The XO Tablet – first impressions

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Its not often one gets to brag about owning the only gadget in a whole country – but as the XO Tablet is only available from the USA, and the Australia arm of OLPC aren’t touching it, right now this is the case. Thanks to the generosity of fellow EdTech experimenters Wayan Vota and John Hunt, my 6 year old daughter has now logged about 10 hours on this latest iteration of what a ‘green machine’ can be and I’m ready to report some first impressions.

I’ll get to her thoughts shortly – but first, given the at times highly charged nature of all-things OLPC, some context. I have written for OLPC News before, am the Dad of a child in the target audience for the XO Tablet, and am a long-time OLPC supporter (with nearly 4 years of being employed by a state education department to support XO deployments). I’m also a well-known exponent of that other transformative mobile platform, the iPad, of which I’ve owned every model and even co-founded the Slide2learn.net community to support. I’ve also owned a Nexus7 Android tablet since its launch. What I’m trying to say is that I couldn’t have been more excited to get an XO tablet that sits right at the convergence of all these interests.

So, first impressions: I love the green case. Its chunky and grip-able and …

- Read the whole article at OLPC News here: http://www.olpcnews.com/tablets/xo_tablet/the_xo_tablet_-_a_first_impression_in_750_words.html

 

 

 

Response to a PC-era’s review of the XO Tablet

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At OLPC News there are a few good articles overviewing the XO Tablet and what it means for learners and well as One Laptop per Child’s overall program. The most recent one gives a more negative view than some which is good for balance but seems to be coming from someone still thinking that PC and PostPC devices can’t both have a place.

Go here to read it.

(http://www.olpcnews.com/tablets/xo_tablet/the_xo_tablet_violates_fundame.html)

Here FYI was my response :)

Nice to see a balanced overview here thanks Edward. For my part tho – and I’ve worked with XOs for over three years, and tablets as well – the one thing (something Wayan alluded to in his articles) that has me interested in the XO Tablet is the bundled software – I don’t think anyone could seriously think that part time volunteer coders writing in Python for Sugar can now ever compete with the quality of apps available for Android and especially iOS – there is no comparison in capability. So whatever hardware design one prefers (and lets face it, cheap but decent bluetooth keyboards can be used with the XO tablet very easily – some even combine with a case) IF the software is lacking then you can do very little with them, or at least very little in comparison to what’s in the Play Store and App Store. Am I right? And isn’t a sugar port headed to the XO tablet anyways?

 

Will You Mini? 1st thoughts on the new iPad by a teacher

So the much awaited entry by Apple into the smaller tablet space has now been announced. You can as usual get all the details immediately at Apple.com. It does look, just like with the iPhone5, to be an amazing feat of engineering in regards to its fit and finish etc, areas that often set Apple products apart and for which people are prepared to choose time and again.

My feeling however for schools is that the US$329 price ($369 in Australia) is too high to really trigger a mass takeup. Perhaps it will come down in price over the next couple of years, but for now – although the cameras are better, in other respects its identical to the iPad2. For iPad buyers, that leaves the smaller size as the main differentiating factor – which may be great for being out and about, and maybe for P-3 students?

I’d be very Interested in the thoughts of P-3 teachers on if they’d prefer the smaller size or the full size iPad. Also – how many would choose the mini purely to save $50 or so over the iPad2 (which I’m very surprised they kept around)? Maybe if you were buying a lot?

There is one factor however that is highly in the mini’s favour – step outside of comparing the 16gb mini and 16gb iPad2 and it becomes a different comparison. Many schools I work with I know are finding 16gb too small nowadays – so with the mini you can get a 32gb mini model for $479 when the only other iPad with that option is the full iPad at $649 – that is a major difference beyond just the size.

(Also consider however that refurbished 32gb models of the larger 3rd gen retina iPad are also selling at only US$469 [or US$379 for 16gb] now as spotted by theverge.com).

 

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

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?


So what are these super popular tablet computers capable of anyway?

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Its hard to deny that in the book that tells how computing has become more and more mobile such that its already almost ubiquitous, the current chapter would be titled ‘tablets’. While they have been around for some years in various forms, the recent maturation of mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS to match the slate style has seen an explosion in the adoption rates of tablet computers. The iPad is selling over 1 million devices a month, and it seems that conversely, about a million different Android tablets get announced each week. The Dell Streak, Asus EePad and Samsung Galaxy are all examples of high profile Android tablet computers that will be released in the next 4 months. There are also education specific initiatives around Android tablets in the shape of the Marvel/OLPC $99 project, and India’s $35 slate. Of interest also is what HP releases in the way of a ‘PalmPad’ tablet that will run the WebOS they bought along with Palm.

Ok, so enough about the hype of devices. What can they do? And specifically, what can they do for learning? Not having access to an Android tablet yet myself, my observations are based on the using the iPad. For a list of Android education apps though, go here.

