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Sugar moves from the shadow of OLPC
Posted Jun 20, 2009 22:55 UTC (Sat) by Duncan (guest, #6647)
This is a bit of an indirect answer and I don't have a link, but I recall
reading something about this not long ago. Perhaps it'll help form a
google query, at least. (Added after I finished: Well, except for
authoritative reference, forget about the google, as I expanded based on
personal experience and unless I read something into it that's not
warranted, I believe this examines the root problem better than at least
the short article I read.)
What I read indicated that a change in deployment strategy may be needed.
Specifically, teachers in schools where OLPC had been distributed were
banning the machines in their classes, seeing them as toys, not the
learning tools they were designed to be.
While I'm sure many will say "I told you so", the explanation wasn't as
direct as it might first appear. The problem is one of the teaching
culture and tradition in many countries. Schools are not seen as a place
to equip a student to think and design solutions for themselves (as has
been a major goal of the OLPC all along), but rather as a place where rote
facts are passed on, and expected to be memorized as such, with the
intended goal of passing a state standardized test that is designed not to
see how well a student can come up with their own solutions, but how well
they can repeat back, essentially verbatim, the rote facts they were
FWIW I've had some personal experience in educational systems of this
nature, so I understand the problem. It really /is/ a different way of
looking at things than the more pragmatic US centric and western emphasis
on equipping students with the tools necessary to analyze and come up with
their own working solutions to a problem. Consider, for instance, the
difference assumed access to books or (now) third party online reference
can make. Without such generally authoritative references, where the
reliance is much more on verbal transferal of knowledge, a stricter
emphasis on accurate "rote" word-by-word transfer becomes much more
essential, since otherwise the story gets changed and embellished over
time, until it is hardly recognizable compared to the original.
OTOH, where relatively cheap and unrestricted access to written and
otherwise unchanging (or slow changing) relatively authoritative
references can be assumed, as in much of the developed world, educational
emphasis and methods can afford to be much more flexible in regard to
accurate transfer of specific facts, since it is assumed anyone can look
them up with trivial effort, leaving the system and teachers freedom to
emphasize creativity in coming up with solutions that apply to the problem
and work, regardless if they accurately render facts on a word-for-word
match of the original.
But back to the problem. In such an oral traditions, rote memorization
emphasis teaching culture, a student, no matter what they know or
regardless of whether they can come up with a working solution a different
way, is not considered to have mastered the subject until they have passed
the standardized test. For a student to have experimented with their OLPC
and to have found another way to address the problem, then try to
demonstrate that in class in front of a teacher who doesn't understand the
concept, only the rote facts and the step by step solution he's attempting
to teach, is a very big cultural no-no. Yet this is exactly the style of
student initiated creativity, exploration and discovery, advancing on
their own beyond what is specifically taught, that was from the beginning
a primary design goal of the OLPC.
This level of conflict between cultural styles, rooted as it is in
axiomatic cultural assumptions of authoritative reference availability,
was evidently not anticipated, at least to the degree it has been
encountered. Thus the bans, as teachers see the OLPCs as at best toys
that get in the way of their conveying rote facts ("teaching to the test"
as it's often referred to here in the US), or worse, encouraging students
to challenge their authority.
The solution as discussed in the article (which was rather shorter than my
explanation, either edited for length or perhaps as the author hadn't
groked the cultural root barriers that I explained above) I read, was that
the OLPC folks were going to have to spend more time in deployment
training the teachers, etc, to properly use the OLPC as a tool,
emphasizing the way it allows them to go beyond the rote emphasis of fact
they may have traditionally encouraged because now the facts are trivial
to look up, and teaching them to expect, accept and encourage students to
explore on their own, and to share that both in class and elsewhere with
their friends and classmates. IOW, teaching the teacher to be a
facilitator of learning, constantly guiding and encouraging, rather than
the traditional rote conveyor of facts that has been the traditional role
of the teacher in their culture to this point.
Such ingrained cultural role norms will be quite difficult to overcome,
particularly in the relatively short time OLPC deployers have with the
teachers and staff of a particular deployment as compared to the lifelong
cultural role habitualization these teachers have experienced to this
point. It'll be a tough job, even now that the OLPC folks realize that
it's there. One certainly wishes them success.
Posted Jun 20, 2009 23:24 UTC (Sat) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313)
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