Saturday, April 28, 2007

An Amazing Educator

This week we managed to attract one of the most respected educators in Nepal to our project. Christine Stone has worked in the education field in Nepal for over twenty-five years. She has taught primary school, written Nepali textbooks, and now primarily trains teachers in the rural areas of Nepal. Here is a great article in the Nepali Times about her.

Christine focuses on child-centered learning and until recently all her learning activities were done on paper. When we showed her the XO, she immediately saw its potential. She was especially excited about the opportunities for math and science education. She loves Gcompris, TamTam, and eToys. We are very excited that she has agreed to lead our education team.

We intend to work with her develop a set of learning activities, a teacher-training program, and work with her network of teachers and kids to test our activities.

Christine has written literally hundreds of different paper-based learning activities. After reading about the GameJam this weekend at Olin College, I would love to see future GameJams focus on adapting learning activities like Christine's to Sugar. Gamejam participants likely could not implement her Nepali language activities but they could easily implement her English as a Second Language and maths activities.

Ankur, Himali Kiran, and Shankar will soon start collaborating with her on Activity Development. Meredith is also looking forward to work with her.

In other news -- Presentation Slides
I am excited to see the great # of sets of presentation slides on the wiki There are some great presentations up there from Mike Fletcher, Rafael Ortiz of OLPC Colombia, and Ian Bicking.

Ankur, Shankar, and I have probably spent over 30 hours developing our presentation slides. We would have much rather spent that time on developing activities. The presentations on the wiki will help folks around the world promote OLPC without having to spend a big chunk of time formatting pictures and checking their grammar.

We still need presentations on the following subjects. Some of the subjects are not yet mature in OLPC.

  • Technical
    • For software Developers -- How to build an activity
    • Power Mechanisms for OLPC
  • Education-Specific
    • Introduction to Constructivism
    • Role of the teacher in OLPC
    • Teaching art and the XO
    • How to create content for OLPC and how not to

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Kids In Jiri Love XO!

Jiri is located in a beautiful valley in the Dolakha district of Nepal, around 200kms east of Kathmandu. It is known by many as 'Nepal's Switzerland' due to its landscape being similar to that of Zurich. It has also achieved fame as a good cheese producing area. The journey to Jiri from Kathmandu also provides a fantastic opportunity to see Nepal's national flower, the Lali Guran.

The locals of Jiri recently organised a film festival with assistance from nepa~laya. nepa~laya is an organisation created to support/promote the arts in Nepal and to use this medium to increase awareness of social issues throughout Nepal. Shankar and Ankur of OLPC Nepal were invited and sponsored by nepa~laya to attend the festival to show the XO to school children and also teachers from some of the schools in the area.

A single bus managed to carry a team of about 42 people including film makers, journalists and crew on the 9 hour journey. For obvious reasons of space Shankar and Ankur chose to ride on top of the bus but nonetheless arrived safely with 4 XOs in tow!

For many children the first response was "what is that green box?". Rather than an explanation, a simple demonstration of how to move the cursor and click on things was all that was needed before the first batch of experts were on their way! It wasn't long before these kids were then eagerly teaching their friends whilst the OLPC team simply sat and watched in satisfied silence.

Jiri has 3 primary schools, a local secondary school, a community run higher secondary school, and a technical college which runs courses in nursing and veterinary science amongst others. Mr Tek Bdr Jirel, the motivated and enthusiastic principal of Jiri Higher Secondary School, assisted nepa~laya to arrange for each school to have at least 2 representatives attend the presentation. It was very exciting and in many ways a relief to find that the teachers were extremely interested in and supportive of the XO and it's prospective uses and potential.

All in all, the day was a huge success and another significant step in raising awareness of XO and just how valuable it can and will be to the children of Nepal!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Stimulating Content Communities

Stimulating Open Content Communities for OLPC

This is Part III of the Grassroots series. I am skipping over Part II "Teambuilding" because it has proven harder to write. I will come back to it. Thanks to Xavi Alvarez for reminding me to work on it and the wiki

OLPC seeks to provide every child with a powerful learning platform and an-ever evolving array of powerful learning activities. To accomplish this, OLPC must not only build and distribute the base platform, it must nurture and encourage three groups of people:
  1. Software Developers

  2. Educators

  3. Artists

These communities may be international and have sub-groups by nation or linguistic region. Here are my suggestions for comprehensive programs to stimulate the development of these communities. I have put special emphasis stimulating communities in developing nations.

