This One Got My Attention…the XO-3

Soak in this image for a few moments…
xo3-fuse-1

and now this one…

xo3-fuse-2

This is the next-generation concept design from the One Laptop Per Child team. This device does not exist yet, but the XO-3 as it is called simply looks awesome. I’m not sure what is the most appealing part – the slim design? The onscreen virutal keyboard? For many years I’ve been in the camp that tablet computers are the wave of the future (see this post). Like many, I’ve been disappointed by the design and/or price of current offerings.

It’s impossible to make judgement without being able to actually use this device. On appearance, it looks like this tablet could be the one that fills the mobile-tactile-interactive media device need.

What if it came in at the projected price of $75? What if it was in the hands of EVERY child in EVERY school IN THE WORLD?

It is still just a concept device, but as good concepts should be, this one just demands attention. I’m in…

See and read more about the XO-3 on the Laptop.org blog (images courtesy of that site).

Gave One Got One

Thanks to a presentation by Brian Smith, Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez at NYSCATE a couple of weeks ago, I get what the OLPC (one laptop per child) laptop is about. Its not about technology. Its not about schools. Its about kids, learning, and opportunity.

I watched and considered last year while the Give 1 Get 1 program was introduced. This year, I’m not watching, I’m in. I ordered an XO at Amazon, and it just arrived. Another one is on the way to a kid somewhere in the world. I’ll never know which kid, but that’s OK. It’s like blood donations – you give because you should, and you know some good will come of it.

What am I going to do with the one I received? I’m going to put it in the hands of my five and four year old kids, sit next to them, and learn with them. I’m going to do my best to NOT see how fast it performs, if I can check my work email, or any of the other typical adult uses. The interface and OS are totally different, and that’s OK (perhaps great). The XO is about kids learning.

I don’t know how many XO users are in the Buffalo-Niagara region, but we’ll be heading to the OLPC wiki to hook up with them. Maybe we’ll have to create a local group so kids can connect around here in addition to around the world.

On Making Software Accessible

I’ve been listening to the NECC (National Educational Computing Conference) podcasts available free via iTunes. David Thornburg, leading thinker and educator, spoke in a presentation titled, “Open Minds, Open Education, and a View of Open Culture.” The focus was on 1:1 programs for students and open source software.

The quote that jumped out at me was near the beginning:

“Singe platform software is anti-child.”

Pow. Ouch. Absolutely right. I’ll be the first to admit I have a personal preference for some software apps that are on one platform but not another (e.g. Visual Communicator and iLife). However, anytime a piece of software, be it Windows-only, Mac-only or even Linux-only, is used with students, it will prevent the home use of that software by the student if they have another platform at home.

To that end, open source, cross-platform software solutions that students can download and use at home for free will do more to break down the walls of technology than pretty much any other technique we can try. In the best case scenario, time using technology in a class setting is far less than in a home setting (unless in a 1 to 1 program). If the software is accessible anywhere, the benefits go up dramatically.

This year we are installing many more software programs that are open source cross platform (OSCP?). Two examples are OpenOffice, much like the Microsoft Office suite, and GIMP, which is very similar to Photoshop. I plan to make a concentrated effort to help our students realize the power of these accessible programs.

Ten Year Plan: One-to-One Programs Are Not Worth It

Perhaps I’ve gotten your attention with the title. Please take the time to think about what’s on my mind here. If I look out over the next ten years, pushing and prodding toward better learning, dedicating time and resources to implementing a one-to-one computing program is not worth it. That is not to say that one-to-one computing is not a worthy goal. In fact, it is the only goal. Anything we do or say revolving around better learning and technology means that the learners have to have the technology access. We do not talk about one-to-one teacher programs. Be it a desktop or laptop – most every teacher has access to computer technology. Why then would I say student one-to-one computing solutions are not worth it? Simple…

Students are coming to school right now, today, with their one-to-one computing device.

cellphone.jpgJust about every cell phone out today has not only voice, but data access, a camera, and more capability overall than computers of just a few years ago. I further think that the cell phone, or smart phone as prices come down, as a one-to-one device will not be affected by the digital divide seen in schools. While the schools that many students walk into may not be digitally equipped, the students mostly are.

Some states, and a number of districts, are investing heavily in laptop programs for students. The overhead in managing such programs is huge. Juxtapose that with the simple, powerful tool already in students hands that they use constantly while out of school, and what you get is a win-win situation. Cost of management of cell phone as technology tool – minimal; value – priceless (with apologies and credit to MasterCard).

Would such a solution be viable in elementary schools? No. Middle Schools? Maybe (upper grades especially). High School? You bet. If I were to accept a student response to a class question that has correct grammatical construction, capitalization, etc. but was typed with all thumbs, should that matter?

Here is one scenario that is young in thought process, but I think worthy of conversation. A school has a building-wide access phone #, and each individual class in the schedule has an extension #. A student walks into 2nd period English, and upon seeing the warm-up activity on the LCD projector, dials into the class, and texts his/her responses to the warm-up activity. In this case it is a daily edit, and the teacher watches as the responses from the students appear on screen, making comments as they appear. Since the students have linked to the class right at the beginning, attendance is done automatically with no intervention by the teacher. Instruction on the particular topic, along with feedback from every student, occurs within three minutes of class beginning.

Now, the other side, better know as reality. How do we manage an environment where students use cell phones as a learning tool? How do we keep them focused on learning, and not messaging, bantering, bullying, or distracting? I do not have the answers, but I think this is where we should spend the time, energy and money for the next ten years. My motto is that a school is people. learning. The people in this case, the students, need to learn how to manage and interact appropriately and effectively within the context of being connected. We need to focus on how to get them there.

There are a whole host of issues to think about in order to make a cell phone as learning tool workable, but that is a far better conversation to focus on. In this scenario the tool is owned by the learner, and the school does not have the exorbitant management costs. There will still be some equity issues to deal with, but even if some schools had to provide cell phone devices, that is a vastly different cost/maintenance issue than with computers. Will schools still need comptuers? Of course. So will students at home. However, if we want to focus on the best value for anywhere, anytime learning, the cell phone is the direction I believe we should proceed in.

Image citation:
JonJon2k8. “Cell Phone.” Flickr. 31 Dec. 2006. 23 Mar. 2008 <http://flickr.com/photos/jonjon_2k8/340305918/>.