The Reading Project in Ethiopia explained by the OLPC team involved in the experiment

OLPC San Francisco Community Summit is a community event that brings together educators, technologists, anthropologists, enthusiasts, champions and volunteers. The purpose is to share stories, exchange ideas, solve problems, foster community and build collaboration around the One Laptop per Child project and its mission worldwide.

During the 2012 SF Summit, the team involved directly in this experiment, presented some of their experiences and details on the research:

Video 1: Matt Keller, Richard Smith

Video streaming by Ustream

Video 2: Richard Smith, Ed McNierney, Scott Ananian and Chris Ball:

Video streaming by Ustream

“Why I hope kids in Ethiopia can teach us something profound about education.” by Nicholas Negroponte

I believe that we get into trouble when knowing becomes a surrogate for learning. We know that a vast recall of facts about something is in no way a measure of understanding them. At best, it is necessary but not sufficient. And yet we subject our kids to memorizing. We seem to believe that rote learning is akin to physical exercise, good for their minds. And, quite conveniently, we can test whether the facts stuck, like spaghetti to a wall. In some cases knowledge is so drilled in that you know and hate a subject at the same time.

The closest I have ever come to thinking about thinking is writing computer programs. This involves teasing apart a process into constituent parts, step-by-step functions, and conditional statements. What is so important about computer programs is that they (almost) never work the first time. Since they do something (versus nothing), just not what you wanted, you can look at the (mis)behavior to debug and change your code. This iterative process, so common in computer programming, is similar to learning.

One Laptop per Child (OLPC), a non-profit association that I founded, launched the so-called XO Laptop in 2005 with built-in programming languages. There are 2.5 million XOs in the hand of kids today in 40 countries, with 25 languages in use. In Uruguay, where all 400,000 kids have an XO laptop, knowing how to program is required in schools. Estonia just did the same. In Ethiopia, 5,000 kids are writing computer programs in the language Squeak.

OLPC represents about $1 billion in sales and deployment worldwide since 2005—it’s bigger than most people think. What have we learned? We learned that kids learn a great deal by themselves. The question is, how much?

 To answer that question, we have now turned our attention to the 100 million kids worldwide who do not go to first grade. Most of them do not go because there is no school, there are no literate adults in their village, and there is little promise of that changing soon. My colleagues and I have started an experiment in two such villages, asking a simple question: Can children learn how to read on their own?
If you want to learn more about this research, read the original post here.

 

“The digital gap is shrinking in Peru” [German review]

a translation of Julio Segador’s report for ARD Buenos Aires

Four years ago, we launched OLPC in Peru – now the largest primary-school initiative of its kind in the world – to distribute laptops to 810 000 children. The first results of the project are emerging: The laptop does not automatically lead to better test scores for the children, but may still be useful.

Barely four years ago in Peru, one could hear on every street corner a happy children’s song that came from a promotional film on the Internet. In the video, girls and boys had small green and white laptops in their hands, tapping on them and laughing. 810,000 of them, specially adapted to the needs of children, have since been distributed, primarily to students from economically-disadvantaged families. “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) is the international project behind it, from creative director Nicholas Negroponte of MIT in Cambridge.

Now interim results of the project in Peru have been published. An expert team from the Inter-American Development Bank put rural primary schools under the microscope for 15 months.
The results are mostly positive, says Eugenio Severin, one of the researchers: “The students who have gotten the laptops had cognitive abilities develop a good five months faster during the 15-month study period.”

Hear the German-language audio of author Julio Segador, or read on for the rest.
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Learning to read with One Tablet per Child

Can tablets make a difference to a child learning to read for the first time, without a teacher or traditional classroom structure? That’s the question we are exploring with our reading project, currently underway in Ethiopia.


A few dozen children in two rural villages have been given tablets which they are using for a few months. They are interested in learning to read English, and understand this is something they can learn with the tablets; which also come with hundreds of children’s apps.

They are equipped with software that logs all interactions, building up a clear picture of how each tablet is being used. Data from the tablets is gathered each week and sent back to the research team, which also rolls out new updates to the tablets week by week.

