The touchscreen XO – a (p)review & update on OLPC Australia

Preview: XO-4 Duo hybrid laptop/tablet from OLPC Australia

  • Based on use of an early XO with touchscreen prototype

 

Announced just recently but under development for sometime is the next hardware iteration of the ‘its an education program not a laptop program’ XO. Once hyped as the ‘$100 laptop’ at at time when such machines cost many hundreds more, the final manufacturing price of the XO-1 was closer to $200 plus – but even so the impact of the XO’s development was enough to shock traditional computer companies such as Intel and Microsoft into helping birth the netbook and focusing on emerging markers with new energy.

Since this time, well over 2 million XOs have been deployed worldwide, some successfully into sustainable programs that are still on going, and some not so successfully (the difference has often been the quality of teacher training and the level of partnership with education providers). An upgraded XO-1.5 with a faster processor and improved trackpad was released in late 2010, but since the original model with its unique Yves Behar child-friendly design debuted back in 2008, the world of computing has dramatically changed. No longer are cheap netbooks the frontier of computing. Instead, it is even lighter and longer-battery life tablets and smartphones with touch screens and accelerometers that fill Christmas stockings. So how is the XO design evolving to stay relevant in such a ‘PostPC’ era? And can OLPC continue to partner with existing education systems so that this new design can get into students hands?

Externally the design of the XO is staying unchanged. Like a classic car (or even Apple’s product designs that often don’t change much for years) the basic rugged green XO exterior that screams ‘made for kids not adults’ remains. I can personally attest to the ruggedness of the design, having seen it thrown across classrooms and known it to have been immersed in water with no negative effects. So its a good thing to know that this tried and tested design will be continued for the XO1.75 and XO4 Duo.

One thing that is being changed in the next versions however is the keyboard. While the rubberised keypad of the original certainly helped it maintain its water resistant reputation, typing anything more than a few words quickly becomes a pain – perhaps not for the littlest kids who haven’t known anything else, but from about year 3 many schools know that students can become as likely to pick the rubber apart as to enjoy a lot of typing. Partly because of this, and also because its responding to teacher request for the keys to feature upper and lower case letters, the keyboard has been redesigned. New XOs will feature a keyboard much closer to the standard plastic ‘chiclet’ keys of other laptops – still with a rubber membrane underneath I believe. Wether it can stop the keys being damaged is yet unknown, but typing I can confirm is improved by many magnitudes.

The other external item also being updated (for the XO4 Duo) is the screen. A Neonode touchscreen is being added in a move that allows the XO design to properly embrace the tablet mode it has always had (the ‘Duo’ branding to be used in Australia has been chosen to reflect this fact). Where the current model limits tablet-mode use to a few activities where the side controller buttons have been programmed to provide some control (Camera, Maze), the XO4 activities will all be controllable via touch, something which many schools who have deployed iPads have discovered is something students find inherently intuitive.

As far as responsiveness goes, I have found the early prototype I’m previewing to be good. A full analysis will have to wait for a production model probably when the software hopefully will have been updated and optimised (at the moment the prototype just enables touch but with the old, mouse and trackpad orientated interface). One other thing to note is that at least in the one I’m using, this change to a touchscreen has also dramatically improved the clarity of the screen. After the rubber keyboard, my biggest personal criticism of the XO has been that even though its screen has always been quite hi-res (1200×900 at 7.5 inches at a time when standard laptops had this resolution on 12inch or larger panels), something about the design of the new one (reportedly almost of ‘retina’ class at 300dpi) has removed the slight blurriness of the old one that meant for me at least that any prolonged use tended to involve eye strain.

Internally, the changes are much greater due to the change of the whole processor architecture to being ARM-based – the same kinds of chips that smartphones and tablets use. These chips use much less power but provide faster processing than the equivalent laptop or PC chips of larger devices. This means that even on this early prototype, the machine is noticeably faster at nearly all tasks, bringing it in line with the current laptops and smart devices. Bootup time in my testing is almost doubled, and opening and closing activities, which even on the XO 1.5 left students sitting idle for several crucial seconds, is also much better.

Apart from this, I can’t comment too much on the non-touch optimised software, however activities like Paint already work well. It will be very interesting to see how others get updated (and what a potential touch-friendly version of Gnome looks like) in the leadup to the XO4 Duo’s anticipated release date around April 2013.

