Why Australian trials are important to the OLPC vision

I’ve been asked a few times why OLPC deployments in Australia are relevant to the OLPC vision. I thought I’d do a blog post about what OLPC Friends is trying to achieve in supporting local projects, and why I’ve been so keen to get local trials happening in Australia. Feedback welcome 🙂

  1. Need in Australia – there are many children in Australia who are in serious need. Whether it be in remote Indigenous Australia, or living in poverty in metropolitan areas. Supporting projects for these children is a key goal of OLPC Friends for Australia, New Zealand and throughout the Pacific. The first Australian trial includes some children from extremely disadvantaged communities (including a remote Indigenous family) as well as typical kids to ensure that the technology meets both the specific needs of disadvantaged children as well as the typical education requirements of an Australian school. Details of this trial (including some videos and learning activities) are here.
  2. Funding the Pacific – By rolling laptops out to Australian schools at a premium rate, the funding raised can go directly to Pacific countries who don’t have access to funding or resources to help them with OLPC rollouts and funding volunteers to work on deployments. Then organisations like AusAID can also work in collaboration with education departments to fully fund Pacific projects.
  3. Supporting the Pacific – Throughout Australia and New Zealand there are loads of technical people and educators who are willing to volunteer for helping with OLPC trials right throughout the region. Many of them have already signed up on the OLPC Friends volunteers page. The more people who have skills the better we can support implementers and educators throughout the Pacific to improve both the resources available and the education levels of all children in the region.
  4. Cultural connections – One fantastic opportunity is to use the collaboration tools (such as the Videochat activity) and the ability to connect to another school to connect children up directly. This means opportunities for cultural sharing, awareness and ultimately for opening doors to opportunity and knowledge for children all over the region. We already have schools interested in this kind of cultural exchange, and I’m really excited to be able to facilitate this.
  5. Remote training – One important element of Australia’s first trial is using the connectivity (Videochat, Jabber, Write, etc) to provide remote support to students, in particular literacy training. The learning specialist can provide literacy lessons for children in remote areas that don’t have the local skills for the special education requirements. The OLPC schoolserver (XS) also includes Moodle for eLearning. Building up local resources for remote learning such as literacy, teacher training, and online classes means that the whole region (and world) can benefit and utilise these resources and potentially these services to improve their education and training options.

Basically, I believe that OLPC deployments in Australia and New Zealand can – with appropriate strategic planning and collaboration – have profound and sustainable positive impacts for the Pacific, while also addressing serious and general local needs in each country. I believe this kind of regional approach ensures an organic, sustainable, and ultimately community-oriented strategy.

I also believe that rolling out individual laptops to people when there isn’t that education and school-based approach ultimately doesn’t contribute strongly to the vision of OLPC. As we see many more schools around the world taking on OLPC in the classroom, I think we’ll see that a very large percentage of the value of the technology is only found when all the children in the classroom are connected together and online, and when it is integrated into their normal school curriculum.

Now that anyone can buy laptops in bulk (minimum order 100) for a reasonable price ($219 per laptop to OLPC partner countries and the 50 Least Developed Countries and USD$259 for the rest of the world) in the “Change the World” program, I hope that people will start realising that these devices need to be in the classroom, not in their Christmas stocking. For anyone interested in doing deployments you can check out the OLPC Deployment Guide and if you want any help, check out OLPC Friends and can register, sign up for volunteering, get involved and find others who have skills and interest in the project 🙂 We’re going to start regular online meetings soon, and some face to face meetings in various cities across the region (Adelaide and Wellington already have regular meetings :), so there are plenty of ways to participate.

EDIT: Please note I originally posted incorrect information about the XO pricing but it is definitely cheaper if you are in a partner country or least developed country as defined on the OLPC website here.

Interviews with teachers about OLPC benefits

I did some short interviews with some of the teachers at one of the Australian trial sites talking about how they are using the XOs in the classroom and some of the benefits the students are experiencing. Very cool stuff! Many thanks to Warwick and Deirdre for their time and enthusiasm!

