Monday, November 11, 2019

The OLPC: Suicide, Homicide, or Death by Natural Causes.

Reading “The Charisma Machine: The Life, Death, and Legacy of One Laptop per Child,” by Morgan Ames, interim associate director of research for UC Berkeley’s Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society is about as much fun as attending a psychological autopsy. Yes, I've done both. One of the problems with Ames' book is that we're left wondering about the cause of death. Was it suicide, homicide, or death by natural causes. It's not a fun book, in any case.

The book explains the origin story of the One Laptop per Child project and how it was badly implemented. South America is where most of the machines were deployed. It was an intriguing idea that captured the imagination of lots of people and also had lots of problems. Ames details some of the problems in excruciating detail. She goes on and on about how the machine and the concept were designed by mostly men for mostly precocious boys. (It was a product of the now infamous MIT Media Lab.) She rightfully points to that flaw (of men for boys) being shared with other projects in ed tech and cautions readers to watch out for that. That’s not bad advice.

Ames provides readers with a lengthy ethnography of her time observing the implementation of the OLPC in Paraguay. Instead of an ethnography, I would have preferred an account of what happened and an analysis of what was done right and wrong and why. I would also like to have heard more from the people of Paraguay. The people of Paraguay appeared as objective lab subjects of a researcher from Berkeley. They deserve a bigger and better role in the story.

The shortcomings of the OLPC would make a good starting point for a book about how to actually effectively implement technology in education or, at least, get a good start at it. Ames doesn’t do that, though. She doesn’t really tell us what she thinks would be a good implementation of technology in education except to use a short paragraph to recommend David Tyach and Larry Cuban’s limp idea that tinkering is good. She also quotes Donna Haraway’s call to ‘stay with the trouble’ and says that is what her book also tries to do. I’d rather that she had moved on from the trouble to some practical solutions about how to implement technology effectively.

This blog is called DevelopingProfessional Staff-Mpls because of my experience that the key to effective implementation of anything is the support and development of those who will be responsible for guiding the use of the thing. That was true when I was in telecom and computer sales with AT&T, and it’s been true in education at all levels from elementary to graduate programs. Teachers are necessary and natural to teaching and learning. Providing adequate training for teachers to use technology is crucial and complicated. The OLPC project was not dealing with reality when they thought that children would be in charge of their schooling in South America. That’s not true for any country. It was true, too, when I wrote about another book that also had some misguided ideas about making changes in education, Clayton Christensen, Curt Johnson and Michael Horn's Disrupting Class.   Destroying schooling in the name of making education better is not healthy and will lead to an autopsy of someone.

Jeffrey R. Young from Edsurge has produced a podcast of an interview that he did with Dr. Ames about her book. I don’t think you’ll be getting any more information that will be useful by reading the book than you will by listening to the podcast or by reading the edited transcript of the podcast. It will also save you 35 U.S. dollars. The podcast is here.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Learn to Fish or Pay for a Baited Hook

I really like the purpose statement that David Wiley shared in his recent 3600 word blog post. Here it is:

“My long-term goal is to create a world where OER are used pervasively throughout primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools. In this vision of the world, OER replace traditionally copyrighted, expensive textbooks for all primary, secondary, and post-secondary courses. Organizations, faculty, and students at all three levels collaborate to create and improve an openly licensed content infrastructure that dramatically increases student success, reduces the cost of education, and supports rapid experimentation and innovation in education.”

David used that statement in Shuttleworth Fellowship application. My work aligns with that stated goal. I founded the Stone Arch Bridge Initiative for Education Resources in 2016. SABIER provides funding for K12 and Higher Ed faculty Professional Development supporting teachers to:
- Create or Curate OER - especially, STEM & PBL
- Engage students in the Classroom with OER
- Revise OER to meet standards
- Infuse OER in course content

SABIER's work enables philanthropy and foundation funding to go directly to supporting teachers and students to be able to use free openly licensed content that can be adapted to meet the needs of students. In addition to the further empowerment of teachers and students, the potential savings to school systems globally is as much as $30 Billion annually. We will do our part.

I founded SABIER after having worked in open education explicitly since 1996 which according to David is before the beginning of the OER movement. The Open School I taught at had been founded in the early ‘70s, so I was a newcomer, and I wasn’t always a compliant follower of the Open Movement. (I know, you’re shocked.) The Open Movement in those days was even less well defined than the OER Movement is today. The Open Movement then did support faculty and students at all three levels to collaborate, to create, and improve teaching and learning that dramatically increases student success, reduces the cost of education, and supports rapid experimentation and innovation in education. It was a bit messy at times.

10 years before beginning to work at the Open School in Minneapolis I had been paid by AT&T to learn and understand the business applications of the Linux kernel. I hadn’t been (see this post referencing another learning experience 10 years previous) and wasn’t always a compliant follower of AT&T; that said, the learning I experienced while employed by AT&T is still one of the highlights of my education. That year, AT&T hired a group of Princeton computer science graduate students to teach us in the Business Systems Division about Linux and Unix and as many of their derivatives as possible. It was actually really fun even though a suit and tie protocol was strictly enforced at the AT&T Darth Vader University (very dark glass buildings) campus in Colorado. I was well paid.

Here’s where David and I diverge. He spends a good chunk of his 3600 words explaining why the OER movement needs to play nice with for-profit publishers and for-profit providers of things that get packaged with OER. I, frankly, don’t give a damn about for-profit publishers and for-profit providers of things that get packaged with OER. The fact that 93% of higher ed courses are still using non-OER material is evidence for how much money there is still to be saved by supporting faculty to use OER. The percentage is even higher in K12.

When I wrote this guest post, Writing the Elephant in the Classroom, on Scott McLeod's blog almost 10 years ago, professional development and teacher training on how to use an LMS was almost non-existent in K12. An LMS was still thought of as web software to be used with online learning. In 2010, wifi was not available in most K12 classrooms, wifi devices were still relatively expensive and viewed as distractions to 'real' learning. Computers were mostly in labs and used primarily for testing or once a week or so for "Friday free time." Some schools were beginning to incorporate computers into media literacy, but not into everyday learning activities. Things were not much different in higher ed, either.

What's changed in the past 10 years is that wifi devices have become increasingly less expensive and most schools have wifi capabilities. Most students have 1:1 access to a wifi device, in many but not all cases via the school. The other big change has been the emergence of OER, open educational resources. OER used with a well supported LMS will naturally provide greater opportunities for learning that is Relevant, and Contextualized. Student agency and social learning are also essential components of the learning environment when students, teachers, parents and the larger community all have a stake in re-making the content to provide maximum local benefit.

As was the case 10 years ago, professional support for the crucial work of designing new learning environments that effectively incorporate technology, are aligned to some set of standards, and allow for open-walled learning will cost money. That aligns with David’s newly announced work with Carnegie Mellon. But here’s where David Wiley and I see a different path ahead. He sees for-profit companies providing the homework systems behind a paywall. I see faculty doing it themselves. The difference is I want to teach faculty and students how to fish for bigger learning hauls. David wants faculty to pay him to bait their hooks, again, and again.