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Nicholas Negroponte gave the opening keynote at NECC this morning and talked about his One Laptop Per Child project. You’ve probably read about this ambitious plan to develop a $100 laptop that will be sold by the 10s of millions in the developing world to put a laptop in the hands of every student. It’s a very exciting and appealing idea.
I was hoping to here my greatest concerns addressed but they were not. My greatest concern is about software (other than the operating system) and curriculum. Teacher training is also a concern. Those issues were pretty much addressed by suggesting “kids will figure it all out.” I am reminded of the old cartoon where a manager is showing of a project plan drawn on a white board. After a complex flow chart the diagram ends with a circle labeled “and here a miracle occurs.” How the computers will actually be used and how they will actually improve learning is my biggest concern and yet it an issue no one seems to be holding Mr. Negroponte’s feet to the fire on.
I do like some of the ideas that are going into the project. I like the low power requirements, the simplified keyboard, and the built in networking. It will be interesting to see if they can get the mesh networking working reliably because that is also a pretty cool idea. I like the idea of a slimmed down operating system. If I had the time and money and skills that would be something I would love to work on myself. Alas I lack all three. While I have been part of an OS development team my areas of expertise do not include the more important parts of an OS.
The simplified operating system is clearly a necessity for this project. I wish that they hadn’t chosen to go with Linux not because it is open source but because I think it has an amazingly poorly designed user interface that is unnecessarily complex. But I suppose they had little choice unless they wanted to build something from scratch. I think that Mr. Negroponte quite unfairly criticizes Windows for not fitting his needs out of the box. It is a bit like criticizing a sailboat because you can’t water ski behind it. Windows was designed for something other than what he wants to do with it. Frankly you don’t often hear people yelling “make Windows less user friendly and take away most of the features.” Well you hear some of that from competitors who think that it is ok for Apple to put features into their OS but not OK for Microsoft to put the same features (web browser, media player to name two) in their operating system. But I digress. I must confess that Mr. Negroponte’s attitude towards people who want to make sure the emperor really is wearing clothing turned me off quite a bit.
It will be interesting to see what does happen with this intuitive. The results of laptops for everyone in the US have been mixed. Some people find that they have worked well others poorly. The difference seems to be that the programs that work start with teacher training, a clear idea of what goals will be accomplished in what classes using what software, and a lot of curriculum thinking around the idea. The programs that doesn’t work involved handing every kid a laptop and expecting teachers and students to create miracles. The latter sounds a lot like this project.
The pessimist in me also worries that the virus programmers of the world will find 100 million identical networked laptops an irresistible target. There are people who believe that Linux is totally secure from viruses. I suspect those people may also believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
It’s not that I wish to see the project fail. The opposite is true. I just worry that they are working on the easy problems and forgetting about the hard ones.
BTW the k12Converge Blog has some questions about the $100 computer program as well. A few interesting ones I haven’t yet thought about. But then there is a whole lot to think about with this project including how it might impact the whole Internet and computer culture of the world. Projects that make people think are sometimes worth it for just that.
By the way, these are my personal opinions. I have no idea what the Microsoft official position on this project is and I certainly wouldn’t get to articulate it on behalf of the company even if I did.
Tags: NECC2006 necc necc06
Vicki Davis at Cool Cat Teacher is blogging NECC without being here. And doing a wonderful job of it I might add. Read how she is doing it here. Or just read what she is collecting. Either way there is a lot you can get out of NECC without being here. Though really I wish you were so I could meet you all. :-)
Well it was my first day. It was also the first day of the exhibit hall and most of the general sessions. It had an inauspicious start for me as I didn’t get to San Diego until mid morning and once I got here I was running less than 100%. But after a short nap and a change into clean clothing (amazing how reviving it is to have ones suitcase and being able to change is) I was good to go and back at the Convention Center by mid-afternoon. I ran into friends almost immediately at the Microsoft booth. Two teachers who I had corresponded with via email or replies to the blog. It is just great to have faces to go with names. Plus we had some good conversations about what is and is not working well for them with Microsoft products.
Then we had the Visual Basic birds of a feather session. Unfortunately it was at the same time as the SIGCS meeting and a number of people choose to attend that. I can’t blame them for that and a couple of my co-workers also went to that meeting. We had 6-8 people at the BOF though and it was well worth it for me. I heard some good stories and a lot of information was exchanged. Certainly everyone seemed to have a good time. Several old friends showed up as well as a number of people I was meeting for the first time. One teacher who showed up teaches in the school district next to the one I live in back in New Hampshire. It seems funny to be 3000 miles from home and run into neighbors. But it was good to see Jim again and catch up on things.
There were more options for things to do at the end of the day than I could possibly handle. That is the problem with events like this. So many people and so little time. But I hope to see more people tomorrow. I learn so much from talking to teachers who face students every day. That makes trips like this worth it all.
Oh and Chris Stephenson of CSTA tells me there are still a few seats available for the CS & IT Symposium this Saturday. But you have to sign up quickly.
Tags: necc necc06