The One Laptop per Child project and theneed for media literacy: The problems oftechnology led educational developmentPresented at Media Literacy Conference – London Friday 19th - Saturday 20th November 2010 Dr Marcus Leaning University of Winchester
Introduction Examine OLPC programme in relation to number of critical issues and particularly media literacy ones. Background to the OLPC Three critical areas: OLPC and the issue of technological determinism Ethical issues of ‘top-down’ solutions to poverty - the ‘Pro-Poor’ approach to education. Concern of ‘technology-only’ mass media dissemination. Call for a more ‘pre-poor’ approach to technology dissemination and more recognition of media literacy issues.
The OLPC XO-1 Educational netbook produced for the developing world. High spec. Super tough. Very cheap about $100 off the shelf.
Numbers Launched in 2005 at Davos with prototype at WSIS in Tunis. Released in November ‘06. As well as success, lots of problems: distribution; countries not committing in sufficient numbers; rivals; economic downturn. OLPC *claims* over 1.8 million in the field as of August ‘10.
Theoretical background Ideas of using the laptop in education is based upon Papert’sconstructionism (a derivative of Piagetian informed constructivism). We learn by building ‘things’. Kay’s 1971 ‘Dynabook’ the educational computer. Also healthy dose of e-book optimism.
Critical issue No. 1Technological determinism One big criticism has been that the OLPC understands itself as technological determinist (James, 2010; Leaning, 2010; Winston, 2007). A specific technology will result in a specific outcome – lots of reasons why TD is problematic: Technology not discreet – technology is part of culture, not clean. Target environment is downplayed – TD ‘flattens difference’. Unintended consequences – impact is not linear, technology is an ecosystem, one change impacts many areas.
Technological determinism revisited… ongoing research Is it this simple? Analysis of Negroponte’s speeches reveals additional more subtle interpretation of TD – a ‘softer’ version. Multipart account of domino transformation of social practices occurring at same time as hard changes to material conditions.
Critical issue No. 2Top down aid… OLPC runs against most ICT4D guidance. Heek’s model: Pro-poor – externally determined aid – we know what you need – least specific but most scalable Para-poor – work alongside local agents in partnership – problems with political issues. Pre-poor – locally initiated projects – most specific but least scalable.
Colonial aid? OLPC is a great almost textbook example of pro-poor aid. A single solution regardless of local conditions. Values external to contexts of use. A big impact to change ‘faulty’ practice. Developing world is problematic, should change to our way of doing things.
Critical issue No. 3 Media education Xo-1 is designed for the child user. Interface and (somewhat limited) bundled software is educational. One key principle of OLPC is internet connectivity – Negroponte argues (counter intuitively ) that network availability is not the problem – lots of networks, 3G wi-fi, etc. It is having a means to connect that is the problem and is solved by OLPC. Means that technology is divorced from content.
Information literacy problems Technology is only ever part of an educational system. Must be integrated into programme (not have a programme structured around it). Media and information literacy issues are NOT addressed. Information literacy is more than technical competency – skills such as evaluation and analysis need to be considered.
Media literacy problems The network connectivity means that the OLPC is a media technology and that media literacy issues are also relevant. XO-1 can deliver internet content. Media education has long history in some countries and is none existent in others. Even with (or because of) extensive experience of media and media literate populations media education is given high accord in many developed countries. Means by which to deal with such content need to be considered with the XO-1. Such issues need to be integrated into the dissemination of the technology and not simply appended (or not in many instances) to the ‘roll-out’.
Conclusion and recommendations OLPC a vast and ambitious project – very successful given its staffing base. Recommendations: Technology take a secondary role to soft less measurable issues. An approach more sympathetic to local needs. Technology be considered only as part of a project of education, media education vital as part of a system of media technology dissemination.