January 30, 2008

Who needs OLPC? Just get the 'C' bit involved...

I've enjoyed yet more hospitality at Pine Crest School today, but what takes me aback the most is the confidence of the youngsters at this albeit pretty exclusive school.

In the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence we are aiming for 'Confident Individuals', and at Pine Crest they have been there some time. Nothing solely to do with being a private school, nothing solely to do with having everything they need. It's everything to do with the way the students are seen as active collaborators in their learning, and treated by teachers as teachers would hope to be treated by each other. There's a kind of mutual professionalism between student and teacher that we see being described in Chris' Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. It's exemplified in the way that the young people helping my colleagues and me here today have taken the initiative in everything from designing directional posters, organising trade stand materials, preparing web materials and PowerPoints. They even took part in an impromptu call to Tess to show off how they were using ICT. (For the purposes of expansion on this notion, they're not just excellent secretaries: I've also seen some impressive displays of art and musical talent, film-making ability, digital storytelling et al.)

Students are given large doses of trust and responsibility - they can just bring in their own laptops and gaming devices and hook them up to the wifi network that runs throughout the schools. The result is what you see in the picture with this post; I've been in plenty of schools where mobile phone bluetooth connections can be made in their scores, but this is the first time that my iTunes network has been significantly expanded with large amounts of Ashlee Simpson, Nelly and Franz Ferdinand.

When it's not just a laptop, but your laptop, learning with the technology really does just seem much more successfully integral to learning, rather than a rather 'fake' add-on attempted on the school premises.

Above all, where so many school districts continue to dither on whether they should allow those who do have laptops, smart phones and games consoles to bring them into school and hook up to the school network, this is yet another example showing that it can be done. Not all students do have handheld computers at their disposal - using their means this school has provided free rental of handheld devices to students who need it (just like Glasgow Caledonian University have done). There is an expectation that computers will be used for learning, an expectation from all that this is a norm.


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Looking forward to hearing/reading more.

It was a pleasure Ewan.

I hope you can make more communication tomorrow.


The whole point of OLPC is to give children in developing countries their own machines. The XO laptops are given to the children, not the schools. It is then hoped that they can arrive at the great position you describe in the affluent school you visited. I'm delighted that the youngsters you visited are being allowed to make such good use of their personal devices, and even more delighted that millions of disadvantaged children across the globe will have similar opportunities thanks to OLPC.

Hi Robert,
Quite right, and I think I've done one of those posts which is too short to give meaning to the title. I've been getting VERY perturbed by those in some of the world's richest countries taking the OLPC PCs for themselves, leaving those who need them short, hence the title to make this particular group think.

That makes more sense now Ewan :)

Except the primary risk to OLPC is that they won't sell enough to keep the production lines going and suppliers interested. If they hadn't started selling to the developed world, they might not be making any at all.

Cue the Asus EeePC et al...?

Once again, OLPC is an education project, not a laptop project. If Asus wants to market a laptop to the developing world and provides children with an inexpensive learning tool (similar to the XO) without the entire village having to mortgage their land for 20km in every direction, OLPC is still succeeding, even if it's not under their direct supervision.

The G1G1 program was a way to raise awareness and get people to donate. I didn't give a cent to OLPC until I realized I could get my own XO if I bought two (one for me, one for them).

Hello, Ewan,

I think I'm missing something from this post -- There are a series of conflicting statements here:

RE: "Nothing to do with being a private school, nothing to do with having everything they need."

Do you really think that learning in a situation where a student has everything they need doesn't have a positive impact on learning outcomes? There are some basic issues directly tied to socioeconomic status (food insecurity, for one) that have been tied to learning outcomes. I honestly don't know what to make of this statement. Statements like this contribute to the notion that people within the blogosphere don't understand the range of issues facing teachers within classrooms.

I'd love to hear about the actual learning occurring in the school. While I'm overjoyed to hear you got your Nelly on and had some promo posters made, these things don't say much about an intellectually vibrant life filled with mutual respect between the various stakeholders within the school community.

From your response in the comments -- RE: "I've been getting VERY perturbed by those in some of the world's richest countries taking the OLPC PCs for themselves, leaving those who need them short, hence the title to make this particular group think."

If this is what you want to write about, then write about it. From this post, and the various comments, I don't see much in the way of coherent analysis of any misuse or abuse of the OLPC, or how the haves have co-opted a program designed to decrease the digital divide. Indeed, your opening argument (about how the success at Pine Crest has nothing to do with socioeconomic status) further muddies the rhetorical waters. So what is your point exactly?

If this is a post about a school doing great things with technology, then I'd love to hear about it, particularly if they are doing something innovative, unique, or something not done anywhere else.

If this is a post about how good pedagogy can help all equally across socioeconomic status, I'd love to hear about that, and have some examples.

If this is a post designed to air some concerns you have about OLPC, that could also be interesting.

RE: "I think I've done one of those posts which is too short to give meaning to the title." -- I think you're right. There's lots of good potential here, but in this context it remains unrealized. I'd love to read the expanded version.



"It's everything to do with the way the students are seen as active collaborators in their learning, and treated by teachers as teachers would hope to be treated by each other."

This is the most important element, technology or not. The mutual respect is not something that I witness in the majority of classrooms I go to. Maybe it helps that I'm spending time with some great languages teachers who have earned that relationship - I have no idea of whether this permeates the whole school having not spent time in every classroom, every corridor.

Not all the students do have their own laptop, I've discovered, but the school has plenty out to rent, for free, for those students (and itinerant Scots) who need one. I saw the same thing at Glasgow Caledonian University:


The result has been plenty of project work, film-making, research taking place OUTSIDE the classroom, in the school courtyards, social areas, libraries. A large number of students stay on working 'informally' like this until way after dark - as I know some do in every school - and produce, from what I've seen, deeply researched movies, audio and textual presentations of what they have learnt and why it's relevant to them.

Yes, there's good learning going on. But, no, this was just a post about how great it was to see students being able to bring their own machines into school in an age where so many schools and districts seem to have lost any sense of common sense when it comes to empowering the huge number of students who do/can/could have web access on their own laptop/PSP/DS.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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