Thursday, March 27, 2008

The XO laptop

Yesterday I had a chance to look at the XO laptop developed for the One Laptop Per Child program. There is a working group based out of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Students are being tasked with developing programs and testing the laptops in real world situations. Working in a school we have real world situations, and being a small school, the red tape to work on this stuff is only one to three people thick.

The laptop is small, with a small keyboard. I had to type with two fingers, but there are usb ports, so you could hook up a larger keyboard if needed. But the computer is designed for kids, so the keyboard may be just right for them. The machine seems to be durable, and they have done many tests in development of the computer, dropping it, burying it in sand, heating it and so on. Here is a piece on NPR regarding it

Why are we getting involved in this? These computers are designed for third world countries, and we are not that here outside of Rochester NY. There are a few answers for that.
First of all looking at school budgets and the technology needs for early elementary schools. Young kids can be tough on equipment; it is just the nature of the age. These computers can be dropped, get wet, and handle most things. The computers are built to stand up to this unintended abuse. The cost of the laptops is within the reach of most budgets. The current cost is about $200 per copy, with the goal being $100 per computer. This almost makes the idea of 1-to-1 computing reasonable in cost and insurance coverage.
The computers are designed to work as a mesh network. This allows for collaboration between students in the class, sharing information, checking each other’s work, a great tool for that.
The computer does not have unnecessary software, you can think of them as being stripped down laptops. New applications are being written all of the time, but what does a young user need. There is a drawing program, writing and a few others.
The software is open source; the operating system is Linux, stability and the ability for new applications to be written all of the time.
The school gets a chance to help others in working with software developers. The students at RIT are working to make educational programs and design learning activities for the XO. These programs need a real world test, and we can provide this. A win-win situation for all.

The XO computer is not designed to take the place of high-end laptops. They are relatively slow, and the graphics are not flashy. They do what is needed for computing and collaborative work. The developers were looking at what can be done with minimal computing power, and with that in mind they did a great job.

We must keep in mind the role of technology in education. It is not to replace the teacher, but be a tool in the teaching and learning process. The first of the discussion with the RIT students yesterday focused on what the xo cannot do, and what they wished it could do. Eventually they changed focus on what it can do, and its strengths are. It was fun to see the changes in their thinking in a short time. I am looking forward to seeing the projects they develop and how well they work with our students here.

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