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OLPC Australia Pushes Boundaries of Education

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the xo-also-serves-as-a-kangaroo-defense-mechanism dept.

Education 37

angry tapir writes "Slashdot recently discussed some of the problems with the One Laptop Per Child program in Peru, where, in general, teachers did not make creative use of the technology by just regarding the laptops as an end in themselves. In Australia, the local OLPC organization is attempting to address similar issues by creating an educational framework around the laptops that involves training students how to teach others about the technology and even conduct hardware repairs on the XOs. Some of the early results at XO-equipped schools, which in Australia are generally in remote and disadvantaged schools, have been impressive."

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37 comments

build children's education around needs, not tech! (5, Interesting)

fantomas (94850) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641479)

OLPC will "...build an educational ecosystem around the laptops". Fail. Don't build children's educational frameworks around a particular device, or an operating system, or any other single technological artefact or format.

Imagine if I turned up to a job interview and said "employ me - my education was built round the ZX81 microcomputer - so I am the person for your job!". I think it would be hard work to persuade my prospective employer that this in itself was reason enough to employ me.

Build the children's pedagogical framwork round a set of educational principles and skill sets that will help them become well developed members of society, with critical abilities and able to respond flexibly to the world and the workplace ten and twenty years from now.

You don't need laptops to develop well rounded adults. They may help, and by all means include them in the tools you use, and even develop a critical skill set partly based on computer hardware and software knowledge, but when you become fixated on them being the sole mechanism for teaching children, I think you've taken a useful tool too far and could blind yourself from the greater picture.

Twenty years down the line their future employers might ask "what's a laptop?".

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (2)

docilespelunker (1883198) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641549)

Excelently put. Though if I went for a job and the interviewer didn't know anything about recent history I'd be a little worried about what they thaught the future would hold. Perhaps the laptops should be issued to all students who do all their homework and appear to be giving school a go. Don't have to be good, but should try and be rewarded for it.

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | more than 2 years ago | (#39646391)

Perhaps the laptops should be issued to all students who do all their homework and appear to be giving school a go. Don't have to be good, but should try and be rewarded for it.

Both you and the grandparent are completely missing the point. The world has changed and Reading wRiting and aRithmetic are no longer sufficient. Every single person needs to properly understand computation and computers otherwise they will never understand the world around them and will believe in Voodoo like voting machines and terrorist profiling. If you only give the bright kids computers they will be stigmatised as different and the others will fall behind. Even normal things, like writing a letter, have completely changed and are becoming as valuable as Latin*. Normal jobs for normal people are now advertised on Facebook and for most people's lives; definitely those that are educated today, writing a social network posting may be a more important skill that normal writing. That's a really scary world for people who have only a traditional education and haven't made the shift to computing.

Something has to be done. Previous attempts with standard computers have failed with either the students simply playing games (given Windows computers at home) or with Teachers simply repeating old subjects on a computer and without getting much learning benefit at all. OLPC may be misguided, but it isn't misguided in the way it's primitivist critics seem to think; it has at least attempted to identify and address most of the real practical and educational problems that other projects have failed with.

* Which is to say; Doctors and some other people really need Latin. A person who doesn't know a little Latin or at least recognise it as Latin is in trouble in lots of situations. Latin is actually pretty surprisingly useful, for a dead language. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if physical Letter writing doesn't become almost completely restricted to specialists like lawyers soon. Just like Latin.

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

bug1 (96678) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641659)

Imagine if I turned up to a job interview and said "employ me - my education was built round the ZX81 microcomputer - so I am the person for your job!"

My first computer had a Z80 in it, i tried to teach myself assembler on it.

Should i be ashamed of that now ?

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641683)

"Assembler"? Luxury. We had to program our Z80s in hexadecimal.

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

16384 (21672) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641867)

I know you are joking, but I didn't have an assembler when I learned z80 assembly (using a ZX Spectrum+), and had to translate the op codes by hand to decimal using tables, and then entering them into memory using a for loop.

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642071)

I had it easy with my 6502.

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642223)

It just comes down to how you wrote the hex-loader

10 DATA "ED5B60EA"

Decimal wasn't a requirement.... ;)

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#39656721)

Nope. I wrote a program to edit the memory directly.

