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December 2009

One Laptop Per Child Impact

What Have We Learned From One Laptop Per Child?

Four years ago, Nicholas Negroponte introduced the world to the “One Laptop Per Child” idea at WSIS by showing off a “$100 laptop” with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The educational and technology fields haven’t been the same since.

First, by the end of 2009 OLPC should pass a stunning milestone – 1 million XO laptops deployed in over 40 countries around the world, almost all in 1:1 computer to child ratios. Next, the humble XO laptop which was once ridiculed by the titans of technology, spawned the netbook. And the netbook is eating the computer market at a stunning growth rate.

But OLPC has impact deeper and farther than just XO’s passed out or netbooks snapped up. Its changing education, technology, even culture in ways beyond any one person’s understanding. What do YOU think we’re learning from Negroponte’s wild idea of Constructionism via XO laptops?

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What We Learned From OLPC Deployments

I think there is a great deal being learned from the story of the OLPC Foundation itself, and even more still from the myriad OLPC deployments around the world. Lessons from OLPC projects will be coming out for years to come, to help better match the tools to the desired pedagogical approach.

The first thing that comes to my mind is that the initiative solidified in the world’s mind what most ICT4ED-ers may have accepted since Logo or even before: that ICT in Education will be a permanent fixture, only varying in scale and technique. That is, the evaluations, discussions and policy assessments about whether or not to have computers in the classroom will very soon be entirely obsolete, if not already.

It is a matter of resource allocation determining how many computers, which kind of deployment, etc, but the details on scale and approach of deployment are more a function of resource allocation capacity than a matter of: should we have computers in the classroom?

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OLPC Is Not Revolutionalizing Education

Wayan Vota started an Educational Technology Debate on what the OLPC has achieved thus far with the assertion that the OLPC is “changing education, technology, even culture in ways beyond any one person’s understanding.”

Going by some of the comments that follow one could be excused for thinking that the OLPC is the best thing to happen to the world since sliced bread for the XO laptop will magically transform students into self-learners (“peers working collaboratively in teams”). A more balanced followup by Scott Kipp still proposes that thanks to the OLPC, “evaluations, discussions and policy assessments about whether or not to have computers in the classroom will very soon be entirely obsolete, if not already.”

Such overwhelming enthusiasm is surely out of place and perhaps a bit of perspective is important.

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OLPC Showed Childrens Computer Security is Possible

Computer malware is a big problem to society. When this is discussed in relation to children and the Internet (or politicians or parents), the advice has always been: updates, AV software, and firewalls for the computer and rules, restrictions, and filters for the children. With a special emphasis on installing more software and more updating.

But, is user education working? Obviously, primary school children (and older) cannot be made responsible for installing and managing security updates, AV software, and firewalls. In this view, getting millions of children in developing countries on-line on laptops they have to use unsupervised at home seems to be nothing short of a crime against humanity. Yet, is it really impossible to create a computer environment that can not only be used safely by children, but also managed safely by children?

All these security advices are very sensible given the current ICT landscape. But, these advices can also be seen as blaming the victim by the commercial software industry.

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OLPC: How Not to Run a Laptop Program

For the last six years, I have been investigating laptop programs throughout the U.S., including, most recently, programs using low-cost netbook computers and open source software.

I and others have found these laptop and netbooks programs to be highly successful, resulting in greater access to and use of diverse sources of information, improved quantity and quality of student writing, higher student engagement through working with multiple media, greater opportunities to explore topics in-depth for, and improved integration of technology in instruction.

The OLPC model is radically different and the results are entirely predictable, and have started to surface. A handful of inspiring examples, based on terrific efforts by a few innovative teachers or students and backed by armies of volunteers, are touted. But, when examining the broader implementation, we learn that without professional development or curriculum development, and with little of the infrastructure that makes computer use in schools effective, teachers for the most part ignore the computers, which thus go largely unused in schools.

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For Real OLPC Impact, We Need Infrastructure

I was in the Peace Corps in Cape Verde as an ICT volunteer from 2006 to 2008, and while I was there, the One Laptop Per Child project came on my radar and I became pretty enamored of the prospect of bringing some XOs to the country, or at least raising awareness of the idea within the government.

However, after considering all the obstacles with some fellow volunteers and local educators, including a Ministry of Education delegate, I kept running into the same issue: So we get the laptops, and then what? We discussed the potential of OLPC endlessly, but eventually came to the conclusion that the program was a mess, especially after the departure of some of their best minds and the insistence that the hardware is the only thing to supply. But if OLPC itself won’t supply the rest of the framework, somebody must.

Ignoring all other issues – Is OLPC worth it cost-wise? What about the XO’s hardware? Does it encourage constructivism in the classroom? What countries are appropriate for this? – I’ll focus on what I know.

Continue Reading For Real OLPC Impact, We Need Infrastructure


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