Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Island of Broken Toys

As it finished, it is worth reiterating the fact that the DML Conference invited a number of critics of techno-utopianism. Among them was my UCI colleague Mark Warschauer, who gave some of the most damning testimony about the Nicholas Negroponte's XO One Laptop Per Child program that I have every heard.

His first-hand report led off with his main assertion: "Laptops make a good school better, but they don't make a bad school good."

In his DML talk, Warschauer revisited the hyperbole from disgraced former Birmingham mayor Larry Langford, who had once waxed poetic about the promise of the XO, and had begun plans to acquire 15,000 of the devices for local students. Like others, Warschauer has interrogated the missionary zeal of XO enthusiasts and the way that that the technology made children feel disempowered rather than empowered by the devices, particularly since so many appeared to be nonfunctional within a very short time. At one point a dispirited boy, who supposedly didn't need oldsters, like others of the "digital generation," asked Warschauer miserably if he knew how to fix an XO laptop.

Warschauer also described poorly thought out skill-and-drill pedagogies that used the machines as virtual flashcards, and their compatibility limitations that force instructors wishing to project student work to use document cameras.

See my take on the OLPC at "A Story about Bicycles" for more sad stories of how the best of intentions might go awry.

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