Sunday, August 5, 2007

OLPC at Wikimania

...and apparently the NY times, courtesy of Kathy's sharp eyes. You'll probably hear more about this from either me or Sj once we've recovered from the trip, but for now, see the glory that was the Taipei Jam!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Announcing the Summer of Content

(cross-posted from Mel's blog)

We're proud to present the Summer of Content (SoCon), a collaboration between OLPC and the Commonwealth of Learning. In a nutshell, we match interns who want to contribute to open content with mentors from existing open-content projects who can help them, while providing stipends to the interns that allow them to work full-time on their project. By having larger numbers of projects with smaller stipends, we're aiming to get people, especially those in developing nations, to interact with and contribute to knowledge-sharing communities on the internet. And we're looking to recruit volunteers and hire interns - read on.

SoCon runs two summers a year, one for each hemisphere. This summer is the Northern Summer pilot, with projects running from August 10 - September 24. Groups like Google and Fedora are already on board. We're ridiculously excited and can't wait to get started.

What's the Summer of Content?

It's kind of like Summer of Code, minus the code, plus a few key differences:

We're aiming for the inverse demographic.

The Summer of Code program has traditionally attracted a large number of individual students with technical backgrounds from the developed world. By making our stipend $500 instead of $5000 and allowing teams to apply together, we're hoping to attract an even larger number of collaborating creators from the developing world - including non-students and people with non-technical backgrounds.

Collaboration is good.

I mentioned above that you can apply in teams. I'd like to point it out again. Actually, applying in teams only helps your chances. (The catch is that the team all has to split a single stipend, but if you come from the developing world, that's still pretty good money.)

Emphasis on joining the community, not cranking out a product.

You do have to get something done. But we're going to make it very clear that the real job of the interns is to learn how to work with a particular content community, not to act as a contractor that just churns out stuff for them in exchange for pay. There are people involved. Get to know them. Collaborate.

"Content" doesn't just mean Content.

We're aiming to nurture a self-supporting networked ecosystem of projects. In other words, in addition to more traditional content-production projects (write a book, curate an encyclopedia, compose a piece of music, etc) there will be meta-content projects - for instance, accessibility and documentation projects with interns whose jobs will be to publicize, disseminate, and make other SoCon projects more accessible to various populations.

There will also be event/testing projects with interns whose jobs will be to run Test Jams and other local free culture conferences/events to get feedback to other SoCon creators about the work they're producing. Other types of projects will also be encouraged, but the important point to note is that SoCon is not just about the creation of open content, but instead about making that content useful and accessible and therefore used for Awesome purposes by the rest of the world.

We're hiring, and we need help!

We're looking for mentor organizations, mentors, and interns as well as volunteers. Check out the current project proposals (better yet, suggest your own)!

The deadline for applications this round is August 6, so please help us spread the word - if you're interested or know anyone who might be, there are some template letters you can use. We're especially looking for non-English-speaking organizations, mentors, and interns, and for participants from the developing world.

We also have an immediate need for volunteer translators - if you can help us translate the website into your language, please contact Mel. In particular, we need people who can do Amharic, Arabic, Hindi, Nepali, Portuguese, Thai, and Urdu.

Questions? Thoughts? Ideas?

We'd love to hear what you think. Leave a comment on this blog or a message on the official Summer of Content Talk Page, and we'll get back to you (make sure we have your contact info, though).


StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Review squads, wiki party, curriculum jams

Flamenco, wine, and a marzipan-and-spun-sugar-covered wizard cake in honor of Noah (coderanger)'s birthday. Sound like 1cc? What if I said we were simultaneously demoing, coding, on irc, wiki-editing, and sending out letters to educational organizations? Work at OLPC really does go 24/7; SJ and I left the office at 4:30am and there were still multiple people working when we walked out the door.

This weekend sees the inaugural run of the Review Squad, a dedicated group of adolescent testers who are going through the content in our library releases. There's also a wiki cleanup party (join us!) which will march, Style guide in hand, into the chaos that is currently (As of this moment, the style guide is composed mainly of thing SJ wrote in response to my naively flat-footed wiki-mangling.) We're also angling to change the wiki stylesheet into this gorgeous one from OLPC Austria, which, to Eben's great delight, uses his icons.

