June 9, 2008

Hey, that looks better than the Kindle!

But it's only $100. And it's a laptop. For poor kids all over the world. Nice! Mike Elgan said it's showing us the future of laptops — it's what we'll all want in 5 years:

"Poor kids will probably get it before you do, but mark my words, the all-screen clamshell laptop will eventually trickle up to business travelers, road warriors and digital nomads of all stripes."

28 comments:

Chip Ahoy said...

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the poor in cash, for they get first crack at the ace clamshell laptops.

Chip Ahoy said...

It's remarkable how poor kids, right the whole world round, always dress in white.

Ron said...

If you don't like your Kindle anymore...I'll take it! ;)

George said...

"I'm sure people loved their horses, too," says Bezos.

UWS guy said...

Slate has an article today that says giving laptops to poor kids actually hurts their grades.

http://www.slate.com/id/2192798/

Methadras said...

I will adopt technology like this if it allows me to write on it like I can with my current tablet.

OldGrouchy said...

Wow! Mommy, can I buy one, please? It would be great if properly bundled, like a Kindle, like a MacBook Pro, like an easy to use OS, plus Wireless options and upgradability. Oops, price just went up!

Hope this succeeds and becomes like an ASUS EeePC in setting a trend.

blake said...

I think the first edition, which cost closer to $200, sold out at a $400 price tag. (You were actually buying two: one you received and one went to a third world project.)

As for that Slate article based on Romanian kids, it's not the XO. Also, I would question the metrics. Are we giving kids computers so they can spend more time on homework? Is that what they're good for?

Hell, just being comfortable with computers has to be an advantage in itself, doesn't it?

Brian O'Connell said...

Reminds me of "A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer". Me wantee.

Joe said...

Instead of one laptop per child, how about we buy each child a book and let them share it. Better yet, we build a place where they can store those books when not sharing. We'll even put in shelves and let them browse. Oh my God, I'm onto something! It's the killer app for reading. Quick patent it.

blake said...

That's cute, joe.

One reason for the $100 price-point of the OLPC is that it's the equivalent of X (5?) number of textbooks. But it can, of course, hold a lot more than 5. Or 10. Or even a library (with the Internet hookup).

And it can do a lot more than a library, too. If you poke around Squeakland, you can see a bunch of projects that kids have done, with the goal of testing their understanding of scientific and mathematic principles.

It's not really about teaching kids to program (though you can learn using an XO), it's about teaching kids how to apply knowledge.

Pogo said...

Please consider:
High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian by Clifford Stoll

"Is computing so difficult that babies need early childhood training on digital systems?", Stoll asks, "My questioning grows not from a distaste of computing, but rather because I love computers."

From the WaPo review:
"Computers help children learn how to run computers, a worthy but limited goal. Learning other subjects, particularly the essential disciplines of reading and mathematics, requires more than new machines. The lessons must be clear and well paced. Children must have more time with teachers. Teachers must be better trained.

Clarity, time and training cost money. At the end of his book, Cuban assumes his old role as a school administrator, trying to decide how to spend the budget. Computers are good, he says. Buying them is not a waste. But it is time, he says, to measure the impact of the $7 billion spent annually in the United States on education technology against other things we can do with that money. "

blake said...

Pogo,

The current educational system fails primarily because there is no motivation to improve it. If we reward failure--which we do in the educational system and elsewhere--what is the motivation to succeed?

Computers are a side-issue, except in that they empower children to educate themselves, to find better teachers, to break free of the industrialization-era paradigm we currently employ.

Pogo said...

to break free of the industrialization-era paradigm we currently employ

Interesting insight. I used to think the homeschoolers were all crazy people. Now I understand their motivation.

Curious how often the spelling bee finalists are home schooled.

I believe you are correct; the militaryesque Dewey decimal pedagogy has dissolved into a PC disaster, where nascent teachers are not taught the subjects they'll cover in depth, nor even how to teach at all.

These "computers for the poor" seem to me merely an attempt to purchase what can only be gained through effort. It's like buying expensive golf clubs or the priciest basketball shoe.

Except among the highest levels of competition, it ain't the club or the shoe. It's practice, practice, practice.

blake said...

Pogo,

Computers won't fix our bad schools, but they might work elsewhere, where schools are less invested in failure. I don't know the situation in Romania but the OLPC guys have some interesting success stories in Peru.

As for homeschoolers, ya got yer right wing and your left wing. The anti-industrial vein is left wing. Either way, you have some people deeply and personally invested in the success of the students, which is better than a government employee most times, and usually way, way better.

