On Pragmatism and the OLPC

has a hands-on photoshoot with the revolutionary XO-4 convertible tablet/laptop.  It has an infrared touchscreen, has refocused its interface to run on top of a standard Linux distribution instead of a customized and tweaked version, and... um... it looks rather familiar. I mean to say, it's almost indistinguishable from the XO-1.  

And that's a very good thing.  What has happened to the OLPC program is, in many ways, what I'd hoped they'd intentionally choose as a path forward-  thoughtful and efficient development focused on impact over glitz, using existing projects and tools where available, and not re-inventing things that weren't broken, but using incremental improvements.  Of course, that approach doesn't catch headlines as well, but it does work.


OLPCs, Uruguay and Educational Value

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?

Social Change - to go, please

Cross-posted at the FrontlineSMS Blog

The recent Technology Salons have been on local and sectoral implementations of mobile technology in development.

Mobile is hardly "new" anymore, but we're seeing increasing tools for peer-to-peer communications and decentralized development. Instead of SMS reporting for mHealth metrics or election observation (both amazingly powerful), we have Ushahidi and a team of volunteers from colleges and Haitian diaspora communities across the world saving lives in Haiti after the earthquake by synthesizing and translating reports from on the ground into actionable, trustable pieces of information.

Instead of training-and-visit agricultural extension work, we have tools like Patatat which are building group email lists through SMS messaging, enabling farmers (or anyone) to collaborate on their work, market prices, crop diseases, and so on - with increasingly little need for anything at the center. And of course there's twitter, which, while still "centralized" as a website, enables un-mediated communication amongst basically anyone in the world with a cell phone and a good text-messaging plan.

The OLPC Vaporware Product Line Vs. the iPad

olpc 3.0
iPad or OLPC?

Update: the EE Times has a great, similar article on the OLPC fantasy vs Apple reality.

So, the XO-2 has moved from promise to hope to scrap, and has made way for a tablet-style, iPhoneiPad-like XO-3 (Read about the 3.0 model at Forbes and Engadget, with the now-in-production 1.5 and the in-planning 1.75 XOs, both using the current design but with faster processors.

OLPC, and Nick Negroponte in particular, love to use conceptual designs to create excitement. This works great in normal, commercial development a few times. Once you miss a few targets, people react very negatively too it, even if you do finally release a product. Why do you think Apple pairs announcements with already-planned release schedules?

The OLPC Haiti Project Reports Back

When the IDB plans to "evaluate its performance from a quantitative standpoint," it's a good sign that they mean to do just that. The XO project in Haiti, discussed here with a cost breakdown here is bearing a ton (1 pages, to be precise) fruit, with the recent IDB report (PDF).

It reveals some promise, some best practices, and also reminds us of some common problems.

I'm Still Not Convinced

At the IADB seminar on ICT in the classroom, I asked Nicholas Negroponte why not sell the XO laptop -- at or near cost -- to anyone who wanted one? This gets beyond the hassle of having to convince bureaucrats of the value of the laptop without running pilot programs and delaying the eventual adoption. It (hopefully) creates some side markets in support, software development for non-educational uses of the laptop like rural healthcare, and could enable educational uses without going through the schools themselves, even.

Granted, there are some concerns. OLPC has thus far maintained a clarity of focus by working towards their mission of universal access, rather than having to worry (like Intel and Microsoft) about capturing an emerging market. Working at the ministry level potentially could reduce the transaction costs of each "deal," but more importantly, it guarantees some level of equitable distribution of the laptops, ensuring not just those with money will get access.

And this equity is important - for a education project within a school; you have to have all the students with laptops, or you by definition don't have a 1:1 program and you don't have a good shared computing setup either. Lack of computer saturation also opens it up to higher risk for theft.

The Inter-American Development Bank and ICT4Edu

Today's IADB event, Reinventing the Classroom, brought together thought-leaders, practitioners and government officials to discuss the role of technology in education in Latin America. In sum, it was a lot of preaching to the choir. This particular choir, however, hailed from many different churches, temples, cathedrals, and bazaars.

Everyone present believed in the importance of technology in education, but there was enough differences in opinion and methodologies to keep it interesting. It ranged from presentations on real-world experiences of projects in Portugal using a variation of the Intel Classmate to projects in Brazil and Argentina to the amazing Plan CEIBAL of Uruguay, using the OLPC XO. Presenters extolled the virtues of free and open source software as well as the familiar Windows XP.

By the end of the day-long seminar, I felt an odd mix of hope and despair.