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OLPC Workshop in Cambridge

We just finished day two of a four-day workshop series at the OLPC offices in Cambridge, MA.  There are 30 or so participants representing all sides of the education world – both literally and functionally.  So far, the sharing of ideas and philosophies has been wonderful and the missions and plans we all have is impressive to say the least.  Everyone involved on the OLPC end is outgoing, helpful and extremely thoughtful and dedicated to their mission. 

The focus of the conversation has not been about the device itself; rather the need to shift thinking about technology and learning at the school level.  It is a very grass-roots concept about taking advantage of opportunities for change and creating model experiences (classrooms and teachers) that can then go on to excite change in the local community.  As someone coming very much from the implementation side of education, it is very interesting to be having these conversations.  The skeptic in me comes out now and again and would like to point out the realities of some NYC schools.  However, looking at the project as a whole, it is very important that OLPC champion their cause in this way.  They are the inspiration and the change-makers (if not them, then who?) and it is important that they continue to inspire and strive to push us implementers to shoot for the pie in the sky.  After-all, they have brought the cost of a fully-functional laptop down to $188 – why would they expect any less from us.

So, in terms of some clear and very real issues that have come up – the top three that have become clear at this point would be:

  1. Sharing of resources and best practices out there in the community.  There are a number of pilots that are going on; and finding information about implementation and assessment plans/results is very difficult.   Technical support is probably the most built out – but there is so much more missing.
  2. Sharing of content and training resources.  Related to the above – the wiki (http://wiki.laptop.org) only goes so far.   It is evident that OLPC is championing constructivist learning – and pushing for a change in teaching styles (using their device).  But curricular content and training resources have not been brought together in useful and extensive way.
  3. Functional sustainable implementation models (again related to the above).  This is tricky because they would vary greatly between locations.  But it is a key question that keeps coming up.  How do we get teacher buy-in?  The best answer has been to look at it as an opportunity – an opportunity to involve the parents and community.  If it becomes an opportunity to better support the teacher in what they do and bring more parents to the table then no teacher will turn down the opportunity. 

Tomorrow I have meetings with Linux engineers and will get some answers and direction onf how to best configure the device for various wireless configurations.  School server is also a topic I’m hoping to find out more about.  Oh, and we’re physically taking the device apart and putting it back together – should be fun. 

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