True dat about practice, though. Unfortunately, none of these kids today ever even ask how to get to Carnegie Hall.

Pogo said...

less invested in failure

Ouch.
Bullseye.

Revenant said...

These "computers for the poor" seem to me merely an attempt to purchase what can only be gained through effort.

Computers are information processing tools. If you haven't learned how to think clearly and draw the correct conclusions from the correct data, all a computer will do is let you be confused and wrong faster than you would be with pencil and paper. Then the next thing you know you're a regular poster at DailyKos, and its all downhill from there. :)

class-factotum said...

1. Where do the poor kids in Africa plug in these computers?

2. They don't! They run them on batteries!

Wait. How do they afford batteries?

Joe said...

The OLPC program isn't just a waste of money, but an offensive waste of money. If you are literate and remotely analytical, you can learn to program. If you are illiterate, a computer is useless.

The notion that having a computer will lead you to self learning is a foolish and wasteful pipedream.

(And yes, I've been a computer programmer for 28 years.)

blake said...

class factotum--

XO-1 uses a rechargeable battery, and is very low powers. It can be fitted with a solar charger. XO-2 is supposed to have the power crank/cord.

blake said...

If you are literate and remotely analytical, you can learn to program.

Not the purpose of the XO.

If you are illiterate, a computer is useless.

Literacy is not the purpose, either.

The notion that having a computer will lead you to self learning is a foolish and wasteful pipedream.

Also not the plan.

But that's all right, go ahead and hate it anyway. It's easier than doing something. Or you know, researching what the goals actually are.

Paul Snively said...

Joe: (And yes, I've been a computer programmer for 28 years.)

This disqualifies most programmers from having an opinion on the subject, because the odds are that you're only familiar with means of instructing computers that are trivial variations of punching JCL and FORTRAN on 80-column punch cards.

I've been a programmer for about 28 years too, so I'm in significant danger of hypocrisy here. But in those 28 years, I've learned about environments like Squeakland, Scratch, StartLogo TNG, ToonTalk, Aardappel, and others that strive, no doubt with varying degrees of success, to leverage cognitive development processes that all people, but especially children, go through. It isn't transparently obvious that you need to be able to read in order to make a computer do things. You do need to be able to observe and to manipulate things in such a way as seems likely to make them behave differently than they do now, and to do so in some principled, but not textual, way (in this respect, of the above, I find ToonTalk most impressive).

So I would ask you to remember that digital computing is in its infancy, and personal computing was, in the grand scheme of things, born yesterday. It's far, far too early to give up on the notion that people who are not "trained programmers" can have computers do things for them that were not already envisioned by their creators/first programmers.

Revenant said...

But that's all right, go ahead and hate it anyway. It's easier than doing something. Or you know, researching what the goals actually are.

Improving literacy and encouraging self-learning are two of the stated goals on the OLPC website, contrary to what you seem to think.

As for "doing something", you've obviously fallen victim to the classic error in thinking:

- Something must be done
- This is something
- Therefore, this must be done

A laptop is just a tool. "One laptop per child" makes no more sense than "one lathe per child".

blake said...

Improving literacy and encouraging self-learning are two of the stated goals on the OLPC website, contrary to what you seem to think.

Improve your reading skills, Rev. "Improving literacy" <> "giving machines to illiterate kids and hoping for the best". Same for "encouraging self-learning". They're not air-dropping the XO.

As for "doing something", you've obviously fallen victim to the classic error in thinking:

Again, you need to improve your literacy skills. Nowhere did I say that this--or anything--had to be done. I just said it was easier to NOT find out what was being done, and hobson-jobson your way into disapproving of it.

joe suggested that the purpose of the OLPC is to teach kids to program, which is a common mistake programmers make. That was certainly my first thought as well.

A laptop is just a tool. "One laptop per child" makes no more sense than "one lathe per child".

I suppose you'd object to pencils and paper on the same grounds? Let them all share a pencil. Pencils don't teach and paper--why, paper is just blank! It can't teach anything.

If they said children should have their own books, would you object on the grounds that books teach nothing?

Or hell, rather than books, let's give them lathes! Just the same educational-value-wise. And certainly there's NO value worth mentioning to an Internet-connected laptop that you couldn't get from a book--or a lathe!

OLPC may be a spectacular failure but not because the authors failed to consider the shallow points you're bringing up. (Papert's philosophy may be fatally flawed. Theft may become a major issue. The machines may be too fun in non-educational purposes. Etc.)

Althouse, in her casual observation that it looks better than a Kindle, is more on point. Minimally, it's a replacement for textbooks at a cheaper cost and greater durability than actual books.

