Laptops for kids

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Curriculum Online, one third of materials are free

Curriculum Online is the British scheme where every school is granted eLearning credits that they can spend on multimedia materials. Perhaps the Philippines can have a similar scheme, with teacher-authored materials adding to the account of the authors, which at a certain point can be cashed in.

Will OLPC deployment need call center support?

I think the challenge of rolling out one laptop per child will include at least four major areas of concern:
  1. The hardware, which OLPC will solve on the client-side.
  2. The software, which OLPC will also substantially solve on the client, although there is still much to do in terms of localized courseware.
  3. The supporting infrastructure and services. This include networks and maintenance.
  4. Teacher training and curriculum.
I am starting to think about what kinds of services will be needed to support a successful roll out. In developed countries, large-scale PC deployments are always accompanied with help desk support. The help desk is often a major part of the Total Cost of Ownership, At Intel, end-user support was about 55% of TCO in 1995, although they got that down to about 30% by 2003. I don't know how much f that was by telephone and network in 1995, but most of it was from two consolidated global call centers by 2003. Absorbing a million laptops into the education system of a developing country like the Philippines will be very stressful on the teachers who will be asked to provide classroom leadership. I think some high-quality in-service training for teachers will be needed, but I don't think that will be enough. There are so many things that can go wrong, and some desktop support can make a giant difference. Fortunately, the Philippines has a large and growing tech support industry, part of a broader call center (and non-voice customer care) segment of IT-Enabled Services. I hope the budget planning can set aside some money so that
  1. The local system administrators can keep the servers running and connected.
  2. The teachers can get unstuck in time for tomorrow's class
  3. Mystified students have somebody to turn to, since their teachers won't possibly be able to answer all their questions.
The load for 1. is the smallest, I hope their can be professional tech support for that. There is a much bigger load for 2., but maybe peer teachers and their trainors in the in-service programs can field frontline queries by e-mail, then escalate the ones they can't handle. The volume of student queries could be enormous, but so is the opportunity to intervene at a "teaching moment". Perhaps college IT students could be tapped to provide support here. Some of them will work for peanuts, especially if it is a way for them to get their own laptop eventually. I hope that the laptop comes with a VoIP application, then voice call support will be much easier.

OpenBusiness : Blog Archive : Cory Doctorow and Creative Distribution

Cory Doctorow is a successful young science fiction writer who makes all his books freely downloadable. He is a spokesperson of the open access movement that is starting to influence scientific publishing, the music business, and perhaps even literature. This is relevant to my previous post about a business model for textbook authors and the publisher-distributor companies who either own them or partner with them. I think that partnering is increasingly the only sane option as the costs of book reproduction go down, and as the opportunities for network services in support of textbooks rise. Authors have the option of self-publishing, but to be a success they will have to make an effort at marketing-distribution and network after-sales support, when they might rather be doing something else, like writing more books. I like his idea that a book is not an object, but a practice. So an "author" can be reconceptualized as a creator of a learning text/media practitioner, who partners with teachers and students to achieve jointly desired educational outcomes. So how do we develop and implement a copyright environment that encourages more successful learning module practitioners or CAI developers? In the Philippines, the market for this kind of service/practice is currently very small or minuscule. If OLPC laptops suddenly flood the country, things could change very rapidly. The change will not necessarily result in a massive increase in quality textbook/learning-module practitioners, but the is a tantalizing opportunity that it could. Maybe small policy choices in implementing the roll out of OLPC could make a big difference.

Friday, December 16, 2005

7 countries negotiating 1st round delivery, PH could join 2nd round

MIT Media Lab: $100 Laptop FAQ reports that "Initial discussions have been held with China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, and Thailand. An additional, modest allocation of machines will be used to seed developer communities in a number of other countries." I don't actually think it is good for the Philippines to try to join the first round, the preparations will be hectic enough if the main delivery is 2008. However, I hope their "modest allocation" to other countries could accommodate 50,000 units for a field trial in the Philippines. The field trial could focus on Cebu (with CEDF-IT providing teacher training) and NCR-Southern Tagalog (with DLSU providing the teacher training).

Open Standards; and thoughts on copyright

CETIS-Patents, Open Standards and Open Source It seems that the European Union has came up with a definition of Open Standards in 2002. Since OLPC will be deploying Open Source at an unprecedented large scale, and will seek to use open standards where they are available, that definition might come in handy later.

One issue I have been thinking about is copyright of learning materials such as Computer-Aided Instruction learning modules (or what the IEEE standards call "learning objects"). I just sat-in on the last two days of a DepEd workshop to produce Math and Science CAI modules for the Bridge Program. It tapped the teachers and administrators who completed the Masters of IT Education (granted by PNU and UA&P), I think as part of a NEAP project.

The participants seem to have made a lot of progress, and were confident that they could have materials ready by the summer. One of the issues that they raised was about copyright, and the DepEd officials clearly stated that the copyright would belong to DepEd.However, there is still the issue of how the copyrights would be licensed out. I suggested that they look into the Creative Commons licenses. Perhaps the materials should be licensed out on a Attribution- NonCommercial- ShareAlike license (there is a draft Philippine version of this license prepared by Arellano University's e-Law Center). They could also offer an alternative license (with a small royalty) to commercial products that might want to bundle their materials, to encourage the emergence of commercial providers.

I plan to come back to this issue of copyright and licensing in a later post. Comments will encourage me to hurry up.

Basically I think DepEd should commission at least two text books for each subject area where not just the final form but even the source code (e.g. XML content and stylesheets) are licensed under different Creative Commons licenses. Then it should allocate the budget to purchase (at a locally reasonable price) related content (CAI modules, enrichment materials, reference books) in softcopy, both from self-published authors and from commercial publishing houses. Later, upgraded textbooks can be purchased from the commercial market, and DepEd may want to get out of the business of owning textbook copyrights.

Or it may want to own one or two versions of a textbook for each subject, so that it can license them for free to the poorest school districts in the country, and define a floor in terms of content and quality that every author-publisher will have to exceed if the want to sell their products to the majority of schools and school districts that have the budget to buy them.

I think the economics of publishing is changing drastically because of the radically different production economies of softcopy delivery. If we want to genuinely encourage creative intellectual output, as copyright law was intended to do, rather than just protect the rentier income of powerful commercial publishers at the expense of creative authors and the buying public, we should look to seeing the bulk of income from the price of the book going to the authors, and not the publishers. There will be a certain amount of disintermediation, but I think commercial publishing and distribution will have a continuing role. The publishers-distributors have the opportunity to earn income from support services (website advertising, with premium subscription fees optionally bundled with the softcopy materials, and call-center support).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Quanta Computer wins One Laptop per Child bid

Taipei Times - archives: The OLPC device is getting closer to reality.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wired News: Handhelds Go to School

Mobile clients are already gradually spreading in countries that can afford computers. Perhaps the time has come that they are a breakthrough solution for countries that can't afford desktops. OLPC may not become the dominant design, but it can help catalyze the transition.