The XO Laptop: NYC Classroom Study

I haven’t written much about my XO Computer these days because I haven’t used it much and I am kicking myself for not getting my local XO Group up and running (I have an email list of about six folks from my area and all of them would like to meet, but I haven’t scheduled the meet-up due to busyness).

I still follow the news from the One Laptop Per Child organization, which, to be frank, appears from the outside to be on a rollercoaster ride as the leaders grapple with the mission of the organization. Such topics as adding Windows XP to the operating system (along with Sugar) and the development of the next generation of XO computers is thankfully coupled with stories of how the XO is being used in countries around the world.

And not just around the world.

In New York City, a group from Columbia University sought to use XOs with sixth graders this year through a project called Teaching Matters. They have just released a qualitative report on the project, which they deem a success in terms of integration into the classroom. What I find interesting is the results of a survey they conducted with the two dozen students who used the XO in the project.

According to the report (which you can view here), students liked the XO because:

  • They liked it for writing because typing was faster and more legible than handwriting, and they felt that this allowed them to write more;
  • They liked it for going on the Internet;
  • They liked it because they could take work from school to home easily, especially to do homework:
  • They liked its physical characteristics, including that it was made for kids (“extremely cute”), that the keyboard was quiet, and that it was not as heavy as a regular laptop;
  • They liked the hardware and software that allowed them to share, including the camera (which, as they pointed out, came with the XO so you did not have to buy it) and the chat software;
  • They liked that it was theirs, which meant that they could always find their work;
  • And finally, they liked the novelty of it.

If you go the report, you can also read some of the supporting comments from the students.

And of course, there were things the students did not like about the XO:

  • They disliked that it seemed slow, even compared to their school laptops;
  • They disliked the frequent freezes, which sometimes meant they lost their work;
  • They disliked the consequent need to reboot frequently;
  • They disliked the “jumpy” cursor;
  • They disliked it when the journal disappeared;
  • And they really disliked the firewalls that prevented access to sites like YouTube and MySpace–a school issue, not specific to the XO, but annoying to the students nonetheless.

It seems to me that much of their complaints is a hardware issue and one that should be resolved by OLPC if the project is to succeed. My kids and I also run into these same issues with our XO but we just roll with the punches. In a classroom full of XOs, that might be more difficult, particularly if you are in the midst of a lesson or project.

The report also lays out three insights into the use of XOs in the classroom:

  • Students used the XOs more than they used the laptops (owned by the school), which means they spent more time doing research, wrote more, revised more, and published more.
  • Students took much more responsibility for the XOs than they did for the laptops, which means that they that they did not begin work only to find there were missing parts or that the battery was dead.
  • Students were less likely to lose their work, not only because they always used the same machine but also because the XO has an automatic save feature that takes the user back to where he/she left off.

Also mentioned is that students used their XOs in other classrooms beyond the English Language Arts classroom where the XO project was situated; students enjoyed the “share” function of the XO; and they were intrigued to be part of a pilot project. The report also contains some solid recommendations for improving the XO as an educational tool, with advice from students, parents and the teachers.

Read the report

Peace (with XOs),

Some Xs and Os in the local newspaper

After writing about my XO laptop for the larger newspaper in Western Massachusetts last month (view article in Springfield Republican newspaper), the other local newspaper (which had rejected my piece) came knocking on the door, asking to do their own article. I was more than happy to respond because the more people know and understand about the One Laptop Per Child program, the more likely it is that people might support other endeavors of this sort.

This article was very balanced, I thought, and talked as much as the possibilities of the laptop program as the difficulties. (I am still frustrated that the program that my kids and I showed her did not work when she was sitting here but as soon as she was out the door, it started up fine. Doh)

Read the article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

What is interesting is that, following the first article, I started to receive a few emails from folks in my area who either have an XO or are waiting for theirs to arrive (shipment has been frustrating for many people). One of the folks waiting for their XO happens to be a friend who lives right across the street from me, and we didn’t even know that we were both on the XO bandwagon. He is very jealous that I already have mine and he and his children were over here the other day, fiddling around on mine.

Also, one of my best friends from college, whom I see very year for a friendly Pool Championship of the World, emailed me to say that he also has one of the little machines and thinks I should have been more technical in my article. (He’s a geek). A college professor who used to live in my city and who used to work at a newspaper where I also once worked emailed me, too. One woman wanted some technical advice (as if I could help — hey, I’m a writer!).

Anyway, the second article runs, and my neighbor and I get an email from yet another person in our part of the town who also has an XO and who walks her dog along our street at times. So we are making plans to start up an a little XO club in the coming weeks. Pretty nifty how connections can be formed. It makes me wonder how many people in my city of Northampton have an XO and it demonstrates a few weaknesses of the XO program.

The OLPC organization should:

  • find a way to allow folks in similar geographic areas to connect
  • tag the second computer (it was give one, get one) so that the donor knows which country it is going to
  • do a better job with customer service (my neighbor is being patient but is frustrated with the delivery network)

Peace (in XOs),