 

Despite all these technological improvements, I want to highlight another development that I consider to be even more important – that being the partnering and training focus that OLPC Australia has developed to support its XO deployments, particularly the upcoming ‘One Education’ expansion that could see 50,000 XOs in student hands here by end of 2014. Where once OLPC has had a reputation for going-it-alone and seeing established Education systems as being part of the problem, the Australian arm has been able to change from also having this stance to partner and work with schools and education providers. In this way, its mandating of pre-deployment teacher training, its having schools contribute some of the support funds, and also its offering of post-deployment training and extension modules like XO Champions and XO Mechanics has been adopted and even advocated for by the state schools sector in a way that is already strengthening the sustainability of the program across the country. The challenge will be for OLPC to maintain this sense of partnership so that that their program can reach the current 50,000, and future 300,000 goals it has set.

In 2007 as a young mobile learning blogger who had been writing about digital voice recorders, Palm and Windows Mobile PDAs and dumbphones (although we thought at the time they were smart) I wrote about how the XO was the first major computing product that had been designed for children first, rather than just being corporate hardware requiring teachers to translate into schools. At the time I never dreamed I’d get the chance in 2009 to trial them at my own primary school, or help manage the deployment of thousands of them across Australia. With a continued focus on partnering, the training that comes with the One Education program, the classic tried and tested design, and soon the upgraded hardware, I, and many other teachers and students across Australia are gaining access to the potential of connected learning.

We (as in the education department I work for) don’t see the XO as being the entire solution itself however. Indeed some of our XO classrooms are also using iPads and other devices in tandem with their green machines. Committed teachers and schools are making the difference – but it is an advantage to have a ‘personal learning device’ built for education first.

[PS. As usual, opinions expressed are mine and not necessarily those of my employer]

iPhone5 review in 26 words or less

Why would I talk about a consumer device like the iPhone here at uLearning Blog? Basically because it sets a bar each year for how much advanced computing can be squeezed into a soon to become even more ubiquitous device. Smartphones are today’s PCs and give us an idea where tomorrow’s computing may be heading.

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Review:

 

Svelte • Precise • Seriously light • Bigger + smaller at the same time i.e. Less is more • Fast • Expensive • Inherently complex but implicitly simple • Slab of the future

The Nexus 7: first thoughts for Education

So Google has now personally joined the other big PostPC device makers (Amazon, Microsoft and of course Apple) in creating a dedicated tablet device designed to serve those consumers who choose their particular operating and media eco-systems. But what will it mean for education?

I’ve already seen ICT Works comment on FaceBook that its price will be great for developing nations. As it seems to strike a better balance between being a media consumption platform and a productive #PostPC device than the Kindle Fire and Nook devices do for the same price, this may turn out to be true for education worldwide. By all reports it has better components and build quality than those devices also (important when used by kids) – and is actually available outside to more than just one country, so thats an obvious advantage right there!

It might also inspire developers to actually make some android tablet apps as currently schools really have no choice by the $399 iPad2 because why buy a device at all if there is very little you can do with it (I’m saying there is much more that teachers need than just having the basic email/notes etc apps available). It does lack a 3G internet option though (like the Microsoft Surface), an 8 or even 16gb is a little small nowadays – so where is the SD card slot that has been the subject of so much Android marketing claims up until now?

I am seriously thinking of getting one as my first Android device to learn the platform a little better for the purposes of ‘translating’ such a consumer device into the education arena – how about you educators?

https://play.google.com/store/devices/details?id=nexus_7_8gb

What will be in iOS6 for educators?

What will be in iOS6 for educators?

Every year at this time, Apple has used the opening of its World Wide Developers Conference to preview what the next version of the iPhone and iPad operating system will bring. Amongst the purported 200 new features we will see when iOS version 6 is released in our Spring (Fall in the USA), I wanted to detail three of those announced overnight that in my opinion will be most useful for educators and schools. While there is nothing quite on the level of AirPlay mirroring which we got last year, these are worth knowing about and planning for. I’ll also touch on something that might be a concern.

Accessibility – Guided Access mode

  • Mentioned only briefly as part of the accessibility options in iOS6, to me this may turn out to be the most useful new feature of iOS6 for educators as it allows a teacher to disable the home button effectively turning on a ‘single, one-app at at time’ mode.
  • I can see it being especially good for schools with shared sets of iPads and iPod touches and who need students to not accidentally or otherwise use certain apps. May also help those students who ‘multi-task’ a bit too much.