I’m aiming then to post semi-regular articles on what these tablets can do, starting today with this example: iBrainstorm (free from the appstore). This app (an others like it) allow you to map out ideas, plans and thoughts visually. Where it really provides a new experience is that, being available on a tablet, all the work is done by direct touch, just as we would have once done pre-PCs. So we get to arrange notes and draw in a paper-like way, but with all the advantages that working digitally brings – such as instant sharing and storage of the brainstorm session. And, you also get to instantly collaborate. iBrainstorm allows other devices (iPhones or iPod touches as you’d expect from this platform) to connect via bluetooth and create their own sticky-notes which can be passed to the main iPad with a flick of the finger.

In a classroom, I can just see the group work possibilities. You could have four – five students summarising a topic, with up to four students creating sticky-notes of key points and flicking to a fifth student with the iPad tablet who then arranges them. I am really hoping that in near future the developers will add a video-out capability so the work could be projected to a big screen to show the brainstorm taking place live – that way the whole class could contribute.

If this is any indication of the kind of applications that tablet computers of any platform are capable, I for one am excited about the the kind of learning they will help enable. Of course it all depends on teachers facilitating their use – would love to hear from other teachers attempting to do so.

iPad: first thoughts from an educator

Well, here it is- the much hyped iPad itself.

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Several observations have occurred to me in the last hour since taking the obligatory unboxing shot above that I’d like to share:

1. My 2 1/2 year old, who is a 2 year iPhone veteran, upon first seeing it, took one look and told me it was an iPhone.

2. Despite the gorgeous gorgeous screen, this is currently my favourite view of the iPad:

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It may seem strange, but this shot of it as a blank slate is how it most appeals to me, just empty ready for whatever I choose to (load on) make it. I think this personalization potential is really the thing that marks such devices out from others currently being integrated into classrooms.

3. It’s heavier than I expected. And it’s taking me a while to figure out to hold it. Do I prefer landscape or portrait? Actually most apps seem to have different functions according to the view. Do you lean it on something, or curl your fingers around it? How will it be used by the smaller hands of students.

4. The keyboard is brilliant in landscape on ones lap (it’s how I’m typing at present). I’m not a touch typist on a desktop keyboard, but I can type faster on this because A. It has auto-correction, and B. where the words appear and where my fingers are typing are so close, whereas when typing on a laptop or pc, I’m looking back and forth, back and forth from keys up to screen and back.

5. I can’t believe mobile safari still can’t be used to enter and edit text in some web pages, like say edublogs or etherpad. Writing this post in email and serving out by posterous is great, but I really wanted just to load edublogs.org like i would on my desktop and write. This is a big limitation, and potentially limits it’s use by students accessing me education departments LMS.

Finally, on my homepage are all the iPad specific apps I’m dying to try out to see what they offer on this new platform – consider these my fave iPad apps for now. iBooks and Adobe Ideas I’m especially interested to explore in terms of use by students.

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More to come…

Sent from my iPad

2010: the year we make contact?

Welcome to 2010. I feel a bit foolish writing my first 2010 blog entry when the announcement that might define mobile and ubiquitous computing this year is still a week away, but there have been enough early signs from a range of companies to make some assumptions, and speculate on what they will mean for learning that attempts to take advantage them.

The previous decade has seen computing move from being desk-based to lap and now hand-based, no doubt about it. Laptop sales overtook desktop pc sales, and mobile phone sales have long dwarfed both. In fact sales of Smartphones (or mobile phones that are also computers) will very shortly pass those of laptops to become the main way that we access and share information.

That’s the hardware story. Software wise, I think the picture is less clear as the different design and interface requirements of mobile devices is not something that most hardware makers have yet got their heads around. But there is an emerging way of controlling hardware, and by extension, interacting with information that has come to maturity in the last couple of years, and that is touch, direct contact between our natural selection devices (fingers) and the machines we are using.

Coupled with the release of multiple tablet-like touch devices (such as the several models announced at the CES events, and the expected Apple iSlate in late January), its fair to say that this kind of personalised, more natural computing could be the real hallmark of 2010. I’m excited to see what happens as it becomes possible to move back to a direct hand-eye form of control that has been lost while we used physical keyboards that made us look somewhere different to our fingers, pretty much for the first time in communication history.

So, is learning and the institutions who’s job it is to propagate it ready to embrace a touch-computing future? I’d like to think so. The presence of over 50 teachers at a day exploring the iPod touch in education yesterday – while they were still on holidays – indicates that at least in my Education Department, interest is high. What I love about the potential of simplified, touch-based interfaces I hope to see is that they open up computing to everyone. There is nothing between you and the information and you, and the smaller screen sizes are forcing companies to reduce clutter and non-logical menu’s and buttons. Sounds like the sort of improvements that can benefit students right?