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#39656705)

I know you are joking,

Um, no. I really did write programs in hexadecimal, on Z80 and 6502 (using Commodore PET hex monitor).

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642221)

No. Assembler is still a useful language.
Try fitting a timing sensitive C program on a PIC10 series MCU and you'll see what i mean.

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

nzac (1822298) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642215)

Don't build children's educational frameworks around a particular device, or an operating system, or any other single technological artefact or format.

You misunderstand the choice here. It's not choosing to base a program base on one device or many but having a laptop program to expose the kids to computer and tech skills or take 3 to 8 years to find the funding and develop a well rounded curriculum for multiple devices while the children complete their education never having used a computer at school.

Learning how to operate one device is a huge head start for real tech training than never having spent any meaningful time in front of one of them. The employer also knows that they are technologically capable and are likely to be able to learn on the job. They are being used for primary and and secondary not tertiary education.

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#39644021)

OLPC will "...build an educational ecosystem around the laptops". Fail.

Depends on how closely, and what exactly, them mean by saying 'around the laptops'. That could mean as little as "Given that the laptops are there, and can be assumed as a resource in the hands of students, we can now plan a series of etexts, electronic assessments, educational websites, etc. That seems reasonable enough, albeit subject to the usual pitfalls of making computers in education work.

Even some level of customization(ie. it'd be pretty painless to whip together a default CSS stylesheet for maximum readability on a known-model screen) isn't necessarily bad.

If they have a bunch of x86/linux/sugar native binaries that'll be dated in a year planned, they should strongly consider thinking again. Especially if they've managed to commit the unforgivable sin of building a 'computer education' curriculum that revolves around "These are the buttons to press in product XYZ that will be obsolete before you graduate..."

Re:build children's education around needs, not te (1)

Pseudonym (62607) | more than 2 years ago | (#39653249)

Imagine if I turned up to a job interview and said "employ me - my education was built round the ZX81 microcomputer - so I am the person for your job!".

Actually, if I needed to employ someone to program a modern microcontroller (PIC or AVR), I'd consider 8-bit micro experience a bonus.

Wrong starting point (4, Interesting)

docilespelunker (1883198) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641521)

If every child gets a laptop, that's great as long as they're used. Microsoft did a study at my school in the 90's, giving half the students in the first year a laptop and not the other. The net reault was half the students carried on being taught the normal way and the other were also taught the normal way but had to carry a laptop about too. Essentially they were expensive bricks that did not get used. I often noticed the students with the laptops being taught in the PC rooms, using up desktop computers and with their laptops left in their bags on the floor beside them. When one of the most computationally ahead schools in the UK in the 90s couldn't think of anything to do with the laptops, do we expect people with no computer skills to do anything other than check email and play angry birds? Perhaps what's really needed is staff awareness, a curriculum and then laptops - in that order.

Re:Wrong starting point (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39641581)

I often noticed the students with the laptops being taught in the PC rooms, using up desktop computers and with their laptops left in their bags on the floor beside them.

This still happens a lot in our labs (computer science at a university).
The main reason for this is usually missing software (or not being allowed to connect the laptop to the ethernet). I would expect that to be a common problem, which goes away when laptops are actually considered when designing the work.

Re:Wrong starting point (4, Funny)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641669)

Essentially they were expensive bricks that did not get used.

I'd like to see a follow-up study on physical fitness

G'day, dingo! (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641531)

XO-equipped schools, which in Australia are generally in remote and disadvantaged schools

G'day, dingo! Heard yer like learning, so I put a school in your school so you can learn while yer learnin'.

Re:G'day, dingo! (4, Funny)

scdeimos (632778) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642099)

Nice American accent.

