I had a chance to speak to the OLPC Afghanistan Director Mike Dawson about his experience at OLPC Realness Summit, which took place in St. John May 28-31. Mike said it was beneficial for him to meet representatives from other OLPC deployments around the world. It was the first time OLPC-doers had an opportunity to meet and talk openly about what has been done and should be done in the future. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to come due to not enough advance notice, but 40 people still made it to the Caribbean to attend the summit and mentor workshop. The ideas have sprung from every continent: to start creating content together, to launch a company to help small deployments, to unite resources to work on software improvements without duplicating efforts, to create user-friendly deployment guides, etc.
Everyone had a chance to show to others new tools and approaches. Mike demonstrated eXe, a program that will help non-programmers to create educational games and content in any field for free. (Mike showed to me Hangman letter game, which he was working on when we first talked on Skype several months ago). Afghanistan is waiting for another grant to go forward with planned activities.
Besides their similarities, Summit participants also accepted their differences, which is the first step to working together. The differences are about: Which deployments are better: micro deployments or nation-wide? Should XO and Sugar be taught as part of normal school curriculum or extracurricular activity? Who should create software: Academia (Chris) or developers (Bernie from SugarLab argued that Academia takes away fun and constructionism element). Who exactly should help deployments?
“By the end of the summit, a strong binding was formed among all the participants, regardless of our widely different professions and approaches to world-wide education.
Many of us asked to follow-up by creating some kind of super-organization embracing volunteers from all camps: OLPC (hardware), Sugar Labs (software), educators and deployments.
As a representative of Sugar Labs, I’d be more than happy to embrace this idea. We’ve been traditionally been very weak on the education front and loosely connected with deployments. We’ve been trying to solve the problem by attracting people with those interests into our organization, but our overly technocratic community managed to repel them.
By starting off with a balanced blend of educators and technologists, we might be able to achieve what our individual organizations couldn’t. Rather than trying to focus everyone on one particular aspect of education technology, it would endorse a wide spectrum of skilled professionals involved in solving the same fundamental problem of radically improving education world-wide through technology, constructionism, interactive curriculum, free software, rugged laptops, teachers without borders and the organized enthusiasm of thousands volunteers.”
(Both pictures Courtesy of Realness)