Also ramping up hot on the heels of the Game Jam comes the Curriculum Jam, where educators and local students will design and test classroom activities (not .xo activity bundles, but actual things that students and teachers in the classroom would do with the laptops). The Curriculum Jam will be a distributed one, with local Jams planned to run simultaneously in Boston, Vancouver, and Manila - and possibly Bangkok, one of the universities in Mexico, and Chicago as well. Teachers will collaborate with their compatriots on the other side of the world to create and test curricula; a team of Bangkok schoolchildren might test the lesson plans developed in Boston, a Mexican art class might turn out drawings that Canadian first-graders write stories about. We're looking for local participants and organizers in all the locations - contact me if you're interested. If your location isn't listed above and you'd like a Jam in your town, you should definitely contact us, and we'll work together to make it happen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

No schedule for a week

What should be my goal for the week: Time management skills. Again. It is now 4:44am and I was supposed to sleep 3:44 hours ago. I stayed at the office almost 5 hours later than I'd intended. I also arrived there about 3 hours after I'd thought I would because I spent 4 hours working immediately beforehand, on my laptop at Fenway, that I hadn't planned...

Hypothetically, I "need" to be on top of the schedule pile and on time, instead of under and behind. I don't feel harried and rushed, actually - I'm very laid-back about time. It'll happen eventually, yeah. Will it be horrible if it's not done 5 minutes from now? 10 isn't too far off. It's almost the opposite of the stereotypical American attitude towards time.

I could try just not keeping a schedule at all. My calendar will instead function as a reminder of things I'd like to do (to varying degrees).

I could do that.

So let's try something. No schedule. From now until next Friday, no schedule. I'll keep my current appointments (I really only have meetings scheduled for the next two days), but once those two days pass, it's a "when the mood strikes me, or when people ping me and I feel like it" adventure. Let's see if this makes me more productive.

Friday, July 6, 2007

CoL, Open Bext Book and Open Access Initiative

Hi. I've been a slacker (actually, I've been in Canada) but I'm back now and crawling out from under a pile of several thousand emails and back into the office (...someday soon. I haven't gone expat yet, SJ) .

While in Vancouver, I visited the Commonwealth of Learning, the folks who brought us WikiEducator. Wayne Mackintosh (who is super-cool), Lauren, SJ, and I had a teleconference on how CoL and OLPC could collaborate, leading to several initiatives including an upcoming Curriculum Jam in... it looks like at least 3 simultaneous locations and growing, and a program similar to Google's Summer of Code but for free and open content. More on this later, I'm sure.

There are many open content projects out there already - for instance, the Open Text Book blog. They've got posts on linguistics, physics, mathematics, electronics, and philosophy already, and you can contribute more if you know of them online. The first post also has pointers to the freetextbooks mailing list if you'd like to get more involved.

While they're working on cataloging existing free textbooks, the Budapest Open Access Initiative is working on making scholarly articles free to catalog. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions calls textbooks and articles the two primary routes of formal communication in academic disciplines - the first for training new members, the second for networking between existing ones - so these two projects are driving at the heart of open content for postsecondary education. (Yes, the XO is designed for younger children - but they've got to have a world of advanced open content to graduate into.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Bridge Builder Award

OLPC has just won the 2007 Bridging Nations Bridge Builder Award, for "technological innovation bridging the digital divide." The gala program (and another snazzy picture of the XO) is on their website.

Educational Activity Guidelines-- once more, with examples!

The Educational Activity Guidelines cover similar ground to the OLPC Human Interface Guidelines but are targeted to a different audience-- the community of educators interested in creating activities, lesson plans, and/or curricula for the XO laptop. These guidelines provide an in-depth view of various features of the XO and its user interface, and focus closely on aspects of the XO that pertain directly to the development of educational activities. Today, we linked up a bunch of example activities to the guidelines so now it's easier to understand the ideas and principles we're talking about. Check out our progress and let us know what you think. Or, find an EAG-related task that you can help out with.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Meeting at McGraw-Hill; maps

OLPC went down to New York this morning to meet with a team from the McGraw-Hill Education division. They're working on a suite of activities for the XO, including a PDF reader for their materials (and others), a concentration-like game, and a reading activity. Everything's moving very quickly, and they're expecting to have a beta in the next month. Exciting!

Also exciting is the new wiki map built by the folks at We're envisioning a series of layers-- for children, developers, enthusiasts, etc. We're also working on an XO push-pin to make the map our own.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Inspired by Bruce Mau's Incomplete Manifesto and Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies, we introduce the XO Manifesto. Or, well, we introduce a wiki page for it-- we're still working on the actual content.

