Thursday, November 29, 2007

The XO Computer or Classmates PC?

What is the difference between the XO computer and other computers, particularly its chief rival, the Classmates PC? It comes down to software and to the model of education that you aspire to.

Here are some key educational features of the XO computer:
  • The XO has a complete collaborative environment. This means that in any application students can work together to write poetry, to edit a document, or to design a presentation. They can do this over the Internet or over the built-in mesh network. This is a superior project-oriented model of education compared to the inferior didactic model that is still in use in most schools and that the other computers do not attempt to change.
  • The XO represents freedom from hegemony. The XO is built on open standards. It is not an attempt to push any particular OS on the world. While Windows will, apparently, be available as an add-on flash memory module for the XO in 2008, the XO is still mainly about learning, not about indoctrinating students in office software.
  • The XO is an ideas laboratory! This is the most important element of the XO. The XO has eToys and LOGO built in. eToys and LOGO are powerful computer languages that students can use to experiment with ideas and to discover concepts rather than having concepts spoon fed to them. A knowledgeable teacher can guide a student to discover concepts in mathematics, science, language, social studies, and more. Yet, this is the crux of it - how many teachers are there who can operate in this more creative, project-oriented mode? It requires training, time, and resources. I suspect that more international teachers will have these resources than teachers in the United States.
  • The XO is internationally-sensitive. Networking on the XO works even without the Internet. Battery life is 6 to 24 hours, not just the 4 hours of the Classmates PC. The XO will operate in full sunlight. It has a high-res screen suitable for reading. It is water and dust resistant. These are all features that very few computers can compete with at any price.
The XO computer is an educational computer that empowers the child. The Classmates PC is a cheap Windows machine with Office that puts power in the hands of the teacher (without adding anything to the educational equation).

It is a shame that Intel decided to compete with the XO computer because in doing so they diluted the true revolutionary value of the XO. Teachers the world over need to see and understand how truly different the educational model that the XO espouses is from the rest of the world. It is a model championed by Alan Kay, Seymour Papert, and Nicholas Negroponte - powerhouses in educational thought. That Intel has now partnered with OLPC is good news. Hopefully this will lead to a better XO computer, at a true $100.00.

Now, if only Apple entered the fray! Any thoughts?

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