Developer Program

Engineers in developing nations need more financial incentives to participate in Open Source projects than engineers in the developing world require (often none), typically due to the financial pressures placed on them by their families. We need to convince both student developers and their teachers that they should switch their academic focus from J2EE to Python.

Benefits for Core Developers:
  • Certificate from an internationally recognized technical university -- ideally MIT.

    • Other possibilities are the MIT Media Lab or Open Source Lab at Oregon State. Certificates are a big deal in the developing world.

    • Certificates could be based on amount of code contributed to, participation in code reviews, hardware development etc.

  • Discounted internet access and possibly provide extra UPS -- this benefit would vary country by country and a grassroots organization would have to coordinate it.

  • Free hardware -- important step, OLPC is already doing this

  • Discounted or free examinations for related IT certifications for accomplished developers

    • Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)
    • A Python programming certification -- I know this doesn't exist but OLPC is a good enough reason to start one

    • Internships -- We intend to offer internships at OLPC Nepal but this may not be feasible in a country without an active OLPC organization.

Events to Stimulate Interest in OLPC

  • Regional and international events to stimulate interest in development, should emphasize commercial value of skills learned from working on OLPC, for example: "learn Python and you could eventually work for Google, Red Hat, etc."

    • Regional and national programming contests with significant prize money, for example in Nepal $2000 USD would be a substantial prize and huge incentive

      • Separate contests for Activity Development, hardware development, and power systems development, could be organized similar to CSIDC

      • Pie-in-the-sky idea -- regional Google Summer of Code style summer camps focussed on OLPC

    • Regional or national programming hackfests and sprints

Educator Program

The term educator includes many types of individuals including working teachers. I refer to an educator in the OLPC context as anyone who generates instructional content and/or facilitates learning with kids.

It will be hard to convince veteran teachers to use a radically different method of instruction. However, we can convince the next generation of educators who have recently graduated or are still in university. If we can win their support they will ensure that OLPC is an integral part of their respective national education systems in the long run.

We especially need to recognize individuals that digitize histories, literature, other academic works under the creative commons license.

Benefits for Core Educators
  • A Certificate from an internationally recognized Education Body or Academic institution -- a certificate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education would be ideal.

    • Unfortunately, a certificate from Brazil's Ministry of Education would mean little in Nepal

    • Possible Certificates: Certified Teacher Trainer, Certified Curriculum Developer

  • A Certificate from an educators local Ministry of Education recognizing their contribution to OLPC

  • Points towards academic tenure -- We will pursue this in Nepal

  • Free hardware

  • Discounted Internet Access

Events to Stimulate Interest in OLPC

  • Regional and National seminars to develop different kinds of learning activities

  • Regional and National awards for learning activities

  • Teacher Training Seminars

Artist Program

We need artists to help develop the creative possibilities of the XO. Specifically I am thinking how to involve musicians, photographers, and graphic designers. Frankly, I am at a loss how to best reward this community as I don't have a creative bone in my body and I only hang out w/ computer geeks. However, we really need to stimulate this community. Please contribute your ideas for the artist program.

We need artists to 1) generate learning activities around art and design and 2) Digitize paintings, music, photos, etc. under the creative commons license so that children around the world can enjoy them.

Benefits for Core Artists


Events to Stimulate Interest in OLPC

  • Etoys Art Competition

  • TamTam and SynthLab Composition -- Could be run through TamTam website

    • Students could post their composition to the Tamtam site

    • site visitors could vote for their favorite composition

    • We need some kind of competition to spur digital musicians to implement different instruments and rhythms into TamTam
  • SJ Klein's idea -- create a drop-in center where storytellers, musicians, and graphic artists could get their work digitized.