The Continuing Saga of OLPC

21 May 2008 - 9:11am
6 years ago
4 replies
601 reads
Dan Saffer
2003

It's been a weird week for the One Laptop Per Child project, and I'm
surprised we didn't discuss it here.

First was the news that:

Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child organization admitted
defeat in its effort to sell millions of open-source computers in
Asia, Africa and Latin America by joining with Microsoft to load
Windows XP onto its green and white laptops. The decision marks the
end of the effort to spread Constructionist learning pedagogy—learning
by doing—to tens of millions of poor children in villages around the
world.

<http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/NussbaumOnDesign/archives/2008/05/the_end_of_the.html
>
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7094695.stm>

Now comes the news of OLPC 2.0. And check it out: dual touchscreens.
No keyboard, just two touchscreens that fold together like a book:

<http://gizmodo.com/392060/olpc-xo-laptop-20-has-dual-touchscreens-looks-amazing-and-future+y
>
<http://blog.laptopmag.com/first-look-olpc-xo-generation-20>

Is this the end of the Sugar UI? (See the previous IxDA discussion on
it: <http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=23928> )

Dan

Comments

21 May 2008 - 11:12pm
Kontra
2007

> Now comes the news of OLPC 2.0.

"News" connotes actuality. OLPC 2.0 at $75 is unadulterated fantasy.

Every imaginable promise made by OLPC has been either completely
broken or diluted to irrelevance. Negraponte should just set up a
for-profit company, join adulthood and show us why the world really
needs OLPC.

--
Kontra
http://counternotions.com

22 May 2008 - 5:39pm
Chris Bernard
2007

Okay, I'll bite on ths. Disclosures for the new folks are that I work for Microsoft but that these opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of my employer.

I'm not sure that OLPC running Windows is equal to " The decision marks the end of the effort to spread Constructionist learning pedagogy-learning by doing-to tens of millions of poor children in villages around the world." Especially when one considers that neither FOSS or the interface that presumably is optimized for this type of learning, Sugar, is going away. In fact I'm under the impression that there is a desire to make Sugar run on Windows.

But I would argue that constructionist learning is agnostic of computing in general and platform in particular and it's disingenuous to say that FOSS was a critical or even necessary component to enable it--some people no doubt wanted it to be that way but those reasons really didn't have a thing to do with constructivist learning. You could enable it on just about any OS. In fact, one could argue that the way just about any developer that learns how to build and develop software today is doing so using very similar approaches that could easily be considered as similar to constructivist techniques.

OLPC has been challenged because too many dynamics of the effort were simply ignored and agendas that had nothing to do with learning rose to prominence (pushing computers and pushing FOSS at the expense of truly understanding what their target audience and all its stakeholders needed). A few of the most glaring missteps follow:

1.) How critical are computers to constructivist learning? Before Microsoft I spent a few years at IBM working on their global IBM On Demand project (an effort designed to enable IBM employees all over the world to volunteer in the communities in which they live and work). Although we probably didn't throw the term constructionist learning around a lot we were in fact doing just that. Computers were a part of but certainly not the central focus, they were merely tools that were occasionally used to facilitate the ideas being communicated. IBM in fact rejected an idea very similar to OLPC that had be presented to them by the Institute of Design in 2004. OLPC has admitted many times that this was about getting technology into the emerging world. I think the original intent was to focus on constructivist learning but I think that intent got hijacked by competing agendas way before Microsoft ever showed up on the scene.

2.) OLPC didn't seem to understand the market they were selling to. Which wasn't the user but the governments or sometimes institutions, like NGO's, that would provide them. In fact, one could argue if the real mission was about constructivist learning, even with computers, they shouldn't have been trying to sell anything, but rather find patrons at the get go that would give this crap away--a strategy that was only tried after the OLPC had failed to achieve momentum. But their initial model was simply out of touch with both how aid and assistance gets pushed out and how governmental institutions make decisions. It almost seems like they presumed that the dynamics of microfinance and small-scale capitalism had something to do with these organization and big institutions. I'm by no means an expert but in my limited experience with organizations like this nothing could be further from the truth. The market they were actually trying to engage (The people that were going to write the checks) function much more like a traditional IT customer or public sector enterprise than many of the bottom of the pyramid efforts we might be familiar with.

3.) But by far the biggest issue was this. They tried to ascribe constructivist learning to the idea of actually maintaining these devices. This utopian thought is what ultimately caused this effort to go off the rails. Who was going to fix the 100 million of these things out the wild? Windows is still (for better or worse depending on where you sit) a defacto standard with over a billion installations all over the world. There are tens of millions of people (even in the emerging world) that are well equipped to work with it, that even might prefer to work with it. This ecosystem means that Windows on OLPC might be its salvation in fulfilling its original mission of being a tool for constructivist learning versus a harbinger of its demise.

