In a dusty, overcrowded classroom in Afghanistan,
a lone teacher paces the center aisle. While at one time the room may have been filled with boisterous voices speaking out of turn, the chatter has been replaced with a different sound: the steady, entropic repetition of fingers on keyboards. Even when they aren’t in class, the girls and boys can be found using their laptops. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) foundation, the brainchild of MIT Media Lab creator Nicholas Negroponte, wants to make this image a reality. The developers at OLPC want to ensure that every child in today’s rapidly changing technological world has ownership of an affordable and durable device to help them learn.
RIT professor Stephen Jacobs, instructor of the One Laptop per Child Class, shares in
“The whole idea of this class is to give students who want to give back to developing nations a chance to do so,” said Jacobs.
The class (course 4080-590) is now in its second year of operation and is open to any student. Offering an un-paid co-op option, the OLPC class allows students to work on the open source software that the computers run on, as well as create content for children’s educational games. Last year, the class completed a text-only version of “Lemonade Stand” and “Fun Towers,” a math by numerical categories game. Works-in-progress include “Muthris” a mathematical
The software graphic interface for the OLPC is known as Sugar, developed by Sugar Labs. Designed with education in mind, the content encourages participation and creation, not dictation. What makes Sugar unique is its emphasis on human-based computing. The belief that “(1) everyone is a teacher and a learner; (2) humans by their nature are social beings; and (3) humans by their nature are expressive,” is a guiding force behind the software’s malleable construction. These involve collaborating with friends that are in the laptop’s expansive ability to wirelessly network to each other.
The potential for tangible student contributions is real. Illustration students can provide richer content used by students all over the world; communication students can develop new ways to get students to think critically; and, musicians can create music games or content as well.
“OLPC labs will benefit from bringing in members of the artistic community,” said Eric Grace, a co-developer and teacher of the class. Working in tandem with technically skilled students, the creative possibilities at the local level are beginning to show through.
“While RIT typically forces you into the private sector, I wanted to do something that was meaningful with my IT degree,” said Wes Dillingham, a fifth year Information Technology major, who participated in the co-op program this summer because of his interest in open source technology.
The Open Source community, which is especially strong in Rochester, has been integral to improving the hardware, software, and content of the devices. As the OLPC prepares to debut its next generation of laptops, the XO-2, members of the OLPC Rochester Group, who meet regularly at RIT, are hard at work
creating the next generation of software that can be used around the world.
For now, students are invited to check out the progress in the newly built Innovation Center. According to Jacobs, “Part of the idea of having the work happen in the Innovation Center and in the RIT community is so people can brainstorm and make connections we might not