Richard is in Ethiopia this week, to get better first-hand knowledge of how the tablets and other infrastructure are holding up, and a visual sense of how they are being used.

“if a child can learn to read, they can read to learn”

School computer labs passing out of favor

Mike Trucano, in a typically balanced and measured World Bank blog post, notes that computer labs are coming under increasing scrutiny — and that despite decades of use in the developed world, there is little evidence for them being an effective use of resources given today’s options for discovering computing, learning to use software tools, or connecting to the internet.

Expert opinion, at least in many OECD countries, is increasingly calling into question the reliance on school computer labs as the primary model for impactful use of educational technologies.

He notes the common arguments for teaching with or building computer labs, a countervailing shift towards personal and mobile computing, and the history of the concept.  A good read, and a strong argument for the need for long-term studies to compare and contrast various options without prejudice — so that we cannot again say, decades from now, “The evidence base in support of  <this educational and technological model> is, to my knowledge, not very robust… there is still not a lot of rigorously obtained hard data that we can point to.” We shouldn’t be able to say that about any significant aspect of educational life.

That sort of ignorance in science, business, politics or economics would be utterly unacceptable.  We should demand more, not less, for our own education — which underlies our capacity to pursue the rest.

US survey finds support for 1:1 computer programs among school admins

A recent study by edutech research firm Interactive Educational Systems Design (IESD), funded by 1:1 curriculum provider Time To Know, asked school administrators how they felt about classroom technology.   Hundreds of superintendants and principals across the US, drawn from districts with more than 2,500 students, were polled.

Details of the study have not been made available, but the results of four questions were published in edtech magazine  The Journal:

When asked their preference for a comprehensive curriculum if cost were not a factor, 80 percent of respondents indicated a preference for a comprehensive curriculum program with 1:1 computer access and an interactive whiteboard in combination with some print or printable electronic materials.

We need educational studies to start sharing their underlying data — something we should remember to ask our partners to do as well when they evaluate OLPC projects.

XOs in Brazil: impacting early reading and writing

Post via Silvia Kist

Seymour’s Papert ideas are a source of inspiration for many teachers and researchers in Brazil and had a big impact on how the country’s computer lab program was shaped in the past. One Laptop Per Child brought to life Papert’s vision for a Children’s Machine, and also inspired many teachers and academics in the country.

Because of this history, the strongest characteristic of the OLPC project in Brazil is the involvement of universities researching how laptops can create powerful educational experiences, and promote cultural change around learning. Many research labs from Brazil’s top universities are working with OLPC in this challenge, and have developed field studies: including LEC/UFRGS, NIED/UNICAMP, LSI/USP, CERTI/UFSC, UFC.

One of the first investigations in Brazil, was conducted under the supervision of Prof. Léa Fagundes. It studied how the XO impacted the reading and writing learning process of 6 year old children in a public elementary school at Porto Alegre. The full study was published in Portuguese. A summary:

They hypothesized that each child having their own laptop would change the practices of reading and writing by students, impacting how they create concepts about the written language. Student practices were observed and analyzed in two ways: practices proposed by the teacher and things that students did spontaneously.

After 7 months of observations, the research concluded that daily use of networked laptops allows children to use writing and reading in real life situations, differently from artificial activities in school. This kind of usage builds a symbolic environment helpful for understanding the function and meaning of written language (fluency) and leads to a conceptualization process driven by the need to understand others (literacy). In the class that was analyzed, the teacher’s proposals and some other conditions were necessary for that to happen. Project work, laptop ownership by students, connection to the Internet, and the use of a virtual learning environment were among them.

Promoting the Knowledge Economy in the Arab World

A recent research paper by Michael Lightfoot, published recently  in SAGEopen, reviews the impact of technology-related education reforms, including improved access to computing and the Internet, on education in three middle-eastern countries: Bahrain, UAE, and Jordan. Detailed comments are welcome on our wiki research page.

(SAGEopen is the new open access journal by SAGE, and covers “the full spectrum of the social and behavioral sciences and the humanities.”)

Dr. Sugata Mitra in Montevideo, Uruguay

This essay is reposted by Carlos Rabassa of Uruguay, from a lecture he gave in June.