Do-not-disturb switch

  • This option in settings will allow users to halt all incoming notifications and alerts with one toggle – or to customise what is allowed and even when.
  • I see this as being a great new tool for busy educators and for students doing assignments etc – we’ll now be able to have designated ‘quiet’ time to concentrate on the task at hand without being distracted.

Siri for iPad 3

  • This will bring exactly what it says – rather than just the voice dictation that it debuted with, iOS6 will enable Siri for the new (2012) iPad. Strangely, rather than taking up the full screen to show you maps or information, a small (iPhone-sized) Siri window will pop up. Siri will also be updated to accept more commands such as opening apps.
  • For educators of students who are sight-impaired, having them be able to interact with their iPad simply by speaking will be a boon.
  • If you haven’t already, you might like to consider having students use headphones to keep all the voice chatter down.

 

 

The one concern I did want to note is one that could be said to come up anytime that we discuss how consumer devices like the iPhone and iPad can be ‘translated’ for use in Education. So in many schools for example, Siri or voice dictation (as opposed to the Voice-Over accessibility feature) won’t work through the standard network settings, and neither may notifications and alerts.

Ok, any I have missed? For the most comprehensive list go to iLounge:

http://www.ilounge.com/index.php/articles/comments/whats-new-in-ios-6-ipad-iphone-ipod-touch-screenshots/

Some new info on OLPC ‘dropped by helicopter’ project

OLPC News has managed to dig up some more info via ITProPortal.com – its worth reading in terms of the wider debate about how ICT deployments should be executed, and where the balance between trusting the serendipitous nature of human curiosity and responsible planning for long term success lies…

My comment:

So they are not even XO’s? I guess the 3.0 is not available – begs the next question of what version of Android they are running – not perhaps something the villagers themselves would be concerned about I suppose.

Actually if its a motorola, it could very well be the ET1: http://www.engadget.com/2011/10/10/motorola-unveils-rugged-et1-android-tablet-for-enterprise-types/

or the Xoom 2 which is at least water resistant (but larger at 10 inches) – neither of which are low cost devices by any means.

- Actually the photo if genuine on the original ITProPortal.com site shows a 10 inch Xoom.

More to the point is the reports on the pilots progress – learning to turn it on or rote repeat alphabet may seem massive if in fact the starting point was zero – but now they know these things, what is the benefit to the village? Was an environmental impact study done first or is the only benefit to the researcher?


Computers aren’t so special anymore, but the kids may be better off: An introduction to mobile ‘appliance computing’ in Queensland schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

A strong case can be made that a revolution is underway in how computers are being perceived and used in schools across the world. In Australia it could be said Queensland is one of the epicenters of this change.

How do we know this? Several recent reports have shown that Australia has just about the highest uptake of smartphones and ‘mobile’ computers in the world.

  • Figures from analyst house Telsyte show that 1.4 million tablet computers were purchased in Australia in 2011 and that Australians are taking to tablets – especially the iPad – at a higher rate per capita than other countries (http://delimiter.com.au/2012/02/15/apple-australia-sold-1-million-ipads-in-2011).
  • The results of a Telstra Neilsen survey from July 2011 revealed that Australian smartphone ownership may already be as high as 46%, a 10% jump from 2010 (http://www.telstra.com.au/abouttelstra/download/document/fact-sheet-telstra-smartphone-index-2011.pdf).
  • Google research from September 2011 showed not only that Australia is number two in the world for smartphone ownership (behind only Singapore), but that Australians also download more apps than users in the US and UK (http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/mobiles/australias-white-hot-smartphone-revolution-20110908-1jz3k.html).
  • In Queensland, Optus reported that by October 2011, 55% of regional phone owners (traditionally a sector that lags behind in gadget adoption) had a smartphone (http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/story/2011/10/14/smartphones-hit-regional-qld).

This high uptake of mobile computers could mean that Australia is a key place to observe the move from computers being seen mainly as specialised machines that sit in their own category, to one where they are readily available at hand to enhance learning. This process can also be described as a move towards ‘appliance computing’, where the low cost and wide-spread use of mobile computers reaches a point where society views them as expected utilities, or everyday appliances in the same category as TVs, DVD players or microwaves.

