This short, 3 minute video from CES about the OLPC (one laptop per child) prototype is amazing! What fun it would be (will be?) to teach a group of students equipped with such a powerful learning device!

This video published by the same author details the mesh networking capabilities of the OLPC technology:

The following video (based on the OLPC wiki site) provides info on the social networking aspects of the OLPC software interface:

All of this reminds me of a reaction I witnessed about a month ago when I shared a workshop about collaborative videoconferencing in a small Oklahoma community and told them about OLPC. The response bordered on anger: Why are people in the developing world getting these technologies, and we are not getting them (and do not have them) in U.S. public schools in Oklahoma?

In response to that participant’s response to OLPC and questions, I think I discussed the U.S. eRate program and asked if anyone knew how much money is spent per year and has been spent to date on eRate. (Answers: $2.25 billion per year, and we are finishing up year 9 this spring. Total at the end of year 9: $20.25 billion.) We spend LOTS of money on technology in the United States every year, and have successfully “wired” 99% of our schools. None of these eRate expentitures have gone toward purchasing laptop or other handheld computing devices for students, however. eRate is focused on connectivity and “wiring” schools: Some funds can be used for equipment, but almost none of it (except some videoconferencing equipment) is “end user equipment.”

The issue when it comes to educational technology expenditures and the extent to which they have or have not positively transformed schools involves something I’m calling “the IDC test.” This is something I’ve thought up after having several conversations last week with people at the SITE conference about “accommodating” versus “transforming” uses of technology. Often, people advocate for technology use in schools so “traditional school” can be done more efficiently. Transmission-based models of education can certainly be supported in powerful ways with different technologies, but those are NOT the examples of technology integration about which I am most enthused.

1:1 learning projects like OLPC and TxTIP get me really excited, because at a basic level these projects PUT THE TECHNOLOGIES INTO THE HANDS OF THE LEARNERS. As long as technologies remain primarily in the hands of teachers, no one should expect much to change fast in our schools. However, when we empower young learners with digital devices, learning activities and opportunities are likely to change substantially.

That is what OLPC is all about. I think a simple, three prong test can be used to evaluate different educational technologies and determine whether they are worth the expense and other “costs” which will be associated with them:

The IDC Test for Educational Technologies

How does your district technology plan and budget fare when viewed through the lens of the IDC test? OLPC passes with flying colors. I think that is why the project gets me so excited!

This line of thinking is also what gets me enthused about cell phones, and especially the penetration numbers of cell phones into both the developed and the developing world. I am convinced we need to focus MUCH more attention on constructively using cell phones in project-based learning contexts in schools. Kids are already coming to school “armed” with cell phones in many, many cases. We need to find ways encourage students to constructively use their cell phones as tools for knowledge and skill demonstration as well as assessment, instead of banning them.

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