OLPC Keynote from SITE 2008

Sorry that it took so long, but getting back to another crazy week finds me now, on the Friday might before MRA 2008, catching up on SITE.

That said, I have one final set of notes and reflections, and this keynote was a good one. Dr. Antonio Battro, the Chief Education Officer for One Laptop Per Child delivered an excellent keynote address and post-keynote discussion. Highlights from both are here, followed by my reflections.

Also, FYI, I have update my presentation post from a few days ago, and it now includes a podcast of my session.

Here are the notes from the keynote, followed by notes from the post-keynote discussion, and, finally, my reflections:

The Cognitive Challenges of the One Laptop Per Child Program
Antonio Battro, Chief Education Officer One Laptop Per Child

  • OLPC (and per teacher)
    • Sharing knowledge is a dialogue, and this is the essence of OLPC
    • The machines may change, but education must evolve
  • History
    • Nicholas Negroponte
      • 1960’s architecture of the machine
      • In Paris, Battro spent some time with him and in the early 80’s began thinking about deploying machines in remote countries
  • Five OLPC Principles
    • Child ownership
      • This is the key, as the child and the teacher own the computers and they are given to them as a gift
      • It is difficult to understand for many ministers of education, because they want the school to own the computer — not the child or teacher
      • When we go to the highest levels of the governments that we work with, this is the first obstacle that we have to overcome
      • Uruguay is the first country to adopt OLPC for the entire country, and the machine was produced in Shanghai
        • The machines arrived during the last week of classes in November and there was discussion about what to do
          • One group said that we should give the machines to the teachers with a workshop and when classes start again in March, the kids can get them
          • Another group said that this is not the OLPC idea — we should give the machines to the children tomorrow (and this is what happened)
          • 10,000 students received the machine
          • Doing research on children and teachers who get the machine with no formal training (this is the last time that this will happen since all the children will have machines next year)
    • Low ages
      • In many countries, the idea of having digital skills is meant for adolescents and older students
      • For OLPC, kindergarten is too late and we have designed a machine that is for early ages
      • The interface is adapted very well for a child even before they learn how to read and write
      • Uruguay is starting in kindergarten because they have seen so much success with the 5 and 6 year old children
      • This motivation to start early came from Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert
        • In about 1960, Seymour Papert said that all children will eventually have a computer
        • This was a crazy idea, but he was a prophet (he developed Logo)
      • Piaget
        • Constructionism (how the child constructs reality)
          • Learning to learn
          • Children teach — this was a very profound idea, too
            • At five years old, children are very good teachers and OLPC will have millions of teachers around the world
      • Howard Gardner
        • Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century
          • The human mind has evolved a number of separate organs/information-processing devices
          • Taking human differences seriously lies at the heart of the multiple intelligences perspective
            • We do a different kind of construction for each intelligence
              • Digital intelligence (“the click option”)
                • Everything boils down to a simple question: to click or not to click
              • What happens when a child makes a mental calculation (Hideaki Koizumi, 2006)
                • The frontal lobe is activated by mental arithmetic
                • The frontal lobe is not activated when using a calculator
                  • So, what could it being doing instead?
                  • His dream is to write a book with Hideaki Koizumi about the activation of the human brain when teaching
                  • Knowing that someone else doesn’t know something and then teaching it — this is an amazing human capacity, and children can do this
    • Saturation
      • Every child has a machine and it is like a vaccination
        • Once you have good trials, you have the obligation to vaccinate everyone or else the vaccine will not work
          • This idea was presented by Jonah Salk (correct name?)
        • We prefer to have a whole town or region saturated
          • One example: in a setting with all the ministers of a country where he took at picture
    • Connection
      • Ability to connect with other users
      • The computer is not a tool, it is an environment
    • Free and open source
      • Multiple languages for the machine
      • 100 books for the machine
  • Conclusion
    • Our approach has moved from education for the few and privileged (image of Greek forum) to one computer for all the children (image of a girl with the machine balanced on her head)
    • This is hope, justice, and peace
  • Questions and Answers
    • How might this affect countries that are not democratic?
      • OLPC is non-profit and incorporated in the USA
      • OLPC will go everywhere and try to join the education efforts in the country that we work with
        • Some places need an extra push
        • We are teachers without borders and many of our people are volunteers
      • Peru — putting machines in the most remote areas of the country
    • Bill Gates idea that technology will not solve the problems — we need teachers and electricity. How do you respond to this?
      • Battro discussed his experience as a medical doctor and the eradication of disease (saturation)
      • Also, OLPC is not about machines; instead it is about education (we must have water AND education — education today is about having a computer)
        • If you introduce the computer as a technical, colonial invention, then you are reducing education
        • Education has a value in and of itself, not just as a tool
        • In many difficult places today, there are lots of struggles but the governments are willing to give the computers out