Spelling with the OLPC XO

Literacy improvements with the OLPC XO

Making ongoing diaries with the OLPC XO

ICT skills gained with the OLPC XO

Volunteers needed for OLPC projects in PNG – February 2009

This is a general call for anyone interested in volunteering to help with OLPC deployments to remote areas in PNG (Papua New Guinea). There is a lot of information on the progress of trials throughout the Pacific including PNG here. Flights and accommodation are intended on being provided and volunteers should be prepared to work hard and also have an amazing experience! I personally volunteered for a week in Niue (Pacific) and had an incredible time that was also really satisfying to help all the children there.

You would be working with David Leeming and Ian Thomson from SPC, who are wonderful, and they have a lot of experience rolling out OLPC throughout the Pacific in line with the cultural, education and other needs of the communities there.

To volunteer, please sign up on the OLPC Friends Volunteer WIKI page, where David and Ian will be looking for people.

You can also get more OLPC related resources including forums and mailing lists from the OLPC Friends website. Remember, it is a growing community driven organisation, so put your boots on and help out 🙂

Australia’s first OLPC trial – technical documentation

I’ve been involved in rolling out Australia’s first OLPC XO trial, which has been awesome! Although the details aren’t public knowledge yet I thought I’d post all the technical documentation (with permission) which I’m sure will help others! We have done what is I believe a world first in actually connecting up classrooms that are geographically dispersed with video and other collaborative activities for specialist education support of children in remote/rural areas. We are using this trial specifically for literacy education purposes as well as general classroom use of course.

All the documentation is here!

The full details will be available very soon, including a video of some of the children, teachers and implementers involved.

Catch up, and what’s to come!

This last 3 weeks have been insane. So much cool stuff, and I keep thinking “I need to blog about this or that, and then not making the time! Below is a quite recap of the cool stuff I’ve done and been involved in over the last few weeks. I have a few lengthy blogs posts coming up to cover some of these in detail, but in the meantime, I AM STILL ALIVE EVERYONE! 🙂

New Zealand trip
Jeff and I planned to take a short holiday, unfortunately on the day Jeff remembered he hadn’t got his passport renewed after it was stolen in Malaysia. Argh! I ended up going anyway, spending two days snowboarding at Mt Hutt near Christchurch with a friend (hi Glynn!), then a few days hanging out with Glynn and Jayne in Wellington doing Pilates, training with an awesome Shaolin Gung Fu master, and hacking on OLPC related work in preparation for an upcoming trip for the Aussie OLPC trial I’m helping rollout (more details on that later, so please don’t ask yet! 🙂 I got to catch up with the Wellington “Friends in Testing” OLPC group and got inspired to start a regular OLPC usergroup in Sydney, to be announced at SLUG in the coming week! All in all a tiring but awesome holiday 🙂

Aussie OLPC trial
I’m running Australia’s first serious OLPC trial which has been technically challenging, and has consumed _all_ of my time over the previous few months. It has been awesome and I’ve have just now finished the implementation. The documentation will be made publicly available (and put on the OLPC wiki) in the coming week or two. We’ve basically done a world first of focusing on the remote collaboration and child support element of what the OLPC vision and technologies can deliver, so I’m really excited to be involved in this, and hopefully the lessons we learnt will assist many others 🙂 We connected up 3 schools, such that specialist teachers can provide support to children in remote areas. Very interesting and the children are thriving with the tools they are playing with. I did a trip to the two remote locations, and we had a film crew come with us who are making a short internal doco, which may hopefully be able to be publicly disseminated over the coming months.

Linuxchix Microconf
Today I’m participating in a Linuxchix Microconf, a bunch of awesome women from Sydney and Melbourne participating in a video conference where people in both locations are presenting to the combined group real time, and it has been great. My talk is in an hour (just finished my slides 😉 and the day has covered a huge range of topics. All have been recorded and I believe will be made available for everyone. Awesome job by Alice, Mary, Sun-Hee and a huge thanks to Google for the resources. They provided the venue, videoconferencing, and a tasty spread of catering!

Coming up!