Re:G'day, dingo! (1)

ancienthart (924862) | more than 2 years ago | (#39654677)

As an Australian, I would just like to say "Bloody American"!!!!

depends on the teacher... surprise (2)

johnjones (14274) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641561)

so...

ever been given a book as part of a curriculum and hated it because of the way the subject area was taught ?

so much depends on the leaders at 'grass roots' otherwise known as "teachers" if they use tools in interesting and informative ways then it helps...

have fun

John Jones

pushing technology without support .... (4, Insightful)

thephydes (727739) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641591)

This and the previous article, highlight the folly of pushing technology without support. There is absolutely no point in giving someone - in this case the teachers - a new gadget to use if you dont tell them how best to use it. I have seen this time and time again in my 30+ years as an educator - the kids will latch on quickly, the teachers not so. Not because the can't, but because the life of a teacher is busy and complex and the last thing they want to do is learn something that will likely end up as the latest expensive fad, and sit in a cupboard until someone takes them to the tip. Geeze, you can see this in your own house I'll bet. Your kids learn much faster than you, and your wife or SO - assuming you have one, just wants it to work without stuffing around. Not that this is a rant about OLPC by the way - I think the heart is there but the implementation sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

Re:pushing technology without support .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39645087)

> highlight the folly of pushing technology without support.
Sugata Mitra might disagree: http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach_themselves.html

Maybe the teachers are the problem, and the kids should be given the OLPCs without any interference...

Re:pushing technology without support .... (1)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | more than 2 years ago | (#39646975)

> highlight the folly of pushing technology without support. Sugata Mitra might disagree: http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach_themselves.html [ted.com]

Maybe the teachers are the problem, and the kids should be given the OLPCs without any interference...

If you ask me; this attitude may be part of what's holding OLPC back. Mitra's experiment shows that there are kids out there that can teach themselves. Lots more that can teach themselves with a little start from others. It says nothing about the kids that never even tried to use the computer. Some kids, if left on their own will teach themselves. Many many kids will not. Plenty of people will go a long way if you give them a little starting push to help them along. These people will be voting on your future and have to understand issues like computerised voting and privacy laws if we are to get sensible government.

I think many of the people on this site, being IT/computing/technology people in work now, will have taught themselves most of what they know. There just wasn't anything around to teach us what we needed when we needed it. We then tend to undervalue even the stuff that was taught to us. Even more, we tend to be the people who were held back by the teachers and forget that there were others that were different.

You need to provide both good teaching and opportunity for kids to self develop. Miss either one of them and you will cause damage.

Re:pushing technology without support .... (1)

Locutus (9039) | more than 2 years ago | (#39645155)

if educators look at everything new as something that'll fail then get rid of them. Our educators should be infatuated with learning and new ideas and embracing new ideas. Here it is 2012 and still our kids are leaving high school without a clue how to use the general purpose computer( notice it's not called a word processing machine ). We are taught to read not because there's one book we should read but because the written word is everywhere. And besides, progress means moving to new ways of doing things including enhancing existing methods.

If we think the computer is not a fad then we should be giving the kids a chance at learning how to use them to learn and then allow them to learn as much as they want or can from there. ie the software on the device should be about teaching classic concepts along with the ability to explore other concepts(programming, drawing, painting, logic, mathematical graphing, etc. And with open source, there is no financial issues limiting schools, parents, etc. On top of that, some of the students will raise up to be teachers aids for new students, the schools IT specialists, and even the software programmers etc.

or we could just stick with pencils, paper, caulk board and printed books and then in 10 years wonder why the rest of the world has overtaken us in education skill sets. But someone needs to assist the educators even if it's just one other educator at each school who learns Moodle gets the rest up on using existing coursework and then improving them to their students needs.

LoB

One laptop per Dingo! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39641601)

Maybe now they'll stop eating your kids!

Re:One laptop per Dingo! (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641671)

Maybe now they'll stop eating your kids!

Or just track them via GPS

Time to suggest once again... (2)

tlambert (566799) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641641)

That any OLPC deployment like this also deploy with a redundant server, accessible by the devices, and containing at a minimum these three things:

(1) A copy of the Khan academy course materials
(2) A copy of the current Wikipedia
(3) A copy of the current Project Gutenberg

For a large enough installation of OLPC machines, it's possible that at least the second and maybe the third could be installed in distributed form on the devices themselves, rather than requiring a server, although that almost also requires redundancy and mesh networking to deal with lost/damaged/stolen devices..

-- Terry

Good, don't forget... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39641885)

(4) Open Street Map (a slippy map server perhaps)
(5) Some satellite image of the Earth (NASA WorldWind, maybe)

Re:Time to suggest once again... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642727)

original XOs have mesh networking. a text-only wikipedia is 4GB, though, so realistically you're going to need to keep it on the server.