Post-Keynote Discussion

  • Security — some people are worried that the laptops will be stolen and used for illicit purposes
    • Response — the machine isn’t “on the market,” so it doesn’t have a price
    • Also, if it is lost, it can be permanently disabled from afar
    • Finally, the communities that have these laptops know that they are for the children. If adults have them, and they are are not teachers, then it is likely stolen
  • Maintenance — worries about fixing the machines in remote spots
    • Response — easy to open and repair, if it can’t be done at school it can be mailed
    • Eventually, it would be great if people could just take their laptops to any post office and, like other items like keys, they would automatically be sent in for repair and then back to the child
  • Student Use — what is happening for teachers training to support student use?
    • Rapid deployment of laptops and teachers are changing pedagogy quickly, too
    • Teachers are moving from classroom to classroom to see new practices
  • School Architecture — how do the laptops affect this?
    • Changing from desks and rows to tables and chairs in South America

    Printers — why can’t they print easily?

    • Printers are disruptive, ink is expensive, and it encourages old ways of production and transmission of information (worksheets)
  • Support — how can educators help?
    • Need more than just money from big corporations. Family, teachers, and students can use the machines for authentic purposes (USB plug in monitors and probes)
  • Education — there is a consensus that we need to change, but we are working with public funds. Also, many governments see teachers as obstacles, but we see them learning with the students. Teachers are our best collaborators. If all kids have the machine, then they are going to use it all the time. Saturation of laptops is the medical equivalent of vaccination.
  • Concluding comments — this is a project not about laptops, but about students and teachers.

Reflections

The juxtaposition of us, as educators concerned about social justice and equitable access, sitting in the cavernous conference hall of a casino on the strip in Las Vegas did not elude me. Here we were, with our $1000 (or $2000 or $3000 laptops), writing from America’s heart of conspicuous consumption about how “little green machines” are working around the world to empower youth as producers of knowledge, media, and culture. In a town where one is inundated by only a few views of what counts as culture, we had to buy into that part of the illusion to be able to sit in the room with an educator who is, literally, changing the world from a grassroots level.

Dr. Battro, as both an MD and PhD, shared a unique perspective with us on why the laptops have to be in the hands of every child. What public health officials understand about vaccinations are that they are not helpful at all unless everyone gets them. In that sense, it would not serve to only give laptops to some children, or to stop after this initial roll out is complete. This program is designed to be sustainable, a educational inoculation for generations to come.

My question for him was about the imminent release of Windows XP for the laptop. His response: it doesn’t matter to me. In other words, it really is about the literacies enable by the machine, not the particular tools. I will be interested in seeing how that plays out, especially if XP goes open source.

Well, there was a lot of information from that session. Even as I reread it a week later and half a continent away, on the cusp of another conference, I am still intrigued by the core message that this is not a laptop initiative, it is an educational initiative. This can not be underestimated and gives me pause to think about the ways that I continue to frame discussions of technology and literacy, and reminds me that I need to play with my own children as they teach me about their laptops.

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2 thoughts on “OLPC Keynote from SITE 2008”

  1. This is fantastic, Troy. Too much info for right now, but I will return to it later. I like that your impression is that it is not about the laptop itself, but about the educational opportunities the XO might open up. I agree. That is the power of the project, even with its quirks and bumps.
    I am now trying to organize a gathering of XOers from my neck of the woods — there are at least four of us in the area near my neighborhood, which I think is pretty amazing. They came out of the woodwork after I wrote and published a story about my XO in the regional newspaper.
    Kevin

    Like

  2. Thanks, Kevin.

    Battro kept reiterating that point about it being an educational project, and I will continue to echo it when I talk about other edtech projects.

    Good luck on your XO user groups. I look forward to hearing about it!

    Troy

    Like

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