It’s a situation which may be the norm for many of today’s students. For example an informal survey of over 600 students conducted by the Principal at a lower-socio economic school north of Brisbane in 2008 showed that more students already owned a mobile device such as an MP3 player, Nintendo DS and digital cameras than used a PC regularly (and this wasn’t even counting mobile phones!).

This rapid uptake by the Australian and Queensland public is one of the two main factors supporting the belief that this country is in a position to lead the way in pioneering ‘appliance computing‘ in education. The second factor is the growth in availability of these devices in schools. While some teachers in Queensland participated in a small PDA (personal digital assistant) trial in 2005, and others purchased small numbers of Nintendo DS handhelds, it has really been the release of the iPod touch (and then iPad), as well as the introduction of the XO mini-laptop program from One Laptop per Child Australia (OLPC), that has boosted the numbers of devices in schools.

Twenty–eight schools across Queensland ranging from lower-socio economic schools in northern urban centers, to the most remote in the very far west and in the Torres Strait have now been joined the OLPC program. Some schools partner with OLPC to deploy only one class-set, while others such as Doomadgee have over 350 across years P-7. OLPC Australia has been recognised for its training program that focuses on educational outcomes rather than just the laptop itself.

In addition, With mobile phone subscriptions now outnumbering computers, TVs and even FM radios (T. Ahonen, 2010) to the point where by as long ago as 2004, 45% of 13-15 year olds owned one (Allison, 2004), it is inevitable that such devices are having an impact in Queensland. Much has been said about the parental responsibilities involved with students having mobile phones by experts such as the Queensland Governments bullying adviser Michael Carr-Gregg who has advised parents not to “outsource responsibility to schools” (Brisbane Times, October 26 2010).

There are many schools that have reacted responsibly to the high ownership of mobile phones by students by instituting mobile phone use policies that suit the needs and expectations of their communities as well as legislation and state policies such as those posted at http://education.qld.gov.au/strategic/eppr/schools/scmpr003. One example that can be googled forms part of the Drillham State School ʻResponsible Behaviour Planʼ (see p20).

Apart from the behaviour management side of the impact of mobile phones, there are many examples of teachers gaining prior-approval and taking advantage of the mLearning (or mobile learning) capabilities of such devices such as their portability, simplicity and potential for improving the personal learning productivity in ways that donʼt actually use the ʻphoneʼ capabilities but rather the devices other features.

One of the main educational uses sees old or second-hand mobile phones being used as audio and video recorders. At Tullawong State School Learning Support Teacher Jonathan Nalder employed an old phone in this way to allow students to listen back to their reading and correct their own errors. A Year 6 Teacher at Worongary State School has supervised students to use them as mobile sound effects recorders to capture sounds not available in the classroom that are needed for stop-motion video creations.

At Strathpine West State School, a year seven teacher has also used old phones to record student verbal responses which would otherwise be lost on those occasions when they are working outside the classroom. These same students have also used them capture images whilst on excursions for later integration into learning tasks back in the classroom. Senior students at Kelvin Grove State College, which has begun incorporating the use of reference Apps (or software applications) into its Science Department ICT Strategic Plan, are using phones that can download apps to allow learning tools such as calculators, timers, stopwatches, periodic tables and biology charts to be available on a much wider basis to support ‘just-in-time’ learning as it happens than was possible before.

Not all educational use of mobile phones is driven just by teachers however. A Physical Education Head of Department at Palm Beach Currumbin State School has had his students approach him to request permission to use their mobile phones to improve their learning productivity by recording lessons. This allows them to better concentrate on the class because they can now review and study what was written and said at their own pace later on.

It is widely acknowledged that tablet devices are also becoming more popular, and an official Department of Education trial of iPads was conducted in Queensland in 2011 in two schools (http://education.qld.gov.au/projects/educationviews/smartclassrooms/2011/feb/ipad-110224.html). As well, enough other state schools had also purchased iPads such that a site was established in 2011 in the online community known as the Learning Place to support them. Several private schools such as Redlands College and The Southport School have also run trials or initiated 1:1 deployments of iPads. The latest development is the policy of the new LNP government in Queensland to deploy 20 tablet devices to every special education school, and 10 to every school with a special education unit to support students with special needs.

