Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sugar Labs

This is a comment I posted to the Its an Education Project (IAEP) list (September archive) in response to some members of Sugar Labs being sad about the first Windows XP OLPC pilot.

As a teacher in an industrialised country I'd see Sugar combined with low cost laptops as a vehicle for:
  • immersion - computers are always available not limited exposure in labs - this makes an incredible difference to learning with computers, as Papert and others have argued
  • wide variety and growing of educational software packages (10,000 visits per day to Activities page from Uruguay)
  • constructionist software such as etoys, scratch, turtle art, drgeo etc.
  • python is a great first language, after the visual programming approaches have been tried
  • collaborative aspect is cutting edge, offers new ways of doing things (but not yet working out of the box, unfortunately)
  • linux experience - in the last year or so I am coming across a few students who have taught themselves linux at home - this is a new and slowly growing trend
  • FOSS philosophy of collaborative development fits readily with what good teachers do (cf. hiding your expertise in order to maximise your profit)
What other group, apart from Sugar Labs, offers this potential? Sugar Labs also offers this list as a discussion forum about these issues. Who else provides this?

These things are not obvious to most teachers (for various reasons) but at least some of these things are obvious to a small but growing minority. If Sugar works well out of the box I think there would be small but significant and growing uptake.

Another view (less optimistic) is to look at the history of computing since the 1960s and to realise that most of the important discoveries were made then and since commercial interests got a hold on it the true potential has been largely lost or very much obscured. eg. late binding provides a far superior environment to teach about variables but the dominant systems don't offer that option.

More detail about this vision:

MS has a long way to fall but strategically they have peaked are in decline. No need to be too alarmed by the thrashing around of a smelly dinosaur in a tarpit. Other commercial companies, such as Google, will eventually take their place. How does that sit with the Sugar Labs vision? Not sure.

I'd see the issue as a practical one of getting the software to work properly. In terms of vision, strategy and future potential we hold the good cards.

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