My recent blog post on Uruguay's Plan Ceibal generated a buzz of discussion over at OLPCNews on the value of measurement, test scores, and updates from the field on 1:1 laptop projects visibly impacting test scores (http://www.gse.uci.edu/person/warschauer_m/docs/netbooks-aera2010.pdf#n…). Are these soft measures of attendance and laptop usage good enough, or must we demand test score improvements?
As you might have guessed from my tongue-in-cheek #mHS10 drinking game (pilot=1 shot, 1k flowers=2, feature phone=3, "going global with sms phone support" = finish bottle), I got a bit tired of "Pilot-itis," which was finally called out as a problem on stage by Christopher Bailey of the WHO during the Wednesday morning plenary.
This pilot-itis was my biggest overall frustration with the discussions and presentations this year - a seemingly endless march of "new" pilot programs around (1) SMS for outreach/awareness (2) SMS and mobile for low-touch scheduled reminders and interaction or (3) Apps for various forms of monitoring. Perhaps it's my relative unfamiliarity with the health field, but do programs do controlled studies every time they plan to release a new paper, or put a PSA ad at bus stops? There is so much that can be done today, with a few hours of hacking, to advance at least #1 and #2 above, settle on a few solutions, and move on to more impactful territory. Take a page from Nike (who have one of the most successful fitness monitoring apps in the wild) and Just Do It.
Miguel didn't dive deep into cost calculations during his TEDxBuenosAires talk, but this seems like awfully low numbers. I am curious to see how they are controlling the costs - perhaps Internet access is affordable due to a competitive marketplace (wish we had one of those in the States) or existing subsidies for educational access. Do these costs include Ministry-level overhead and teacher training, or have those been rolled into existing budgets? I wonder not so much as a criticism of their cost calculations - clearly CEIBAL is a shining star in both OLPC distributions and educational technology projects - but rather as a best-practices interest.
1:1 Computing costs are a difficult thing to nail down, because there are so many factors that go into it. I worked with GeSCI's Roxanna Bassi to create a worksheet to help guide cost calculations. I took a first stab four years ago, and came out with a $972/laptop cost over a 5 year program. To say that that cost estimate was not popular at the time would be an understatement.
OLE Nepal has put together a great TCO of the laptop program, based on their pilot project. Where I pieced together training budgets from USAID ICT4Edu projects and Internet connectivity estimates from UN/ITU global averages, they have on-the-ground numbers, (and a few ideal estimates on repair costs). The total for a 5 year program in Nepal? We're still looking at $753, if you read carefully:
This also sounds curiously similar to early stages of import-replacing industrialization, where with domestic reverse-engineering of imported technologies in support of increasing support, repair, and eventually production and innovation of the technology. Oh wait, we're already seeing innovation:
"In any cluster of mobile phone shops you find someone who offers repair services. This typically starts out as people fixing displays and speakers, which tend to break first. People then come asking if other things can be fixed, and over time there’s an increased awareness of how to fix different models. Nokia tends to be the dominant player in those markets, so people tend to know how to fix them, right down to soldering bits of the circuit board. It’s from those repair services that a street-hacker culture originates. "
"However the demand is there, and we’ve seen street services that offer to take two physical sim cards, and re-engineer the circuitry to fit into one sim card slot – effectively allowing multiple phone numbers on one device. You could argue that the cutting edge of mobile technology and use is happening on the streets of places like Accra, rather than Tokyo or San Francisco. "
I guess I shouldn't be too terribly surprised?
Through the magic of technology, this post at CrissCrossed.net from January just popped up on my radar, covering examples of using the one-two visual and data-rich impact of maps for activism. His examples cover pollution reporting in China, community mapping in Brazil and others. Add to that the Ushahidi-powered BP Oil Spill Crisis Map and of course the gamechanging effects of incident reporting and crisismapping in immediate the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, and you have a sea-change in the ability to respond to a problem with geographic dimensions quickly, and with data-driven, crowdsource-able maps. This ability is largely thanks to the work of Ushahidi (which now even supports remote reporting via voice calls) and projects like Open Street Map.
Is hardware hacking becoming more accessible in the development context?
A positive psychologist friend once explained the concept of (watch as I butcher the terms and descriptions) "flow" to me. I understood it as working on things which are interesting, difficult, but not so overwhelmingly difficult that you can't make clear progress on. Importantly, also not so easy that you just breeze mindlessly through. Good logic puzzles, programming, and such things are often found on this razor's edge between too difficult and too easy.
Hardware hacking has long been a task which only a small, geeky set of people can really enjoy a flow state while exploring the dark magics of hardware.
Last night I shared some pints with DC-area OLPC fans , Mike Lee showed off an Acer he'd hacked a Pixel Qi screen into. Now, this is not a hack for the faint of heart (yet), but it's pretty amazing in the world of the mostly-sealed, non-user-hackable laptop setups to be able to swap in a new screen, especially not one provided in a kit from the original manufacturer.