OLPC a “failure” in Peru

According to the Economist. Ah, but here’s the rub. From the article:

Part of the problem is that students learn faster than many of their teachers, according to Lily Miranda, who runs a computer lab at a state school in San Borja, a middle-class area of Lima. Sandro Marcone, who is in charge of educational technologies at the ministry, agrees. “If teachers are telling kids to turn on computers and copy what is being written on the blackboard, then we have invested in expensive notebooks,” he said. It certainly looks like that.

The laptops are necessary, but not sufficient. It’s the classroom environment itself that does not scale. Now take the next step, Peru, and get these kids using something like Khan Academy.

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OLPC a “failure” in Peru

Eucalyptus in Bangladesh

Big thanks to our friend Shaon, who is our first Eucalyptus ambassador in Bangladesh.  He presented about Eucalyptus at BASIS SOFTEXPO in Dhaka last week.  I don’t know if it’s the biggest computing event in Bangladesh, but apparently they drew 30,000 visitors last year, so that’s plenty big enough.

One of the things I like best about working in open source is discovering what people do with it.  Sure, we want to sell Euca to big companies, help them make tons of money, and grab our fair share of it.  But there are also a lot of Euca users working on amazing projects, who may never pay us a dime.

What’s a guy in Bangladesh using a Eucalyptus cloud for, anyway?  I’m embarrassed to admit that until I read his blog post, it had never even occurred to me to ask.  As it turns out, the Amadeyr Cloud is the basis of a project, Digits For All, that fights illiteracy in Bangladesh.

Pretty awesome to be a part of something like that.  Well done, Shaon, and thanks again for representing us.

Eucalyptus in Bangladesh

Insert your favorite “Wrath of Khan” joke blog title here

For any agent of change, there’s no measurement of success so sure as the steady accumulation of vocal critics — and Sal Khan is finding all kinds of critics as he continues to press forward.

What’s most notable is that he’s finding many of his most vocal critics among professional educators who are eager to point out that he’s Doing It Wrong, and that their own methods are clearly superior.

They’re absolutely right, too — but they are right about points that no reasonable person disputes.

Of course a motivated, talented teacher with a strong pedagogical background, years of experience, and an excellent relationship with his or her students is going to provide a superior learning experience to a website on the internet.

But here’s the thing, Highly Effective Teacher: not every kid has access to the Wonder That Is You.  Right?  So what can we offer to those kids?

Something is always better than Nothing, and there are still way too many kids in this world (and adults, for that matter) who are closer to that Nothing side of the continuum.  Khan Academy, and the projects that came before it like One Laptop Per Child and Sugar Labs, and the many projects that will surely come after, are all trying to solve that Nothing problem.  Why are so many teachers threatened by that?

Working with ISKME and OER Commons over the past year has been eye-opening for me, in a lot of ways.  Full of a-ha moments.  One of the critical a-ha moments: doing reverse DNS lookups for server logs for OER Commons, and seeing how many of those hits come from India and Pakistan, where the Nothing problem is acute.  And many of those users who search for open educational resources, and find them at our site, describe themselves in their online profiles as Learners.

Learners exist outside of the classroom.  All over the world.  And those learners are finding the internet, and searching it desperately for knowledge that can improve their lives.  Sal Khan is trying to serve their needs, and near as I can tell, he’s doing a better job in his particular problem space than anyone before him ever has.  Of course he’s not doing it exactly right.  He’s making mistakes, just like every innovator does.  That’s how it works.

So you mind your students, Highly Effective Teachers of the world, and let Sal mind his.

Insert your favorite “Wrath of Khan” joke blog title here

Enough of the boo-hoo-hooing about OLPC.

Wayan, here’s the simple fact:

The OLPC organization is built to do hardware innovation. Of the many things they’ve attempted, it’s the one thing at which they have clearly been wildly successful. They put the fear of God into Intel and forced the worldwide introduction of the Netbook, thus driving down the median price of personal computing all over the world — whether you choose to give them credit for that achievement or not. Their decision to focus on hardware innovation as a core competency is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Is the challenge of educating every child in the world bigger than OLPC can handle? Why, yes. Yes, it is.

There’s the problem of open educational resources, which is being attacked by organizations like OER Commons and Curriki and UNESCO, and possibly even by the United States federal government. Did you know that the Hewlett Foundation actually has a logic model for the development of open educational resources, which they now apply to every organization who comes to them for requests to fund education projects?

There’s the problem of open source software suitable for use by kids, which is being attacked by organizations like Sugar Labs and the KDE Education Project and GCompris and Squeak — all of whom have successfully deployed software that is now being used by lots and lots of kids. None of these projects are perfect, but all are continually improving.

Guess what? OLPC was *bad* at these things. That’s why they have, quite sensibly, left those problems for other organizations to solve. OLPC is now, and has always been, a single piece of a very large puzzle. The shrill cries that “OLPC HAS FORGOTTEN TEH KIDZ!!!!” are at best, unhelpful, and at worst, ridiculous.

So while all of the other organizations in the world work on the other sticky open education problems, let OLPC focus on the one thing they’ve clearly demonstrated an aptitude for: innovation to make better and cheaper hardware that is built specifically for the needs of young kids.

When you try to be everything to everybody, you end up being nothing and nobody. OLPC has learned that lesson, and I, for one, am delighted.

Enough of the boo-hoo-hooing about OLPC.

Open Textbook Bill, redux

One of the best sessions at the Big Ideas Fest education conference in California last week was delivered by Hal Plotkin, a senior policy advisor in the US Department of Education.

What could be more fascinating than watching a high school dropout explain how open textbooks, sponsored by the US Government, might be used a tool of the administration to rebuild America’s credibility with the world?

The belief in the potential of the open textbook model runs deep in Washington right now, and the clearest indicator of that belief is probably Bill S. 1714: Open College Textbook Act of 2009.

Go read it. Unlike most bills, it’s short and sweet — at least, it is for now, since it’s freshly written and sitting in committee. To be specific, it’s sitting in the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions — or HELP for short, haw haw!

If you’re interested in the continuing progress of this bill, there are a couple of things you can do.

TODO the first: you can subscribe to the bill at govtrack.us. This is a seriously awesome step forward in the transparency of government; if there’s a bill that you care about, you can be notified whenever there’s any activity regarding that bill just by subscribing to the bill’s RSS feed.

Unfortunately, nothing has happened with this bill since its initial reading on September 24th, 2009, and its subsequent referral to committee. Since most bills never make it out of committee, citizens who want to see this bill passed should advocate directly to senators on its behalf.

Which brings us to TODO the second: take a look at the members of the committee and see if any of them are from your home state. As it happens, both of my senators (Kay Hagan, D-NC and Richard Burr, R-NC) are on this committee. How lucky! If one of your senators is on the committee, send an email to their office and ask the status of the bill. Is it undergoing active discussion? Are they planning on bringing it to the floor any time soon? And so on. If you express interest, you may very well get a direct response. I received a phone call from Senator Burr’s office upon my initial letter to him; a staffer called to let me know that the bill had come into his committee. So they are definitely listening.

Most people say that government doesn’t work for the people — but most people never give it an honest shot. If you care about Open Textbooks, this is your chance to get involved directly. When constituents talk, senators listen; I’ve got the voicemails to prove it.

Open Textbook Bill, redux