Negroponte, TED and the XO

This is an interesting video from the TED conference network on the XO Computer initiative. Nicholas Negroponte is very engaging in explaining how the XO laptops can be integrated into developing communities in ways that bring children into the spotlight.
I was playing around with my XO again yesterday because I set up a wireless system in my house (finally) and wanted to get it connected. It took a bit of figuring out, but when I was up and running, I did my first cross-country chat with another XO person (Mark) on the west coast. It was so easy and simple.

Peace (in the world),

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),

XO Explained: from students


Here are two very neat animations developed by students to explain two features of the XO Laptop. These come from the Nortel Learn-It program and the videos were created by high school students.

First, check out how the mesh network functions:

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And now, check out how the Daisy Chain Relay (connecting to other XO users) works:

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So how did they do it? Lucky for us, reflection is part of this program and they created a video to explain how they made the animations using their own ideas and flash:

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Peace (in student-driven work),

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),


I mentioned this ebook site (called WOWIO) the other day as part of my examination of the XO computer as an ereader and each day, the options for new books grows. It is still mostly second-tier books, but they are loaded with interesting graphic novels and comics, and that could appeal to kids (and me). The books are donated by various companies and are free to any US resident who signs up for the service. You get three free books every day and they are downloaded as PDF files.

Here is the book that I downloaded today that had me cracking up:

Yep — a graphic novel bio of The Beatles. I am waiting for the KISS one to come next (just kidding, I think, but I do remember KISS comics when I was a kid)

Peace (in graphic novel form),

A good intro to XO

This librarian, Robin, has created a very nice intro video about the XO laptop computer. She is very thorough and clear in her explanations, which is always welcome in the world in which I live. She’s lucky to have other XO users near her, of course. My neighborhood view is awfully empty.

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Peace (in XOs),

XO as eReader

I’ve been exploring my XO computer as an eReader, although I didn’t quite know how to begin. Then, I found this very cool (free) eBook site called WOWIO that has a growing list of free titles for registered users (the collection does not seem to include many new novels, etc, and the selection is kind of iffy at this point).

But I have been checking out a few graphic novels from the site on my XO. I like the eReader mechanism on the XO. The lighting is nice, the resolution is pretty good, and the ability to swivel the screen to multiple positions is pretty nifty. Plus, the entire laptop is very light and easy to hold and balance on your lap or stomach (if you are reading while in the sleepy prone position).

My sons were getting a kick out of reading some comic strips (Peanuts, Garfield, etc) that I downloaded as a comic book collection from the WOWIO site. I have also added a Beowulf graphic novel, and a book about myths from around the world, and a few other odds and ends into my Queue bin (you can only download three books a day).

Right now, I am reading a Stargate graphic novel (I have a sci-fi interest).

I recently installed a little 4 gig memory chip into the XO so that I could store a bunch of books and other data without sucking up the memory on the hard drive. I continue to explore this little machine but feel stymied by my inability to get deeper into the Linux programming through the Terminal application. I need to peruse the user forums a bit more and figure what they are all talking about (ie, geek speak translation for dummies is what I really need)

Peace (in the world of eBooks),

Bud Reflects on XO Collaborative Possibilities

My friend, Bud the Teacher, created a nice podcast reflection on using the XO for collaboration. He used a site that has been set up by Tom Hoffman for XO folks to connect and use the sharing activities with others.

Here is Bud’s podcast

He gives some honest assessment of the possibilities and the limitations, and of course, he is very insightful in his approach (as always). And Bud’s post makes me want to use the Jabber site he mentions to try to connect in with some other XO folks.

Peace (in possibilities),


The XO Mesh Network

I am still moving slowly on my XO Computer but I am intrigued by this concept of the “Mesh Network” system, which builds wireless “clouds” between XO users. This means that not only can XO laptops connect with each other but as long as one XO in a mesh has connection to the Internet, then every XO in that mesh has the same access. This has interesting ramifications for classrooms where wireless connections may be few and far between.

And, even if there is no wireless access, the mesh allows XOs to connect with each other anyway, and share resources and collaborate on projects together. The software “creates” a virtual wireless network for the classroom. Isn’t that cool?

This video does a better job explaining it than I ever could do.

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And this is interesting, too — looking at the XO as an e-Reader and considering ways to get books to children of the world.

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Peace (in XOs),

The XO Arrival

A few months ago, I decided to parlay some workshop stipends into supporting the One Laptop Per Child movement by buying one of their new XO laptops (and then they send the second one that comes as part of the purchase to a child in a developing country). Part of it was wanting to support the effort and part of it was wondering what these machines were like, as they surely are the first step towards cheap and durable computers for children around the world.

One of their missions statements that I like:

We want the child to interact with the laptop on as deep a level as he or she desires. Children program the machine, not the other way around

Yesterday, the XO arrived in a small package and in about five minutes, my three year old son and I were taking pictures of ourselves, videos of us being goofy and audio of us singing. There are no instructions (I have to go online to get some more details about using the laptop) but it seemed pretty easy to use.

The drawback is that it is slow (not much RAM, I guess) and the keyboard and screen are small. I’ll have to delve in a bit more over holiday break. Over at the OLPC wiki site, you can see how many programs come with the machine and how many are being developed for the future. Very cool.

Peace (in little green machines),

PS — here is a cool little video from the perspective of a child explaining the XO.

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