The OLPC program in Birmingham was a quick decision and rapid implementation by a district where it was a tremendous change from what had been done before. While it has not received new funding, some of the primary schools involved have continued with other laptop programs since then – the district still has dramatically greater access to computers and internet tools than others in the state.
A recent article in the International Journal of Learning and Media summarizes the 2-year research project of Shelia Cotten, with input from Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames, shares their independent view of the pilot and its outcomes, describing it as a radical experiment.
Earlier this year, Shelia Cotten and coauthors Hale, Moroney, O’Neal & Borch published an overview of their data from surveying 27 schools during the first year of the city-wide OLPC project in Birmingham, AL. In the 2008-2009 school year, 1st – 5th Grade students and teachers, in every public primary school in the city, received XO laptops via this program. — amounting to over 15,000 students and teachers. and every public primary school in the city.
The paper, “Using Affordable Technology to Decrease Digital Inequality“, appeared in Information, Communication & Society Volume 14, Issue 4. From the summary:
[F]ourth and fifth grade students at 27 Birmingham City schools were surveyed just prior to receiving the XOs and then again about 4.5 months later. A total of 1,202 students were matched between the two surveys… students who used a computer to do homework before receiving the XO, tended to make greater use of the XO and felt it helped them in their education. Teachers’ use of the XO was also an important factor. Students who reported their teachers made greater use of the XOs in the classroom tended to use the XO more and felt that the XO had a positive impact on their education.
These findings highlight the importance of training teachers to make effective use of new technology and the need to develop curriculum to integrate computers into the classroom. Dr. Cotten is currently leading a National Science Foundation funded project that helps… teachers receive training which builds technology-teaching capabilities so that students develop the attitudes and the skills necessary to succeed in a technologically advanced society.
Their research has continued since then, and they will also publish about longer-term results.
In 2008, the city of Birmingham started an OLPC project for their 15,000 elementary school students, to bridge the city’s digital divide. Last summer, the NSF funded a two-year analysis of Birmingham’s deployment, focusing on 4th and 5th grade students across the city.
The research team, led by Shelia Cotten, includes Julian and Shani Daily of g8four, who ran the initial workshops in Birmingham and spent the following year there getting the project off the ground, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which has been advising the deployment for some time. You can read more from Ellen Ferrante’s early report.
The Birmingham community remains the largest in the US, and holds regular school-based events, such as this year’s spring break XO camp in the West End Library.