Everyone loves a manifesto. Have an idea to contribute? Add it to the list!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Commonwealth of Learning

Last Friday afternoon, OLPC talked with Wayne Mackintosh of the Commonwealth of Learning, an organization committed to the development (and sharing of) materials for open education and exchange. Wayne pointed out some of the work he's done on the Learning4Content project, including a series of tutorials for teachers about the importance (and value) of developing free educational content.

Just like us and our Game Jam model, the COL has already implemented 1-to-3 day WikiEducator training workshops and longer content-creation "boot camps." Also just like us, they're writing up documentation on how anyone can organize a training near them. We're already talking about how we can connect our Jams to their training. Do you have any ideas?

Friday, June 22, 2007


One of the things that I love hearing about-- probably because it reminds me of the incredible scope of the OLPC project-- is designs for country- and language-specific keyboard layouts. Two of the newest keyboard layouts are here:

Just imagine them in black on green, and in the hands of children...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ice Cream vs. Laptop

In the battle between ice cream and laptop, there's no contest... at least not for these girls.

More photos from the Tosci's meetup here.

AARP in the Office; XOs in the World

A bunch of people from the AARP stopped by our office this morning to talk about getting retired teachers involved in OLPC. Apparently, there are over one million active members of the National Retired Teachers Association, and 100,000 alone already involved in digital learning projects. So here's some math for you: 100,000 NRTA members already familiar with ideas about digital learning, and-- in the next two years-- 100,000 teachers expected to have classrooms full of XOs. Possible results? An expansive, informed support network for teachers, a 1-to-1 mentoring program, and endless opportunities for international communication and collaboration. Exciting stuff!

Monday, June 11, 2007

learning by doing by teaching

We just finished the first OLPC Game Jam, a 3-day fest of content creation that ended with 11 new games being played by a swarming room of elementary school kids from nearby Needham. Some of the developers walked in with no Python experience and very little Linux knowledge - and walked out with a fully functioning work of art in Pygame running on an XO. I was astounded. The next step is to get games packaged and ready for the June 25 mini-content release; some kids were asking where they could buy the games they tested, and were thrilled to hear they would be able to download and play them for free.

Ah, yes. Howdy! I'm Mel, a recent grad of Olin College, where I studied electrical engineering because that's what the dart landed on sophomore year (really; I have a picture of the dartboard). At the moment I'm recovering from organizing the Jam and firing up on a few more OLPC projects.

When not doing OLPC, you may find me penning math plays, arranging a capella music, learning to swingdance, writing about self-directed learning, or reading textbooks (some people appreciate and collect fine wines; for me it's textbooks). I'm working towards a trip around the world to study how engineers are educated in different cultures (note: that post is old and rough, and I'm working on a more refined research proposal now). I love soy milk, the color yellow, and leaning against a piano to hear the low notes crashing when someone's playing Beethoven.

Question of the day: What are the benefits and limitations of certification systems (degrees, rankings, diplomas) and how would a learning society function without them?

Friday, June 8, 2007

Big green wave; tiny little splash.

A lot of us have talked how it would be nice to know who everyone else is and what they're working on, and this space seems as good as any... so I'll go first!

Hi, I'm Lauren. I'm a temporarily transplanted Brooklynite in Cambridge for the summer, working on the education/content side of things. A semi-complete list of my projects is here.

During the year, I'm a grad student and Instructional Technology Fellow at the City University of New York (CUNY). In previous incarnations, I've been a software developer, music producer, adjunct professor, and bike messenger.

Things I like: swimming pools, disco floors, surly bikes, records and things, new wave, no wave, comic books, saag paneer.

Current Cambridge obsessions: Emma's Pizza #3, Christina's pink grapefruit sorbet. Feel like eating either? Let me know!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

summer of xoxo

Happy June, and welcome to the summer blog at OLPC, a group publication for people working on or around the Cambridge office this summer. If you're here and would like to contribute to the blog, drop us a line or send us a sample post (or a link to your current blog) and we'll hook you up.

We are also working on a regular update with tidbits from our community members and contributors; less formal than the Community News. you can find it on the OLPC Wiki, and can add updates there or as comments on the blog posts here.

There have been a few suggestions so far about what you'd like to see and hear about from the project; keep them coming. --SJ