XO and the teachers

Last time I rambled a bit about building a community around the XO in India. An important aspect of this task would be to obtain buy-in from teachers who are enthusiastic enough to adapt to this new method and tool to impart education. A significantly high percentage of the success rate would be determined by the effort put in towards ensuring that teachers feel comfortable using the XO to teach the children between 6 and 12 years. This means that while new activities are being created, they have to be woven around the ways teachers impart the content of the book. The XO would change the teachers as much as it changes the students by providing learning opportunities for both of them. The XO along with the School Server is designed to provide repositories of information in a manner that is not readily available through the conventional teaching pedagogy. The XO Teacher Community would require sufficient attention towards transparent collaboration in order to ensure that the deployments are effective. This includes going above and beyond just creating activities – it demands that there is communication amongst teachers to understand the impact of re-usability of activities and learning materials that can be shared. A fundamental change that the XO drives is that it creates activities and workflows around the notion of “sharing” and “collaboration” and this thought is evident in the current set of applications and activities that make up the hardware. Do read the Learning Vision page if you think you know an educator who would be interested in this and mail the team if you want to participate.

A podcast on public speaking

There is this short and sweet podcast from Nirav which would should be a must listen for first time speakers, non geeks and geeks. He manages to capture in a bit over 180 seconds things on which reams of paper have been consumed – a speech is about the speaker telling his/her story to an audience who have already shown an interest in listening to it. Nothing can go bad in a session of story telling if the story is compelling and the speaker is having fun. Reminds me of a trick I overheard someone_I_know passing on to a nervous and over-prepared speaker – “Imagine there’s a whole sea of naked folks sitting in front of you – there’s nothing more funny than that. Go ahead – kick some serious butt”

XO thoughts

Thanks to two fine gentlemen, I have an XO to play around for a few days. The reports prove to be correct – the keyboard is obviously not made for stubby fingers like I have and of course not the heavy left hand that I use on the keyboard. It does have an awesome battery life and the screen does work well in sunlight (I tested it out in moderate direct light at around 1100 and 1300 hours in Pune). In short it is a fun thing to have around As a friend put it – it is an amazing piece of hardware and coolness that kids can get.
So I poked around the wiki a bit especially the sections relevant to Etoys and Educators in order to figure out what the project thinks about the possibilities of this hardware. To continue from my earlier rant on OLPC in India, the OLPC India team does need to figure out the way forward beyond the pilot (at Khairat). The pilot can teach valuable lessons about the feasibility of the hardware, the corner cases of mesh networking or even the applicability and usage of the hardware in the pedagogy. But taking those lessons and extrapolating them into much larger, distributed deployments is going to require a heavy dose of community (or capacity) building. This means doing much more than just being a deployment/services unit for the project as a whole

  • focus on transparent and open development by using lists, IRC, technology roadshows to ensure that developers get interested in working on the hardware
  • give everyone a fair shot at contributing by lowering the barrier to contribute to the project
  • go back to school – the current set of activities that are with the projects needs to be expanded and extended and that means one requires competencies of developers, educators, academicians, usability folks and one of the easiest means of getting all of them in the game is going back to schools, colleges and universities
  • show how to extend the possibilities – do not attempt spoon feeding. Show how things can be done and then allow an organic community to contribute
  • advocate the technology and evangelize the philosophy – build up a core group of believers who can communicate the possibilities and the culture of collaboration so as to ensure that there is enough credibility around the development

Localization is not the only thing that the OLPC would require in India, though it is one of the important things. What would be required more upfront is a range of activities that can allow the target users to start using them in their daily lessons ie more content around activities. This means that sooner rather than later there has to come up a server that can be the repository of such learning objects which can be (re)used by OLPC deployments across the nation.

Getting the finger off the Ctrl key

I have been following what is being termed the “OpenDS mess” through infrequent readings of the blogosphere. I am sure that a statement that would attempt to provide an insight into what truly happened would be available soon and I hope that it provides the complete picture. But what it does for me right now is put a context to the conversation I was involved in yesterday (on #mozilla.in on the mozilla IRC server).

The talk was about “control” and how it is natural for humans to hanker after it. Somewhat simplistically I tend to believe that control and the urge to control is not the true picture. It is natural for almost everybody to be attracted to baubles and thus to property. The notion of loss (or gain) of such concept of property is where the genesis of control lies. However, once there is an urge to control that is generated, it is slightly difficult to step back and observe the potentially disastrous impact of it. For example, look at the FOSS world. A large number of the popular FOSS projects are also supported, sponsored, invested into by companies. Thus, the companies have a vested interest in ensuring that the technology vision for the projects are aligned with the strategic business visions. And there lies the fine line. Participating in a FOSS project really means showing a large amount of commitment and accountability. The fun bit about the last quality is that it is not limited to only the members of a company that sponsors it – but is inclusive of “everybody|community” around the project. This of course means that decisions can never be taken without transparency, authority can never be inherited by folks within the “chosen elite”. Almost all projects these days draw up governing rules and charter that have a single aim in mind “ensuring that the door is not shut to external community members”. So it becomes the duty of the Project Leader and the individual Sub Project Leaders to avoid falling into this elitist mentality. And this awareness is a part of the fiduciary duty they have towards the community who are their raison d’Γͺtre
In this aspect, I recall (as far as I can recall well) that Seth Vidal is passionate about accessing Fedora bits by *not* using the corporate VPN. It might be an idiosyncrasy, but it provides the perfect “dip-stick” test as to how open a project is. If there is a favorable bias towards the corporate contributors, then surely something is wrong. A project has to have a healthy balance of corporate and community contributors. Because only then do words like Freedom, Accountability, Commitment and Courage make a difference and actually mean anything.

This is a nice relevant read.