Saturday, June 28, 2008

XO pilot in Harlem

... a pilot project to give the XO laptop to one class of sixth-grade students at Kappa IV, a middle school in Harlem
This report provides evidence for a few things about laptop computer use in industrialised or developed countries:

1) Getting the basics right is really important for school use - robust machines, batteries charged, students finding it easy to recover and get on with their work from session to session (from my experience the reliability / recovery / continuity issues are a significant problem even in computer labs where the machines are more protected from damage)

2) Students like the XO for many reasons
  • ease of typing directly, faster and more legible
  • ease of internet research
  • take home for home work, show family, play games etc.
  • small and light can be easily concealed in school bag to and from school
  • cool design
  • ability to take pictures, make videos, play games and chat
  • personal ownership (most important IMO - this transforms everything)
  • novelty
(note that some features of the XO were not significantly utilised, such as the various programming features like scratch, etoys etc.)

3) There are significant ways in which the XO still needs to improve - it's slow, the screen freezes and the cursor is jumpy

4) As we move from computer labs to individual use of computers at schools the computers have to be robust. Individual use with robust computers that can be taken home does work better than tablets (not robust enough) or trollies of laptops (it's a hastle getting them when you want them). There is a huge difference between a robust machine being always available to a student and having to organise use of computers and particular times and places only to find that they might be damaged in some way.

5) Home use is different from school use but is still educationally useful

6) Parents like it

The report doesn't even get to rigorous educational evaluations of the learning benefits. We are still at ground zero, working out the basics of how computers should be used in schools in industrialised countries. But due to dropping prices the computer lab is now a dinosaur and we need to at least begin to think about the concept of one laptop per child in the developed world - don't we?

The main in-school differences between the laptops and the XOs, therefore, were that XOs were always available, always worked, and were student-specific (each student always had his/her own XO). These simple differences had major ramifications for classroom practice

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 .... (page 4)

Despite the fact that the tablets are assigned to individual students, they are nevertheless subject to several different types of damage, only some of which are due to age and many of which (according to the technology coordinators) happen almost immediately. These include hard drive crashes, dead batteries, cracked cases, cracked screens, lost or damaged pens, loose hinges, and missing keys. Broken screens, missing keys, and dead batteries were the issues most commonly cited for the laptops at the laptop school. On the other hand, in four months, only one screen on the XO broke (due to being dropped) and only one keyboard was torn (but was still usable). Broken screens on the XO can be replaced locally, which is not the case for the laptops or tablets (page 19)
Lots of interesting detail in the full report, which is a must read for educators interested in implementing mobile technology in schools. I picked this up from olpc-news, one laptop per new york city student a success

Here is a self organising map (SOM), from Gary Martin, generated for the report's text (click on it for larger view):

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