Dec 23, 2012

Interactive Tablets and Learning: One Laptop Per Child now One Tablet Per Child in Ethiopia

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is a philanthropic organization that focuses on learning technologies, distributing thousands of low-cost laptops to children in developing countries.  In most cases, children have been provided access to OLPC laptops within teachers within traditional school settings.  But what about children who live in remote areas, where there are no schools, teachers, or even access to electricity?  They now have the opportunity to learn, even without teachers, through a small experiment conceived by Nicholas Negroponte, of OLCP and other researchers.  In this experiement, each child was provided with a Motorola Xoom tablet.  No teachers were around, because the children lived in a remote village that had no teachers. 

The following video provides a brief overview of what happened over the course of a few weeks and months after the children received the tablets:

To learn more, I encourage you to follow the link to a video of Nicholas Negroponte's presentation at the October 2012 EmTech conference, held in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  He discusses learning and how it can be supported through technology, anywhere.

"Nicholas Negroponte, founder, One Laptop Per Child, on his latest experiment with the democratization of education - can children teach themselves to read?"

In his presentation, Negroponte discusses the differences between knowing and understanding, and the importance for teachers (or learning applications) to understand the learner.  He goes on to discuss the OLPC research project Ethiopia where children living in remote villages with no teachers, no exposure to print, illiterate communities, and no access to technology, learned to use tablets without instruction or guidance.  The village was provided with a solar panel and one village member was taught how to use it to supply power for the tablets.

Each tablet provided to the children had over 100 applications.  Within four minutes, one child open the box, turned on the on-off button. Within 5 days, each child was using an average of 47 applications.  Within five months, a child hacked the Android tablet to turn on the camera capability.  According to Negroponte, the children were each using different applications, but collaborated with one another.

Maryann Wolf, Director of  the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, has collaborated with with the "OTPC" project. Other collaborators include Cynthia Breazeal and team at the MIT Media Lab, and Sugata Mitra at Newcastle University, according to Chris Ball, lead software engineer at OLPC.

The tablets include software that tracks data from all of the interactions from the children.  What a goldmine for education and cognitive/developmental psychology researchers According to Negraponte, the data is free for analysis.   (I will update this post with additional information about how the data can be accessed as soon as I can find the link.)

Although the OTPC concept is a noble idea, it does not appear to address the fact the children and their families who live in remote villages do not have access to literacy support in their own language.  


OLPC Literacy Project

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves:  A bold experiment by the One Laptop Per Child organization has shown "encouraging" results.
David Tabolt,  MIT Technology Review, 10/29/12

OLPC Project Puts Tablets in the Hands of Formerly Illiterate Children with Amazing Results John Biggs, TechCrunch, 11/1/12

Motorola Xoom hacked by Ethiopian kids who can't read; with no instructions whatsoever.
Joe Hindy, 11/4/12

Hourcade, J.P., Beitler, D., Cormenzana, F. and Flores, P. (2009). Early OLPC Experiences in a Rural Uruguayan School. In A. Druin (Ed.), Mobile Technology for Children: Designing for Interaction and Learning. Boston: Morgan Kaufmann.

Growing Up With Nell:  A Narrative Interface for Literacy (pdf)
IDC 2012, June 12–15, 2012, Bremen, Germany
Authors: C. Scott Ananian, Chris J. Ball, Michael Stone
One Laptop Per Child Foundation, 222 Third Street, Cambridge, MA 02142

"Nell is a tablet-oriented education platform for children in the developing world.  A novel modular narrative system guides learning, even for children far from educational infrastructure, and provides personalized instruction which grows with the child.  Nell's design builds on experience with the Sugar Learning Platform, used by over two million children around the world"

Quote from above article:
"To further promote collaboration, Nell is free and opensource and implemented in standard web technologies (JavaScript, HTML5, and WebGL) with offline caching. Resources are named by URL, even when disconnected from the internet, which simplifies the distribution of updates to story modules and the Nell system. URL-based identifiers also allow third parties to manage their own namespaces when extending Nell."

A. Chang and C. Breazeal. TinkRBook: Shared reading interfaces for storytelling. (pdf) In Proc. of the 10th Int’l Conf. on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’11), pages 145–148. ACM, June 2011.
NOTE:  The above article provides good references about early language and literacy development.

Wilox, Bruce Beyond Facade: Pattern Matching for Natural Language Applications (pdf)
Telltale Games, Feb. 2011
Note:  This paper reviews the history of Natural Language Processing (NLP) as applied to games, and includes information about AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language), Facade, and ChatScript.  The author explains how string matching is no longer simply a matching of words. It now focuses matching patterns of meaning.

ChatScript Website

Note:  One of my assignments for a class in AI for Games, back in 2006, was to create a mini-game that involved the use of AIML.  I realized that a "smart" chat feature would be useful to incorporate in an educational game. In my opinion, it has the potential to support scaffolding of learning, based on the learner's responses, positive as well as errors.

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