Chris Bernard
Microsoft
User Experience Evangelist
chris.bernard at microsoft.com
630.530.4208 Office
312.925.4095 Mobile

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Dan Saffer
Sent: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 9:11 AM
To: IXDA list
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] The Continuing Saga of OLPC

It's been a weird week for the One Laptop Per Child project, and I'm
surprised we didn't discuss it here.

First was the news that:

Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child organization admitted
defeat in its effort to sell millions of open-source computers in
Asia, Africa and Latin America by joining with Microsoft to load
Windows XP onto its green and white laptops. The decision marks the
end of the effort to spread Constructionist learning pedagogy-learning
by doing-to tens of millions of poor children in villages around the
world.

<http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/NussbaumOnDesign/archives/2008/05/the_end_of_the.html
>
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7094695.stm>

Now comes the news of OLPC 2.0. And check it out: dual touchscreens.
No keyboard, just two touchscreens that fold together like a book:

<http://gizmodo.com/392060/olpc-xo-laptop-20-has-dual-touchscreens-looks-amazing-and-future+y
>
<http://blog.laptopmag.com/first-look-olpc-xo-generation-20>

Is this the end of the Sugar UI? (See the previous IxDA discussion on
it: <http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=23928> )

Dan

________________________________________________________________
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22 May 2008 - 6:22pm
Kontra
2007

> OLPC has been challenged because too many dynamics of the effort were simply ignored...

Negraponte promised 100 million users: couldn't deliver a minute
fraction of it. He promised a $100 PC: delivered it at twice the
price. He promised a revolutionary UI: he's now switching to Windows.
He promised a third consumer-level PC platform as an alternative: he's
now serving the dominant player. He promised deployment without
support: he neither deployed nor supported it. And so on.

If a public company CEO made these outlandish promises (and
predictably delivered none of it) he'd be sued by shareholders to
smithereens.

Now, he's promising an enlarged iPhone sandwich at $75, targeted to,
for all we know, 500 million users.

How does one take any of this seriously?

--
Kontra
http://counternotions.com

22 May 2008 - 7:03pm
Jeff Axup
2006

Hi Chris,

In general I agree with your points that constructivist learning can be
taught using other tools than computers and that FOSS wasn't a necessary
component.

However, as a UX professional yourself, you must agree that any OS has
certain inherent constraints that it brings with it. I don't know a lot
about Sugar and the OS used, but let's *hypothetically* say that by using
these technologies, OLPC was able to build a device which a) booted in a few
seconds, b) didn't require OS maintenance, c) didn't crash or was very fault
tolerant, and d) didn't need much memory.

And let's say that part of the necessary user requirements for using a piece
of technology to teach students in the developing world was that such as
device loaded very rapidly (kids expect instant gratification), didn't
require OS maintenance (just like a Nintendo or a phone for example), needed
to be highly reliable (there's no repair services), and they could afford
only minimal memory to keep the price down.

At least in theory, the OS actually does impact a great deal of the user
experience of the overall product. In the hypothetical scenario above,
Windows simply wouldn't be a good fit for the user requirements. Users would
not be unlikely to be able to learn using a device that didn't match their
requirements.

And on a more practical level, I see this same mistake being made by
companies trying to cram large OSs intended for desktops into small mobile
devices. (e.g. most of the UMPCs and tablet computers). Imagine if Amazon
had decided to put a Windows OS on the Kindle...

Cheers,
Jeff

On Thu, May 22, 2008 at 3:39 PM, Chris Bernard <Chris.Bernard at microsoft.com>
wrote:

> Okay, I'll bite on ths. Disclosures for the new folks are that I work for
> Microsoft but that these opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect
> the beliefs of my employer.
>
> I'm not sure that OLPC running Windows is equal to " The decision marks the
> end of the effort to spread Constructionist learning pedagogy-learning by
> doing-to tens of millions of poor children in villages around the world."
> Especially when one considers that neither FOSS or the interface that
> presumably is optimized for this type of learning, Sugar, is going away. In
> fact I'm under the impression that there is a desire to make Sugar run on
> Windows.
>
> But I would argue that constructionist learning is agnostic of computing in
> general and platform in particular and it's disingenuous to say that FOSS
> was a critical or even necessary component to enable it--some people no
> doubt wanted it to be that way but those reasons really didn't have a thing
> to do with constructivist learning. You could enable it on just about any
> OS. In fact, one could argue that the way just about any developer that
> learns how to build and develop software today is doing so using very
> similar approaches that could easily be considered as similar to
> constructivist techniques.
>
> OLPC has been challenged because too many dynamics of the effort were
> simply ignored and agendas that had nothing to do with learning rose to
> prominence (pushing computers and pushing FOSS at the expense of truly
> understanding what their target audience and all its stakeholders needed). A
> few of the most glaring missteps follow:
>
> 1.) How critical are computers to constructivist learning? Before Microsoft
> I spent a few years at IBM working on their global IBM On Demand project (an
> effort designed to enable IBM employees all over the world to volunteer in
> the communities in which they live and work). Although we probably didn't
> throw the term constructionist learning around a lot we were in fact doing
> just that. Computers were a part of but certainly not the central focus,
> they were merely tools that were occasionally used to facilitate the ideas
> being communicated. IBM in fact rejected an idea very similar to OLPC that
> had be presented to them by the Institute of Design in 2004. OLPC has
> admitted many times that this was about getting technology into the emerging
> world. I think the original intent was to focus on constructivist learning
> but I think that intent got hijacked by competing agendas way before
> Microsoft ever showed up on the scene.
>
> 2.) OLPC didn't seem to understand the market they were selling to. Which
> wasn't the user but the governments or sometimes institutions, like NGO's,
> that would provide them. In fact, one could argue if the real mission was
> about constructivist learning, even with computers, they shouldn't have been
> trying to sell anything, but rather find patrons at the get go that would
> give this crap away--a strategy that was only tried after the OLPC had
> failed to achieve momentum. But their initial model was simply out of touch
> with both how aid and assistance gets pushed out and how governmental
> institutions make decisions. It almost seems like they presumed that the
> dynamics of microfinance and small-scale capitalism had something to do with
> these organization and big institutions. I'm by no means an expert but in my
> limited experience with organizations like this nothing could be further
> from the truth. The market they were actually trying to engage (The people
> that were going to write
> the checks) function much more like a traditional IT customer or public
> sector enterprise than many of the bottom of the pyramid efforts we might be
> familiar with.
>
> 3.) But by far the biggest issue was this. They tried to ascribe
> constructivist learning to the idea of actually maintaining these devices.
> This utopian thought is what ultimately caused this effort to go off the
> rails. Who was going to fix the 100 million of these things out the wild?
> Windows is still (for better or worse depending on where you sit) a defacto
> standard with over a billion installations all over the world. There are
> tens of millions of people (even in the emerging world) that are well
> equipped to work with it, that even might prefer to work with it. This
> ecosystem means that Windows on OLPC might be its salvation in fulfilling
> its original mission of being a tool for constructivist learning versus a
> harbinger of its demise.
>
>
>
>
> Chris Bernard
> Microsoft
> User Experience Evangelist
> chris.bernard at microsoft.com
> 630.530.4208 Office
> 312.925.4095 Mobile
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com [mailto:
> discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Dan Saffer
> Sent: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 9:11 AM
> To: IXDA list
> Subject: [IxDA Discuss] The Continuing Saga of OLPC
>
> It's been a weird week for the One Laptop Per Child project, and I'm
> surprised we didn't discuss it here.
>
> First was the news that:
>
> Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child organization admitted
> defeat in its effort to sell millions of open-source computers in
> Asia, Africa and Latin America by joining with Microsoft to load
> Windows XP onto its green and white laptops. The decision marks the
> end of the effort to spread Constructionist learning pedagogy-learning
> by doing-to tens of millions of poor children in villages around the
> world.
>
> <
> http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/NussbaumOnDesign/archives/2008/05/the_end_of_the.html
> >
> <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7094695.stm>
>
>
> Now comes the news of OLPC 2.0. And check it out: dual touchscreens.
> No keyboard, just two touchscreens that fold together like a book:
>
> <
> http://gizmodo.com/392060/olpc-xo-laptop-20-has-dual-touchscreens-looks-amazing-and-future+y
> >
> <http://blog.laptopmag.com/first-look-olpc-xo-generation-20>
>
>
> Is this the end of the Sugar UI? (See the previous IxDA discussion on
> it: <http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=23928> )
>
>
> Dan
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
Thanks,
Jeff
________________________________________________________________________________
Jeff Axup, Ph.D.
Principal Consultant, Mobile Community Design Consulting, San Diego

Research: Mobile Group Research Methods, Social Networks, Group Usability
E-mail: axup <at> userdesign.com
Blog: http://mobilecommunitydesign.com
Moblog: http://memeaddict.blogspot.com

"Designers mine the raw bits of tomorrow. They shape them for the present
day." - Bruce Sterling
________________________________________________________________________________

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