I was sad to read this morning that Intel has left the board of OLPC. According to the article “Intel Drops Out of Low-Cost Laptop Initiative” on FoxNews:

Both sides [OLPC and Intel] shared the objective of providing children around the world with the use of new technology, “but OLPC had asked Intel to end our support for non-OLPC platforms, including the Classmate PC, and to focus on the OLPC platform exclusively,” Mulloy said. “At the end of the day, we decided we couldn’t accommodate that request.

I don’t think it was reasonable for OLPC to demand that Intel discontinue development of its low cost Classmate PC. If OLPC indeed made that demand, I don’t find it surprising that Intel stepped down from the board and away from the project.

I am VERY enthused by OLPC, its power and its low price point, but I also think competition in the marketplace can produce positive dynamics for consumers, including educators, students and schools. Hopefully Intel will be able to bring the Classmate PC to market at an even lower price than OLPC with even greater power. One of the most important characteristics of a student laptop, in my view, is its potential to be used as a tool for CONTENT CREATION and COLLABORATION. Hopefully we won’t see the Classmate PC become a locked down, multimedia eBook. I’ve seen plenty of BRAND NEW computer labs in schools (not coincidentally running Windows-based operating systems) where the desktops and the network is SO locked down, learners basically can just surf the web for text on a very limited number of websites and use client-based productivity software. In some of these cases, streaming videos cannot even be accessed. These computer lab and network situations beg the essential question, “Why are we spending thousands (and in some cases even millions) of dollars on technology, if all we are doing is providing an expensive word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation tool to our students and teachers?”

Spending as much time as I do learning and swapping ideas with other progressive educators online utilizing educational technologies in creative ways to engage students, it can be a major shock to see (as I frequently do) how far behind so many of our school districts and teachers are not only with their access to functional digital technology tools, but also their IDEAS about WHY such technologies should have an important place in the learning environment. Too many administrators and teachers still think “Microsoft Office” when someone says “technology integration.” In my view, focusing on learning productivity software skills remains an important part of digital literacy, but an exclusive focus on client-based productivity software is “so 1998.” It IS 2008 now. It’s time for a “mindware upgrade” for many of the educators with whom we work.

This week I spent some time updating my website bio, and am almost finished updating my vitae with listed presentations and workshops from 2007. At the bottom of my bio page, I separated the short list of things for which I am an advocate into two categories, “Progressive pedagogy” and “Digital learning.” Too often I think advocates for “educational technology” and “technology integration” get lumped together, whether their pedagogical agenda and beliefs lie with the “instructionists” or the “constructivists / constructionists.” Hopefully this separation of advocacy issues on my bio page will make it clear where my allegiance, agenda, and priorities lie.

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On this day..

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  • http://middleschoolblog.blogspot.com/ Matt Montagne

    I agree, Wesley…we need competition in the ultra low cost, light-weight and ruggedized laptop space. Right now there is only one device in the world that has all of the aforementioned characteristics. The Asus eee PC is certainly low cost and light weight, but doesn’t have the rugged features that the XO has for operating in a wide rage of environments.

    Negroponte and the rest of the folks over at OLPC deserve an incredible amount of credit for spurring the development of a low cost, ruggedized device that will appeal to non-traditional computing environments all over the world. Perhaps in 5-10 years there will no longer be an XO device manufactured by OLPC. Perhaps other devices will win out in this space. To me the XO device and the mission of OLPC is one of the most important developments of the 21st century. Creating the conduit for people all over the world to connect with one another, share, and solve problems is extremely noteworthy and ultimately what its all about.

  • http://teachingeverystudent.blogspot.com Karen Janowski

    Wes,
    The low cost alternatives are being targeted for “developing countries,” and not our own. We need these powerful alternatives available for our own students. As you say, millions of dollars has been invested in hardware and software. Unfortunately, many of those labs, carts on wheels or computers in classrooms are aging and need to be replaced at considerable expense. Let’s replace them with the low cost, wifi-enabled alternatives that support student learning at a fraction of the cost. The objections to the cost of investing in technology will decrease, school budgets will decrease and we can finally focus on what we are here for – creating life-long learners who are engaged in our classrooms.
    I am so with you on this one! Can we all just do what is right? The market for low cost computers is not just beyond our borders. The need is everywhere.

  • http://www.stager.org/blog Gary Stager, Ph.D.

    Why should one believe Intel’s stated reason for resignation? Others speculate that they lacked the technical skill or institutional will to make an XO with an Intel chip.

    Who cares what chip the device runs? It only matters if you want to use Microsoft Office and continue the Western edtech status quo of training kids to work in cubicles.

    Intel was shamed into joining OLPC when exposed on 60 Minutes. As soon as the bad press died down, they created a new media storm to harm a philanthropic effort dedicated to benefit kids.

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  • http://mizmercer.edublogs.org A. Mercer

    Couple of thoughts, looking at cell phones, a regulated market in EU countries (especially have a single signal standard) is thought to have led to greater innovation in cell phones there. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17575598)

    The strength of OLPC is it’s design (ruggedized, opensource, eschewing windows, and productivity apps, connectivity). I find little to criticize about it’s design. The big problem has been its implementation which seems to have an instructional plan of: give them lap tops, and it’ll all work out fine.

    I’m not seeing how competition would improve its strengths or correct its inherent flaws.

    Interesting to see these other comments.

  • http://www.stager.org/blog Gary Stager, Ph.D.

    There is no “instructional plan” by design since Papert and others involved in the vision behind OLPC do not believe that learning results from an emphasis on instruction.

    http://www.papert.org/articles/const_inst/const_inst1.html

  • http://mizmercer.edublogs.org A. Mercer

    Well, that’s a nice theory, but frankly, I find projects where students create things to be oodles more successful when I have a plan, not just a computer.

  • http://www.ncomputing.com D. Rand

    There is a very compelling non-laptop option. Virtual desktops lower the cost of PC access by sharing the excess power of multicore CPUs among multiple simultaneous users. See the NComputing case studies and press releases on the FY Republic of Macedonia, North Carolina, etc. They have been installed in developing countries as well as throughout the US and over 70 other countries.

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