Should your school participate in the XO G1G1 program?

One Laptop per Child: Give 1 Get 1Thinking about creating a school program around the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop computer? At the recent NEIT 2008 conference (see my post, The people in the room are the right people), several schools were thinking along these lines. Would the Give One, Get One (G1G1) project be a perfect holiday project, raising funds for something that would help the poorest children in the world, and potentially benefit the school as well?

For example, if a school raised $2,000, that would be enough money to purchase ten XO laptops. The school would get five, and five children somewhere in the world would get the others.

As we talked about the options, there were some good ideas for using the XOs that I’d like to share.

  • “field trip” computers for recording audio, video and notes
  • start a computer club where students participate in the XO community
  • have them in the library for check out
  • use them in lower grade levels

At the end of the day, it’s really up to the school and how involved they want to get. Even something as small  as promoting the program as an option for gift giving with a global purpose is worth doing.

Here are some questions that came up, with the answers if we could figure them out from the XO site.

Q: How does the XO compare to other small, inexpensive laptops on the market?
Its different!A: There are technical details on the Amazon XO site and even more on the OLPC wiki. However, my contention is that for most Americans, unless you are willing to buy-in to the XO learning principles and participate in the grand global experiment, the XO is not for you. If you are choosing a laptop simply on technical specifications or price, I’d suggest passing on the XO. (My checklist of “what not to expect” when you get an XO.)

Q: If my school participates in the G1G1 program, do we find out who gets the “other” laptops?
A: As far as we could find out, that is not possible. This isn’t like and “adopt a child” program, you don’t get a letter telling you who gets the computer. However, you can find a lot of stories about what kids are doing with their XO laptops around the world on the XO wiki. I imagine that it would be fairly easy to find a school somewhere to establish a “pen pal” relationship with. Also, with the Give Many program, if you donate enough money to purchase more than 100 XOs you can have your donation go to a particular country.

Q: Should we tell parents to do this and get a laptop for their child for home use?
A: If you do, you need to manage expectations for parents. These computers are not just cheap laptops or expensive Leapfrogs. Most parents will not be expecting to have to do their own tech support, system updates, or learn a new operating system. Again, see my checklist of “what not to expect” when you get an XO for some suggestions of what you do and don’t get with the XO.)

Q: We have lots of computers, we don’t need more. Can we just donate money?
A: According to the XO site, you can simply donate money in any amount. You can also just purchase one laptop that goes directly for donation for $199.

Q: Does it come with Windows?
A: There have been recent news reports about the XO being able to dual boot Sugar (the operating system designed for it) and Windows. The laptops purchased through the G1G1 program will NOT have Windows installed.

Q: Does it come with a hand crank?
A: No, that was just an early prototype that seems to have caught a lot of people’s imagination. It comes with a regular AC power adapter.

Q: Should we do the G1G1 program and then donate the computers to a nearby, needier school?
Only if the school wants them. These XOs are different than other computers and will need special maintenance and care. Some schools have created “exchange” programs, where students provide support and training for other schools. If you are willing to create such a long-term relationship, this might be an extraordinary learning experience for your students.

Q: How long is the G1G1 program running? Holidays are too busy, but we could do something in the spring.
A: This is one question we couldn’t find a really solid answer to. The OLPC wiki says it will be an ongoing program, and that “While the promotion has no scheduled end date, the advertising will run from Nov 17 to Dec 26, to take advantage of the holiday giving season.” However, much of the news about G1G1 has stated that the program ends Dec. 31, 2008. There is an open question on the “talk” page of the OLPC wiki about this, but no one has responded yet. It’s possible that people are also confusing last year’s program which ran for a limited time.

My inclination would be to trust the OLPC wiki and assume that Amazon is committed to this for the long term… but keep checking back!

Sylvia

The people in the room are the right people

Last week I was the closing keynote at NEIT 2008, the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Education and Information Technology conference. It was an “unconference” and used a structure called “Open Space” to plan and manage the meetings. Other than the two keynote “anchors”, there were no planned sessions.

