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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Young brains and computers: facts and myths

A post by new contributor Antonio Battro, OLPC’s Chief Education Officer

Recently, there has been much debate about whether computers, video games and electronic gadgets are helpful or harmful to the cognitive development of children. Some naysayers point to a study that says that multi-tasking degrades cognitive performance. The proponents assert that new digital technologies provide new opportunities for creativity and collaboration. This debate is also being played out in ministries of education, universities and classrooms all around the world. The outcome will have a major impact on the education and development of our children.

New disciplines coming from the neurocognitive sciences are changing our theory and practice of education and shaping the new field of neuroeducation. At the same time, new communication and information technologies are changing the way we teach and learn. Millions of children and teachers of the world are sharing and shaping a new neurocognitive digital environment. This formidable transformation has opened a debate that often mixes facts with myths. One of the most disruptive “neuromyths” is that early introduction of computing can harm the brain development of a young child and cause “attention damage.” Some even argue that computing in schools should be introduced only to older children. These are myths that we must replace with facts.

One of the amazing facts is that first and second languages are processed in the same cortical regions of the brain when the second language is learned early in life. Otherwise, the second language is shifted to different circuits of the cortex. In a sense, when humans use a computer and share the same digital environment they are using a second language, or “digitalese.” Postponing the new linguistic skills needed in a digital world contradicts scientific findings in neurolinguistics.
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Juliano on Rwanda

The Global Center for Laptops and Learning in Kigali has been updating their blog recently. This past week, Brazil and Rwanda students met via Skype for the first time.

Juliano Bittencourt, who spent a year in Rwanda with his wife, recently posted a lovely email about Rwanda developments to the OLPC Brasil mailing list.

He points to Silvia Kist’s personal blog (in Portuguese) as a source for more information about the work there, along with the ‘laptop learning’ photostream.

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.

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)