Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mesh... it's about the mesh

So today, I got my XO laptop from One Laptop Per Child. I have been blogging for months about the coolness of the XO I got as a loaner. But for the next two or three days, I have two XOs! And I'm realizing how incredible these things are.

It's all about the mesh. XO laptops talk to each other. In real time. Not over the internet but through their own internal "mesh." I take a picture on one, it shows up the other. Not instantly, but close. I type on a word processing document, it shows up on the screen of the laptop 10 feet away.

The coolness of this is beyond words. The applications for a classroom of kids with XOs is staggering -- teacher puts two or three activities on the mesh, students log on, join the activity, and add their thoughts. Teacher browses to a website, puts it on the mesh, a kid joins in.

Right now, the worst thing about the technology I deal with is the grown up factor -- someone has to program the communication device and update the vocabulary. If the lessons are going to grow and change, I have to get there before the kids and set up the technology. A kid can't own the technology when the adult always has possession of it. I was trying to get a boy to print out what he wrote on his alphasmart the other day, but he was too possessive of it to let me plug it into the computer.

There are ways around that -- Prentke Romich makes a program that allows a computer to emulate their AAC devices and I can program that and transfer it over. I do that with Jessie's. R.J. Cooper's mini-auggie had a PC and pocket pc version of the software. Still... transfers are never smooth. Never. And the adult yanks away your machine and when you get it back, the files are different. And there are some that don't work after a transfer, something that breaks. It's how it always goes. Child ownership is a nice dream, but it's not possible in most of the technology I work with because the adult has to maintain it.

With the mesh, I could make S's spelling words as a memorize game on my XO, he could log in, get the activity, play a game with me, then keep that activity on his XO. He could change the words for his spelling words next week and I could check to make sure it's working by playing a game with him.

It sounds like a simple download, or the games of scrabble I play using facebook where my sister in Korea and I face off and grumble at each other from 13 timezones away. But it's different. It's made to be immediate. It's made to be something that I show a kid, sitting right beside him. "Okay, do you see that orange piece of notebook paper? That's your worksheet. Click on it." Not "Hold on... don't touch... see it's downloading. Wait. I have to put this file on it."

With more advanced students, there are the bulletin boards and the WebCT and Blackboards and things like that. Not real time, but close. Teacher can put an assignment up and everyone can download it. People can talk back and forth. But it's built on a college sort of model -- you think about it, you add to the conversation, someone else comments. That someone else can be in the next room or next time zone. That is really awesome experience. But it's really top down in collaboration.

But most the kids I know don't really get that experience. The internet is where the sponge bob games are. Maybe it's for sending email to people you love in real life, but it's not really until a kid is a teen that the internet becomes a tool for connecting. The mesh bridges that gap. A classroom is a dynamic connected place and I haven't found anything that can mimic or facilitate that connectedness except the XO mesh.

Some classrooms in our district have computers at every desk. I think of first graders coming into a room, switching on their computers, and working at their math problems, and I shudder. Where's the interaction in that? Where is the exploration? The program is dictating the next problem and they follow along. Perhaps we ought to set up Dilbert-style cubicles for them now.

Compare that to the XO, where the game of memorize your buddy is challenging you to is made up words he just put on there.

I'm downloading programs and testing mesh capabilities. Most of the original programs that come with the XO rock. However, I wish all of the programs could collaborate like the word processor. I was hoping that the words I typed in the speak (speech synthesis program) would be spoken by another computer, but no luck. Ditto for the music players -- I could easily jump into the current state of a jam session and use it as a starting point, but I could not make any changes that went back over the mesh to the original activity.

Anyway, I'm going to keep playing.
I'm having WAY TOO MUCH FUN not to.

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