Can kids really learn without teachers?

Given our discussion today on technology for learners vs. technology for learning, I remember reading this article the other day.

If you’re not familiar with OLPC, OPLC stands for “One Laptop Per Child” and it aims to, well, give one laptop per child in a third world country. Initially, the goal was to bring the cost down to $100 or less, but as far as I know it’s no longer the (main) goal, though of course price is always on their mind. The laptop is also made specifically for a third world country; it’s solar powered, uses flash memory instead of a hard drive (so the data can be shock resistant if they drop it), things like that. You can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olpc

The article was really eye-opening, and it shows how important intuitiveness is necessary in design. I know Windows 8 and Mac OSX try to simplify the design as much as possible, and that’s great (although this particular tablet was running Android).

First of all, it shows how powerful curiosity is — this kid that opened the box had probably never seen anything like it before in his life. Yet he figured out that something was in it, and managed to not only open the box, but even turn on the device in there!

Then, the kids take the concept of “technology for learners” to the extreme. No teacher in sight, no Google to be heard of, yet these kids explored almost every nook on their tablet. They even got around the measures that the researchers installed to stop them from doing things like customize the home page of the tablet.

Of course, these findings need to be researched much, much more. This development in two isolated villages is great, however there still needs to be more tested and understood about their behavior.

For what the observations and research is worth, it definitely proves that kids can learn through self-taught and self-motivated methods, although how effective this is in the long run remains to be seen, at least for these African village kids.

It shows that education can be cheap; these tablets already had preloaded applications on there for the kids to explore and learn. In our own modern world, there are resources like Khan Academy and message boards that people can learn from. Information is so free and yet the structures of the acquisition model of learning can make it expensive (although, with that said, there are benefits to the acquisition model).

Now, in addition to the concept of technology for learners, what do you think of the OLPC? The criticisms of the organization seem to be valid — such as there are other pressing needs to be addressed such as food and water rather than laptops, and that in a sense, these laptops can ‘Westernize’ the groups it is given to. And maybe these devices shouldn’t be given to these remote African tribes that have no contact with people like us; disrupting their lifestyle might just be a bad idea. Maybe (just maybe) this is a very loose form of the acquisition model of learning where we subtly Westernize them in a shell that resembles the participatory model of learning. Of course this is just making assumptions since I don’t know what types of movies or games are included on the devices. Plus it’s just a wacky theory to begin with.

In addition, the organization has been criticized for simply distributing the devices and “walking away”, with the assumption that the recipients would be able to learn the device on their own, without showing the recipients how to use the technology to their advantage. These recipients end up leaving the device on a shelf because they could not figure it out and apply it to their education. Sound familiar?

But at least for the countries that already are adjusting to technology, like Peru, or even here in the United States, it seems like a great, cheap way to introduce technology in low income areas or areas with no access to technology. Maybe it’s not appropriate for remote communities but for ones with technology already there, it seems pretty awesome.

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Put Your Damn Phone Away and Enjoy the Show

In this day and age there’s no escaping technology, it follows us everywhere we go and is an enormous part of what we do on a day to day basis. The extent to which we use our technology is more invasive and infiltrating than one might think, as we don’t often realize that we’re using our phones and other devices when we should really be putting them away and enjoying the moment. Technology robs us of the ability to live in the moment, to enjoy what’s going on around you as it’s happening and to take it in as memory in your head instead of on a hard drive. 

The way we think about going out to any sort of event has changed since the infusion of mobile devices and social networking into our every day lives. We can’t just enjoy the night any more, we have to fully document it so we can enjoy it later. To start of the whole process, instead of just leaving the house and getting on with one’s life you run to Facebook and make sure that you post about what you;re about to go do, tag all our friends that are attending with you and the exact location where all this will be taking place. You know, because it won’t be any fun if know one knows about it, right? 

Next, we get out and go to the event, say a concert in this case. Once we’re there pictures have to be taken before, during, and after the performance so that we can look at how we felt afterwards and relive the memories. During the show you live-tweet whenever the next song starts, sharing your opinion of the performance with the general public. Not to mention that during your favorite song you have to pull out your iPhone and make sure to take video of it, making sure that you don’t move the camera in the wrong direction so you can’t see the singer. When all is said and done, you head home and post on Facebook again about how great the night was and retag all your friends so they can remember to. 

Looking back on the night you might have the pictures and the status updates, but where are the memories? All the time spent trying to capture that moment could have been spent living in it, not worrying about documenting it so that everyone can see. Personally, I think there’s a lot more value in being able to actually remember those moments than being able to look at pictures and video of them. there’s nothing quite like being there, living in the moment and taking in all the energy and emotion of an event. that memory of when your favorite band starts to play the first notes of your favorite song causes chills to go down your spine and the hair on the back of your neck to stand up . It’s almost like reliving it all, knowing that you were there in person soaking it all up. Looking back at video that you shot is no different than looking at video one of your friends or a total stranger shot on youtube. It’s just not the same, the emotional attachment just isn’t as glorious or breathtaking anymore. Technology robs us of those feelings so for your own sake, put your damn phone away. 

(P.S. I’m currently headed off to see Public Image Ltd. at the Marquee. Guess who’s phone will be safely in his pocket?)