Having written about the One Laptop Per Child’s XO laptop project back in 2007 when it first started, imagine my happy surprise at getting to manage a small trial of this device at my school at the moment! The OLPC Australia website currently states that 500,000 XOs will be rolled out to remote communities across Australia in the coming months, and as a fair few of these will be into Queensland schools, some in-context knowledge about how they fit within the education system I work for will come in pretty handy.
So what are my first impressions? Firstly, as the only designed-for-kids-first device of its kind, its a wonderful wonderful machine. Unlike some organisations whose rhetoric uses all the right buzz words but fails when it comes to living up to them, the XO device really does encourage creating, sharing and connecting just by its very design. I’ve only had limited time with two XOs in connected mode so far, but they are so easy to hook up via their built-in mesh networking that almost every activity can be shared between multiple students. This includes co-writing or drawing, or even controlling each others camera, or using the sonar sound activity to measure distance between machines. It really is the learning theory of connectivism personified in a device.
Even the Sugar OS that they run has an interface of brilliant simplicity, with every activity running full screen and auto-saving, while a ‘journal’ of every activity they have done is accessible with just one button push. I’m also looking forward to using them outside regularly thanks to the special LCD screen they have that allows full readability in sunlight.
Be sure to head over to http://www.laptop.org.au/ to read up about the full vision. If mobile devices are becoming more and more ubiquitous as we know they are, why shouldn’t kids get to use ones designed for them rather than for business or universities? We’ll see how this mass rollout goes across Australia, but if the logistics and training of teachers with the devices can be properly managed, there is a ton of potential here ready to be released.