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XO Laptop: It’s the Software

Wade Roush writes about the OLPC XO for in The XO Laptop: It’s the Software, Stupid.

“On YouTube, there is an 11-minute video of the veterinarian-assisted birth of a calf on a farm in Villa Cardal, Uruguay, a small town in a dairy-rich region four hours north of the capital, Montevideo… But what makes this particular video remarkable is that it was shot by a fourth-year student at Villa Cardal’s Public School 24, using the built-in camera and recording software on the student’s XO Laptop, within weeks of the machine’s arrival at the school last year.”

The OLPC project predicted students would use their XOs for numerous creative purposes and did not expect to know everything they would devise. This could be one of the first shining examples of how quickly the students will use their new tools to participate in the global cultural interchange on the internet.

It has been a key tenet that OLPC is a learning project, not a hardware project. “Almost every piece of software on the XO is designed to advance the constructivist belief that learning occurs most efficiently when it’s active, social, and exploratory, with constant feedback between instructors and learners and between learners themselves.”

Another tenet is the centrality of open source, in both hardware and software used by the project. “Virtually everything on the laptop, right down to the hardware drivers, is open-source–so that it can be shared and so that, ultimately, responsibility for maintaining the platform can be transferred from the foundation itself to the community of educators, students, and developers using the XO. “In open-source you strive to push everything upstream, because as soon as it’s upstream, it’s not your problem anymore, it’s the community’s problem,” says Bender. “That’s a great place to be. And we are trying to push as much upstream as possible, because we won’t be successful otherwise.”

In other words, they are not delivering a product, they are seeding the creation of a self-sustaining community of learners. This is the key to economic development just as it is to successful education. And it is going to have a huge cumulative impact on global well-being.

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