Apostle of the Apoxolypse: Derndorfer’s wandering star

Christoph Derndorfer, widely known for his ministry to young XO pilots, fashion sense, and active speaking / writing /editing about OLPC, has recently kicked off a Latin American Tour.  (Todd Kelsey, where are your tour-badge-printing skills when we need them?)  He plans to visit all of our country partners in the region with significant deployments this summer, documenting his experience.

Christoph’s travel reports are enchanting.  Take for instance the recent photoessay from Montevideo’s  eXpO photo exhibit in Uruguay – composed entirely of photos taken with XOs by students in 4 primary schools.  And with his iconic beard, long hair, and thousand-meter stare (seen below by the pool at the Fame Factory), Christoph is becoming as known for his xoly presence as for his love of good design and Sugarized icons.

ChristophD caught mid-sentence, with an open XO in his raised left hand
ChristophD preaching the End Times (or at least the Shutdown Screen Icons)

To stalk with him across the southern slopes, deployment by deployment, you can follow his online writings, photos, and twext.  He is looking for personal contacts along the way, especially people who have played a role in OLPC deployments, so please get in touch with him if you know someone he should meet.

http://christoph-d.blogspot.com/

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…

Continue reading The impact of laptops in education

OLPC Photo Galleries

“The photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know.” -Diane Arbus

PaleXO West Bank IMG_1319

I am starting to appreciate how difficult it is to find compelling photographs that capture the spirit of learning. How do you represent collaboration and learning by doing? Basic interactions among children are often similar across different environments — with features and dress and surroundings the greatest change from town to town. But collaboration can happen between students sitting next to each other, across the room, or kilometers away… Great photography captures and makes you wonder about what is not seen in the image.

Some of the more exciting images are of children discovering something new on an XO; or share with their neighbors something they have discovered. I love to see their looks of delirium:
PaleXO West Bank 147

There is a beautifully lit image of a student posing with her laptop, the water stained ceiling of the classroom telling of the need for a new roof:
Girl_with_xo_classroom_Sierra_Leone

Or the picture of children on the steps of a red clay mud dwelling exploring together, with a yak grazing in the foreground.

OLE Nepal cover

We have a new Flickr gallery of photographs of children learning in deployments, where you can see more as they are submitted. If you have a great set of photos from your own deployment, please post a link to it.

A great video from Yirkalla

Yirkalla is being well-covered by Australian media. TEN Digital devoted part of a weekend episode to the deployment, including this video from the classroom during the first day of the deployment. They catch a priceless expression on this child’s face 1:10 in, as he either learns to play Maze (as the shot suggests) or discovers Rick Astley for the first time.

Updates from Alabama: NSF research and spring break XO camp

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.

Save the Children and scheduled giving

I became a Save the Children sponsor this week, both because I admire their good works, and because I want to see how they connect donors to specific recipients — something they do as well as any international donor agency. They strongly encourage small recurring donations over larger one-time donations, and I understand why: this is a reason to stay in touch, a reliable predictor of future support, and forges more of an identity than a one-time gift.

This week Brand Labs in Michigan also started a weekly donation to OLPC – giving one laptop a week. Co-founder Dane Downer said of the project:

“The entire world is rapidly going online and the more people that join the Big Conversation, the better off we’ll all be. If we can do a little bit to add some new voices to the chorus, we’ll be extremely proud… We haven’t put an end date on the program because we don’t want it to end.”

We receive a number of one-time donations of more than $10k, but there’s something compelling about this sort of steady project. Thank you to Brand Labs, and to everyone doing what they can each week to support projects they care about.