interpreted. These social implications are not perceived as culturally determined, or rather, the advent of ‘Western’ communications technology is perceived either as a neutral benefit, like the way a paved road is better than a dirt one, or as part of the new world of modernity in the way that drinking a Coca-Cola is ‘better’ than eating a local mango, for instance, or even drinking a local ‘Soba’ softdrink. In otherwords, as far as I can see, the culture critique is not taken seriously on a ground level.

In general UNICEF makes it a policy to work as closely as it can with government structures in order to develop capacity, but, I am told, any effort to distribute through the Education Ministry would be doomed to failure.

Where does this type of critique meet the desire of visionaries like Negroponte who are motivated in their efforts to promote the One Laptop per Child intiative by constructionist theories of learning that suggest that children will engage in problem-solving, particularly around math and science issues, in a whole new way given early access to computers? For me, one question to ask emerges from looking at a broader context of pedagogical theory. Negroponte says “It’s an education project, not a laptop project.”

Right away, it is possible to suggest that inquiry-based learning is independent of a specific technology. In fact, computers and internet access guarantee little in the way of critical thinking. In a new program, children in New York City are taught inquiry-based methods of interacting with IT-based data by school librarian media specialists, who promote critical thinking and an ability to evaluate information as an antidote to the rising tide of a ‘cut-and-paste’ mentality. In otherwords, by meany measures access to IT has ahad a stultifying effect on independent thinking. Instead of real research and evaluation most students are happy just to ‘google it.’

One aspect of this [new government] curriculum is a new emphasis on pedagogical interactivity rather than verbal repetition. As support for this idea, the curriculum group suggested that the Ministry of Education make a slate, a chalkboard smaller than a normal sheet of writing paper, available to each beginning first grade student. The cost would be about One euro per slate. There are approximately one million first graders each year in Malawi, so the initial cost would be about one million Euros, or about US$ 1.4 million. The Education Ministry said this kind of money is simply not available. In this context cheap laptops, unless they come free, with extra money for distribution, curriculum development, teacher development, maintenance and repair, are destined to be as ineffectual as any other type of aid that does not integrate properly into the society it is designed to help.

While there is little doubt in my mind that Malawians will benefit from low cost IT tech and pedagogical support, these can only be a factor in a complex social-technological equation, not a panacea.

Another Kinder’s Kinderlappy review

The BBC has a nine year old’s review of the XO. What is the ultimate kicker?

But the real surprise came one evening, when Rufus asked me to explain what his friends were telling him on the laptop.

I thought those imaginary childhood friends from years back must have returned.

But I went and had a look – and it was true – he appeared to be chatting online.

So how had he managed that?

“You go on “neighbourhood”, then you go to the chat thing.

You go on Nigeria and you chat to them.”

But why, if he was online with the children at the Nigerian school I had visited, were they sending messages in Spanish?

I decided he must be linking up with one of the South American schools taking part in the OLPC project but we still aren’t sure quite how that is happening.

Still, Rufus is widening his social circle. ” I have three friends. It’s nice to talk to them. They don’t speak much English but I can understand them.” The conversation is not exactly sparkling, but Rufus has learned to say “Hola”.

So if there is nothing else great about this system it’s this (at least to me, until now) unknown feature. Finally, there is the next generation of pen pals and a real way to connect with kids around the world, without having to deal with the hoops of the mail, or governments or any of the other derailers that prevent kids from connecting with each other. Something that I think will carry this system to a special place as the spirit of kids to interact and find out about each other can’t really be contained.

This could really be something that changes the world – instant messaging shrunk the developed world and now it has the chance to shink the developing world, so now kids in Africa could just as easily learn from instructors in Canada.

But there is the double edged sword… how can the others on this network be trusted to be kids? Is there any way that this network of learner are protected against the predators out there who would buy one of these systems and enter a place that they should not be (not that these people should be anywhere but locked away).

I’m sure as more of these systems get out, there will be many more revelations about this.

OLPC arrives with XOs

Well, it seems that the project has made good – at least at the outset. CrunchGear has pictures of the first units arriving. I can’t help but think about what a massive accomplishment this is when you think about how everyone thought it would never work (nobody believes in the humanitarians any more it seems) and then when it got rolling, there were still nay sayers. Other companies – little ones like Microsoft and Intel proposed their own solutions, both to be left on the press room floor (or so it seems). Congrats to Nicholas Negroponte and his crew to get this idea from start to start in about three years.

Kinderlappy now rolling, pay it forward

There have been a few stories about what the XO’s (nee kinderlappy) will be costing and where it’s going to be available. But until recently, it’s availability to the “developed” world has been unknown. Enter The Giving Project.

Starting November 12th, for $399USD (that should be about $1.50CDN by the time ;) … oh the hubris :D), if you buy one, you get a tax receipt for half (US only I would assume) and OLPC will provide one laptop for some child elsewhere in the world.

This is brilliant, this way governments can get help from the “geeks” that can, schools here, who already sponsor children can purchase a lab of these machines and know that there is another lab out there somewhere in the world (if only there was that level of control) that is also being developed. This certainly is paying forward, or helping others by helping yourself.