The Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College/Columbia University has just completed a four-month evaluation of the OLPC project and Writing Matters at KAPPA IV. Many thanks to Dr. Susan Lowes and Cyrus Luhr for putting this together. Here’s a taste of their findings:
“The first and most important ramification was that students used the XOs more than they used the laptops, which means they spent more time doing research, wrote more, revised more, and published more. The second ramification was that the students took much more responsibility for the XOs than they did for the laptops, which means that they that they did not begin work only to find there were missing parts or that the battery was dead. And a third ramification was that the students were less likely to lose their work, not only because they always used the same machine but also because the XO has an automatic save feature that takes the user back to where he/she left off. Because of this, the students felt that they did not spend nearly as much time searching for, saving, moving, or reconstructing previous work as they did when working on the laptops.”
We’re thrilled to share the full results with you all here (also under the “evaluation” link at the top).
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Based on the KAPPA IV pilot, Teaching Matters recently helped launch roll-outs of XO’s at two public schools in NYC. Each school received 600 devices – and are still in the process of integration – but I thought the information we have summarized below would still be useful to those out there. Please keep in mind that this all happened in June (yes, 3 weeks before the end of school).
Describe the process for deploying OLPC at the pilot schools.
5/21/08 – Teacher training at PS20 (with TMI XO laptops)
5/28/08 – Laptops arrive at PS5 and PS20
6/03/08 – Tech team workshop at PS20 and PS5.
6/07/08 – Teacher training at PS5
Student Tech Team Workshops
After the laptops arrived at the schools, Teaching Matters held a “Student Tech Team Workshop.” At these workshops we focused three things: exploring the XO and becoming experts on its use, learning how to install software and configure wireless, and learning how to take apart and repair the screen. These workshops were a huge success in that the students were very excited about the machines, were prepared to be leaders in the deployment, and were prepared to image the systems. We also met with the Tech Coordinator to discuss some of the technical considerations associated with the OLPC project.
Although the teacher training workshop at PS20 was held before the Tech Team workshop, the Teacher workshop was designed to occur after the Tech Team Workshop so that updated machines were available for teachers to use. The teacher workshops introduced the teachers to the XO and various applications, and gave the teachers a chance to brainstorm how they will use the computers in their classrooms. These workshops were also very well received.
After the Tech Team workshops, the Tech Coordinator, Student Tech Team, and Teaching Matters Professional Developers worked on imaging the devices. There were a number of issues that came up in the process of imaging the devices:
- Releasing students from their normal classes to spend time imaging devices. Due to the time of year that this was happening (June), the students were caught up in end-of-year events such as graduation, field trips, etc.
- Editing the wireless scripts from a windows machine alters the encoding and end of line delimiters. We resolved this problem by working with DIIT and subsequently editing the scripts only on a Linux image.
- Approximately one in thirty computers did not connect to the internet. There seemed to be more connectivity issues at PS5 than PS20.
- In the end, the tech coach and Teaching Matters staff ended up imaging the majority of the devices.
How long did it take to load the XO software on the machines?
7-10 minutes for updating the operating system. 3-5 minutes for a student to run the wireless script.
What problems did students and/or teachers encounter with the XOs?
There were issues with collaboration and wireless connectivity.
- PS5 Connectivity Issues:
- Computers that never connected to the wireless internet: Out of a set of 30 computers, 5 never connected (no matter what they tried).
- Computers that did could not share via school server: Here’s the scenario: Jelbin would image 10 computers with 10 USB drives. They all successfully connected to the Internet. Then, he would take those same 10 USB drives and image 10 more computers. Approximately 8 out of those 10 would fail. Then, he ran the doeinstall script, which usually fixed the 8 computers that would not connect. However, when these 8 computers would be brought into a classroom, they could connect to the Internet, but could not share through the school server.
- Most classrooms had working “collaboration”, while one classroom did not. The students in this one classroom could not see others in the neighborhood view.
- PS20 Connectivity Issues:
- About one in 40 computers would not connect to the Internet at PS20. Once the computers were in the classrooms, out of a set of 25 machines approximately 5 would not connect to the internet. After a reboot 4 would be able to connect, but one wouldn’t. There were no complaints about the speed of the internet. Sharing activities was not tested at PS020.
How were these problems handled?
Teaching Matters provided technical support, went out to the schools to troubleshoot problems with the USB drives, and assist with imaging devices.
Did you ever have to re-install software or replace hardware to fix a problem?
No, not yet.
Looking back on the pilot, what changes would you make to your process?
- Ideally, the devices would be imaged with the latest versions of the OS and the software that NYC has approved before they get to the schools. Also, the appropriate scripts would be on the device already so an integrator only had to enter in the SSID(s) and key
- The school server has the ability to update the devices remotely. This is something to look into as a potential solution.
- Make sure that the principal and tech coordinator are aware of the time it will take to configure the machines and understand exactly how long they should expect to allow for students to be released to help.
- Increasing the vlans and/or IP addresses for “350 wireless” schools to accommodate 500+ devices for next year would be ideal. “350” schools will have issues as more devices are integrated.
- The asset-tagging process going through Dell was a point of slow-down and extra cost. Improving on this process would be a big help.
- We feel more testing should be done w/ the school server and the wireless connectivity of the devices to scale; meaning, how the network and server react when 30 – 150 devices are online at once.
What lessons can we learn for future deployments?
- Many elements of the deployment went well, and should be noted:
- Delivery of XOs ran smoothly.
- Storage of XOs in the classroom worked well.
- Tech team trainings went well. Students were very excited about the project and were willing to take on a leadership role in maintaining the machines.
- The school leadership should meet first to fully understand the scope of undertaking a 1:1 environment to understand fully what is required in terms of hardware, integration, training and long-term sustainability of their 1:1 infrastructure.
- In a truly “support-free” environment, more technical training for the technology coaches might be necessary
- Follow up is needed to resolve issues with wireless connectivity and collaboration.
What enhancements to the XO would you most like to see?
- Ideally, the computers would arrive at the school with the newest build, and there would just be one place to enter the ESSID and key. This would significantly improve the time it takes for the computers to get into the classrooms.
- Enhancements to the network manager to work smoothly with the NYC wireless infrastructure
- A built-in NIC card
- More memory (at least 512. 1GB would be ideal)
- A VGA-out port
- Easier interface for sharing of activities
- A full-featured web browser w/ flash, java all running (and tested to work w/ Acuity…Scantron…Aris)
- Easier interface for inserting images into write documents.
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