Thursday, 27 February 2014

Eduvolunterism & my OLPC Schoolserver Journey

I became a OLPC volunteer to explore the schoolserver setup to support OLPC Asia first  XO laptop deployment in Sichuan. Installing and testing was a challenge over the years  as I was a eduvolunteer with no formal technical training -only initiative and a little self-taught knowledge. Nevertheless I did have an interest in tinkering, extending what I do professionally to empower people who are disadvantaged. That was in the days where connectivity was basic dialup modem and Bulletin Board System (BBS) 

Time flies  and we are now in 2014. There is internet, broadband and wireless communication. The technology for server is moving away from the big-iron power hungry computer to mobile devices that can serve  online/offline internet resources.

My recent adventure was to test the XSCE which was deployed in Malaysia. It also run offline resources via Internet in the Box (IIAB). This new journey started from basecamp2013@Malacca when I installed the XSCE 0.4 for testing with basecampers. Running on a XO 1.75 with a 8G SD card and I had  1T IIAB from Adam Holt of Unleash Kids. It worked but  was slow since the server was powered from a SD card as part of my experimentation.

With the release of XSCE 5 in 2014 I made another attempt to install and test its functionality during Chinese New Year (Year of the Horse). Its new installation horsepower was visible. I left it overnight to glow in the dark for testing.

When the Malaysia deployment launch schedule was confirmed for Feb 22, 2014 I was blessed with a just in time (JIT) mobile Zotec PC with 4G of ram  from OLPC Asia. It cost HK$2,000. On testing I was pleased with the XSCE5+IIAB  performance - everything load and run faster! 

The Malaysian OLPC 2.0 journey pack was ready and it was time to get it into the wild.

I booked my last minute flight ticket and travelled solo  -:(  to Malaysia  for the 1st full deployment in a rural area equipped with schoolserver.  It was a plug&play experience. The excitement was visible when  it works the first-time when plugged into the site network. With the connectivity,  I could see children searching local maps via the IIAB map resources. Some were googling their football team or pictures of the film "Zombie". Others were on the offline School Wikipedia!

On Feb 22, 2014 with all the XOs newly flashed for the launch, the children had to key in their names and a long  password to connect to the AP (we want the children to learn alphabets). As the event unfold I could see the XOs popping up one by one in the neighbourhood screen. To check if all 38 XOs were connected we made the children to count :-) what they see on their screen. 

Registration was done systematically. Registered XO were left on the floor for the children to continue their their play. With the Master XO we  logged  into moodle Learning Management System and did our final roll-call!

Now it is working in the wild with 38 registered XO and many happy children. The existing network will be upgraded and maintained by local volunteers. This community/village will be the first OLPC deployment in Malaysia. I was happy being able to keep  a promise - returning to deploy the XOs to the "crying child" and his friends. I remember this particular child attachment to the XO when we took it away after a brief pre-deployment visit trial session!

I am now back in Hong Kong after this "Touch & Go" deployment launch. On my Facebook I wrote:

"Nice to think that the children you met thousands miles away are getting access to to the XO and internet when they return from school to their hostel in a rural area. I have that visual image in my mind . The analytic will be something for the future"

Let's see. The Malaysian OLPC 2.0 journey has just started

Monday, 24 February 2014

Unleashed Indigenous Kids: Malaysian Style?

Even for smaller deployments we have to deal with the reality of achieving 1:1 and to meet all the core missions of OLPC. I witnessed this first hand in the dLEAP (digital Learning & Education Asli Project) deployment when I returned to launch with local partners, and to kickstart the schoolserver infrastructure. All the younger children had the symbolic procedure of their name written on the XO. All XOs were registered with the XSCE 5 registration procedure. For older children we had to make the decision that they will share the remainder XO available - 2 children to 1 XO.

What pleased me most is the spirit of the older children helping to deployed and to take charge of some logistic for deployment preparation. Kids were organised to flash, charge and taught skills to manage some future  technical expertise support. I found myself teaching the children about the schoolserver concept, details of account management to unix command to a few kids who showed leadership and initiatives.

I am proud of children accomplishments and hope they drive the project forward for months to come. 

In a new pre-deployment visit we left a few XOs to the children and went on a visit to see/bath baby elephant. Coming back hours later they were still engaged. Yes, we left the "crank" to them and let them organised themselves. Peeping into the  images on the XOs we found new younger visitors. Their "V" sign gesture is indeed heartwarming.

Why should we believe in the children? If they can trek/live in the jungle as their playground, I am sure taking care of themselves with modern technology is much easier. With digital technology we must empower them with new knowledge,skills and attitude. The process is the critical message and I hope adults understand the importance of setting the right environment for change by children for children.

 As I reflect on the 3 days of handson deployment I ask: " how can we can engage children with their own deployment and if we can rethink deployment to avoid tethering children indirectly"