Dr. Mitra gave an excellent lecture on June 2, 2011 at Universidad ORT in Montevideo, Uruguay on “The Future of Education”.

His first major experiment was the hole in the wall computer, which was later replicated in many locations. They look like the ATM, Automatic Teller Machines, the banks use. They are computers connected to internet, located behind walls. The users have access, from the other side of the wall to the screen, a video camera and a touchpad.

These computers are accessible from streets in neighborhoods where kids had never used a computer. The children are not given any instructions. Researchers collect data for their studies on how the computers are being used.

Dr. Mitra started working in India his birthplace, then in England where he is now based, Newcastle University. He has been traveling and testing his findings all around the world. During the days preceding the lecture he had been working in Uruguayan schools.

He showed us studies made in India and in England. In India, they have problems getting teachers to work far away from the important population centers. In England teachers prefer not to work in areas where there is a large concentration of government subsidized housing.

In both places, it is hard to get teachers to work with the children they need them the most. That is the origin of his interest in researching how far can children go, by teaching themselves. The results of the computer in the hole in the wall, led Dr. Mitra to further his research in that direction.

In a question of hours, children with no knowledge of English and no computer experience surf internet. They ended up learning English at an amazing high level except for a horrible pronunciation. This was until they found out the dictionary offers sound recordings with the pronunciation for each word. And until they found dictation or voice recognition programs that work well only as long as the pronunciation is good.

Dr. Mitra stressed his background is not as an educator. His method in the many experiments he related to us, in different countries and languages, has always been the same:

– Let the children use computers connected to internet.
– Encourage them to work in groups of four.
– Let them talk among themselves.
– Let them move freely to another group if they feel more comfortable.
– Let them visit another group to pick up some ideas and then return to their own group.
– Challenge them with questions.
– Answer all requests for help from him by saying “I don´t know; I have to go”.

He found that when children are interested in learning, they learn.

They are not intimidated by difficult questions corresponding to age groups much older than their’s. They are not afraid of trying. They might fail in getting the final difficult answer requested but they keep trying and learning many other advanced subjects on the way.

In certain experiments, he found the students were able to make great progress towards these challenges usually given to much older children. After reaching a certain level, their learning would slow down. This was in England. He recruited volunteer grandmothers who would follow the work of the children and encourage them the way grandmothers do with their grandchildren, congratulating them at each step, and showing interest in their work. The result was another big progress in the level of achievement.

Grandmothers volunteer to talk over internet with far away children. There is no formal teaching, just reading fairy tales and talking in English. The result is improved English and specifically improved pronunciation.

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Severin and Capota analyze 1-to-1 laptop programs in Latin America

Last month, Eugenio Severin and Christine Capota recently published a report for the IDB, analyze 1-to-1 laptop programs across Latin America and the Caribbean. They considered models for success and cost of ownership over the duration of a program, and looked at both OLPC and other 1-to-1 programs. They share a few broad recommendations for such programs:

Focus on the student and learning results. Consider One-to-One as the relationship between a child and learning, mediated by technology among other factors

Consider infrastructure, digital content, teacher training/support, community involvement, and policy

Consider both initial investment and long-term sustainability

Emphasize the role of monitoring and rigorous evaluations

OLPC has focused largely on supporting the first three points, with the fourth often left in the hands of our national partners (though we offer advice when asked). Over the past year, we have put more energy into supporting evaluations, compiling a list of OLPC research papers and publishing an overview of recent evaluations.

It’s natural for organizations like IDB that carry out and rely on monitoring to encourage and emphasize this. I find it a pity that few of the evaluations included in our overview published their raw data, or were carried out in a way that allowed their work to be directly compared to or combined with similar work in other regions.

To these researchers and others: I would love to see a nuanced discussion about what sorts of things can and should be monitored, what rigor and consistency mean across geography and time, and how data can be shared across [research] projects. Please help make this investment in monitoring improve our understanding of education and societal change, and not simply produce a (gameable) point-evaluation of the success of a policy decision.

