Thursday, June 24, 2010

One Laptop per Child updates design for older pupils

By Jonathan Fildes

The so-called $100 laptop has undergone a facelift in order to be used by secondary school children.

The machines, designed by One Laptop per Child (OLPC), are based on the original XO laptop, which was built for primary school children.

The new computers feature a larger keyboard and upgraded software.

Uruguay, which has already distributed nearly 400,000 XO laptops to primary schools, has ordered 90,000 of the new laptops, known as the XO-HS.

It has also ordered 10,000 machines designed by rival Intel, which makes the Classmate PC, also developed for children.

"We want to see how students react and analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each," said Miguel Brechner, director of the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay, who is in charge of the country's Plan Ceibal (Education Connect) project.

'Full saturation'

The government scheme has given many people in the country their first taste of computers and the internet.

It has delivered 380,000 XO laptops to primary school students and nearly 20,000 to teachers.

"Uruguay is the only deployment that is complete," Kalil Nicolas of the OLPC Association, told BBC News. "They have full saturation of their primary schools."

The 90,000 XO-HS machines will be rolled out to some of Uruguay's 230,000 high school students.

"We are expanding our reach," said Mr Nicolas. "We still want to focus on 6-12 year olds - and motivate them - but they need a laptop to grow into."

Deliveries of the new laptops will begin in September 2010.

Mr Nicolas said that they would also be offered to other countries interested in connecting high-school students.

Tablet future

The original XO laptop was designed specifically for children in the developing world and featured a rugged design aimed at keeping out water and dust, a sunlight-readable display and open source software.

It was designed by OLPC, a spin out from US university MIT.

The organisation originally aimed to sell the green and white machines in lots of one million to governments in developing countries for $100 each.

However, it had difficulty getting governments to commit to bulk orders.

Mr Nicolas said that 1.2 million machines had been deployed so far and OLPC was contracted to supply a further 500,000. Each laptop ordered by Uruguay cost $209.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

iPad App Tests Students From Home, the Park, a Baseball Game ...

British students might soon have the chance to take college exams in their own bedrooms at any time of the day or night -- without being able to cheat.

U.S. firm Software Secure has developed a program which is designed to make sure students stay honest while taking the exam by keeping them under surveillance and cutting off any access to cribbing material.

The software first locks down the use of all files and the Internet, other than those specifically needed for the exam. It then asks for a fingerprint test to ensure the candidate is the correct person and uses audio and video recording to ensure that the student is under exam conditions during the whole period.

The firm says on its website that it "brings the exam room into the computer age, making exam time less stressful for students, faculty and administrators."

At least one college in Britain, the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, is experimenting with the system and others may follow suit. Several universities in the United States already have the system in place. The National Union of Students gave the idea a cautious welcome.

"It would be one solution to problems faced by those who might have difficulty reaching a university campus for exams," said a spokesman.

"However it must not be used as an excuse to further cut costs or corners by reducing the amount of contact time students have with staff."

The company says it was designed for students with full-time jobs, or who have children and don't have the flexibility to find an exam supervisor.


Monday, June 14, 2010

A Self-Appointed Teacher Runs a One-Man 'Academy' on YouTube

The most popular educator on YouTube does not have a Ph.D. He has never taught at a college or university. And he delivers all of his lectures from a bedroom closet.

This upstart is Salman Khan, a 33-year-old who quit his job as a financial analyst to spend more time making homemade lecture videos in his home studio. His unusual teaching materials started as a way to tutor his faraway cousins, but his lectures have grown into an online phenomenon—and a kind of protest against what he sees as a flawed educational system.

"My single biggest goal is to try to deliver things the way I wish they were delivered to me," he told me recently.

The resulting videos don't look or feel like typical college lectures or any of the lecture videos that traditional colleges put on their Web sites or YouTube channels. For one thing, these lectures are short—about 10 minutes each. And they're low-tech: Viewers see only the scrawls of equations or bad drawings that Mr. Khan writes on his digital sketchpad software as he narrates.

The lo-fi videos seem to work for students, many of whom have written glowing testimonials or even donated a few bucks via a PayPal link. The free videos have drawn hundreds of thousands of views, making them more popular than the lectures by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, famous for making course materials free, or any other traditional institution online, according to the leaders of YouTube's education section.

Mr. Khan calls his collection of videos "Khan Academy," and he lists himself as founder and faculty. That means he teaches every subject, and he has produced 1,400 lectures since he started in 2006. Now he records one to five lectures per day.

He started with subject matter he knows best—math and engineering, which he studied as an undergraduate at MIT. But lately he has added history lectures about the French Revolution and biology lectures on "Embryonic Stem Cells" and "Introduction to Cellular Respiration."

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Polk third graders explore Savannah lighthouse in OWL project

by Staff reports

At high tide, the base of the old lighthouse on Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River is approximately 3 – 5 feet underwater. When the beacon was built in 1849, it was well above sea level. So, what happened?

Some third-graders in Polk County and Marietta will soon be able to explore the island as it was in the 1800s, trying to determine what forces, both natural and man-made, led to the lighthouse eventually being abandoned. Entering this virtual world as an avatar – a digital representation of themselves – students will be able to take soil samples, and interview the light keeper, his family and soldiers from the island’s Fort Pulaski.

“The simulation will be like a time machine for the students,” said Assistant Professor Doug Hearrington, Kennesaw State University (KSU). “Applying earth science lessons, and some engineering principles, they will investigate the problem and recommend a solution.”

Curriculum Director Laurie Atkins, Polk School District, said teachers from Van Wert and Cherokee Elementary Schools would receive training for Project OWL (Online World of Learning) during the summer. Teachers from Van Wert are Lawana Gurley, Kay Hughes, and Jennifer Moss. Cherokee teachers include Janice Stewart, Connie Martin, Selena Mobbs and Joan Hunt.

“This is a collaborative partnership between KSU, Confucius Institute at KSU, Polk schools and Marietta-City schools,” Atkins said.

Using a $72,817 grant from the U.S. Department of Education that was awarded to the Bagwell College of Education, Hearrington will begin implementing Project OWL in Polk and Marietta.

An elementary school in China will also participate. OWL is based on Hearrington’s research using multi-user virtual environment technology in the classroom.

Polk’s teachers will visit China this summer to meet with their partner teachers for workshops and planning. The collaboration with the Chinese elementary school fulfills the program’s global component by broadening students’ understanding of global environmental issues and cultures.

“Today’s students have grown up with ubiquitous access to various forms of technology,” he said. “Bringing this technology into the classroom provides a familiar format that increases critical thinking skills while making learning fun.”

Beginning this fall, the pilot year of the program, Polk and other Georgia teachers will begin immersion training with Lighthouse Island, the lesson simulation plan based on the Cockspur Island Lighthouse designed by Hearrington.

“Now that we know what happens to the lighthouse – today’s conditions – how can we go back and keep it from happening,” Hearrington said. “I believe the students will come up with some very creative ideas.”

Project OWL will also provide virtual space to enable students to develop their own simulations. Hearrington and the Project OWL teachers are discussing a variety of potential classroom simulations, including economic models, a virtual aquarium, and a simulated version of each of Georgia’s habitats and the organisms living in each.