  • Documentation and publishing of all OLPC stuff plus kick off of bigger regional community project
  • Malaysian Government event on FOSS, and FOSS MY, I’ll be speaking about building FOSS community building and stuff happening in Governments. I’m really excited about going to Malaysia both to see the country, and to learn more about their approach to FOSS, which seems to be pretty cool. I’ll try to live blog during the event.
  • Open Education Workshop – ASK-OSS in collaboration with the NSW Department of Education is launching a workshop on Open Education to both share knowledge, and to start trying to understand the needs of the sector, and making a strategic plan for Open Education in Australia. This is meant to be broad to include FOSS, Open Standards, Open Knowledge, and open collaboration methodologies amongst much more. If you are in education and interested in openness, come along and participate!

Anyway, much more blogging to do, and I’ll try to be less slack even though there is so much going on 🙂

Hooray! Videochat is working!

So after loads of work and testing, we now have a VideoChat app for OLPC that really works 🙂 Check it out! It is a core part of a trial I’m working on, which isn’t quite yet public news, but more on that soon.

Many thanks to Stephen Thorne for his wonderful efforts and the enormous amount of time he’s put into making it work. Also thanks of course to the Collabora guys who made it in the first place. VideoChat could do with more work, more UI hacking, work on the “whiteboard” functionality idea, and potentially a way to create multi-conferencing, so if you want to hack, get hacking on VideoChat. More details and the download are on the OLPC VideoChat page.

Please note, this app currently only does basic videoconferencing (between 2 laptops only atm) and not the wonderful but still in planning whiteboard functionality on the Videochat webpage.

VideoChat – OLPC Activity

I am working on a really interesting OLPC XO/XS trial (all to be revealed soon!) where the main lynchpin demonstration is the VideoChat activity. We are certainly looking at the educational benefits, the interesting impact on truancy, and opportunities for disadvantaged kids, etc. However, the VideoChat offers a great way to provide support to remote kids including speech therapy, behavioural therapy, counselling, health services and of course distance education. So we have been working hard to get the VideoChat activity working. It now works online, but not with an XS (unless you disable Squid and have no firewall), so more work to go.

Anyway, I temporarily uploaded the xo to my website knowing I wanted to have it hosted elsewhere fairly quickly. Luckily one of the wonderful Telepathy guys (hi Cassidy!) offered to host it, so it’s all good. Thing is, in the 3 days I was hosting the 8mb file, I had 534 downloads. Woohoo! That is a lot of bandwidth in a very short time 🙂 I guess it is of interest to a lot of folk out there.

Check out VideoChat. It is very cool but it still needs a lot of work including some prettying up!

Anyway, this is a short one. I have several blogs to catch up on, so sorry everyone!

Barry Vercoe on OLPC – 16th May talk

One Laptop per Child – Empowering children and communities

Barry Vercoe from the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project will be giving a talk about the project on Friday the 16th May. Barry will talk about projects he has been involved in, successes around the world and some of the plans for the region. There will be OLPC laptops on display for demonstration and some information on how you can get involved in the project locally. Barry is also a board member of the newly formed OLPC Australia which will be focusing on the needs of children in Australia and the region, including the Pacific Islands.

Date: Friday the 16th May
Place: Mitchell Theatre, Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, 280 Pitt Street, Sydney
Time: 6.00pm – 7.00pm
Cost: Free

Please RSVP to pia.waugh@olpc.org.au for catering purposes. Some refreshments will be available.

Education or a well?

Recently I heard a story which really demonstrated to me the value of education over materials. A colleague of mine sponsors a village in Africa. He has helped them with projects like building a schoolhouse and other basic needs for the community. Currently they walk two kilometres to get water, and the materials and equipment needed to build a well in the town is too expensive. He asked them if he wanted to donate $40k towards a project, would they prefer local wells or OLPCs and they said they would go away and consult with the rest of the community. They came back committed to OLPCs, and their reasoning was that although getting water was inconvenient, through education the kids of this generation can grow up to better help the town in the long term. They value education way above and beyond basic structural improvements because education delivers a better future.

This story to me really illustrates how much we need to get beyond an aid mentality (they don’t have food, we will give them food) to an enablement mentality (they don’t have food, we will teach them how to grow food). I’ve heard loads of stories of food being shipped to impoverished countries and then is dumped in the sea because it takes the means of making a living away from local farmers, and creates a dependency on external resources. If the “developed” world wants to truly help “developing” nations, we need to stop being so arrogant about what they do or don’t need, and actually ask them.