OLPC MéXicO (yes, it’s a play on letters) has been writing about their current work (in San Luis Potosí, Nayarit, and Mazahuas) and future plans on their website.  Recently they’ve hinted at getting children in Mexico to program robots using their XOs, following in the footsteps of Peru and Plan Ceibal.  That was always my favorite part of construction class…

They’re also maintaining an active Twitter feed, with their favorite quotes and clips from OLPC’s history as well as from education projects in Mexico today.  Both are worth following.

The impact of laptops in education

By Antonio M. Battro, OLPC’s Chief Education Officer

As stated by the Millennium Goals of the United Nations, it is our duty and responsibility to provide a good education for all children. The purpose is to provide at least elementary schooling to every child in the world by the year 2015.

Education is essentially about universal values of truth, beauty and good. These values are embodied in historical times. We must recognize that today a new artificial environment interacts with our planet: the digital environment. The sad fact is that while many of us live in the digital era, many more are excluded. The digital divide is one of the greatest obstacles to overcome in contemporary education, especially in poor communities.

An isolated school without computers and connectivity to the Internet is incompatible current educational requirements. But of course, technology is not sufficient. Technology may have an impact on education only if constructive dialogue is occurring among teachers, students and their families. Moreover, digital technology should be in the hands of children at an early age for them to learn the new digital language as a second language. And it must be mobile (laptops or netbooks, instead of PCs) because children learn in many kinds of settings, not only in the classroom.

Some economists have tried to measure the educational impact of digital technologies, but they have reported conflicting results (cf. Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality, by Randall Stross, New York Times, July 9, 2010). For instance, children using computers at school and at home have attained good computer skills while their grades in mathematics and language declined. The more so if they live in low income households. These results need clarification.

First, it is important to understand that time is needed to produce a cognitive transformation in a student. It is possible that some of the reported failures are biased because academic performance was evaluated too soon. Any evaluation must factor in the time span of an entire cohort, which is the basic unit in education. The time cannot be abridged; it requires the entire development of the young mind, from childhood to adolescence, some 10 years since the child enters first grade when most of the connections of the developing brain are made. Many cognitive capacities may be latent for years before they are expressed. Currently, tests are frequently done in static and conventional cross sections during the school year instead of in longitudinal studies of individual cognitive dynamics.

Second, in the digital era we can use digital tools for assessment (e.g., online monitoring of the student activities) but we still need new methodologies to obtain robust results. In particular, traditional statistical comparisons between experimental and control groups (as reported in the quoted studies) are not possible when the digital divide disappears and the entire population of students and teachers of a region or country has full access to the digital environment at school and at home. In that case, the control groups disappear and all students have been “vaccinated.” We must invent new methods of evaluation for the digital era.

Third, scale creates phenomenon. We need to change from microscopes to telescopes in order to encompass the wide spectrum of natural phenomena at different scales. The same is true in education…

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Ceibal high-school project update

An update on Uruguay’s deployment of olpc in high schools: Plan Ceibal has posted some details and images of the laptops that will be used in this project. Some schools will use the new blue XO-HS laptops, and others will use Magellans — the only implementation of the Classmate design that has been used in large scale deployments (in Portugal and Venezuela).

You can see their take on a feature comparison of the machines. While there’s no check box for “sunlight-readable screen”, robustness, or power management, it’s a good look at how schools perceive their options. I would be glad to see classrooms worldwide adopting any platform like this — both can share the same software and materials.

XOs for High School: new design, Uruguay snags 90,000

We have been working on a new XO laptop for high school students — one with a larger and more responsive keyboard better suited to the hands of older students. And Uruguay’s Plan Ceibal, expanding into high schools across the country, will be the first recipient — they’ve ordered 90,000 of the first production run.

These XO-1.5 HS machines are largely the same as a regular XO-1.5: they are VIA machines with Sugar and Gnome desktops, running both Sugar activities and Gnome apps.  Only the bottom half is different: they have ‘clicky’ rather than membrane keyboards by default, and the base has been redesigned so that keyboards are much easier to swap out or clean — there are two screws you can access from the battery compartment that release the keyboard, then you can pop it out.  No more 10-minute teardowns!

Uruguayan Flag

The new machines will be shades of dark and light blue; the factory is still working on getting the plastics and dye selection just right.  I saw an early stab at this design, and it was very sexy — but I haven’t seen the final keyboard model they are using yet. As a keyboard fanatic (I can get 70wpm on my XO-1), I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for the first one back in the office and will post a review for you.

Now that we have a half-dozen designs or models, we’ll need to come up with a better naming scheme… I’m taking suggestions for names and themes.

Uruguay offers individual and school XO sales

Uruguay’s Plan Ceibal is now offering individual sales of XOs to students, parents and schools. This is handy for students who have lost their XO (under some conditions schools replace XOs for free when they are lost or broken, but only within limits), for parents whose students are in private schools that don’t have XOs yet, or for schools that want to have an extra supply of machines to set up additional computer centers, hardware labs, or the like.

Yama commented that schools can get lots of up to 60 XOs at low cost to keep at the school — which are then owned by the school, unlike the XOs given to children, but they must commit to connectivity:

Schools wishing to purchase XO lots are required to get at least a 3 Mb fixed IP connection. Those [that do and have] already purchased XOs at a higher price will be comped with extra XOs.

I like the sound of that. That’s about what Chester Community Charter School required for every 1000 students they brought online…

Uruguay videos

I was looking through Uruguayan videos online for a recent full-length TV episode on Ceibal.  I didn’t find it, but here is the tireless Miguel Brechner presenting at TEDx in Buenos Aires last month – well worth a watch.  And there was a news episode on Argentine television late last year.

I also found this surprise: “Aprendiendo con Ceibal“, an unusual half-hour post-modern classroom experience…

(hat tip to Bob Hacker)