I also hope to see a similar analysis for programs across the Mideast and Africa. The OLPC Rwanda program is being studied at the moment, but OLPC projects in http://wiki.laptop.org/images/2/24/OLPCF_M%26E_Publication.pdfEthiopia and Gaza are two of my favorite deployments worldwide — both have great insight to offer in organizing a successful locally-supported and sustainable project.

Comments on Jeffrey James’s olpc critique

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

Jeffrey James wrote a critique of OLPC last year, proposing a balanced pattern of “sharing computers” among children (say 5 children per computer, in the US or the UK) instead of the olpc “one to one” model – one laptop per child (and per teacher). As an alternative to olpc, James proposes that “the number of students per laptop stands in roughly the same ratio as the difference in per capita incomes between the rich and the poor country” (p. 385). In his view, the OLPC idea to persuade the developing countries to exceed the standards of shared computers of developed countries seems “utterly perverse” (p. 386).

It seems that his reasoning will fail if we substitute mobile phones for laptops. We don’t frequently share mobile phones, and in many poor countries their number exceeds James’s predictions about ratios of income and information and communication technologies in the hands of people. It seems difficult to accept the universality of his model about “sharing”, because laptops, tablets and mobile phones are rapidly converging in new hybrids.

On the other side, his ideas for successful low-cost technology sharing are not clear. One of his options, for instance, is “to purchase Intel’s Classmate computer at a similarly low price and let [them] be shared by as many students as is thought desirable” (p.389). In Argentina, where the Classmate has been most widely adopted, the national government is deploying some 3 million Classmates to cover the whole population of students and teachers of the secondary public schools in the country, on a one to one basis – an idea first proposed by OLPC some 5 years ago. It would be interesting to know the current state of affairs of other options he references (Simputer, NComputing, sharing multiple mice). However the quoted references are from 2006 and 2008, and 3-5 years is a long time in the digital era.

From the point of view of psychology and education, some comments about “teaching” need careful revision. First, in his paper James never speaks of the need to give laptops to the teachers, despite the significant mass of teachers in the world. On the contrary, OLPC programs start in every country by giving a laptop per teacher and providing corresponding teacher training. We know that a) “digital skills” develop in stages from the very early ages, as a second language (Battro & Denham, 2007) and b) most teachers didn’t have the opportunity to early access to this new global environment in the poor and developing countries.

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Canada’s Eastern Townships make good use of olpc

The school board of Eastern Townships, Canada, under Ron Canuel, has been pursuing a one laptop per child school program for over eight years, today reaching roughly 2,700 students and teachers.   A research paper recently released by Karsenti and Collin suggests their decision to give children their own laptops was a primary cause of the student’s success to date, which has included a 40% reduction in their dropout rate over 4 years.

While they aren’t using XOs in their classroom, I’ve met some of their team more than once and shown them around our offices; they were certainly right at home.  It’s great to see this sort of long-baseline research coming out.  The only thing better would be similar research from many different facets of the same country or environment, as I hope we will see from Uruguay in another year.

Roger Siptakiat on OLPC in Thailand

Late last year, Roger (Arnan) published a brief summary of his two-year analysis of seven schools in Thailand, reported in The Nation, which was spun negatively in the Bangkok Post.   While I haven’t seen the data on which he bases his analysis, his research and recent paper (from ICLS 2010) do not look negative; though they note that urban schools whose students already have access to computers (and, presumably, to libraries) do not see short-term improvements in traditional test scores, despite seeing improvements in basic literacy.

This is not surprising — OLPC does not target wealthier urban schools except as part of national saturation deployments, such as in Uruguay, Peru, and Rwanda where the entire system is undergoing a change in how it approaches learning in and out of school.   Continue reading

Papua New Guinea’s Jim Taylor Primary School

Earlier this month, Laura Hosman, an assistant professor following OLPC,  wrote an eloquent two-part series about her visit to the Jim Taylor Primary School in Kisap, Papua New Guinea, an hour’s drive from Mount Hagen.  This has the potential to be one of our most interesting rural deployments — and well run, as are all of the Oceania projects.  It is interesting to see how they are using their casually-scattered solar panel array.

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.