Ian Bicking: the old part of his blog

Re: Nonlinearlearningnonlinearinternet comment 000

Organizations should be independently seeking out their own funding sources, for their own projects around the laptop, not relying on OLPC for permission, blessing, or authority.


And, of course, the spirit and tradition of free culture permits and encourages just this. Anyone can get involved. There is no "they", just a "we" that needs to will these changes into existence.

With a project like OLPC, it is common to see people come in asking for permission to do stuff (usually not using the term "permission", but there's something like that going on). And in typical free culture style, they are met with indifference. I'm afraid this is very discouraging, but of course there are important reasons for it too; a loose community in this style just doesn't have the time (or maybe more accurately attention) to hold people's hands, to make investments in people that aren't necessarily going to pan out, etc. So we wait for something concrete to emerge, and then praise it then.

And remember, children have families, and families have communities... What about OLPC after-hours? Educational content for adults? Aids education, malaria prevention, farming techniques, or any of the millenium project objectives.

The posts that initiated the discussions with Ivan (1 and 2) were actually about relevence. Why would computers as constructivist tools really matter? For a lot of curriculum, I still don't know how to answer that. I like Logo, I think imperative programming in general is a far superior way to teach pre-algebra and algebra over traditional declarative math... but even if that can work it doesn't matter for these audiences. Algebra barely matters in the US (for most people far less than probability and statistics, for instance). Maybe trig is useful.

Anyway, I think it's a big leap to making these things important in these communities. For some subset of children they will be, just like for a subset of children these things are important here. As a programmer I want to build more programmers, just the natural self-obsession everyone has. But realistically programming and similar formal systems aren't going to be the important thing.

But if we ignore all the programming and constructivist learning and whatnot, and just think about content and communication, it's not hard to see how important these computers can be. Educational content for adults perhaps -- but just as much, the children can become a conduit for important information getting to their families. Basic medical information, for instance (and hopefully more than just the purely cautionary/preventative information we are inundated with here, but actual constructive and useful information about diagnosis and causes). And there's all sorts of mundane but important things... price quotes on food markets, employment listings, government services... everything we do here means something there too, our worlds aren't so different. And as mundane as these things are, they are part of a larger network of information and skill which are the basis of any real constructivist learning -- you don't construct knowledge and concepts from the ether, you construct them from the world around you.

I don't know if adults will work directly with the laptops immediately or not. I kind of like the idea of children as intermediaries.

Sincere and authentic hard work, paved with good intentions might get us pretty far, and besides, what more can we ever hope to achieve?

Absolutely. There's some "can vs. should" discussions about OLPC. But personally I believe, if the intentions are good and the implementation competent, "can" and "should" are usually the same thing. Because there's lots of people with self-serving intentions that are working hard all the time, so there is no "first do no harm".

I was reading a textbook on international labor policy several years back, and they had a little snippet of an interview with a textile manufacturer in El Salvador. They were very happy with computers and databases, because they allowed them to track union organizers and blacklist them cooperatively in all their factories. All of us involved in technology are helping people do things like that, indirectly but inevitably. And there's a lot of defense contractors using Python, so we are indirectly helping build the instruments of death. That's depressing. We have to push forward, and push forward hard to do the right things with technology, because there's people pushing forward hard to do the wrong things.

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by Ian Bicking