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.

Continue reading Dr. Sugata Mitra in Montevideo, Uruguay

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 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.

Continue reading Comments on Jeffrey James’s olpc critique