Open Space Technology is “a simple way to run productive meetings, for five to 2000+ people, and a powerful way to lead any kind of organization, in everyday practice and extraordinary change.”

At NAIS 2008, I found it very successful, and at the same time, a powerful metaphor for learning.

At the beginning of the conference, everyone is free to step up and propose any session they want. Not just ones they want to present, but anything they want to know more about. And then as these suggestions begin to fill the slots, more ideas come forward. After a few sessions, you have another meeting and fill more slots, propose more ideas. (More about how this works)

When it started, it seemed like there were way too many open spots and not enough ideas. People worried that voting would help sort out what to do, that their ideas wouldn’t be popular, that they would miss things, or that we would run out of ideas. But as we heard the Open Space Four Principles and One Law it started to make more sense:

Four Principles

  • Whoever comes is the right people
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • When it’s over, it’s over

The one law is The Law of Two Feet, meaning, if you want to be somewhere else, do it – just don’t waste the time.

How it worked
Sure enough, most sessions had enough people. Part of the success was due to the facility having many small rooms, enough to accommodate all the proposed sessions. Some had projectors, some didn’t but it all worked out. When we re-gathered for the next planning sessions, people were energized, more sessions were proposed, people decided to continue or repeat a session, and slowly the open slots were filled

I’ve been to other unconferences, and this one was different. Because there was no voting, there was no competitive element and no hidden message that only the most popular ideas or people are important. While I understand that often the physical space is a limitation, I think there must be ways to acknowledge that everyone can contribute.

As I went to various sessions, people were passionate and focused. It’s the first conference in years where I went to every session and wished there were more. Lots of people said the same thing. You know when you go to a conference and the best part is the conversation in the hall? This was all hall.

The kids in the room are the right kids
But really, isn’t this what we hope for classrooms, especially project-based learning environments? Sometimes it’s hard to explain project-based learning. It’s hard to convince others that it actually works, because it’s hard to “see” the learning when the teaching is not continuous direct instruction. You have to trust the process, design situations that will engage students, and then give students time to become immersed in them. You have to trust the students and allow them to take risks, make mistakes, overcome frustrations and work through momentary distractions. You have to believe that your kids are the right kids, that you are the right teacher, and that when it all works, it will be magic.

I took a risk too, I didn’t prepare my keynote presentation until the night before. I felt I wanted to honor the process and trust that the experience of the conference would provide support for my topic of leadership vision to action, especially student leadership. And it did. I liked what I came up with, and the audience seemed to as well. It was videotaped, but apparently only the audio worked. Oh well!

I knew I wasn’t going THAT far out on a limb; I have enough videos and examples that I can pull together fairly quickly. But the theme of trusting the process and the participants ended up providing the perfect context.

Your kids are the right kids, you are the right teacher, and now is the right time. Trust them, trust yourself, trust the process. Now let’s get busy.

A trip to Open Space!

Well, it seems like I just got back from T+L in Seattle and I’m off again.

First to Chester County in Pennsylvania where I’ll be meeting with several schools about our student technology programs. One of their districts, Coatesville, will be using TechYES Science for student tech literacy certification using science projects. I’m looking forward to meeting up with some PA friends as well.

Then a couple of stops in New Jersey and on to New York. I’m honored to be a featured speaker at the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Educational Information Technology Conference, NEIT 2008.

“NEIT 2008 is an unconference planned for technologists and librarians. Our unconference relies on the open space technology for creating workshops, discussions, breakout groups, etc.”

This is the first time I’ve heard of open space technology. Wikipedia describes it as a method of self-organizing that can be applied to gatherings of any size to quickly tackle complex issues. It sounds a bit like FutureSearch, which I’m more familiar with, but definitely something worth knowing about!

The EdTechTalk podcast this week featured a conversation about the plans and goals for the NYSAIS event.

Plus, this conference is at the beautiful Mohonk Mountain House and you can’t beat that for open space!

Sylvia

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