It's not like a bunch of nerds got together and said, "Hey, let's give kids computers. That'll make 'em smart." The project goes back 40 years to Jean Piaget, and Seymour Papert's educational philosophy of "Constructionism". And to Alan Kay who conceived of the "Dynabook" and has actually worked with hundreds of kids over the past 30 years trying things out.

But, no, you apprehend fully what it is they're trying to do, what they've done, and how successful they've been, and you can tell with absolute confidence that they're going to fail, because they've failed in their years of research and planning to observe what was completely obvious to you.

"None of us have been so naïve to think that a connected laptop is in itself a cure to the problems of poverty and ignorance; it is an agency through which children, their teachers, their families, and their communities can manufacture a cure." -- Walter Bender

OldGrouchy said...

Give the OLPC project a few more years, perhaps 5 perhaps 10 and look at the results. One problem with that is defining what the goals are/were. However, I strongly agree with one point on the OLPC site that give kids this tool and let them discover what they can do. Their results might not fit a "NKLB" model but then their results might be fantastic. It certainly sound better than the VLW/Socialist approach of simply throwing more money to fund more assistant VPs or creative arts directors.

Mpls currently is spending more than twice the average of the rest of the state (Or close to it) and getting terrible results by any measure. It might be that what Nigeria and other such venues find out would be of benefit to systems like Mpls's.

Paul Snively said...

I think the purpose of OLPC is to teach kids to program. I just don't think programming has to always be limited by the shackles that we adults who studied computer science over the last 30 years have imposed (for good reasons and bad) upon ourselves.

Revenant said...

Improve your reading skills, Rev.

Yeah, silly me -- interpreting "Literacy is not the purpose, either" as a claim that literacy wasn't the purpose. Where do I get these wacky ideas?

But, no, you apprehend fully what it is they're trying to do, what they've done, and how successful they've been, and you can tell with absolute confidence that they're going to fail, because they've failed in their years of research and planning to observe what was completely obvious to you.

Let me know when you finish your acid trip. I never said any of that.

I will say, though, that the fact that you're awestruck by an academic devoting forty years to developing a theory of education indicates that you aren't very familiar with theories of education and how often they turn out to be poppycock -- especially one promising great returns from an investment in computers for children.

Will the program "fail"? Well, like most aid programs it doesn't really have any metric for recognizing failure. There is no condition cited which would be considered proof that the theory won't work and the project should be abandoned. So no, it won't "fail".

But will it provide good returns on a $100 per child investment compared to other things that can be done with that money? Are the three children of a Nigerian farmer (yearly wage: $290) going to be better served by laptop computers, or by a microloan to their father that gives him an additional year's salary to invest in improving his farm (and thus his children's standard of living)? No, probably not.

blake said...

Yeah, silly me -- interpreting "Literacy is not the purpose, either" as a claim that literacy wasn't the purpose. Where do I get these wacky ideas?

I wouldn't call it silly so much as fatuous. You can ignore the meanings of words as much as you like but "improving literacy" is not the same as "making children literate out of whole cloth." Once again, this is a very specific response to the notion that they're airdropping XOs on illiterate kids and expecting them to magically learn to read. (joe said, "if you're illiterate....")

I never said any of that.

I wasn't quoting you, I was aping you.

I will say, though, that the fact that you're awestruck

Another bullshit provocation, Rev.

I know quite a bit how educational fads fail; I'd be daresay that I know more about how they fail and why they fail than you do, and that I have more experience correcting their failures than you do.

But this snark allows you to (fatuously again) ignore that I said the theory might be fundamentally flawed. I've probably only used the XO's software to teach kids for a few hundred hours, and I have mixed feelings about it.

From what I've seen, the OLPC concern with methodology is second to the concern results--although unfortunately, it may also be second to the concerns of politics. Politics certainly could kill the project or turn it into (yet another) graft opportunity.

Are the three children of a Nigerian farmer (yearly wage: $290) going to be better served by laptop computers, or by a microloan to their father that gives him an additional year's salary to invest in improving his farm (and thus his children's standard of living)? No, probably not.

Bankers give loans. Celebrities divert attention. Doctors provide medical care. Nerds leverage technology.

The XO does not prohibit other forms of good work, and is not invalidated because other forms are possible.

Minimally, the XO can reduce the cost of buying books by a factor of ten, so if it's managed properly, it's freeing up resources, not consuming them.

By the way, one of the focuses of the technology that the XO is supposed to bring is agricultural techniques. I'd say a lot of said techniques are worth more than a year's salary.