Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Finally, A True Reading, Writing, Publishing Machine - XO 2010

Unlike some other laptops, you certainly could not accuse the new OLPC XO of being a business device thrown into a school. With its new open book design comprised of two touch-enabled screens that can transform into a keyboard when placed on its side, this is a true reading/writing/publishing machine. Placed face open not only does the XO offer two usable screens, but it also becomes a device where two people can work collaboratively-one on each screen.

When I saw the new XO and read the
reviews I reflected on a conversation I had years back with Teachers
College Reading and Writing Project Director Lucy Calkins as I attempted to convince her of the importance of laptops in the classroom. She said, "Why on earth would I buy laptops for each student? If I was going to spend $1500 per child, I'd rather purchase a library of books for each of them." I retorted saying a laptop is like providing every student with a vast library of books. I think I may have moved her thinking a bit, but while she agreed she could see how laptops could be a valuable coaching tool for her staff (topic for another post), there was still a leap to be made in convincing her of their usefulness as a student learning tool.

Like many literacy experts Lucy thinks of paper bound books when she thinks of reading, and paper notebooks when thinking of writing. At the same time numerous studies indicate that today’s digital native students, when given the choice, spend a great deal more time using computers to read and write than they do using traditional paper books and notebooks. The new XO laptop appears to be uniquely designed to bridge this gap between paper-trained adults and today’s millennial students by offering a device that looks and feels like it is designed for digital native reading, writing and publishing in a way digital immigrants can appreciate. It’s finally a device that brings to life the concept that this really is a tool positioned to bring an infinite amount of books and other reading materials right into the hands of students. In his, "Can the $100 Laptop Change the World?" interview with Laptop magazine, OLPC's Nicholas Negroponte shares that with this device, suddenly, a child has access to millions of books. Even more important, children can collaborate, can make things and can learn by doing.” As a former literacy coach and library media specialist I can tell you the countless hours I spent helping teachers acquire classroom libraries for general reading, for reading in the content areas, for reading by interest, etc. We would write grants, go to book fairs, beg, steal, borrow, type books in word processors, etc. etc. This was a lot of work and at the end we still struggled to have enough books to meet the needs of a class. It was a turn off for many in moving away from easy to acquire basal reading programs.

To date digital reading and writing is often neglected in literacy education, but it is where the Millennial generation chooses to spend the majority of its reading and writing time. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that student Bloggers, in addition to doing more types of writing and writing more frequently, are also among the strongest proponents of the importance of writing. This is correlated to another finding from the report stating that writing for an authentic audience motivates students to write and write well.

Since we know that many students use various technologies to communicate, a shift in the mediums we use with kids to communicate in education should follow. While I’ve already seen how XO’s can make a positive difference in the classroom, the new design appears to be even better situated to help make that shift by offering a tool that looks and feels like it’s been designed to harness the educational power of the device. What's great about the XO is it really simulates the look and experience of a book, but with a whole lot more functionality such as speaking text, instantly defining unknown words, translating text, highlighting, voice commenting, interactivity, dictionary, encyclopedia, video, and so much more.

With the new design and a targeted $75 targeted price point for 2010, the XO is sure to get hugs and kisses from even the most skeptical. This is a device that will literally push the transformation of education because with these specs and price point even the most reluctant will have to think twice. The future is now and the world of education needs to step up and start teaching to it. Now it looks like there's a device that will be a great partner in helping to make this happen. As the educational technology professional development manager for the largest school district in the U.S. you better believe that the new XO along with other low-cost laptops will transform how I work with our vendors and partners. If it is not on their radar to test out how their product or service can be implemented in schools using sub laptops, conversations will cease until they agree to explore this option. It is the responsibility of people like me to push and drive our digital immigrant educational partners to start working and thinking in 21st Century ways that will appeal to our students. Even if these partners are not comfortable doing so…our students deserve it!

More Information

First Look: OLPC XO-2 - May 2008 review from Laptop magazine featuring pictures and video.

Watch Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Laboratory, describe how the One Laptop Per Child project will build and distribute the "$100 laptop.


  1. Sounds awesome, but I'm going to remain skeptical for now, since the original targetsfor the current XO were for it to be released almost a year earlier than it actually started production at a cost of $100 instead of the $200 it came in at.

  2. @Dan Callahan - I agree that it makes sense to be skeptical about the $75 target, but that is kind of besides the point. What Negroponte has done is drive the market down and in the right direction in a way that none of the big tech manufacturers would have been interested in doing on their own. After claiming he had a $100 laptop, other followed suit in droves and there are now many options to choose from in the $500 and less ed market. So, if this $75 laptop ends up going for $150 it will still serve the purpose of designing a reasonably priced device created for the education rather than business market.