While it would be easy to assume that schools are just jumping on the latest bandwagon, the reality is that innovative professional development is being conducted to maximize the use of these devices as enablers of learning. All teachers from schools who join the One Laptop per Child program receive an initial 15 hours of training, with options for further accredited training to become local expert trainer. Students also can receive certificates for learning and then through demonstrating their skills, including becoming an ‘XO Mechanic’ become qualified to pull apart and conduct basic repairs on the devices.

Schools using other mobile devices such as iPads have been able to access for some time, numerous training sessions provided by the Department of Education and Training’s ICT Learning Innovation Centre. This centre, which is based at the University of the Sunshine Coast, delivered several online and in-person iPad-related workshops in 2011, with others already also conducted in 2012. In addition, the Department’s Division of Indigenous Education and Training Futures ran an in-person day of mobile device workshops in Cairns in late 2011, and due to demand, this was expanded into a two-day forum known as ‘Learning@hand’ attended by 130 educators in April 2012 (http://www.learningathand.info).

What has the impact been of all of this activity? A number of research projects overseas show that mobile devices have had a positive impact on learning; for example one from Maine in the United States where kindergarten students’ literacy and engagement levels saw a dramatic increase when using iPads (http://www.loopinsight.com/2012/02/17/ipad-improves-kindergartners-literacy-scores). Indications closer to home also show similar improvements.

In one of the first documented iPad trials anywhere in the world, Trinity College (TCFS) in Victoria deployed devices across eight classes and conducted a number of surveys (with 106 responses). They found that not only did the use of paper dramatically decrease, but that iPads were “effective, durable, reliable and achieve their educational aims of going further, faster and with more fun” and that they “have advantages for TCFS over other technologies such as netbooks and laptops”. As well, 80% of students and 76% of staff indicated they would recommend the iPad for others as a learning tool. (http://www.trinity.unimelb.edu.au/Media/docs/iPadPilotReport2011-1b1e1a52-79af-4c76-b5b6-e45f92f2c9e9-0.pdf)

A pioneer in this area has been Hambledon State School in Cairns who initiated an MP3 player program in 2009 that has since expanded into a parent-supported and Showcase for Excellence Award winning iPod touch and iPad project that ran from 2010-2012. Results from students participating showed that the number of behaviour tickets issued decreased markedly, and that 96% of students themselves reported they were learning better.

In its trial of iPads with Year 9 students in 2011, Brisbane’s Kedron State High School found that 15 out of the 24 students involved “improved their performance in comparison to previous grades” and assessments (http://education.qld.gov.au/smartclassrooms/pdf/ipad-trial.pdf).

At Doomadgee State School in far north west Queensland, use of XO laptops has been partially credited by the Principal Richard Barrie, with helping the school’s Year 3 students achieve what the Courier Mail described as ‘stunning’ results (http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/doomadgee-state-school-produces-stunning-naplan-results-thanks-in-part-to-technological-advancements-in-teaching/story-e6freoof-1226137211426) in national numeracy testing (results went from 31% to 95%, where the state average is 95.2%). Overall, the school, which has 350 XO laptops in total and 30 iPads, saw NAPLAN scores lift in 13 out of 15 categories.

Using community engagement as another measure of success; the recent explosion from 65 to over 100 Prep enrollments at one Cairns school who promised XO mini-laptops to their 2012 Prep students as a way of addressing a local ‘digital divide’ in access to technology.

So it is not just the increase in numbers, but the positive examples of mobile technology use in Queensland schools and the willingness of schools to engage with these devices as additional tools to enable student success that demonstrates the possibility and flexibility these devices value add to the technology toolkit available to students, families and teachers.

 

UNESCO series of mLearning working papers

UNESCO are releasing several working papers focusing on different regions of the globe and mapping what mobile learning initiatives are in place, particularly in regards to policy, and teacher professional development.

You can read them all at Edutechdebate: https://edutechdebate.org/archive/mobile-learning-initiatives/

Here are my thoughts on the Latin America report:

- I really found the drivers, enablers and blockers section to be very useful – a simple way to communicate a lot about what the issues are.
- BridgeIT and SMILE sound very interesting – although SMILE seems to be the innovative one in actually going beyond just the ‘substation’ level of the SAMR model.
- Sadly, or perhaps, to be expected, virtually all are still ‘early days’ with no results of the wider impact (apart from user numbers) reported.
- Most seem to have neglected teacher PD therefore are just re-inforcing traditional pedagogy (ie. bridgeIT videos) – I know this must change soon.