ALT-C 2009: a great conference, a winning team and open-source laptops

Winning the ALT Learning Technologist team award of the year wasn’t the only reason why the ALT conference in Manchester was truly enjoyable. Inspiring keynotes, highly interactive seminars, effective networking and loads of fresh ideas made this event a success.

Martin Bean‘s keynote address was excellent. There was one point, however, that I would like to challenge. Martin said that he’s had many discussions with high-profile politicians such as Education ministers. Martin referred to them as “idiots” for even contemplating the idea of giving laptops to schoolchildren on a large scale. He cited some of the issues associated with programmes such as One Laptop per Child – challenges we have known for years and that are unlikely to go away, especially in the developing world. These include pedagogy, technical support, training for staff, logistics and designing for online environments. But more to the point, wearing his previous hat, maybe he didn’t like it that those devices do not contain Microsoft software?

We know that many politicians’ agendas may have little to do with benefiting children or enhancing education through appropriate uses of technology. We also know that with a few additional elements in place, the impact of projects like OLPC can be significantly amplified. David Cavallo’s keynote address in ALT-C 2008 may provide a few answers to Martin’s concerns.  

I was born and bred in Uruguay, where a version of OLPC is running and will be extended to other aspects of learning technology and connectivity. Despite my own initial doubts (in line with Martin’s), I can now see that the project has changed the lives of many children and families – forever. How the change has taken place and how it continues to take place has been extensively documented and is a matter for another blog post – suffice it to say that 4 years ago you never saw children sitting with their laptops outside their schools on a Saturday afternoon. Now there is something in the air that attracts them there: a wireless signal… and a range of skills that most of those kids will need in future but didn’t have before.

Sorry, Martin, much as I enjoyed your presentation, I cannot agree with you on this one. Giving a $100 laptop to each child does not make someone an idiot. In fact, it could be money very wisely spent.

A. Armellini
15 September 2009

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