Waste of money (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641651)

I'd rather all that money provided books and proper teachers.

Hint: proper teachers need proper salaries, otherwise you get the teaching monkeys you find in schools today, save for the occasional inspired teachers who do it because it's their vocation. Money spent in useless laptops = more crap teachers.

Re:Waste of money (2)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 2 years ago | (#39641761)

Nope. What you do is create a national program. This program creates experimental grades with a very low student teacher ratio to create computer based education for each grade. Once an effective model is created for each grade that model is distributed nationally starting at the lowest grades and catching up to higher grades as principles of application are established.

The easiest application is open source open e-book readers instead of text books. Then add in note taking add in direct quizzes in the open text book with correction at the end of the quiz. Now add in interactivity.

Re:Waste of money (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39642143)

Agreed. Considering this was supposed to be a $100 laptop...

OLPC Australia charges $400 per XO and the One Education program, with disadvantaged schools able to access donor-supported discounts of $300 per laptop.

One has to wonder how many donors are around actually causing these to be $100 laptops. Even though the XO 1.75's in Australia are running the ARM-based Sugar distro, it is essentially a walled-garden. Faced with a $400 limited device, schools should still be considering walking into an OfficeWorks and buying much more powerful $268.00 netbooks or $399.00 notebooks.

Re:Waste of money (1)

nzac (1822298) | more than 2 years ago | (#39642387)

So, in your hypothetical alternative do these kids learn about and use computers at home or not?
TFS implies that if it's not done at school some students not be exposed to computers at all by the time they leave school in 8 or so years (where they might need to know something about computers to get a job).
TFS also says the teachers are trained in how to use the computers.

The advantages of pencil, paper, handwriting, etc. (1)

lsolano (398432) | more than 2 years ago | (#39643931)

I'm not a school teacher, but I think there are many advantages when children learn how to write with their own hands.

The way we face math problems drawing and sketching things is not an ability just to solve math problems. We developed a way to think and then show our ideas for others to understand.

I think it's a phenomenal idea to have "Computer Class" some hours every week, but make the education system around computers is absurd.

Re:The advantages of pencil, paper, handwriting, e (1)

Locutus (9039) | more than 2 years ago | (#39645251)

I think that is why the OLPC software is all about sharing between students and teachers. ie one student can start an application and other student can join him/her with his/her XO and see the problems being solved or help solve them. It's not like you sitting at home in the back room figuring things out and unless you save and sent the application and file nobody can see what you did.

I agree that manual skills need to be taught but the OLPC XO and Sugar software was designed for sharing and solving problems with others. Lots of work went into designing the Mesh networking which allows devices to connect to each other in a one-to-one configuration and a many-to-many configuration.

The original XO did have an area for use with a drawing pencil/pointer but it didn't work well but the next gen of XO is supposed to be a tablet so even manual input(hand drawings etc ) will be possible.

LoB

Re:The advantages of pencil, paper, handwriting, e (1)

ixuzus (2418046) | more than 2 years ago | (#39645415)

There's no single method that will work for all education settings but the widespread introduction of computers would benefit a lot of kids - particularly early on. For example, the coordination to use a pencil with any degree of accuracy simply isn't there for a fair percentage of kids starting school. For them it would probably be beneficial to start with a computer. That way they can concentrate on improving their literacy using a keyboard without being held back because they simply haven't reached a certain stage of physical development. When their fine motor control improves they can apply what the already know in learning to write. If integrating computers into the classroom means that a reasonably intelligent kid doesn't fall behind because their brain is still mastering making everything move like it should or allows teachers to engage with a wider range of learning styles then I'm all for it.

The fact that a computer is being fully integrated with the curriculum doesn't mean it will be used exclusively or all the time - it needs to be that way to be any use in the classroom. If you can't match it up with what you're supposed to be teaching it's useless. It is then up to the teacher to decide how and when to best use it. A good teacher will use the most appropriate medium to teach the subject matter. Obviously things like writing, drawing, and certain practical elements of science are poorly suited to being done on a computer but that doesn't make the presence of the computer any less useful.
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